By Tope Fasua
In the past week – and perhaps still ongoing in some quarters – we have seen the descent of South Africa into another orgy of mindless and shameless looting. Most, if not all the looters I have seen, are black people, who sort of cast a dark pall of shame on our skin. Why are we so deprived? Is it just all about financial oppression? Is it a carry-over of racism, slavery and colonialism? Or is it something ingrained in us? Are there among us people who have been that way generationally; who will not take advantage of opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty but are only adept to looting, destroying, stealing little inconsequential things? Every question courses through one’s mind, seeing these mindless orgies where some people have stolen even coffins. Everything is game in the business of looting. The only place nobody branched to was the bookshop. No one had time for that.
In England too, after their loss to Italy in the European Cup, all sorts of chavs and yobs took to the streets in drunken orgies, destroying facilities and hurling racist abuse at black people. Three non-white guys had missed their penalties in that final. Our own Bukayo Saka, who chose to play for England and not Nigeria, was one of them. This is in the same week as our Basketball team saw glory by defeating the American team.
The riotous display of the English fans coupled with what went on in South Africa as a result of the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, set me thinking. I have always insisted that our thoughts around our many problems have been rather simplistic. If we excuse our people when they riot, destroy and loot, and say that they are hungry, what about those English folks? South Africa is a country with per capita GDP almost five times our own. Inequality is deep too, but what kind of hunger makes a looter go after a 60-inch television? There is more to governance than we know, and there are plenty of challenges ahead for us. We don’t have to be in government presently to appreciate these facts. In fact, now is the time to prepare our minds in case it gets to our turn. But for now, what we see is that those not in government believe their role is to create problems for those in government. At best they jump on every misfortune and mock those ones there, or silently stoke more trouble. That is what we have devoted most of our social media time doing.
I aver that 10,000 hungry and innately hopeless people can ground a country of 100,000,000 people, where the remaining 99,990,000 are self-respecting and would rather stay at home and out of trouble when the 10,000 go on rampage. I saw in South Africa, where white communities organised to defend themselves with guns and to blow off any crazy looter trying to breach their neighborhoods. Meanwhile we could never ensure that 100 percent of the people are okay financially and otherwise. Therefore, every society will always have a good number of discontents. How do we account for the mentally imbalanced who don’t appear so crazy and have not been sectioned but who can be triggered into extremities in any moment of madness such as we have seen – with South Africa presently, as well as our own EndSARS? Fact is that there are some people who will NEVER make progress in life due to their own making, or thinking, or actions. Admittedly though, successive Nigerian governments have never been radical in their poverty eradication approaches. South Africa has 16 million people living below the poverty line, as against Nigeria’s 86 million, according to worldpoverty.io. Through inept governance over time, and the myopia of many of those we have elected or selected, we have compounded our problem in Nigeria.
So, the problem before us is how to rapidly deliver for the people and reduce inequality and poverty. Then, we must have to anchor the anger of our poor people, and prevent them from being overly violent in expressing their discontent, because destroying property and other people’s goods drags us all down – destroys value, jobs, and even class harmony in society. How do we reduce this problem to the barest minimum? Certainly not through the preaching of endless rights with no responsibility. We must let our people – poor and rich – know that they also have responsibility to society, beyond the rights that they can claim. Those who focus on pumping people up with rights ONLY, also increase people’s sense of entitlement and sometimes irresponsibility. If people get it into their heads that all their problems are caused by ‘leaders’, or the society at large, this is what you get. If we keep putting people under the impression that they are in this world so that others will take care of them and not they being responsible for themselves, this is what we get.
In Nigeria, we saw a looting we had never seen before during and in the aftermath of EndSARS. If government does not get very serious with anti-poverty and employment programmes, and communicate positive messages very strongly, and if people in CSOs don’t start preaching responsibility too, a lot more of looting and more brazen stuff, is coming. The next time, they will breach the gates of your estates and attack everyone and loot everything. And your gated estate in Alagbado, or Moniya, or Okokomaiko, Zaria, Awkuzu, Abakaliki, where you guys are just trying to “manage life small small”, will not be spared, neither will lives. If you have one jalopy you are pushing to start, you will be vulnerable. If you have managed to send your children to school, they will be vulnerable. This will be everywhere and in every city and village in Nigeria. Anything that looks good and decent, will be brought down to the level of these looters who would rather – in that moment of madness – ensure that everyone is dragged down to their level.
I have preached for long that we have a sense of ownership of our nation and society, that it doesn’t matter whether we don’t like the faces of those in government, but there should be a limit to all the angry rhetoric we spread, and we should try to suggest solutions, not just criticise. I say I don’t see the `we’ versus `them’ categorisation that presently drives our socio-polity. Whether we are in government or not, we have a responsibility to build our nation. Positivism is a much better policy.
Therefore, the responsibility cuts both ways – let government get serious, cut corruption, get sincere and communicate programmes and a better future more aggressively. Let government also alert good citizens to be on the alert and be their brothers’ keepers. Let them bridge the income gap and reorganise society. Let those outside government also know that governance is not very easy. If all they do as CSOs and private citizens etc is pump up people’s anger on a daily basis, or engage in incendiary rhetoric that increases anger in society instead of hope and personal responsibility, we shall all end up in the belly of the beast. It will be a matter of time. We should employ our social media handles more responsibly, positively, and futuristically, otherwise this will be a race to the bottom, as the poor and angry among us destroy the little we have achieved. In the western world and the fareast, no matter the madness of their people, they have managed to curb extremities to a large extent. We are the ones that can ill-afford the vicious cycle of looting and destruction.