Setting our priorities right

Though, a considerable amount of ink has been spilled on the desirability or otherwise of the presidential declaration of a state of emergency in the flashpoint states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the argument is stale as a decision has been taken. It is noteworthy that it is better to take a decision than not to take any decision at all. And if necessity ever justifies the detestable as an axiomatic principle goes, this is a typical instance and so be it.

However, as the Nigerian forces continue their offensive against those we are told are largely non-Nigerians who infiltrated our borders, the essential thing is for them to heed the international appeal for restraint on the use of excessive force and collective punishment so that the gains of the operation would not be eroded in the areas. The advice and observation of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, should especially be taken in good faith: “We urge Nigeria’s security forces to apply disciplined use of force in all operations. We are deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigeria security forces are committing gross human rights violations.” That is the concern of all Nigerians too.

It is also expected that the operation would be completed quickly with the terrorists smoked out of their hideouts and flushed out of the country and the repentant ones disarmed. Afterwards, the Government can then focus with renewed energy on discharging its mandate and making common people feel its impacts through the provision of infrastructure and essential services that would add meaning to the quality of life and living.

I agree fully with Aristotle (and ipso facto disagree with Thomas Hobbes) that human beings by nature are good but it is desperation that often leads them to the extreme. As Aristotle put it, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” The argument of poverty, social inequality and unemployment as catalysts of militancy and insurgency is unassailable. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and a hungry man is an angry man.

When law and justice are maintained and the existing gulf between the “haves” and the “haves-not” is breached, violence and desperation that characterize many unemployed and under-employed Nigerians that are harangued by misery and hopelessness would abate. It is like that all over the world: where ordinary people are hungry and impoverished, there is every tendency for them to commit crimes and atrocities. This is why more emphasis should be on addressing hunger, not venting anger.

A recent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Sweden, indicates that last year, Nigeria spent $2.327 billion (N372.3 billion) on military infrastructure. We had earlier spent $2.386 billion in 2011 and $2.143 billion in 2010. While this is amazing, though understandable given the challenges the country is facing, supposing we spend a commensurate amount of money on our education, infrastructure and social services, we would achieve more harmony as the two opposites of nature (ying and yang) espoused by the Chinese philosophy.

But where we buy military hard ware and wreck the industries, making businesses and manufacturers flee to Ghana and some other countries, there would be social problems. It is high time we set our priorities right by killing corruption so that citizens would feel the impact of their Government more in such critical sectors of the economy like education, health and infrastructure in an atmosphere of peace and security.

The same need for setting our priorities right applies to Lagos State where the State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, is attempting to limit the freedom of school children by barring them from putting scarves on their heads. It is really shameful that instead of promoting decency and tolerance, we are sowing the seeds of discord and rancor. What harm does a school girl putting a scarf or hijab on her head do to anyone?

As if to add insult to injury, the Commissioner was reported to have said that those who want to use the head scarf or hijab should attend private schools as if parents pay their tax to the proprietors of schools or some people own public schools more than the others. The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has rightfully branded the development as “intolerance, tyranny, oppression, persecution and stigmatization”, adding that the whole scenario is a “contradistinction to the democratic principles of freedom, equal rights, justice and fair play”.

The Government should make ours a decent society where our cultural and religious traditions would be revived without succumbing to the global politics of arms trade which that makes people who had been living together in the decades past suddenly realize they are enemies. That kind of reawakening of values, at a different plain, is quietly going on elsewhere somewhere in Africa where development is considered a component of morality.

In a well publicized statement recently, the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, said: “Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas of erotic function, is outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her.”

Though the Ugandan measure may be considered a bit extreme, nevertheless we need to identify and promote our national values. As no country should be a country of anything goes, we actually need to set our priorities right and appreciate the need to uphold the African values of honesty, modesty, decency and fairness in all we do while resisting measures that smack of neo-colonial mentality and misplacement of priority.