Nigeria does not have a herder crisis, an Islam or an IPOB problem. The identities of the militants, pirates and oil bunkerers do not matter. Only two identities truly matter in Nigeria: criminal and law-abiding citizen. Thus, our problem is the absence of recurrent punishment for crimes committed. We lack a consistent process of investigation and punishment. That absence of justice leaves us paranoid and frightened.
Allow me to explain.
Pundits in Nigeria believe they were born in the wrong country. They believe Nigeria is a mistake of the British. Proceeding from this belief, events are bent to ensure that the ethnicity of the actors rather than the action itself is front and centre. The whole point is to keep Nigerians in a permanent state of doubt about the nature of our country and its reality.
That problem should not exist for anyone that accepts that Nigeria is inevitable and permanent. That makes stopping the crimes more important than the identity of criminals.
Nigeria is crime-ridden because Nigerians are not safe.
You did not misread me. That paradox makes the problem frustrating and solutions hard to implement. We are perfectly normal in that criminals form only a tiny percentage of Nigerians. Two million Americans are incarcerated. Discounting for American overpolicing, we can estimate that perhaps a million Nigerians form a pool that violent criminals can recruit from.
Two problems immediately jump out. First, one million is a large number in absolute terms. Second, our neighbours are not Switzerland. When we take into consideration such ‘oases of stability’ as Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, we are likely dealing with a broader criminal population running close to several millions.
Criminals have to organise to survive and thrive. That grants them an immediate advantage against law-abiding citizens who act as individuals. Our pundits allow criminals to embrace partisan goals as cover. This makes Nigerians have to justify heavy-handed policing tactics against perceived ethnic enemies.
The solution to our problems is so simple even a child could think of it. We must ignore the distractions to good policing. Cops standing on roads with guns, treating us like prisoners in our country will not solve our problems. Tying crimes to criminals and their collaborators will. Every crime has a perpetrator. Catching that perpetrator without burning everybody else is what policing should be. Putting in the work to prevent crimes from occuring in the first place is what policing should be.
The specifics matter less than understanding the big picture. We are confronting millions of criminals – most of them organised – determined to keep us afraid and at each other’s throats. It is only with superior strategy and organisation that we can win.
Emmanuel-Francis is a Nigerian nationalist. He is for clean streets, safe nights and full bellies. Please, indulge his verbosity; and join his campaign to abolish the African Union.