On December 25, 2011, a bomb blast in a catholic church in Northern Nigeria killed an estimated 25 worshippers, among who were parents and heads of households. Nigerians of every tribe and tongue, age, gender, and status reacted in disgust to this dastardly act of violence, primarily because it happened inside a church while services were in process, on one of the holiest of Christian days. That same day, in many parts of the country, many more Nigerians died of road accidents; a few pensioners died in their homes and on long queues; many families were evicted from their rental properties and a handful of young girls, thrust with the sudden responsibility of fending for their families, took to the streets and hotel lobbies to make ends meet.
On October of 2012, a massive explosion killed another 25 Nigerians in another church up in the northern parts of Nigeria; again, many of them head of households. And, on December 25th of the same year, gunmen killed 6 worshippers in a part of the same northern Nigeria. During the same period, some young, ambitious university students dropped out of school; a few more pensioners gave up the ghost; many civil servants could not participate in the festivities of the season; quite a few marriages ran into stormy waters, and a number of families found themselves homeless. As a consequence, somewhere in some Nigerian cities, young men took to crime, and their peers of the opposite sex took to the beaches of Eko and many other hotels at night.
“If your wealth is from people’s pensions, that is blood money” – Senator David Mark
In January of 2013, Alhaji Yusuf Yakubu was convicted of stealing in excess of N23 billion in pension funds over a period of years, and convicted to less than three years in prison, or N750, 000 in fines. Nigerians of all rank and files took to the streets to protest what was seen as a pat on the back, and a slap on the blind-folded face of lady justice. While Nigerians were reeling from the shock of both the enormity of the amount involved and the lightness of the sentence, somewhere in some ministry or department, a clerk was busy depositing pension checks in private accounts; in some agency in some state, a director elected to deposit staff salaries in his private account for six months. Consequentially, in some houses across the states, families hurdled around dining tables to deliberate on what essential amenities to cut; how many meals a day to provide, and the quality of those meals; who stays in school and who drops out; who gets clothing and others accessories, and who does not. Despairing of a future without hope and benefit, a young man joins a gang of kidnappers and robbers; a husband send his wife and children to the village to live with her parents “for a while” and, somewhere in Dubai, Qatar, and South Africa, a director of a Nigerian government agency acquires a property worth N10 billion.
In January of 2013, as is the case in many other Januarys of many other years past, a group of pensioners queued on line in many offices across the country to be re-verified, as they have been verified and re-verified many months and years on end, before payments of their entitlements. On this day, in this month, as has been the case in many days in many months, a few pensioners did not make it back to their homes alive; those who did, went home empty-handed to ponder the future, to wonder how much longer they could go on, and what other excuses they could give their creditors for non-payment of their debts. Somewhere, in some bedroom, in some homes, parents hurdled with their daughters to make a difficult decision; husbands and wives nodded in agreement to a decision that has been in abeyance for some months. Their sons conversed with their friends in the same situation and made pacts on the alternative lines of action.
In January, as in many months before, and many more to follow, an Imam, a Mullah, Pastor, and Rabbi preached to his faithful about the values and virtues of family unity and progress. About how a family that stays together progress together; how a progressive family results in a progressive community, and how a progressive community results in a progressive state and nation. How children who grew up in a united family raise one of such, and pass on the values and qualities of such families to their offspring. How we are important to each other in our societies, and how it is our responsibility that each other survives. Somewhere in the audience, a widow, a widower, an orphan, and a pensioner sigh in resignation and unbelief; in recollection of what was, what is now, and what would be.
The continuous death of Nigerians in the hands of Boko Haram leave a lot of families devoid of their main providers; it forces remnants of such families to rethink and re-assess their future, and make life-changing decisions that affect the future of the children forever. The death of the head of any and every household alters the economic and social standing of that family forever; only very few families continue, albeit on a scaled-down level. For many, it all goes downhill to a life of poverty, crime, and prostitution. Some children are pulled out of school, so their siblings could continue; those who elect to stay in school are left to seek ways to remain in those schools, thus leaving them open to crimes like prostitution, kidnapping, or armed robbery. Even the widows/widowers are susceptible to temptations to keep the family going. The attendant effects of the loss of the head of a family, man or woman, tears at the seams of the fabric that holds the family together. And, as the family goes, so goes the community.
Unfortunately, non-payment of staff salaries and pensions has the same destructive effect on families as terrorist acts from Boko Haram. It kills the will, spirit, plans, and hopes of the head; when those things die, the head dies. With the demise of the head, the rest of the body wags aimlessly. It causes the cutting of corners, the adjusting and scaling down of plans and elimination of others. When staff salaries and pensions are delayed, or not paid, families are deprived of means of existence; children are pulled out of schools; daily meals become harder to come by; clothing and other accessories take longer to replace; illnesses are left untreated, leading to premature deaths; the debts pile up, and families are left without roofs over their heads. In families where the spiritual bond is loosened due to difficult situations, marriages disintegrate and, just as with the death of the head in acts of terrorism, adult children are left to find means to fend for themselves – and, in some case, the entire family.
So, whether the root cause is a bomb blast in a catholic church on Christmas day, or the diversion of staff salaries and pensions to private accounts in Europe, US and the Middle East, the effects on the Nigerian family remains the same; devastation. While one method may cause physical death and the other spiritual and emotional death, the end is the same; death. This brings up the question: why are Nigerians not violently and physically repulsed by the diversion and, sometimes, outright withholding of staff salaries and pensions, as they are by the fatal results of terrorism caused by Boko Haram bombings? Could it be because while no one benefits financially from the bombing death of families and their heads of household, a great many Nigerians, though inadvertently through extended relationships, do benefit from the theft of other people’s salaries and pensions by their uncles, aunts, etc? Could it be because while the world could see the lifeless bodies of Nigerians killed by Boko Haram bombs, the same could not be said of the many that died of starvation, illnesses occasioned by malnutrition, and suicide borne out of hopelessness?
Like the senate president rightly said, getting fat off of someone’s hard-earned salaries and pensions is blood money; because, just like in acts of terrorism which leads to death and destruction, depriving others of their livelihood by pen results in the spilling of blood, destruction of the family, the community, and the nation. The sooner Nigerians understand and appreciate the negative impact of this relationship, the sooner they will begin to react the same way to incidents of non-payment of salaries and pensions to deserving Nigerians as they do to acts of terrorism by Boko Haram.