Abiodun Baiyewu is the Executive Secretary of Global Rights Nigeria. In a chat with Thinkers Newspapers, she insisted that resource control is driving the various conflicts in the country.
Can you share your thoughts with us on the increase in violence?
Let me start by saying that there has been a sharp increase in the number of gender based violence in Nigeria. And more particularly in the number of that are now being killed by their spouses across Nigeria. I think it is worrying but not particularly surprising. It is not surprising because our threshold for violence has particularly risen and that constituencies that are generally not considered violent are becoming violent. I think this killing need to be further interrogated and find the sociological and psychological reasoning behind them if they are in anyway linked at all to the general state of violence across the country. A lot of Nigerians are not getting the psychological outlet and are beginning to vent their frustration on the people closest to them-their intimate partner. But recently, there have been reports of parents beating their children to death in the past 2-3 years, and particularly last year. And just a month this year, there has been an increase in these numbers. Yet again, I believe that capital punishment is not the right kind of punishment for any of fence under the law. I think the human race has passed the stage where the state should kill people for killing other people. I think there are more constructive sentences that can be passed on a guilty party. Life imprisonment with hard labour for example, maybe more productive to a society and more of a deferent than a person who is killed by the state. When the state kills who will kill the state. That is my personal opinion about it. Moving specifically to the Sander murder case, I think it is unfortunate that in the rage of passion but I doubt if a psychological evaluation was conducted on her.
What can we attributed to this?
We need to investigate the entire culture of violence that has taken us over. And our threshold for violence has risen. We are becoming more violent by the day. The crimes in Nigeria are more violent than 10 years ago. And every region of Nigeria has become more violent – every single region. Security and the economy are the two biggest issues on the minds of Nigerians at this point in time.. And the two are interlinked. So we find out that there is a lot of frustration in families due to the economic hardship but there is also frustration in families due to religious and social inhibitions that stop people from being able to find outlets. For example, a woman finds her husband cheating but her religion says till death do you part. And her frustration is not the harbinger of death itself to part them. And we say why did she kill him? We are also the same society that says you cannot leave him. And in that frustration she ended up killing her husband. For Maryam Sander, the picture painted was that she found nude pictures in her husband phone. We need to question the mindset of a woman who will run, stab her husband several times for having an affair. That is why I said a psychological evaluation should have been performed on her. Does she have a history of violence? Why is adultery more tolerable for some people. It still seem a far fetched idea to kill a spouse for that, you could walk away particularly for a woman in a society where adultery is acceptable for men. Whether for men, women or for anyone, I have never been an advocate for capital punishment.
But over the last couple of years government has been trying to address these issues?
The biggest problem in Nigeria is impunity. When a crime is committed and that crime is not punished what you do is that you motivate people to avenge themselves rather than for the state to avenge for them the harm that has been done to them. And that is what happens in a lot of the crisis across the country. So sometime some issue will start off a conflict but in the escalation of that conflict other issues will come in. There is the case of Jos-Plateau for example. The initial crisis were not really about access to resources, to water, to being able to mine, to being able to grow crops. When the initial conflict happened people were killed; people lost their homes; people lost their lands; the government did nothing about it. Those that lived through it felt the need to retaliate. Their retaliation is not about the land anymore but about their grievance that was not addressed by the government, that is what has happened in the case of Jos-Plateau and is happening in Southern Kaduna as well.
Sometimes last year you did say that water is a source of conflict, it seem to be playing out now?
It is what is playing out and is not been reported! Nigeria has a habit of putting blanket causes to things. When the crisis in the South-South was going on they said restive youth. And when speaking of conflicts in the North it would be religious crisis; in the middle belt it would be ethno religious crisis, but not looking at the underlying causes. For example, take again the Jos-Plateau crisis, most of the Jos Plateau coincidentally are Christians, the herders are Moslems, the miners are both. So when crises happen between the community of the herders and the farmers, rather than seeing them as occupational conflicts, people begin to ascribe ethnicity and religion to what was really about natural resources.
How can this be addressed?
I think we need to be more serious as a people to recognise that conflict is multi-dimensional, that there is no one size fits all way to ascribe conflict. That they look not only to the religion but to education, natural resources, to general politics, to poverty, to the frustrations of the people. I think most importantly, in conflicts across Nigeria, we listen to everybody else but the people involved in the conflict, the people impacted by the conflict and the only way they can be heard is by misbehaving and they do misbehave. And when they misbehave we have a name for them.
Despite government assurance of placing more emphasis on the extractive industry, several years after, we are yet to see any meaningful progress?
First of all progress takes time. We need to be patient. But at the same time, we have been very patient administration after administration. You will remember in 2015 government said it would pay a lot of attention to the mining sector, you will realize that that is five years, you are now in the sixth year of that promise. We should begin to see the burden fit of this promise but we are not. I think government should be more inviative about it, but more importantly, they should put their money where their mouth is. If you are saying mining show us the infrastructure you are building for mining across the country, show us the way you are incentivising mining particularly by local actors. Show us how you are also ensuring that minerals don’t just leave our country, taken away by foreigners for pittance and do not benefit the host communities. Show us how you are providing for host communities so that there can be also be development. All of these we are not seeing, so government still have a lot of showing to do.