Nigeria: Under siege
During a recent visit to the Nigerian city of Ibadan in Oyo State, I watched my brother Kunle tend to the chickens in his backyard. Like most residents on that morning, he was filled with anxiety, and had no intention of venturing onto the streets.
It was the day that the impeached state Governor Rashidi Ladoja had promised to return to his office to reclaim the seat his erstwhile deputy, Christopher Alao-Akala, had usurped.
After all, the Court of Appeal had declared his impeachment following accusations of corruption as unconstitutional.
But this is Nigeria, where the rule of law is usually determined by those who are applying it.
The acting governor was convinced that the appeal justices erred in their judgement and, backed by the might of the federal government and the fearsome muscle of Ibadan's acclaimed political godfather, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, he had announced that no court could remove him from office.
War had effectively been declared.
Thugs in charge
On the way to talk to the governor, I noticed that mine was virtually the only car on the road.
I parked in a side road and approached groups of people discussing the situation. Suddenly, two jeeps tore down the road, each was packed with thugs: armed men hanging on the doors, shouting obscenities and brandishing guns and gleaming cutlasses, daring anyone to take them on.
Pedestrians scampered for safety and shop owners locked up.
I went for a look round town. Thugs were in charge everywhere.
Shops were randomly broken into, with looting widespread. Some innocent residents were beaten up and dispossessed of valuables.
But the police were busy protecting "public property" - by which I suppose they mean government buildings and, of course, politicians.
For us ordinary people, our continued welfare was in the hands of the gods.
As this macabre drama played out in Ibadan, the people of Anambra State in the south-east and Plateau State in the north central were watching developments in their own governors' offices with equal trepidation.
Their governors were being removed through legislative processes which turned the country's constitution on its head.
Many Nigerians no longer feel democracy is worth defending, having become cynical of politicians.
Eight people, including a member of the Board of Trustees of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the personal assistant to the impeached governor, are facing murder charges for the gruesome killing in August of a former World Bank consultant, Ayo Daramola, who was campaigning for election as the next state governor.
And such violence has engulfed several other states, including Kogi in the north-central, Abia in the south-east, Rivers and Delta in the Niger Delta and Yobe in the north-east.
The situation is now so serious that most prominent politicians surround themselves with armed guards.
Senior PDP members and government functionaries have armed policemen for their own protection, while others draw from the large pool of unemployed youths for whom they procure arms.
Business is booming for illegal firearms dealers across the country. Caches have been reported to be stockpiled in many towns and villages. The police are active across the country.
And there is talk everywhere in Lagos, the commercial capital, that it is easy to procure prospective killers at a price as low as $700.
The price is said to increase with the status of the prospective victim. But as the elections draw nearer the value of human life is diminishing in Nigeria.
Highway bandits, armed robbers, political agitators, ethnic and religious bigots, student cultists all spill blood and snuff life out of their innocent victims without even a wink.
Houses and office blocks in even the most sophisticated areas are built with military fortifications.
Popular actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett lives a quiet life in what is regarded as a peaceful part of Lagos.
She is neither a politician nor a socially flashy person, yet she has been attacked by robbers twice in the last year, and is still trying to recover from the trauma.
"We live in a war zone in Nigeria right now," she says.
"It is when you are involved that you'll know how bad the situation is. Here people are living under siege. It happened to me, it could have happened to anybody else.
"In fact, it's happening to many people. There is nothing the law enforcement agencies do about it."
*This is a free online version of the article that appears in the January - March 2007 edition of BBC Focus on Africa magazine.
Also in this edition of the magazine: Senan Murray profiles the anti-corruption chief, Nuhu Ribadu, who is making life difficult for President Olusegun Obasanjo's opponents.
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