Friday, July 19, 2013

Trayvon Martin: Lessons from the Grave


As the world now knows, on July 13, 2013, the much-anticipated verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was delivered to a packed courtroom and an anxious nation. The verdict, to the consternation of many, was “not guilty” on both counts of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter. Hushed silence enveloped a section of the courtroom and the nation, while the Zimmerman family was relieved to have their son, George, the accused murderer, free again. For the Martin family, it was a double blow; first, they lost their promising son with his whole life still ahead of him; now, the killer is set free to roam the streets by a jury of six whites. Was justice done? It depends on who you ask.
In 1991, after the nation witnessed the video-taped beating of Rodney King, a black man, by an all-white group of Los Angeles police officers, following a car chase, the ensuing outrage and demand for justice and restitution resulted in the officers being charged to court. Of all the officers involved in the beating, only about one received what might be considered a slap on the wrist by, again, an all-white jury in an all-white county, while the rest were basically set free. The riot which followed the verdict resulted into the death of many more people, and destruction of properties and businesses worth billions of dollars; entire neighborhoods were razed by fire and the city of Los Angeles, for a while, was considered a pariah by conventioneers, entertainers and the like. Many years afterwards, not very much has changed in the police perception of blacks, as evidenced by the Fruitvale killing not too long ago. In this case, as in the George Zimmerman case, one is wont to ask; did the officers really commit a crime? The jury did not think so, even though the rest of the nation did. Even though Rodney King went on to win millions in a civil lawsuit, the officers did not suffer any legal consequences beyond the loss of their jobs – some with full benefits.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many young black men lost their lives in the hands of the Dallas police department and the many grand juries set up to determine the culpability of the involved officers in a crime refused to return an indictment, and city officials were powerless to reign in the police and calm the outrage in the black community. It was not until the city witnessed what might be considered an execution of an officer in broad daylight, by a mentally-challenged black man egged on by a black crowd, that the city realized that race relations had deteriorated to a dangerous level, and that the city had become a tinderbox ready to explode. It was then time to pay attention to the daily protests led by black leaders like Diane Ragsdale and John Wiley Price, and do something about it.
There have been other incidents in other cities of the nation, where blacks have met their deaths under very questionable circumstances, both by the police and gun-toting, fly-by-night vigilantes masquerading as neighborhood watchmen. Some of these young blacks were shot in the back, while fleeing from their pursuers – mostly policemen who, in some case, expended more than 50 bullets into one person. Most often than not, these officers claim self-defense or fear for their lives, and go scot-free of any form of legal punishment, thereby emboldening others to follow suit; and the cities and departments, ever eager to sweep the incident under the rug, settle the victims’ families for some millions of dollars, as if money can ever replace the lives lost.

Back to Florida; the incident on February 26, 2012, which resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin, is well-documented and widely publicized. However, a reminder for those who have forgotten is very much in order here. On that fateful day, the deceased was on his way back from a store where he had gone to buy a few things, when he was sighted and followed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer armed neighborhood watchman who lives in the same Twin Lakes community of Sanford, Florida. In the confrontation –against police advice – and scuffle that ensued, George shot Trayvon in, as he claimed, self-defense because he was in fear of his life. As witnessed in cities where similar incidents have occurred, people were outraged, especially within the black community. The usual high-profile demonstrations and calls for justice came from across racial and demographic lines. However, in this particular case, there was a major problem.
In 2005, the state of Florida had passed a law which allows persons who, for any reason, are in fear of their lives from others to stand their grounds and use any means, including the killing of their attackers, to protect and defend their lives. Unlike in a dozen, or so, other states with similar laws, the Florida version does not require that one first exhaust every available option of retreat, except their place of abode; it empowers you to stand your ground wherever you are and defend yourself. Based on the provisions of this law, would any of these two men be said to be wrong in their actions during the altercation? In my opinion, the answer is no. Given more details now available due to the trial, one is safe to conclude that the actions of Trayvon Martin could equally be considered that of one defending himself from George Zimmerman because he feared for his life. The difference here was that George had a gun and was willing to use it, while Trayvon availed himself of the pavement and his fists – much less effective and deadly than a gun. As the son of a retired judge and a policeman-wannabe, George was well-versed in the details of the Florida Stand Your Ground law, and he seemed to have acted within those details.

Could the death of Trayvon Martin have been avoided? Of course! If George Zimmerman was a law-abiding citizen, like his brother Robert claimed on TV, he would have stopped following Trayvon when the police told him to go back and sit in his truck. Also, if the young Trayvon was equally law-abiding, he could have kept walking until, and unless, George blocked his path or impeded his forward progress intentionally. He could, also, have called the police to report someone following him. Hindsight, we are told, is 50-50; therefore, all the could-haves and should-haves only come after a tragedy has occurred.
I may be in the minority here among my fellow black and others who may feel strongly about what happened in Sanford that February night, but I do not think that Mr. Zimmerman is a racist; whether he was profiling Trayvon is a different thing altogether, because not all racial profiling leads to racist acts. Also, there is no corroborated history of racism leveled against him throughout the trial. Rather, he could be considered an overzealous neighborhood vigilante bent on impressing the police department so they can consider him for recruitment when he applies, and who took his hobby too far to a point that even though he is neither dead nor in prison, he will forever be seen as a murderer, even among friends and family. He has become another Casey Anthony, and will live out the rest of his life in perpetual fear of losing it. It is not the kind of life worth wishing on one’s enemy.

What lessons should we, as parents of the Trayvon Martins of this world, learn and pass on to our children to help them deal with the problems they face in the hands of police, politicians,  and the George Zimmermans of this our great country? Plenty! Just as other races warn their children – rightly or wrongly, to be wary of and, if possible, avoid the presence of blacks. It has become critically important for us to educate and convince our children that racism and racial profiling is very much alive and well, and that some politicians in some states have genuinely taken it upon themselves to enact draconian laws, couched in religious beliefs and the need for safety, specifically designed to target minorities, especially blacks. Making our children aware of these does not make us racists; rather, it helps us keep our children alive, and avoid the many heart-wrenching losses as the Martins are going through now. As the saying goes; since the birds have learnt to fly without perching, the hunter must learn to shoot without aiming.
As parents of an endangered species, we must intimate our children of the existence of state laws designed to entrap and harm them; laws like the Three Strikes in California and other states; the Concealed Weapons laws in many states; the voter ID laws currently sweeping Republican-controlled states, and many others designed to prey on the ignorant. Also, since most of these laws were enacted through the political legislative process, they can only be changed through the same way; therefore, we should emphasize to our young ones the importance of political involvement from an early stage in their lives, starting with registering to vote once they attain the legal age; to scrutinize everyone running for public office to ascertain the real person behind the political fa├žade, and for them to understand that because one smiles at you or laughs with you does not mean that one likes or accepts you. Most importantly, though we may not be able to force certain behaviors on them, we can teach them the consequences of their character and behavior choices, including their mode of dressing. All of these will go a long way to keep our children alive and out of trouble a little longer outside their immediate families and race.

The death and verdict on the Trayvon Martin case will not be the last, because it was not the first; the protests and marches for and against both will not be the last either. There will be many more like it down the road, led by many more Al Sharptons, et al, and involving both blacks and other races until, as was the case with the California Three Strikes, the laws begin to turn on its proponents. To the families of both George and Trayvon, I hope God will grant you the fortitude to bear your losses; for the Martin family, the death of Trayvon; for the Zimmerman family, George, the living dead

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Constitutional Rights, Liberties and Moral Conscience


On Thursday May 23, the Boys Scout of America voted to allow openly gay boys into the organization. This was the result of a combination of push by a lesbian who wanted her son to exercise his right to freedom of association, and the subtle threat by corporations to stop donations to the Boys Scout if changes were not made to adapt to current societal norms. In recent months, many states in America have passed laws either allowing same sex civil unions or marriages, to the chagrin of Christians and other conservative bodies.

Far from the shores of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries have equally made changes to accommodate the constitutional rights and liberties of gays and lesbians. I recall the shouts of joy that greeted the decision of the New Zealand parliament to pass the law approving civil union, while listening to the radio on my way to work. Meantime, in some countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, homosexuals are under threats of death and dismemberment. Some countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda have made it a crime punishable by death to engage in homosexual acts; not long ago, the Nigerian senate passed a law ascribing long prison sentences to anyone found engaging in homosexual acts. These countries have always referred to their religious and spiritual beliefs as the driving force behind their decisions; they consider homosexual conducts immoral and un-Godly. Ironically, in these same countries, the law-makers and rulers do not consider it immoral and un-Godly to steal from the poor, deny basic amenities to their citizens, run their countries to the ground, and brazenly kill their political opponents. Obviously to them, morally, this practice is acceptable and Godly.

In the US constitution, widely copied by many emerging and nascent democracies, fundamental human rights are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and fiercely protected by law. These include the freedoms of association, speech, religion, choice, and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Equally included in the constitution is the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Some of these freedoms and rights are borne out of our various religious and societal mores, which forms and shapes our consciences and daily conducts. A conflict arises when society – that is, we – try to strike a balance between our rights, liberties and conscience. This balancing act has, so far, defied even the courts.

Today, governments at every level, conservative groups, and churches, are conflicted on what to do to strike an acceptable balance in the face of an ever-changing, dynamic society. In the state of Arizona, a County Sherriff struggles to strike a balance between a state law which empowers him to stop every brown-skinned resident of his county to ascertain their residency status, against their constitutional rights of freedom of movement without restriction and association. In Farmers Branch, Texas, the city council finds itself in breach of federal law and constitutional provision of fundamental human rights in their efforts to keep illegal immigrants out of their community. The council edict which bars landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, or businesses from employing them, though legally correct, runs counter to the provisions of the biblical instruction to not reject or deny anyone, and to be our brothers’ keeper; the same bible, Koran or other spiritual resources from which we draw most of our moral values.

Following the killing of 12 people and injury to over 50 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and the massacre of 26 people (20 of them children under the age of 12) in Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut,  last year, members of congress and some state legislators found themselves caught  in a triad of two constitutional rights – the right to bear arms and the right to life, and the moral obligation to preserve life, in their attempts to amend the gun laws so as to prevent such incidents as we had in Newtown and Aurora. Recently, this same conflict between constitution and conscience surfaced in the US fight against terrorism. Questions have grown louder as to whether it is justifiable to kill Americans in the fight against terrorism. Again, the conflict is between the right to life as guaranteed in the US constitution and the guarantee of safety and security of every American by the government.

On the issue of abortion, pro-lifers have justified their, sometimes fatal, actions against abortion-rights activists and providers on the constitutional and moral right to life. On their part, rights activists have based their actions on the same constitutional provision of freedom of choice. In their efforts to enforce these moral and constitutional rights to life, pro-lifers have had to violate the rights of pro-abortionists. In such instances, they referred to their moral obligations to preserve human life as the reason for their decisions. Unfortunately, the very same source of these moral values and obligations, the bible, had preached against the taking of any life for any reason. In furtherance of this moral obligation, pro-lifers encourage poor and teenage pregnant women not to have abortions; yet, fail to provide them with the resources they need once the baby is born; even as they, secretly, take their pregnant teenage daughters to abortionists in the dead of night.

Last year, the state of Texas cut off financial assistance to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of basic health care to low income women, because the organization performs or supports abortion. This action left about 58,000 rural poor Texas women without basic health services like mammograms, pre-and post-natal checkups, and the like. In its defense, the state claimed that it will be going against its right to life laws by continuing to support an organization which provides abortion. In this, the state was right to implement its laws. Unfortunately, the process of implementation of this law, which was borne out of morality and conscience, conflicted with the federal constitutional law which outlawed discrimination on the basis of basically everything imaginable under the sun, and the moral law which emphasizes inclusion and equality under God. Basically, the state of Texas was willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of 58,000 of their women, and violate some federal and moral laws, in order to implement others. Interestingly, when the federal government withheld counterpart funding for the program, the state went to court, claiming that the federal government lacks the right to do so. Here again, we see conflicts between constitutional rights and moral conscience.

The issue of gay rights, civil unions, and same-sex marriages has dominated the political landscape in recent times. This is even more divisive and conflicting than any other issue, including illegal immigration. This is more so because the future of some political parties depend on which way they lean on the issue. Opponents of homosexuals have always referred to the bible to justify their positions. They allude to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to emphasize the seriousness of punishment that awaits any society that accepts homosexual acts. They are equally quick to remind society that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, etc; they attempt to force their beliefs and moral values on the rest of society, and in the process stymie the constitutional freedom of choice, association, and the right to happiness. Hypocritically, they openly condemn homosexuals, while forcing their like-kind offspring to remain closeted; thereby denying them the freedom and rights conferred on them by the constitution.

In recent years, stories have emerged of pastors, priests, and reverends of various religious denominations preaching against homosexual practices one day, and caught sleeping with altar boys and congregation members the next day; of prominent conservative politicians pushing anti-homosexual laws one day, only to announce publicly the next that their son or daughter is homosexual; of companies openly opposing same-sex marriages and civil unions, and at the same time welcoming their monies at the counters with open arms. This forces the question; is a coin held by a stained finger not equally stained?

In the middle of this entire struggle to define and take a stand on these very divisive issues is our moral value which, in part, forms our conscience. The Boys Scout of America is a vehicle for imparting strength, communal support, morality, and hard work on our youth; however, in its long-standing policy of excluding openly homosexual boys from the organization, it was denying these boys the constitutional freedom to associate in pursuit of happiness. Yet, while maintaining this policy of exclusion based on religious values, it was not self-restricting in its acceptance of funds from this so-called morally corrupt segment of our society. The recent vote to openly allow gays into the Boys Scout organization may have been morally wrong for some; it was constitutionally right in a nation that emphasizes equal rights under the law, and an organization which depends on the generosity of individuals and corporations to survive.

When the bill to strengthen the gun laws failed in the senate, the National Rifle Association and its supporters, which included many in congress, pointed to the 2nd amendment of the constitution as the reason for their votes. Ironically, many of the very same politicians have supported every anti-abortion bill that had made it through congress, citing both constitutional and biblical right to life as the reason for their support. This reminds one of the novel Animal Farm, and a possible message that some lives are truly more equal than others; or that while there may be a moral justification to protect the life of an unborn child, there is no such obligation to protect and preserve an already existing one.

The same, or similar, assumption could be made of the decision by the state of Texas to cut off financial assistance to Planned Parenthood; thereby, leaving 58,000 rural poor women without basic healthcare. The state government’s moral obligation to protect the rights of the unborn, over-rode its constitutional obligation to provide life (healthcare) for all Texans, liberty (right to choose), and an enabling environment to pursue happiness to these women, some of whom, possibly, lost the very same pregnancies the state was trying to protect, due to lack of access to adequate health services. How ironic!

The debate on why children develop emotional and sexual feelings for the same sex is still raging; while scientists and psychologists attribute it to genetics, the religious community believes that this practice is developed and cultivated due to spiritual and moral bankruptcy, arising from society’s abandonment of God’s ways. On this belief is premised their decision to consider homosexuality evil. Assuming the religious communities were to be correct, what would be the appropriate way to approach this evil practice? While some members of the clergy have adopted isolationism, others have opted for spiritual exorcism. The problem with isolationism is that it negates the biblical principle of inclusion and oneness under God. So, while it may be morally right to condemn homosexuals, it is equally religiously wrong to isolate or reject them.

While it may be politically expedient, and in conformity with party ideology to rail against liberal or conservative views and principles –depending on which political fence one chooses to perch- it is equally politically suicidal to close one’s doors against a strongly independent and financially viable segment of the voting society; especially, in an age and time when the perceived leaders of tomorrow are increasingly non-religious, without a defined ideology, and openly bi-sexual. Recent decisions by some churches to ordain homosexual priests seem to be in recognition that these are the congregation of tomorrow, and preparations must be made to accommodate them. A continuous practice to isolate them, though morally and principally in keeping with religious doctrine, will spell extinction of the church; something that businesses, community leaders, and private non-governmental organizations have begun to realize. Here, also, lies a conflict between moral values and survival. In this example, Christian values and principles were sacrificed for the need to survive and remain viable.

In every difficult situation one confronts in life, be it economic, political, social, or moral judgment, there is bound to be an opportunity cost involved in the eventual decision on what position we take. For that Sherriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County in the state of Arizona, a moral obligation to carry out the immigration laws of his state came at the cost of constitutional rights and freedom of a specific demographic and race of the residents of the county. Whichever option he chose would still have made him enemies. When we decide not to serve a certain race, gender or sexual orientation based on our moral and religious beliefs, we not only close the door on an opportunity to expand our horizon, but we also deny ourselves the market and revenue share of that segment. Many times, when we take a stand based on our moral values, like in the case of abortion and homosexuality, we inadvertently trample on the constitutional rights of others. If, on the other hand, we are to take a stand based on the constitutional provisions, like the right to bear arms, we compromise the rights and moral obligation to preserve the life, safety and security of others.

When we adopt positions based on the pursuit of our rights, liberties and freedom, such positions will always be in conflict with our moral and religious values. Unfortunately, our constitutional rights and moral values will always conflict, because they interact and overlap in every position we take. Finding an amicable balance will always be difficult because we had, over the years, pushed ourselves to the extremes of our convictions, and have become accepting of intersectional consequences of our moral values and constitutional rights.

 

Felix Oti

Arlington, TX

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The King’s Bickering Horsemen


First it was Olusegun Aganga, many months ago, lecturing Charles Soludo on the principles of financial economics, and the right path to Nigeria’s ever elusive economic prosperity. Then there was Oby Ezekwesili, also a former Minister of many things, raising alarm over fast-dwindling foreign reserves. As if that was not enough to set Nigerian tongues wagging, Nasir El-Rufai, the erstwhile Federal Capital Territory Minister, served up a tall tale of his days in the Obasanjo administration in his recent book, The Accidental Public Servant; the same administration Dr. Soludo and Oby Ezekwesili served in.

Not to be left out, the former Aviation Minister, among many other positions, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, recently wailed about the short-comings of the present Jonathan administration, and its concerted effort to roll back the tide of “progress” achieved by the Obasanjo administration (Nigerians are still looking for this tide of progress the good chief was talking about). Going further, he invoked spiritual powers, both divine and otherwise, to descend on the nation and its governors and exert a pound of vengeful flesh on those who, as he claimed, are responsible for the death of 4200 Nigerians, among other horrible deeds.

Just when we were thinking that all the bickering and finger-pointing had died down, here comes Dr. Soludo challenging some of the assertions, personal and general, made by El-Rufai in his book. In his piece published yesterday in many blogs and, I guess, ThisDay Newspaper too, the former Central Bank governor, among many other titles, strove to set the records straight –at, least according to him – on some of the claims made by his former colleague (they both served the same King, Obasanjo who himself had, on a few occasions,  lamented the slow pace of action by his hand-picked and ill-groomed ultimate successor, Jonathan) on some issues and actions taken during their years of service together.

It is not unusual for colleagues in the same government, retired or serving, to bicker over one thing or the other, and the practice is not limited to Nigeria or Africa alone. It happens in the US, Europe, Asia and Central America. Why? Because everyone who has ever served in government, especially one considered a disappointment by the citizenry, always lays the blame for their own official short-comings on someone/something else. That is partly the scene that is playing out among Obasanjo’s horsemen, and no one should be surprised when many more dirty linens will be laundered in public.

As an admirer of these two players, for very different reasons, I read Dr. Soludo’s piece, and was expecting a reaction from the good Mallam El-Rufai; the fact that it came so quickly was shocking to me, and got me thinking that there may probably be more than meets the eye between these two. As they both probably know very well, in the course of governance, one is bound to meet and serve with many people with differing style and ideas; one is also bound to omit some important ideas, proposals, comments, details in meetings, and specific references by aides, friends and colleagues, regardless of how diligent one is in keeping records and notes. In the ever-busy schedule of senior government officials, one is likely to forget, ignore, or misinterpret statements or recommendations that could have been pivotal in achieving success, or turning the tide in whatever venture one is pursuing. That seems to be the case with El-Rufai and Soludo.

While it is important for one to set records straight, especially in a society like ours where records are easily distorted, it is equally important for one to also sift through the jumble to select and only respond to those references that are critically important to one’s place in the history of national service. Who recommended who to what position, where, and when does not qualify as important here. It is instructive for these two young men to understand that they still have many years of public service ahead of them, and that the likelihood of them working together in the future is very real. Therefore, it is in their best interest to settle their perceived differences outside the pages of newspapers, because their actions portray their master, Obasanjo, and the rest of their colleagues in very bad light.

Felix Oti

Arlington, Texas USA

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lamentations of an Angry Man

Recently, I read an extensive interview – at least, it seemed like it – granted by former Aviation Minister (among many other offices) under the Obasanjo administration, Femi Fani-Kayode to Adewale Aladejana of mytestimonys.blogspot.com. Aside from Femi, some other former members of the Obasanjo administration have, through diverse fora, expressed disappointment at the course the nation has taken under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. They have repeatedly lamented what they see as a regression of the perceived progress made during their terms of service.

In reaction, the attack dogs of the current administration, referred to as today’s men, have,  in occasionally uncharacteristic manner, dismissed these concerns as the ranting of yesterday’s men who could not come to terms with the reality of their current lifestyle as just common ordinary Nigerians (like the rest of the 159.9 million of us). However, a quick reminder that today’s men, when tomorrow comes, could end up as yesterday’s men, seem to have put and end to such childish name-calling.

It is common knowledge the world over that former members of an administration would always have something to complain or criticize about those who took over from where they left off; look at all the former governors in cat-fights with their replacements who, ironically, used to be their assistants or political sons, over various reasons, ranging from the serious to the mundane. What struck a chord with Femi Fani-Kayode’s lamentations was the level of bitterness expressed therein, and the direct accusations and ominous pronouncements made against both the living and the dead. It reminded me of the bitter and curse-laced vituperations of the late Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, after the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) brazenly stole the 1983 general elections. Dr. Azikiwe, outrightly, placed a curse on the NPN, the Shagari administration, and elder statesmen who kept silent while the nation burned –at least, Ondo state did. By December of that year, three months after being sworn in, the second term of the Shagari presidency was violently terminated, and many prominent Nigerians found themselves cooling their heels in moldy jail houses, along with their political opponents.

Now, thirty years later, we have an ex-Minister, though not on the same level as the Owelle; however, a younger one, in a society where his friends and peers are busy devising ways and means to defraud the government in a more mechanized way than ever witnessed in the history of the nation; in a society where people serve in government to line their pockets and service their immediate families, someone this young, with years of fruitful (?) service to his nation still ahead of him, feels so wronged by his observations of the bungling of the current administrations that he would make doomsday pronouncements about the nation and people of Nigeria. He felt so frustrated by the slow pace of progress (if any) that he would, pointedly, accuse the president by name of being weak-kneed and running down the country.

Did Femi Fani-Kayode go too far? I have been pondering the answer to that question since I read the interview. Listen to him, though waxing spiritual, quoting bibles and making references to stories showing a Godly order of doing things: “there will be a change in Nigeria, whether anyone likes it or not. It will be a brutal change”. He went on to call attention to the high poverty rate, unemployment, crime rate, corruption which has grown exponentially under the current administration, and insecurity;  all perennial problems which are not particular to the Jonathan administration. He directly accused the president of incompetence, wishy-washy, weak, indecisive, and ineffective towards the security situation pervading the northern parts of the nation. He even placed the death of, according to him, 4200 Nigerians in the hands of Boko Haram on the feet of the president. All these are, unfortunately, appendages frequently tagged on the president by many Nigerians, regardless of party, gender, and ethnic origin.

At a point, the criticism takes a funny turn; at least in my opinion. H e accused the government of using the EFCC, SSS, and other security and regulatory apparatus to harass people who dared to criticize it; something which was the norm under the Obasanjo administration which he served. One is left wondering why Femi did not object then, even mildly, as he is doing now to the Jonathan administration. Many state governors, Ministers, senators and PDP officials are living witnesses to Obasanjo’s use of the national security tool to destroy people. I am sure Femi needs no reminding that what goes around comes around; also, that in some legal parlance, silence is akin to acquiescence. Or, closer to home, his brother’s famous statement in the novel, The Man Died, that evil thrives where good men keep silent – something like that.

On the late Yar, Adua, Chief Fani-Kayode practically called him an evil man, and appeared to gloat over his passing. He complained how the late president hounded and haunted his family with the EFCC and other state security apparatus, because he dared to speak out. According to him, Yar’Adua had no business being president of a nation like Nigeria. Ironically, this is the same man who admitted privy to all the manipulations that imposed the late president on Nigerians; it was the same Femi who, after the anointing, took Yar’Adua to meet with the late Libyan dictator, Khadafy. It was the same Obasanjo’s political manipulation that threw up an obscure Jonathan to the position of the vice presidency, thereby producing a weak president and a weaker vice president. In all this doing, good men like Femi who had front row seats in the Obasanjo administration, kept silent while this evil thrived.

In a way, the blame for the current state of the nation lays partially on Femi Fani-Kayode’s feet. He was there when Obasanjo took control of the PDP apparatus and weakened its leadership; he was there when the same Obasanjo selected a sick, weak man as president; he was there when the same Obasanjo hounded good men like Audu Ogbe, and Barnabas Germade out of the PDP, threw Olabode George into prison, sent Arisekola-Alao and Otunba Balogun to their knees, and ran many governors, senate presidents and House speakers out of office for daring to have a mind of their own. Yes, Femi Fani-Kayode was there when Obasanjo sought an unconstitutional third term, and he said nothing.

I am neither a historian nor as religious as Chief Fani-Kayode has proven to be in his interview, but I read something somewhere that went like this (I am sure Femi knows it):

First they came for the communist,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me
.

Yes, like every Nigerian, Femi has the right to complain and lament the current state of Nigerian affairs; what he does not have is the right to blame it wholly on the current administration, which many of us are not fans of. I also believe that one should always come to equity with clean hands; in this case, Femi’s hands are not clean. Though he may have, on his own, done his best to improve the lives of the ordinary Nigerian when he was in government, he lacked the same courage and decisive action he now expects from Jonathan and his lieutenants when his own boss was laying the foundations for the current state of our nation.

Felix Oti

Arlington, TX

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Boko Haram, Yusuf Yakubu, and the Nigerian Family.

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.

 
Felix Oti


Arlington, TX.

 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nigeria: There Was Once a Country


“If you cannot leave us better than you found us, at least, try and leave us the same way you found us when you came.”

                                                                                                                 … Arochukwu elders’ advice.

 When I returned to the US in 2004, after spending three and half years in Nigeria, I swore never to bother myself about anything Nigeria and its myriad of problems anymore. Alas, that oath lasted only three months. Like the proverbial boil under one’s armpit, I could not ignore the country of my birth; so, before you could blink twice, I was back worrying and wringing my hands over Nigeria’s seemingly uncontrollable descent to the abyss.

For the record, I am not a frequent traveler to Nigeria, but I am an avid follower of events in that country. In fact, I have only been to that country twice, since I left its shore in 1987: first time in 2001 when I spent three and half years traveling to all the regions of the country, and recently, in December of 2012, for about a week. Agreeably, not enough time to adequately assess and judge the progress of the country. Unfortunately, this piece is not about Nigeria’s economic, political, and social progress from when I left in 2004 to December 2012; it is more about what we have achieved as a nation from 1960 to 1987; 1987 to 2001, and from 2004 to 2012. It is about finding out whether we are progressing as a nation founded in modern times, or regressing as one.

Referencing the elders’ advice at the beginning of this piece, one would be right to ask; where did our leaders found us in October 1, 1960? I would not know, because I was born in June of the following year. Now, as to where I found the Nigerian state from 1961 to 1987, I can tell you what I saw growing up in Enugu in the sixties up to the civil war, Umuahia, Arochukwu, back to Enugu, Lagos, Yola, Numan, Ife, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Gboko, Ilorin, Owerri, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Abagana, Jos, Kano, Kaduna, and a few other cities I briefly spent time in. The phones worked, the water and power supplies were steady, roads and bridges were constructed to last an eternity, and healthcare was available, accessible, and affordable. Education was affordable and of a quality at par with those obtained in Europe and the US and university students were recruited even before their graduation for either further studies overseas, or into the civil service to help build the country. Law and order was the norm, and crimes were few and far in-between. Regions were economically and financially self-sustaining, and politicians across the tribes tripped over each other to deliver the dividends of leadership/public service to their people. All of these, unfortunately, were interrupted by the 30-month civil war, following attempted secession by the Eastern region under the late Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu.

In 1970, following the end of the civil war and the creation of 12 states under the Gowon administration, life was somewhat back to normal. In the major cities not affected by the war, infrastructures and other available social amenities remained functional. For the regions affected by the war, government exerted time, money, and efforts to reconstruct what were damaged, and return the bureaucracy to an acceptable functional level. Education, health care, security, power, water, and food prices were returned to the levels close to, if not the same level they were before the civil war. Civil servants received their salaries, unfailingly, on or before the 25th of every month. Families were able to plan and budget on what to expect at the end of every working month, and with such assurance, there were minimal disruptions in the family unit. The lower class could plan on moving to a class above; education was serious business, and universities recruited on meritorious academic achievements. In short, the country was so promising that newly-independent Asian countries trooped to Nigeria to learn the secret of our success. Unfortunately, from 1978, the sky began to fall nationwide.

From 1979, when politicians assumed the leadership of Nigeria, the quality of everything in Nigeria began to deteriorate, unlike in other countries of the same age of independence from the same colonial master. Old roads were left without maintenance and new ones were of such low quality that they only had a life span of six months. Qualities of education and healthcare plummeted, while admissions were rationed and affordability shot through the roof, because funding dried up overnight. To the politicians, many of whom were illiterate, education and healthcare were not priorities. Civil service jobs were reserved for cronies and relatives, while salaries were no longer regular and on time, thereby causing disarray and disruption in families. Water and power supply became more infrequent than they have ever been in decades before, yet annual budgets for same increased exponentially.  Crime waves were on the increase, transportation systems developed unending hiccups, and travel time between destinations doubled due to dilapidated road networks.

While one could easily attribute the many problems to an increasing population; one could also make the argument that along with populations increase came revenue increase from oil. Visionless leadership and lack of proper, if any, planning were more of Nigeria’s stunted growth than population increase. Meantime, corruption, the 8-headed monster, gradually crept into every fabric of the Nigerian society.

From 1984 to 1993, the country had hit rock bottom, in spite of attempts by the Buhari/Idiagbon administration to shock the citizenry into reality. The country was on a rapid descent into Third World status; an unfortunate state for a nation that gained independence at a developing or Second World level. Our leaders had moved us from where they found us in 1960 – middle of the bus – to the back of the bus, and ever since then we have been groping in the dark for the door out of this bus. During the period under review, corruption became officially institutionalized, in an attempted by the leadership to spread the national cake and, in their words, ease the economic hardship of IMF-imposed austerity measures. Along with corruption came moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Pen robbery was sanctioned at the highest seat of government, leading to increase in serious and violent crimes at the lower level; dissent was muscled and muffled at every level, sanctioned killings were the order of the day and, not to be outdone, religious institutions and their leadership joined the game. Education, healthcare, and other social amenities declined to the level of non-existence. Our roads became death traps, railway service ground to a halt, and Nigeria Airways was reduced to a hand-full of planes used by top government officials; with time, event that was history.

Nigeria’s security agency personnel spent more time collecting bribes than solving crimes. Though the overall number of universities doubled, the quality of education was at that level was at par, and sometimes lower, with those of secondary school students in the US and Europe. The Nigerian Middle Class disappeared, while illiterate business men and soldiers graduated from bicycle owners to private jet owners overnight, even as manufacturing fell to 35% of capacity. Hospitals were reduced to places where Nigerians go to die, and our primary – and most secondary – schools moved from under zinc roofs to under tree branches. Yet, during the same period, Nigeria’s oil revenue multiplied five-fold, and most of the former British colonies that gained independence the same time as Nigeria, continued on a progressive path to economic and social greatness, even under dictatorships. With no new refineries in over ten years, no other functional international air or sea port, except the ones in Lagos, the wheels were truly coming off the bus of Nigeria’ overall progress, and our leaders remained clueless, even with frequent changes at the top.

While not a frequent visitor to Nigeria up to December 2000, I made it a duty to keep abreast of almost everything that went on in that country, through Nigerian dailies, weekly magazines, government reports, and other international news outlets – biased or not. Most importantly, I interacted and exchanged views with the ordinary Nigerian. Yet, nothing prepared me for the level of decay and chaos I witnessed from 2001 to 2004, compared to the state of the nation prior to my leaving in 1987. For the next three and half years, I traversed every region of the nation by road and observed developmental progression at every level. I made these trips on my own expense and without directives or sponsorship from any organization or government agency; I visited some federal historical universities, hospitals, secondary schools, state capitals, cities, government offices, headquarters of some corporations, and found them all in advanced state of decay, disrepair, and/or chaos. Hospitals had become mortuaries, universities were nothing more than brothels with students in intense competition with their colleagues in secondary schools, all patronized by our leaders at every level of government and industry. Major roads had been reduced to deathtraps, with erosion splitting communities into islands. Power and water supplies were worse than 1987 standards, and people, forced by crime, were now living in 8-foot high fortresses built with their own money.

No new cities were built by any government at any level, except for Abuja; civil service salary arrears ran into close to 12 months in some state and federal agencies; pensioners were dying on queues while their daughters scavenged the streets looking to exchange sex for money, so that their parents could survive another day. Meantime, politicians and state governors built hospitals, refineries, and universities in South Africa and Dubai; at the same time Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia continued on their progressive march to becoming economic giants that will keep Nigerians away from their countries. To understand the extent of decay on our federal and state infrastructure, a trip from Lagos to Umuahia now took twice the same length of time in 2002 than it took in 1987. While one was able to make it to Umuahia by 4-5PM in 1987, it took three hours longer to cover the same distance, by the same mode of transportation, in 2002. Again, in the same time period, federal revenue quadrupled enough to offset any commensurate population increase.

Come December 2012, eight years later, I ventured into Nigeria, in anticipation of changes based on a chronicle of achievements published by government officials and their paid agents, except now with a difference; while it was impossible to verify some of their claimed developmental achievements in 2001, it has become, over the years, technologically easier to verify same claims in real time. Also, with an emboldened media, angrier and more demanding population, and almost fourteen years of modern democracy under its belt, I anticipated progress at every level of government in every state. Boy, was I disappointed by what I saw in the few places I passed through.

Granted, I did not have enough time to travel extensively as was the case during my last trip to Nigeria, I was still able to cut across a few states – Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Delta, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and Abia states in four days. While there is visible evidence of progress in some of these states, especially Lagos, Delta, Edo, and Anambra; most of the rest of Ondo, Imo and Abia states remain the same, except for increased chaos. There were little evidence of improved infrastructural development and an increased level of decay of same. To the average Nigerian in their thirties, there is considerable improvement in the provision of some amenities from when they were born to the present; however, to those of us who lived when there was a functional Nigeria, things have gone from bad to worse, given the length of time to get it together, and available resources to the disposal of our leaders. Sadly, majority of our leaders at every level, who grew up in that era, also acknowledge this – albeit, privately.

Yes, there was once a Nigeria where her citizens were proud to identify with, where the green and white flag was proudly raised; where exemplary leadership was the norm, not the exception; where the interest of the people was priority to the leadership; where corruption was abhorred and criminals treated as outcasts by their kit and kin. A Nigeria where people succeeded on the strength of their hard work; where leaders would proudly point to their lasting achievements beneficial to their people; a nation where government officials were recognized and rewarded by their people for services rendered. Yes, a Nigeria where water and power once flowed for the asking; a Nigeria of my youth.

Today, that Nigeria no longer exists. Yes, there is still a country –a Nigeria where rudderless leadership is the norm; where corruption is accepted, and criminality is glorified and rewarded. A Nigeria where insecurity reigns supreme, and self-built prisons are the trend; where education though expensive, lacks quality; where hope and optimism is found only in churches run by fraudulent men of God. A Nigeria where justice can be bought and paid for at will; where infrastructural decay is considered progress, and healthcare availability is dreamt of, not realized. Yes, a Nigeria where its own leadership have lost hope in its very existence, and every citizen below the age of 35 have not experienced anything other than corruption and social decadence.

 

Felix Oti


Arlington, Texas.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Religion, Gun Rights and Mass Killings


A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”

“Due to the necessity of the security of a free state, the right of the people of that state to keep and bear arms under a well-regulated militia is very important and must ne maintained”

“The people shall have unfettered right to keep and bear arms as part of a militia, in order to provide security to a free state”

As you can see, the first quote is the words of the second amendment to the constitution, while the other two are the same Second Amendment re-written in a simplified form. They all have the words right, people, bear, and arms. This sentence has been subject to multiple interpretations by both legal luminaries of both the bar and the bench, and ordinary gun owners with little command of the English language.
Though this piece is not about the NRA, it is necessary to point out that the NRA is not a militia, because its members are scattered all over the fifty states, and they are not regulated as a militia in any of these fifty states, nor are they in the business of keeping peace in any state. So, their argument that the constitution gives individuals the right to bear arms falls flat, regardless of the rulings of the Supreme Court to the various legal challenges.

Now back to the issue for this piece; gun rights, mass killings, and religious beliefs. As we are all well aware, last December, a young shy-looking man walked into an Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 pupils, six adults, his mother and himself. The world was in shock, a community was devastated, parents were left wondering where else their children could feel safe, and the nation’s leadership was lost for words. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and voodoo priests all proffered reasons and solutions; gun rights advocates and opponents alike jaw-jawed and hee-hawed, each pointing fingers at the other and offered a myriad of reasons why this happened. The NRA suggested arming students and teachers alike, posting armed guards at every school in the nation, and easing existing restrictions on gun ownership. Opponents advocated outright ban of military-style assault rifles.
On the other side, organizations like the Brady Campaign, police chiefs, grieving parents, religious organizations, and teachers called for tighter controls, background checks, psychiatric evaluations, and outright ban on gun ownership. The Obama administration set up a committee, chaired by the Vice-President to come up with suggestions on how to curb this menace, states joined the fray with pro- and anti-gun legislations, and news media personalities, like Anderson Cooper, brought interest groups together to proffer solutions. Meantime, gun sales shot through the roof in anticipation of government restrictions, and the NRA membership increased by 50 from after Newtown%.

As a nation, would we ever tire of these mass killings? Little Rock, Tucson, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Newtown, New York, Austin, just to name a few. Oklahoma City was a planned terrorist act, and does not belong on this list. The annual death toll from mass shooting in US is more than all the casualties we suffer in terrorist attacks in the same time period; yet, while we scream for blood against the terrorists who kill a handful of our citizens, we appear helpless, or politically unwilling, to stop the same act of terror inflicted on us by our own neighbors and friends. We invest money in lobbies and ads campaigns to defend a misinterpreted right to bear arms, yet volunteer to go to war against terrorists thousands of miles away. Don’t get me wrong, we reserve the right to retaliate when some foreign entity harms us; just as the government reserves the same right to act domestically to prevent the mass killing of its citizens by any means. The question is: which rights supersede the other?
Just after the 2008 elections, when Sarah Palin, an avid game hunter and former running mate to Sen. John McCain, assumed the image of the Tea party, one of her popular phrase went something like this: “I carry my bible in one hand and my gun in the other.” She preached about family values (which, ironically includes life); railed against abortion; was for God in the center of every family, while defending gun ownership as a constitutional right. She is not alone in these beliefs. However, the seeming cozy relationship between a gun and a bible, as portrayed by the likes of Sarah Palin, is what many like me could not wrap our heads around. Because, throughout the new testament which we all who call ourselves Christians, presently live by – at least, to some extent, there is no mention of guns or rights to bear arms. Yet, many of the same people who would kill to prevent abortion, because it is against biblical teachings – will equally do the same to protect their rights to carry a gun which, ironically, is equally against biblical teachings. Remember Jesus admonishing one of his disciples for cutting off the ears of one of Pilates guardsmen.

One of the proposals on the table for consideration by the government and Congress is conducting serious background checks on gun buyers, and closing the gun show loopholes. According to proponents, this will seriously reduce the incidence of selling guns to a mentally unstable person. Unfortunately, the NRA, and other gun rights advocates are against this; their claim being that it had not worked in the past, and will not likely work in the future. The NRA Board member on a recent Anderson Cooper gun debate went so far as claiming that background checks places undue burden on law-abiding citizens. As Anderson rightly asked; how would one determine a law-abiding citizen without a background check? As expected, there was no answering forthcoming from the NRA Board member.
There is no dismissing the fact that gun ownership has saved a lot of lives –though it has cost some lives of their owners too, and that people die more from such things as motor accidents, cigarette smoking, suicides, and unnecessary wars than do in mass shootings. While all that may be true, the fact remains that one preventable death, by any means, is more valuable than all the rights and privileges vested in a society by its constitution. Because, after all, the primary responsibility of a state is to protect and preserve the lives of its entire people; that is what the forefathers of this land had in mind when the inserted the 2nd Amendment into the constitution.

Today, we have a well regulated militia, the military, both at state and national level; we have a well regulated police force in every state, city and county, and we have a well regulated secret service, as all provided in, and covered by the 2nd Amendment. What we do not need in this country is individuals, mentally stable or unstable, stacking up military-style weapons like Uzis, AK-47 and 49s, M-16s, and the like, under the guise of a constitutional amendment. What we do not need is mass funerals every month, mass hysteria in communities, parents in perpetual mourning, school compounds under lock and key, and police resources diverted to problems that should not exist in the first place.
The gun debate may not be resolved today or tomorrow; it may not be resolved by this administration or the next one, and it may not be resolved by the next mass killing. Like many problems before it in this nation, the solution will come when the citizens –opponents and proponents alike –are repulsed enough by the unnecessary shedding of blood that they can no longer sustain an excuse for the carnage; when gun manufacturers tire of their product being associated with mass murders, and when we come to the realization that guns have no place in a Christian home. Meantime, all and everyone who believes in right of the government to protect the lives of its citizens must support every effort at every level to put an end to what we are going through in this country.  After all, one has to be alive to defend one’s constitutional rights.