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One phenomenon that, if you ask, should worry all of us is the way we debate national issues without applying the same principles across board. What we condemn in Lagos we condone in Lafia. What we praise in Lokoja we pooh-pooh in Yenagoa. What is sauce for the goose shouldn’t be poison for the gander. This lack of consistency, partly shaped by parochial and hypocritical mindsets, is always at the heart of fierce national debates that often generate tension in the land. It is a destructive tendency. It does not put our common interest at the centre of public engagement. Some issues are so clear cut that if we pursue consistent arguments, our positions should be predictable. But what do we see? We change positions in order to suit the desires of the mob or simply to promote prejudices and biases that have never got us anywhere.
Our discussion today – in illustrating this hypocritical approach to matters of common interest – centres on the issue of militancy, military operations and amnesty. Let’s go back in time. When President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his imperial days, sent soldiers to destroy Odi in 1999, I did not hear protests from Northern leaders. In fact, the Odi invasion had a Hausa code-name, “Hakuri II”. Also, when JTF was bombarding the Niger Delta and killing innocent persons and destroying villages accused of harbouring militants, I did not hear any Northern leader raise a voice against it. Today, anytime the Northern leaders issue statements condemning the indiscriminate killings perpetrated by the JTF especially in Borno and Kano States, I tell myself: I wish these leaders had also spoken out when these same atrocities were being perpetrated in Odi and Gbaramatu.
Speaking out against injustice and highhandedness, no matter what part of the country is at the receiving end, is a better way of building a nation. Now that the shoe is on another leg, I would expect Niger Delta leaders, and anyone who believes in justice, to condemn last week’s military operations in Baga, Borno State, which led to the deaths of defenceless citizens. It was alleged that Boko Haram militants had killed a soldier. The reprisal was exacted on the whole town, with women and children falling victim. This is similar to the Zaki Biam invasion of 2001 when soldiers carried out a mini-genocide because of the killing of soldiers by some rascals. Even in the Odi case, it was a few rascals who killed police officers and soldiers but the entire village paid the price. I will never forget the iconic picture of an elderly woman rummaging through the debris of her home, looking for the burnt remains of her husband. It always breaks my heart to pieces. If it was bad for Odi, then it is bad for Baga too.
Even on the issue of amnesty, I am amazed at certain extreme opinions. When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered amnesty to Niger Delta militants in 2008, many Northerners kicked against it. It was a rebellion that had to be crushed by the military, they argued. Now that the programme has produced a new generation of emergency billionaires and private jet owners in the Niger Delta, amnesty has suddenly become an attractive solution to the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria. To be clear, I do not make the sweeping allegation that all Northerners who are supporting amnesty are hypocritical. But when I hear some of them talk, I shake my head in disgust. What was their position in 2008?
On the other hand, some Niger Delta guys who are opposed to amnesty for Boko Haram are saying: “So these Northerners want to enjoy what we’re enjoying too?” These double standards bother me. This failure to fight consistently on the basis of overriding national interest worries me. The tendency to argue a position because of sectional sentiments disgusts me. If we are to have healthy and robust debates as we struggle to build a viable nation, we must apply the same principles across board. I often marvel at the warped logic that only one part of the country deserves peace because it produces oil and other parts should burn in hell because they don’t produce oil. There are real human beings, like you and I, living in those troubled parts. Their lives are being destroyed. Every part of Nigeria deserves to live in peace. Every citizen of this country deserves to be protected by the state. A peaceful country can produce more than oil. It is ridiculous to reduce the essence of nationhood to oil.
I don’t want to be misunderstood though. I am not saying people should not fight for their own interests. That is a natural fact and I have no problems with that at all. My worry, and this is what I have tried to explain with these illustrations, is that we do not apply the same logic across board. You cannot tell me that JTF was wrong in Gbaramatu and right in Baga or right in Gbaramatu and wrong in Baga. Under no circumstances should civilians be targeted for allegedly harbouring militants. It leaves the doors open to mass murder based simply on suspicion. If you keep quiet or give tacit support to the JTF today because the victims are not your people, what happens when some miscreants in your village kill a security agent and JTF comes to reduce your hometown to dust in retaliation? Is that when you will find your voice and adjust your logic?
This hypocritical approach reminds me of the classic poem written by the late German pastor Martin Niemöller. It says: “First they came for the communists, 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 Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” Yesterday, it was MEND in the Niger Delta. Today, it is Boko Haram in the North. Tomorrow, let’s hope it is not your village or state. If you have MASSOB or OPC in your area, you may just play host to the JTF one day. Think about it.
And Four Other Things...
As the rainy season approaches, the Annual Flood Outlook report by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) says 31 states of the federation will experience severe flooding. I hereby plead with all concerned to begin to take proactive measures now to prevent the sort of calamity that we witnessed last year, despite several warnings issued by government agencies. Lives and livelihoods will be affected again. Governors should not begin to see this as another opportunity to be paddling canoes and walking inside water in affected areas in order to enjoy maximum publicity. For once, let’s be serious.
On November 13, 2010, in an article entitled “Let’s Forget this 202020 Rhyme”, I warned that Nigeria was missing the target of being among the world’s biggest 20 economies by 2020. I listed the key indices. In fact, by the milestones, we were supposed to be generating 10,000 megawatts of electricity by 2007 and 40,000mw by now. But in 2013, we are shamelessly celebrating 4,000mw as “our best ever”. Government officials replied me, calling my sanity to question. But finally, Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, Minister, National Planning Commission, has admitted we can’t meet the target. I deserve an unreserved apology but I will let it pass.
It has now emerged that one of the Boston bombers had been on the terror radars of both the FBI and CIA but they still struck, hitting a marathon race, killing three persons and injuring others. With all the sophistication of America’s security apparatus (at least compared to Nigeria’s), the successful attacks were yet a sign of failure of US intelligence. But nothing still compares to the 9/11 fiasco, when Al Qaeda successfully launched the worst terrorist attacks on US soil – despite prior warning to the CIA by Israeli intelligence that some Arabs were learning piloting with the aim of hijacking aircraft for terror purposes.
BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED
A year ago last Friday, THISDAY offices in Abuja came under Boko Haram attack. I was the editor of the newspaper then and was on my way to office when my friend, Lanre Issa-Onilu, called to ask: “What’s happening to THISDAY in Abuja? Please find out.” He obviously did not want to break the news to me. It was a sad day. A video later appeared on the internet, showing how the whole thing was executed, killing six persons. I am still trying to understand how twisted a mind could be that people would take joy in killing defenceless human beings. It’s too much for me to understand.