By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, after several years of prevarication, dilly-dallying and apparent confusion about how to tackle the dangerously volatile menace of Boko Haram, as well as other terrorist groups the chickens finally came home to roost last Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan had been largely seen as a lame duck and criticised for its inability to curtail the spread of violence in the country and by the manner he seemed to have handled the issue of general insecurity with kids’ gloves. He was accused and summarily convicted by most citizens of timidity. They hinged their decision on the fact that the President had announced to the whole world that he knew those who were behind the ferocious spate of bombings and killings but had done nothing to hunt down, arrest and prosecute the culprits. That was not all.
The President had seemingly summoned the courage to visit Borno State, one of the affected States, when criticism became so deafening that he had shied away from visiting the badly stricken areas of terrorist attacks to solidarise with the victims. His visit was considered too little and too late considering the fact that it came shortly after some opposition leaders had found the uncommon bravery to visit the long-suffering States. When asked if he would negotiate a deal with the terrorists to lay down their arms, in the manner former President Umaru Yar’Adua granted amnesty to the militants from the Niger Delta, the President had waved off such a possibility and came up with his now infamous quote, “we can’t negotiate with ghosts.” And to further compound the situation, that statement was perceived by some analysts as a direct attack on the position of His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, who had canvassed amnesty for the terror groups.
However, in a most classic example of volte-face, our President and Commander-in-Chief suddenly changed his mind and position on the amnesty issue and went on to announce his intention to actually negotiate with the terrorist groups. It instantly caused an expected uproar and many prominent Nigerians protested the ill-conceived attempt to resolve the menace without any thought being given to the fact that it was liable to have the effect of encouraging and legitimising crime and brigandage in the country.
Undaunted, the President wasted no time in constituting a Boko Haram Amnesty Committee, or whatever it is called, and we all thought that was the end of the matter. It is not clear if the committee was now expected to search, find and unveil the “ghosts” from their subterranean or celestial abode, wherever it is they hibernate, or unmask the real hoodlums and their mentors. Indeed, the question on everyone’s lips was “what exactly was the committee seen as Good Samaritans expected to achieve?”
Anyway. The committee had hardly settled down to work when the President threw a monumental bombshell. Days before the Presidential explosion, rumours were already flying that President Jonathan had decided to declare State of Emergency in some Northern states. Some of us started reading meanings into the motives behind such an action. The first conspiratorial theory was that he was trying to reduce the number of Governors that are likely to support the second term bid of Governor Rotimi Amaechi as Chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum. The second was that once he got away with declaring State of Emergency in some of the Northern States and removed their democratically elected institutions, it was only a matter of time before he would go for the jugular of his ultimate enemy in River’s State, Mr Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, by declaring a State of Emergency in Rivers State on the back of contrived violence.
There was already an indication that the President’s cronies were working so hard to cause artificial mayhem in Rivers State where none existed. This they hoped would serve as a fait accompli enabling them to move through the backdoor and remove the man they seem so desperate to get rid of. So the paranoia giving rise to such theories was not totally misplaced. At any rate, we’ve seen it all before under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, when such manipulations were employed to get rid of perceived political foes notwithstanding the fact that they were members of the same ruling party.
But mercifully, President Goodluck Jonathan did not go down that route. And I must confess that it was such a pleasant surprise to many people including myself. Nigeria had suffered too much oppression and repression in the past both under the military and civilian administrations and should have had a surfeit of it by now was my attitude. It was therefore cheery news to have a State of Emergency without its prime casualties unlike the Nigerian Gestapo style that was cleverly perfected by former President Obasanjo.
I had spoken to some of my learned and noble friends who assured me that sacking of any Governor by a Nigerian President for any reason, including the much maligned State of Emergency justification, was an unconstitutional act which had almost become normal because of our culture of docility. Why should the Governors be blamed and punished for a matter that is totally beyond their control? Theoretically, they are supposed to be the chief law enforcers of their respective states but that is hardly the case. Sacking them would have transfigured them illegally into lambs of God who must take away the sins of the world.
Armed with that simple fact, I was ready to stand by the President’s decision not to commit an illegality by sacking Constitutionally-elected governments like coup plotters were proud to do. Being in opposition does not grant us the liberty to criticise unreasonably. We must be gracious and civilised enough to applaud the President, the Government and the ruling Party when they do something worthy and notable. It is our cardinal duty to join hands with others to rescue this nation from the throes of mass suicide. It does not matter that those others belong to a different shade of opinion or persuasion from us. Once they act in the general interests of our beloved country as the President has done, we must be equally vocal in our approval as we have been in expressing our dissatisfaction and give our unqualified support for such actions. Furthermore, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, the evil wind is blowing Southwards in various guises, not just in the form of terrorism, and no State is now totally immune from the madness that has engulfed our great country.
My simple advice, once again, is for the President to play less politics and concentrate on the onerous task of nation building. It is such a pity that he has allowed himself to be distracted by soldiers of fortune who always find themselves in every government in Nigeria. For him to succeed where others have failed, he must be courageously prepared to walk the road less travelled. That road is what I love to describe as the dark lonely road. He must sacrifice whatever ambition he is nursing at the moment for the greater interest of the country which has given him so much. Over-ambition and sit-tight syndrome crippled some of his predecessors even when they had laudable policies and programmes initially. If care is not taken, President Jonathan will end up like them. He seems to be embarking on that self-destructive path already and needs to be reined in by persons of goodwill proffering salutary advice to steer him on to the proper path to greatness. It should be obvious to any discerning mind that can recognise most of those who have encircled President Jonathan like vultures that they are the same characters who had always executed dirty jobs for heavy pecuniary gains but with calamitous results. Why would any leader place his destiny in the hands of such supremely selfish characters?
I sincerely doubt if the military offensive envisaged by the present State of Emergency would accomplish its desired effects. I’m mortified to imagine what pains would be inflicted on the innocent citizens of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Examples abound globally about the futility of using unbridled aggression against those willing, determined and ready to sacrifice their lives for certain beliefs and faith. The collateral damage that will certainly ensue out of the confrontation is likely to far outweigh the anticipated results. The cases of Afghanistan and Pakistan readily come to mind where the United States of America seems to be tacitly encouraging the authorities to dialogue with the Taliban.
The President can use the carrot and stick approach if his security advisers can clearly identify the real grudge of these terrorists against their own country and people. Parleying can work if properly approached. The fatal error in our own form of negotiations is in the sheer stupidity of monetising amnesty so recklessly. It is a warped notion to think money alone can solve all problems. Rather than abate criminal tendencies, it has instead exacerbated the tragedy beyond reason. While we await the monumental revelations that will come from diligently seeking to identify the true grievances of the Boko Haram sects, the President must pursue worthwhile goals. If I were in his shoes, the first item on my priority list would be to work harder at creating an enabling environment for employment creation and job opportunities. Despite the statistics being spewed out by the Government showing that unemployment is low in Nigeria, the present, realistic unemployment rate in has become too colossal and totally unacceptable. This mass unemployment is what has created and promoted the largest army of frustrated, disillusioned and bitterly cantankerous youths who would do anything and everything to avenge their current status. I must add that unemployment is not solved by asking our mass of graduates to seek work as drivers and security guards or waiters and waitresses. Our leaders of yore, who fought for our emancipation, did not make the sacrifices they did so that our youths of today would find themselves in the atrocious conditions that our leaders of today have put them. All that is needed is creative thinking that would engender brilliant policies.
The reason it has been difficult for most Nigerian leaders to perform is their obsession with wanting to over-pamper a tiny cult of politicians at the total expense of the majority. The President must resist the temptation of pandering to the whims and caprices of those who always sell themselves as capable of fixing everything, when in truth they are incapable of fixing anything. God is the only fixer in heaven and on earth.
When we cater to the needs of the majority it would then be possible to snub the greed of a few parasites. But the President would only be able to do that if and when he is ready to give his all to Nigeria. He must try to find the time to read and learn how visionary leaders built great nations out of problematic countries such as ours. There is nothing new under the son. He would discover that those leaders did not possess two heads. Neither did they have much education not to talk of being PhD holders like our own President. However, they had one thing in common, the raw determination to turn mass poverty into giant prosperity and the dare-devil courage to pursue their dreams with total passion and religious fervour. Nigeria has been blessed with such visionary leaders in the past so President Jonathan would not be blazing a new trail but only following in their hallowed footsteps.
That is the way to go and not the crude methods that have kept us in this quagmire.