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The Fierce Urgency of Now

17 May 2013

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GUEST COLUMNIST:   CHRIS OKOTIE


"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”--- Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.
The legendary American civil rights leader could well be addressing the Nigeria of today given the relevance of the above excerpt from his landmark speech, “I Have A Dream.” Like the turbulent days of civil rights activism in America, Luther King’s nugget captures our  prevailing emergencies which invariably now call for decisive, urgent action; or what may be defined broadly as the “fierce urgency of now”.

The current situation in our country has reached the stage where the divisive forces ranged against it constitute a clear and present danger to its corporate existence. The forces in question-corruption, which is the toughest enemy; terrorism, crime and Islamic fundamentalism, are well known to most Nigerians. What we don’t know is how the federal government intends to deal with these problems expeditiously before they get out of hand.

The government’s latest response to terrorism as exemplified by the Boko Haram insurgents is to grant them amnesty in line with the request of the Northern Elders Forum. How that would work remains to be seen. The fact remains that we are encircled by a whirlwind of violence that is threatening to blow the nation apart. Therefore, this is not the time for a gradualist approach to conflict resolution.
The massacre of scores of policemen in Bayelsa and Nasarawa states while on tour of duty has reinforced the argument that our law enforcement agencies are not on top of the situation. Equally of grave concern is the high handedness of some of our security personnel in dealing with people suspected to be terrorists or criminals. The Baga massacre is for instance a major dent on the integrity of our security forces in the ongoing war against terror. We must never justify extra-judicial killings for whatever reason.

Yet it must be said that corruption is the Frankenstein monster that birthed terrorism, crime and Islamic fundamentalism. So if corruption is checked, then other crimes like terrorism and related crimes would abate. Meanwhile, the nation is moving gradually to a stage where corruption has become so pervasive, so powerful in its impact on development that routine service delivery by agencies of government is being severely affected. The increasing violent crimes on our streets; and kidnapping for ransom are obviously telling that joblessness and economic alienation are at the heart of our current state of siege.

The anti-graft agencies and the existing legal framework within which they operate are not strong enough to engender speedy and effective prosecution of corrupt elements who are known to have very powerful government connections, and the capacity to mount stiff legal challenges in court because of their financial clout. The inadequacies of the law in dealing with corruption must be reviewed to give the required legal bite to the anti-corruption agencies.

A miasma of corruption now hangs over our once revered judiciary. One could only look back with nostalgia on those days when the men in wig and gown held out great hope for our society. Today, some of the verdicts emanating from our courts clearly undermine the integrity of the judiciary; that makes our situation really bad.

How can we kill the monster of corruption when the sacred altar of justice is also corrupt? That is the question. It underscores the fierce urgency of the present situation. But we have a precedent in dealing with rotten institutions of state. The late Gen. Murtala Muhammed carried out the great purge of the civil service in response to the decay of that institution. It was one of his memorable actions  as military head of state, before he was assassinated in the aborted coup of February 13, 1976.

It may be argued that it was easy for a military head of state with sweeping emergency powers, to launch an anti-corruption war of that magnitude because he was not encumbered by the bureaucratic red tape that constrains an elected president who must act within the confines of the constitution. Yet, a president, regardless of his route to power, be it the ballot or the barrel of a gun, could launch an effective war against  corruption if he is able and willing to muster enough political will. For example, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo did battle with corruption in a way that its perpetrators couldn’t act with impunity as they are now doing under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch.

The virus of corruption is now eating deeply and speedily into our economy as never before. Its effect on the nation is comprehensively devastating. It accounts for the slow pace of governance, no thanks to depleting resources as a result of the reckless pillaging of public coffers by government functionaries.
Given the foregoing, something drastic and urgent must be done to arrest it. Mr. Jonathan should act like a Murtala Muhammed to instill fears into the hearts of the heartless looters of our common  patrimony. If corruption is fought frontally this way, resources meant  for development would fulfill their purpose and expand the economy,  which hitherto is experiencing paper growth without jobs to show for it.

Terrorist activities always flourish in environments where there is economic disequilibrium and mismanagement of national resources by a corrupt ruling elite. Opposition forces easily exploit religious sentiments, especially political Islam, to attempt to create instability and ultimately; Islamic rule where there’s a predominant Muslim population. That is the end game of Boko Haram.
This is also the pattern of instability and terror wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Islamic Maghreb, Somalia, the Arab nations affected by the Arab Spring and the North-east of Nigeria, home base of Boko Haram. The fierce urgency of our present situation can,  therefore, not be overstated if we are not to become one of these fragmented, war lord countries.

•Okotie, a cleric and politician wrote from Lagos.

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