A Birthday Plea For Our Girls, By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, what would have been a marvellous birthday for me on May 16 was torpedoed by some kill-joys yesterday. I had looked forward to a wonderful gift from our President and Commander-in-Chief, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. You must be wondering what it is but I will tell you in a short while. I had prayed fervently to God to enter the heart of our Leader in order to take the right and necessary steps from now on. With due respect, I believe his coterie of advisers and supporters have been misleading him too frequently, and there seems to be many of them, officially appointed and unofficially self-appointed. What we hear from them is a cacophony of incoherent ideas and reactions to issues they know little or nothing about. But they mostly wish to be seen to be doing something but in actual fact end up saying plenty of nonsense.
I had tried to alert the President in recent past in a few of my articles about this ugly face of his Villa. But the trend in Presidential circles has always been to shoot down the messenger and his message. I’m sure the President gets constantly befuddled by the activities of too many cooks who end up spoiling the broth crookedly. I make bold to tell him for the umpteenth time: “beware of soldiers of fortune; leaders are usually surrounded by them”.
These mercenaries exist in every government. They are experts at crawling up the ladder of power and latching onto any government of the day. But they migrate so quickly and creepily to the next one as soon as the party is over. I would have expected a man as experienced as our President to understand this game better. No soul has ever been in Nigeria power for as long, as diverse and as permanently as Dr Goodluck Jonathan since 1999.
He has been Deputy Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President, President, and all in quick succession. He should have seen and met sufficient crocodiles and alligators in human skin. Where are those who used to hover around President Olusegun Obasanjo in those good old days? Many have jumped ship, and fervently too, in search of new suitors. Where are those people who swore by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s name and attempted to erect a dynastic Presidency in Nigeria? Most have gone numb and dumb. Those whose voices were drowned in the past now make the loudest noises. They are the political Jobbers! Omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. They have seen it all and profess that you cannot simply do away with them.
The flow of my epistle is very simple and straight-forward. Our President needs to be more resolute and decisive in tackling the mess we’ve found ourselves in. He needs to do more than he is doing at the moment to bring back our girls. What most Nigerians see as being done presently is to scratch the surface of a stubborn stain where corrosive chemicals are badly needed. We had suggested for long, and from the very beginning, that Nigeria lacks the capability and experience to fight against terrorism, and should urgently seek help from outside. But we were shouted down by those who felt it was an affront on the sovereignty of Nigeria.
In our typical arrogant fashion, we lost a lot of time as well as grounds to Boko Haram. It was clear to any casual observer that Nigeria currently parades a rag-tag army, not because our men and women were not smart enough but because they are ill-equipped and non-motivated. They lack resources to deal with their normal military activities and so believing they can tackle the rarefied scourge of terrorism with all its monstrosities is sheer wishful thinking. A pipe dream! The state of our secret services is even more parlous and pitiable. Indeed their affairs are anything but secret because of the meddlesome interference of government and its political stooges. These security guys who risk everything to keep us safe lack the self-esteem to achieve their best results. Except for those lucky to serve under political appointees, they are poor and we need to urgently address issues of their remunerations and welfare. Nigerians are naturally smart and resourceful people. Our Armed Forces have been known to perform wonders in peace keeping missions abroad where they had access to the best facilities. I saw them in action in Sierra Leone in 2001 and in Liberia in 2008 and was very proud. I had always taken keen interest in the well-being of men and women of our armed forces inspired by those foreign celebrities who visit war zones to pep up the military.
In the course of my risky adventures, I discovered that a Nigerian, the Late Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe, remains idolised in Freetown for ostensibly laying down his life for the troubled West African country. And everyone remembers with fond memories the service of the Late Lt. General Luka Yusuf in Liberia. I was taken round the state-of-the-art weaponry and equipment provided for our soldiers in Liberia by their Commandant, Brigadier General Ezekiel Olu Olofin, and our men were able to give a good account of themselves to the great adulation of Liberians and the United Nations. But home is a different kettle of fish.
Our Commander-in-Chief ought to appreciate the magnitude of the rot that has hit our military like most other Nigerian institutions. If in doubt, this fact was corroborated only last night by CNN while speaking to a former American Ambassador on why Nigeria cannot successfully confront Boko Haram in its present form. The Ambassador even went further to say America can’t achieve much in our country for various reasons. He alluded to our penchant for rejecting substantial American troops on our soil which on the surface is reasonable but impractical. I had read somewhere that “a one-legged man should never complain that the man carrying him stinks, even if it is true!” That is our predicament at this unfortunate time. The dampener is that now that we have turned to the super powers for help, we do not have our own tools for backing them up on the ground. If they move in theirs, it becomes more expensive and their stay becomes more permanent. How do we pay them back, in cash or in kind? The cash we don’t have, in reality and the kind may be more expensive in all its ramifications.
The next problem is that Nigeria has suddenly become a fertile ground for all manner of security contractors and many nations are jostling for the fat bazar while our nation continues to bleed. As I write this, our President has landed in Paris to seek assistance from “the most powerful nations on earth” to borrow Dr Doyin Okupe’s words. I’m no longer as optimistic as he is that the involvement of those countries can guarantee the succour Nigerians are waiting for. Rather we seem to have inadvertently entangled ourselves in a complex web of international power play and we are likely to be badly burnt at the end of the day. Head or tail, we lose.
If eventually the powerful nations agree to join hands and forces with us, I foresee and predict a major debacle in the horizon. Apart from occasional altercations with our soldiers who may frown at being ordered around, the American outcry against troop deployment might reach a crescendo if Boko Haram succeeds in gunning down a few Marines; God forbid such. Is it possible to wipe out Boko Haram through the use of force? I sincerely doubt. Cults, sects and occultic societies often have their cell members spread across massive landscapes. They dissolve easily into communities and are usually protected for fear of reprisals. Going after them with guns may attract collateral damage. Odi’s misadventure is still fresh in mind. My serious take is that the military option is not likely to be as simple a solution as many think.
My humble gamble and modest suggestion is that the cost of seeking peace may be ultimately cheaper than fighting war of a guerrilla nature. Ask the Americans who we have turned to about their Vietnamese experience. Ask the Western superpowers who have offered to help particularly, America and Britain about the Afghanistan tragedy. Nigeria has definitely been boxed into a tight corner. The lives of over 200 girls are at stake. I expect Boko Haram to use these girls maximally as pawns in this horrible game of wits and brawn. They seem to hold the aces for now. Who would blink first is now the issue. The Federal Government is obviously talking tough but let me put it mildly in local parlance, na shakara! It is all well and good to say that you will never negotiate with terrorists but recent history has already belied this hard-line stance. In any event, it is the lives of many young and innocent girls at stake not military men who know what they originally signed up for!
There is nothing we can do now other than to open a line of communication urgently with these people particularly their ‘dead’ leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has spectacularly turned up in ghostly fashion like the proverbial bad penny, or any representative of their choice. This is not a time for frivolous grandstanding but for clear-headed reasoning. Even to fight your enemy, you must seek to find out as much as possible about his strength and weaknesses. I’m of the opinion that our government underrated Boko Haram for too long and we are paying the price for it now. Our crude politics also contributed to the monumental mess. The terrible mind-set that some nebulous politicians are behind this debacle still persists in government circles. Ethnicity is another major investor in the whole nonsense. Many Southerners can’t be bothered because those being killed in the North are presumably Northerners who are being tormented and massacred by their Northern renegade brothers. So who cares? Hausaman (Gambari) kills Fulaniman, no case involved, is our traditional lackadaisical attitude in Yoruba mentality. And it has become infectious and endemic in the entire South.
This is fuelled by our short memories as a people. We have studiously ignored the fact that a Northerner, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, worked more assiduously than any being to bring about the peace in the Niger Delta that we now seem to be enjoying by granting amnesty to militants willing to lay down their arms. That deal has cost Nigeria heavily and it was not a one off transaction. Nigeria is still paying some atrocious sums to keep the amity while the main kingpins are enjoying humongous rewards for their hard labour in bringing attention to the misery of the Niger Deltans.
For all it is worth, we need to urgently decode the true nature and essence of Boko Haram. We must see how we can sift the hard-core from their foot-soldiers. Providing job opportunities for their errands may weaken the group. We did it in the Niger Delta, we can do it again. For as long as there are too many jobless youths to be recruited, Boko Haram will continue to thrive and prosper and cause untold hardship for Nigerians and foreigners alike. There is nothing we can do. I repeat, force alone will not achieve the results we crave and desire. We must learn and draw from our past experience by reducing the access of Boko Haram to frustrated and depressed youths ready to go on the rampage.
My other concern is that the President must head to Chibok as soon as he returns from his ‘scheduled’ trip to France. It is bordering on the absurd and ridiculous that the Leader of a country has not visited the area of an unmitigated disaster like that of Chibok more than 30 days after. It portrays a gutless leadership without any fear of contradiction. Will it take foreign dignitaries trooping in to visit Chibok before our own President chooses to tag along? What is Mr President afraid of? The farce occasioned by this lack of understanding of the appropriate response in situations such as this was magnified by the volte face on the widely publicised Presidential visit to Chibok on Friday 16 May 2014. Had this visit happened, I would have had my best birthday present in a long while!!! If the local and international media was being mischievous in reporting that a visit was under way, then Government should have grabbed the opportunity presented with both hands. The world was waiting to see our brave President perform one of the risky but fulfilling duties for which he was employed. It was gravely impish, indeed puerile, not to postpone the hastily arranged French trip for a few hours in order to visit Chibok after such a media coup (notwithstanding that I saw at least one Government spokesperson confirm on Thursday that the President was to visit).
This matter had been mismanaged from the beginning by economising information. The Federal Government shot itself in the foot by its avowed taciturnity in the face of mounting international outcry. We are in the Age of Information and Communication. And we are all reporters at large. There is no country today where 200 plus girls will vanish into thin air and the President will keep mute and stay incommunicado or carry on with normal daily routine. What is worse is that our President can be seen engaging in flights of fancy, all in the name of party politics. Literarily “fiddling while Nigeria burns”! Those who advice our President to employ such unheard-of strategy in the face of critical heartbreaks like this are enemies and not friends.
I was happy to see Isha Sesay of CNN lecture a government official about this last night. Our President must jettison the out-dated way of crisis management by embracing more pro-active methods.
Crying wolf after the witch has disappeared is “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
May God bless Nigeria.
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