Jonathan, Boko Haram, and the Abduction Disaster By Niyi Akinnaso
To be sure, President Goodluck Jonathan, the security forces, and the Peoples Democratic Party are variably culpable for mismanaging the fight against terrorism. This is particularly evident in the mishandling of the recent abduction of over 120 girls in a government secondary school in Borno State by gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram. However, too much preoccupation with the blame game may prevent serious discussions of the implications of the abduction case for national security; national psyche; and national image. It was a tragedy of multiple proportions, whose implications deserve critical discussion and call for sober reflection.
On the personal level, the trauma on the victims and on their parents, relatives, friends, and schoolmates cannot be overemphasised. They all deserve our sincere sympathy, which should be expressed in much more sober ways than dancing at a political rally. The agony of the victims’ relatives recalls the emotional burden on the relatives of the victims in the missing Malaysian Arline’s Flight MH370 as well as those of the capsised South Korean ferry. Watching relatives of the victims of both disasters unleash their anger at government officials, including security agents, was in itself agonising.
Although the Malaysian and South Korean governments could not be absolved of blame for the slowness or fruitlessness of their emergency responses to the accidents, there is a limit to which a government could be blamed for an accident over which it had no direct control. That’s why the victims’ relatives have directed their anger at the poor handling of the recovery efforts and communication by government officials with the people.
But the abduction of innocent schoolgirls in Borno State was not an accident, nor are the terrorist activities of Boko Haram. The government had earlier acknowledged this enduring menace by imposing a state of emergency on Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. The fact that the abduction took place under a state of emergency makes a mockery of the emergency situation, which makes it an even more serious national tragedy.
The incident goes beyond the demonstration of Boko Haram’s hatred of Western education; it also speaks to the widening of the insurgents’ targets and motives. It also speaks to the vulnerability of our national security. If harmless and defenceless schoolgirls in a gated government secondary school could be abducted at will, then who else is safe in this country? The same question is raised by the Nyanyan motor park fatal bombing, which occurred hours earlier, killing unsuspecting passengers, drivers and touts.
The near-simultaneity of both incidents and the April 20 burning of the staff quarters of another government secondary school in another state, killing a five-year-old girl, raise serious questions about the coordination of these terrorist activities.
Incidentally, the coordination of Boko Haram’s activities throws the government’s uncoordinated fight against terrorism into sharper relief. Perhaps, no terrorist incident in recent months demonstrates the government’s lack of grip on terrorism than the abduction case. For days, the nation was fed with conflicting figures about the number of girls abducted by the terrorists; the number of girls that escaped from captivity; and the number of girls rescued by security forces.
The organisation of search teams for the missing girls by their relatives was a clear indictment of the government and the security forces. It was their way of saying: We no longer believe or trust you in providing security for us or in going after those who are toying with our security. But this is a message that is widespread across the country. You hear it in motor parks, “beer parlours”, and boardrooms. It is the same message sent by homeowners across the country, who erect tall fences around their houses and hire uniformed guards to man their gates.
The empty boasts and vacuous slogans by public officials regarding the termination of terrorism are major sources of discomfort to the public. For how long should we be fed with empty promises, such as (1) “The issue of Boko Haram is temporary”; (2) “Boko Haram will soon be a thing of the past”; and (3) “We will defeat Boko Haram in less than four months”? The irony about such statements is that Boko Haram often strikes almost as soon as they are uttered.
If words had magical powers, perhaps, terrorism would have been wiped out in Nigeria by now. However, in the age of sophisticated weapons and explosives, and a determined terrorist group, words mean nothing, when not backed up by a coherent policy and coordinated action plans. If anything, the government’s empty boasts and conflicting signals could only send one message: It is only using words to disguise its cluelessness. Such a message could only embolden the terrorists. And that’s why they’ve been striking frequently and at will.
This has led to serious questions about the government’s handling of terrorism and whether or not a solution is in sight. More specifically, questions are being raised as to whether Jonathan could solve the terrorist crisis or whether the crisis would go away if Jonathan were not re-elected in 2015. There are no easy answers to any of these questions. For example, if it is true that Boko Haram truly hates Western education, no electoral outcome in 2015 will change that.
However, there are some certainties. It is clear, for example, that this government has no handle on Boko Haram. It is also fair to conclude that no electoral outcome in 2015 will change Boko Haram’s crusade against Western education. What is unclear is how far a Muslim president, or a Muslim-Muslim ticket by any political party for that matter, will change the terrorist equation.
At the crossroads of our national security, therefore, are Jonathan, Boko Haram, and 2015. The Jonathan factor is the more critical when viewed against the run-up to the 2011 elections, the accompanying divisive campaigns, the post-election crisis, and the subsequent escalation of Boko Haram’s activities, beginning hours after Jonathan’s inauguration on May 29, 2011.
The question then is: With Jonathan in the race, what are the prospects for peaceful campaigns and hitch-free elections in 2015? What guarantee is there to prevent the outbreak of violence should Jonathan win again? And, if, for nearly four years, neither Jonathan nor the security forces at his command could curb widening terrorist attacks, what guarantee is there that they will be able to manage nationwide elections in 2015?
This, to me, is where the burden shifts to the electorate. What can you do to change the political equation in this country in such a way as to guarantee your personal safety and prosperity? And, to the press, what can you do to adequately and truthfully inform and educate the public towards the achievement of this goal?
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