We lost our girls to ?graft

2014-05-20 10:00

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Nigeria’s history seems full of those moments when one is forced to ask where we are going.

Since the advent of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, the pace has been frightening and has assumed a nightmarish reality in the last six months.

In four years, Boko Haram has grown into a terrifying threat, each time resorting to action more deadly and abhorrent than the last. But what has happened is the result of something we Nigerians and our government have allowed.

On the occasion of our 50th birthday celebration, exploding bombs killed 12 in the federal capital of Abuja.

The convicted author of that carnage was one Henry Okah, an erstwhile leader of Mend (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) based in Nigeria’s southeastern Delta region. He is now serving time in the Ebongweni Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.

Back in Nigeria, what did the man of the moment, the so-called Goodluck Jonathan, do for the next Independence Day anniversary? He stayed at home.

In 2009, when Jonathan was deputy to his predecessor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Boko Haram struck, the response of the security forces was to round up those of the sect’s members it did not mow down and indulge in an extrajudicial killing of the leader that was leaked for worldwide viewing on YouTube?– and a cycle of revenge and retaliation was born.

Maybe it’s the stultifying religiosity of current day Nigeria that has overtaken people’s minds, lulled us into the unreality of leaving our salvation to a greater power to manage for us. Instead we focus steadily on one thing. Governance in Nigeria is about looting and positioning yourself to continue doing so.

Boko Haram, on the other hand, is the exact opposite?– it defines its targets, does what it wants and comes back for more.

It kills scores of people each week, ordinary men and women going about their daily lives in markets and bus stations. It slits the throats of our sons when they are sleeping in their dormitories at night.

It abducts our daughters in their hundreds and threatens to sell them into slavery. It has been wreaking this mayhem steadily over the last four years.

There has been little evidence of interaction between the security forces and the intelligence community in wrestling down the Boko Haram phenomenon. Nigeria seems to have swopped one insurgency for another.

And yet Jonathan, the president of this country who cannot ensure the safety and security of our children, is running for re-election. He can’t see the problem, he can’t solve the problem, but he wants another go in the seat of power.

His wife actually dismissed the abduction of the girls of Chibok as a ruse to scuttle her husband’s campaign for re-election.

Four weeks ago, the girls of Chibok were abducted in busloads. Four weeks ago, the president and his wife were celebrating the marriage of their adopted daughter in Abuja.

It took Jonathan two to three weeks to rouse himself to say he did not know where the girls were and this was only because the world had shamed him into doing so. You can say at least the man was honest, but there is no question he was also ineffective.

The late president Yar’Adua was rendered brain dead because of confusion in Abuja on his way to seek medical treatment abroad.

You would think his successor’s first task would be to build a state-of-the-art hospital within reach of Aso Rock.

But no, Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, still goes overseas for undisclosed ailments, using the people’s money.

Perhaps South Africans don’t understand what this means: Nigerian government officials travel abroad for medical care because they cannot provide it at home.

The steady hum of generators still fills the country’s cities and villages, and the long queues of vehicles outside petrol stations in this oil-producing country is still a regular occurrence. Sometimes Nigeria’s dysfunctionality is just stupefying.

And there are further questions down the road, such as the introduction of due process, the rule of law, training a crime-fighting force and a professional law enforcement body.

Rounding up and routing Boko Haram cannot be a one-shot deal.

There are any number of examples of an inability to follow through in interventions that have led to mass arrests in the past and it did not matter whether the man at the top was dressed in army fatigues or mufti.

A potent example of the level of crime-fighting in Nigeria is the incident on December 23 2001, the night Bola Ige, the attorney-general of the federation and the country’s principal law officer, was assassinated in his bed with his wife beside him.

Thirteen years have passed and no perpetrator has ever been convicted.

What has been applied is the “settlement” (read payoff) approach that Yar’Adua employed to break the back of the Niger Delta militants. It was an amnesty deal that offered money in exchange for guns and renunciation, and rehabilitation back into “normal life”.

Some have already suggested this as a way to deal with Boko Haram. But the trouble with this is that it can turn into a price you never stop paying, and the question becomes, is this a solution driven by a moral imperative, (we created them we must atone) or a society too debilitated to see its way around corruption?

There is a level of deterioration in the quality of our life as a nation that is just mind-boggling, whether or not we now have a sprinkling of Forbes’ rated billionaires.

This is not because we are the only country faced with the problem of terrorism, but because we are so ill equipped to deal with it, and principally because our governance and leadership is so totally addicted to graft, it cannot even give any thought to the matter of self-preservation for itself, let alone for others.

So the principal issue remains. When are we going to realise that governance is not a matter of kalokalo (taking chances) and public relations stunts.

If these girls of Chibok are not saved, then who will be?

» Ogan is a veteran Nigerian journalist

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