Bad news is a big deal in the news business.
Anyone who is someone in the Nigerian news business is getting a shot at appearing on foreign news media to discuss the abduction of over 200 school children of Chibok. The thinking is that to get an in-depth look at the story, it would be beneficial for foreign news consumers to hear from a local journalist - a son or daughter of the soil, so to say.
The first set of calls went to the established stringers. The second set of calls went to those whose accents foreign news consumers can understand. The third set of calls is beginning to go out. They are going to those who have something beyond the ordinary to say.
I got my call the other day from an American news media called American News Network (ANN). Here is a transcript.
ANN: What’s the latest on the abducted school children in Nigeria?
Okonkwo: Over 200 of them are still missing. Every now and then, we hear of one or two escaping from captivity. So we know they are somewhere in and around Sambisa forest. Just a few days ago, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video where he said that he has the girls. The man has our girls. The man doesn’t know it yet but he has jumped the shark this time.
ANN: What is the government saying?
Okonkwo: What can they say? The president said in a media chat on Sunday that journalists know more than they know. Of course, he vowed to find the girls- with a caveat- if only the parents of these children would help them.
ANN: Who are this group that kidnapped the girls?
Okonkwo: Boko Haram is a criminal trinity of some sort – hardcore terrorists associated with international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda; local political thugs who outgrew their benefactors as soon as arms from past West African wars reached them; and religious zealots determined to force everyone in their sphere of influence to abide by their vision of religious purity.
ANN: What is the government doing?
Okonkwo: Two things - they are still strategizing and still looking for who to blame. And when they are not doing the two, they are busy raising doubt about whether the girls are really missing and, if so, whether it was anything other than a calculated attempt to embarrass the president.
ANN: After more than two weeks?
Okonkwo: Oh, that was a change. For the first one week, they were busy campaigning for reelection. It was pressure from social media campaign called #bringbackourgirls that forced them to pay any kind of attention to the matter.
ANN: There are several conspiracy theories swelling around this incident. What’s responsible for that?
Okonkwo: Nigeria is a fractured society. Each faction invents a story to explain every incident. With a dearth of accurate information, these stories occupy the imagination of the people. I will explain just two conspiracy theories associated with this incident. You know the way some Americans do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President John F. Kennedy; some Nigerians do not believe that a terrorist group, with excess weapons in their possession and battalion of unemployed youths at their beck and call, could pick Nigeria and be causing havoc across the land. People prefer to believe that they must be sponsored by local politicians. Another example is the way some Americans believe that the landing on the moon was staged; some Nigerians do not believe that their almighty military that beat them up on the streets could not chase away Boko Haram from Nigeria within a week. Well, it happens that this so-called mighty military are sustaining heavy casualties in the war with Boko Haram as a result of inadequate equipment and infiltration of their ranks by Boko Haram sympathizers. And guess what? The military boys are afraid of dying. Do you blame them?
ANN: Will you say that the government has failed the people?
Okonkwo: The real question is whether they have ever served the people? Most Nigerians will say that the government has never worked for them. Nigeria is a failed state that only works for the same people who failed it. The sad thing is that it took this abduction incident for international media, like your ANN, to pay attention. Remember that the same Boko Haram has gone to another school and slaughtered dozens of boys while they were sleeping. We didn’t see the story on your news headline then. So when you talk about whether the Nigerian government has failed the people, the answer is yes. In Nigerian parlance, we say, ‘we’re just managing’. But I think that may end with this dance with Boko Haram. More and more Nigerians are beginning to see that “managing” will not cut it anymore. If we want to see our country get up from the ground and stop dragging our buttocks on the floor, we need to demand more than mediocre leadership. Listening to Nigerians, I’m beginning to hear less and less of their fallback expression, “wahala no dey.” They are beginning to quietly acknowledge that wahala dey.
ANN: Do you think that President Goodluck Jonathan can survive this?
Okonkwo: He has survived it already. In fact, he is most likely to win the 2015 election.
Okonkwo: Because he has a variety of weapons at his disposal. Look at his poor performance at Sunday’s media chat. Soon after, he unleashed his wife, Patience Jonathan. Her ‘tears’ and ‘tongues’ made us forget about her husband’s illogical reasoning on several matters. President Jonathan can play the victimhood game- I’m a minority, that’s why they are doing this to me. For those that it won’t move, he can play the religious card. That one works well in a religiously supercharged environment that is today’s Nigeria. Of course, there is the ethnic card. It says: he’s our own. It’s our turn. You’ve had your turn. Wait for your turn.
ANN: There are fears in some quarters that the military may take over the government if the security situation continues to deteriorate.
Okonkwo: And what will they say to the people? We could not deal with Boko Haram in Sambisa forest because of the politicians in Abuja? We needed to be in Abuja to be able to deal with Boko Haram in Sambisa? It will be preposterous for soldiers who could not rescue 200 schoolgirls in a forest to convince Nigerians that they can rescue a country lost in 21st century world. But then again, stranger things have happened in Nigeria before. The Nigerian people had made a man president simply because he said he had no shoes. They could have saved themselves a lot of headaches if they had bought him a shoe or two.
ANN: From what you’re saying, I’m getting the sense that Nigeria is stuck with President Goodluck Jonathan for another four years. Why is that?
Okonkwo: Because President Jonathan is like a tsetse fly that landed on the scrotum.
ANN: Please explain.
Okonkwo: When a tsetse fly lands on your scrotum, you have just two options- leave it there or kill it. If you leave it there, it stings you and sucks your blood. If you try to kill it, you risk crushing your scrotum.
ANN: Thank you Mr. Okonkwo for joining us today.
Okonkwo: My pleasure!