" To understand Nigeria, you must throw away notions like certainty and consensus. Instead, you have to accept you are entering a world where all truth is relative, all facts are transient and what seems to be the most visceral and bloody reality can ultimately be revealed as artifice "
The above not only describes in very apt times the classic representation of the Nigerian state, but it also paints a picture of a state on the brink of collapse, and if no urgent steps are taking to rescue the country from this aberration, Nigeria may well be on a solid part to perdition. Sadly, it is now three (3) months since over 276 young girls were abducted by a gang of criminals fighting in the name of religion and politics. Out of this number, about 59 girls reportedly escaped on their own efforts, despite the initial outlandish claim of the military to have rescued a fairly large percentage of the girls, some few days after their kidnap on April 14, 2014.
Similarly, the Presidency, which in saner climes should be on its kneels apologizing to Nigerians after resigning from office for failing to deliver on the most important function of government; the protection of the lives and properties of its people is busy living in denial. Interestingly, not only is the Federal government and the Presidency living in denial, it has also on several occasions, failed to realize or accept this fact. It has instead asked (and it is still asking) Nigerians to perform its responsibilities on its behalf, and that they should direct their anger towards Abubakar Shekau and his sponsors, since it was the group that abducted the girls in the first instance. In order words, what this government wants Nigerians to know is that they do not have a government, and since this is the case, there is no point for the people to expect a non-existent government to protect them.
Even the Presidency itself had admitted its non-existence, when it declared that the activities of Shekau and his gang are actually affecting its own movement. The connotative interpretation of this is that if I (as President) cannot protect myself, why should you people (Nigerians) expect me to protect you? How more preposterous can a government be? Such is the denial of responsibility that has remained the fulcrum of the Jonathan Presidency, and by extension the Federal government since 2009 when this war started and more specifically, over the last 3 months since the Chibok abduction. It was perhaps the combination of disbelief and rage, ostensibly motivated by the Federal government’s mishandling of the abduction saga, and the seeming incapacity to rescue the ‘Chibok 219’ that prompted Malala Yousafzai to organize a solidarity visit to Nigeria.
Malala, having been a victim of the malady associated with Islamic fundamentalism herself, following her miraculous escape from Taliban’s bullet on 9 October, 2012 while returning from school, has remained one of the most constant global campaigners for ‘girl-child education’. Malala perhaps understands what it means to be a girl-child in a place like Northern Nigeria. There are indeed a number of explanations for Malala’s deep understanding of the situation in Northern Nigeria and by extension, the Nigerian government’s abdication of its responsibilities. First, Malala like the Chibok girls, used to be school a pupil from the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; a region where the Taliban had once banned girls from attending school just as Boko Haram has done for girls in Nigeria’s North. Secondly, she comes from Pakistan; a country widely famed for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism just like Nigeria has suddenly become.
Again, Pakistan just like Nigeria is on the tipping point of becoming a failed state due to the inability of its government to provide security for its people. Lastly, the leadership of the Pakistani government just as that of Nigeria has on numerous occasions, abdicated its responsibilities owing to its inability to secure its borders; provide employment opportunities for its teeming youths; and its failure to take firm and decisive step against terrorism. The only area where Pakistan ranks slightly better than Nigeria is in the area of corruption. And this is because unlike Nigeria; Pakistani elites have very limited resources to steal from, as compared to Nigeria, where massive corruption or to borrow from the words of the President-‘stealing’ has become the ‘only law which most public office holders respect and are subservient to’.
So when Malala chose to visit Nigeria to empathize with the hopeless parents and relatives of the missing girls, she knew she was coming to a country with all the trappings of a failing state just like hers, and having been a product of that same society, she knew the language which leaders of such entities’ understand. Frankly speaking, those directly affected by this abduction and some of us who have been tagged “unrepentant anti-jonathanians” should thank Miss Malala for helping us to drum some sense and ridicule into the ears of this government. Here what the young woman had to say: “I am here in Nigeria on my 17th birthday for a price which is to see that every child goes to school. This year, my objective is to speak up for my Nigerian sisters, about 200 of them who are in the captivity of Boko Haram”.
Regrettably, it has taken a 17 year old Miss Malala to remind Nigeria’s leadership that over 219 of its girls are still in captivity on their own soil. How severely disconnected from reality can a government be? Not only did Malala remind the Nigerian government of its failures, she also reminded the Presidency that it is yet to meet with the parents and guardians of the Chibok 219 when she said “I also met with the parents of these girls who are still under the abduction of Boko Haram and “They asked me if there is any chance for them to meet the President, and I asked the President if it is possible for him to go and see them to encourage them and the President did promise me that he will meet the parents of these girls”.
It is so unfortunate that it has taking the Nigerian state a Malala Yousafzai all the way from Pakistan to remind her of an event happening in her backyard. How more detached from; and dead to its responsibilities can a government be? This is what happens when the Commander-In-Chief of a state becomes the commanded. This is what happens when the leadership of a state places premium on pecuniary gains of office at the expense of its primary responsibility of providing security for its people in fulfilment of the oath of allegiance it swore to defend. This is what happens when politics overrides national security and unbridled state robbery takes the place of real governance. Today as I write, the Nigerian state has become so incredibly shameless and irredeemably lawless that even its leadership have come out to warn its citizens to desist from tagging politicians as corrupt, arguing profusely that what the people call corruption is (public) stealing.
To demonstrate to its citizens that stealing is not corruption, and that when you steal, you deserve state recognition, this government in its magnanimity has granted state pardon to a former governor who was internationally convicted for looting public funds belonging to his own people. But that innocent man on the street, who out of frustration and neglect from his government unfortunately laid his hands on a 50 thousand naira worth of mobile phone belonging to a serving state governor, has been sent to jail for 45 years. This country has become such a huge joke! Nigeria has become such a misnomer that its citizens are no longer safe in the discomfort of their poverty stricken homes courtesy of the insecurity that has become the defining characteristics of their country. They have become constant victims of bombings in the Markets, Motor Parks, Schools, Shopping Malls, and even in the sanctuary of their churches and mosques! How bestial can it get for a people whose government could not provide food or meaningful employment for them, but does excellently well by giving Shekau and other greedy politicians (politico-economic terrorists) the leeway to murder them at will?
Nigerians have been abandoned by a government they hoped will bring them ‘Goodluck’ and have been unwillingly compelled to proffer solutions to their own problems. They have become so dehumanized to the extent that they are now responsible for plugging in their own electricity generator, for digging their own water boreholes, and are also made to set up their own private schools because public school teachers and lectures can go on a strike of no return. Indeed, a classic example in this regard is the recently suspended 10 month(s) strike embarked upon by Polytechnic lecturers in Federal and state owned institutions and the ongoing 8 months long strike in Benue state; a state ostensibly under the control of the ruling party.
Nigeria has become so debased, so much so, that the people now have to arrange for their own private security guards because the police will normally not arrive at a robbery scene until several hours after the robbers have returned to base. And even when they do, they end up arresting the same people who have just been robbed? How more failed can a nation get? Ironically, this is a country, which with a moderately proactive and corruption unfriendly government could have been as rich and as self-assured as Indonesia. But what do we have instead? Nigeria is teetering on the edge of chaos, its poverty of ambition exposed by the fate of 200 girls held, and perhaps brutalised, by fanatical Islamist hoodlums somewhere in Sambisa forests. Interestingly, it is not only the Presidency that is living in denial. Even governors, often tagged as Chief Security Officers of theirs states are wallowing in this poverty of imagination and that of the mind, while Abubakar Shekau and his God-forsaken sponsors continue to shine.
Interestingly, even Shekau understands that the leadership of the Nigerian state and its military are living in denial when he noted (in his last video address of July 12, 2014 to his council of mad men and women) thus “We led the attack on the military base and killed the soldiers' commander; and the military are lying that they killed 50 of our men; liars! How could you have killed us when I killed all your soldiers and the policemen there? I was the one that ordered the bomb in Konduga”. In what appears as a further ridicule of the Nigerian state and its army, Shekau, who himself looks very insane argued that “We have recovered several arms from the Damboa military base attack including armoured tanks and Kalashnikov rifles. (Pointing at the stolen arms) Look at what God has given us free of charge; we filled our vans with ammunitions like sands. This is what is called religion and worship,” How on earth can a felonious and mentally retarded character like this be holding a nation of 170 million people to ransom? How can?
Yet the Nigerian state wants its people to believe that it is winning the war against Boko Haram and that Abubakar Shekau; as the top echelon of the Nigerian military and intelligence brass wants us to believe is actually dead! Just the same way North Korea’s leader—Kim Jong Un, and the state-controlled media lied to its over 24 million citizens that it won the recently concluded 2014 World Cup in Brazil. How farcical this sounds! The most appalling of these scenarios is that, instead of the leadership of the Nigerian state to admit and apologize for its own failings, it keeps thinking, power and money answereth all things as evidenced in its state sponsored (Op-ed) or if you like, PR attempts in the United States based Washington Post over the last few weeks. It keeps shifting the goal post by consistently arguing that the issue of terrorism had been before it came to power, and as such, it should not be expected to crush it.
It keeps arguing that the opposition All Progressives Congress should be held accountable for the Boko-Haramization of Nigeria. One wonders what the ruling party and likes of Femi Fani-Kayode, who in one of vituperations had argued that the APC is a party filled with Boko Haram sympathizers, will have to say now that Senator Ali Modu Sherriff has decamped to the People’s Democratic Party. Today, two of the main individuals often touted as having links with Boko Haram; Senator Ali Modu Sherriff and Hon. Ali Ndume are card-carrying members of the PDP. Will the PDP still continue to live in this political denial? Or will President Jonathan rise up to the occasion by been more decisive and ruthless in his fight against Boko Haram?
More so, given the carnage that Nigerians have witnessed over the last few years, I remain at a loss as to how this government, irrespective of whoever it picks as its Presidential Candidate in next years’ elections will convince Nigerians that it is capable of protecting them given the very spectral and ludicrous way it has done in the last four years. What will the party and its flag bearer tell Nigerians about the innocent lives that have and are been lost almost on daily basis due to the party’s socio-political and security incompetence? What will its campaign slogan be when it gets to security? How will it account for the over 12000 lives its wants Nigerians to believe have been lost to BH since this madness started? What will it say to the parents of the missing girls? How will it explain to them that it failed in its responsibility to protect their lives and properties on their own soil? How will it explain to the population that BH has become more powerful than the government they elected into office? And more importantly, how will the party explain to Nigerians that it had no other choice than to add endemic corruption to its manifesto after assuming office in 2011?
I will conclude by reminding the Presidency, just as Malala did, that it has been in deep slumber for too long a time, but the good news, as my people do say is that “there is still enough power in the sun to dry the wet clothes”. This government can still make amends. It can still redeem its already battered image by doing what the former Madam in charge of the Aviation ministry argues as “the needful”. At the same time, this government has a choice, and as Frantz Fanon hypothesized: “each generation, must out of relative obscurity discover its mission; either to fulfil it, or betray it. So the question is, will President Jonathan completely betray Nigerians, or fulfil their true wishes and aspirations within the few months left for him in office?
Indeed the clock is ticking.
Olumuyiwa Babatunde Amao is a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics, University of Otago, in New Zealand. He tweets @talk2smat, and he can also be contacted via [email protected]