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Nigeria: A Nation Under Stress and Skate Dancing on Thin Ice By Qansy Salako

June 17, 2014

Strangely, Nigeria simply carries on business as usual in the face of a state of strife that is hacking citizens to death in thousands and banishing the living out of their homesteads in hundreds of thousands.

And so the 300 unfortunate Chibok girls remain abandoned in Boko Haram captivity now past two bloody months, leaving their families continually drenched in sorrow. The world sensibility has, by now, probably been desensitized by more depraved Boko Haram abductions and multiple rampages of slaughters in the very same area of the Nigeria Northeast. Meanwhile, as the Nigerian leaderships bicker and point crooked fingers at one another, the whole country is tangled up in a thousand bizarre conspiracy theories.

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The Northeast accuses President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the South, of sponsoring Boko Haram to depopulate its region for political advantage at the polls in the coming February elections.  Goodluck, who can barely speak a word in Kanuri or Hausa is powerful enough to set the North upon itself in a full blown civil war going on five years without any shooting side feeling foolish? You gonna love the logic behind that. Jonathan government itself laments that its core national security team has been treacherously infiltrated by Boko Haram sympathizers from within his cabinet and accuses the Northeast political class of playing politics with the lives of its citizens. Ordinary Nigerians living in the area continue to swear that unconscionable local politicians and top military brass are behind Boko Haram. The federal government joint task force (JTF) soldiers repeatedly mutiny over inferior battle gears, bullet proof vests that can’t hold back a bean bullet, poor feeding and owed allowances. Insecurity, stratospheric corruption, official incompetence and thoughtless pronouncements are the rule rather than exceptions.
Why do Nigerian governments believe that they can make a reality disappear by simply denying it? They have this irritable culture of thinking that having an unscrupulously garrulous spoke-person for a minister of information or special adviser, aka attack dogs, put a lipstick on their shenanigans would get them the credibility and respect they do not command. Some four long weeks after the Chibok abduction, two weeks after the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign brought international media frenzy into Nigeria, mouthy Doyin Okupe, Jonathan’s senior special adviser, did his trademark bombastic pony show on a CNN interview with Aisha Sesay in which he claimed that Nigeria just didn’t make noise about its competence in warfare unlike what the US or the West typically does. Rather, Nigeria had taken a lot of military actions including recognizance (sic) operations on Boko Haram since the Chibok girls were kidnapped on 14 April 2014. Aisha tried to remind him that it was then 4 weeks hence, but that only provoked him to further assure the world that Jonathan had deployed a thousand more soldiers to the Sambisa forests and everyone would soon see the girls home. That was four weeks ago. Barring a miracle, it is probably now delusional for even Okupe to expect that all of the girls are recoverable.
Annoyingly, Nigeria still does not know exactly how many of its adolescent girls are out there living in the deflowering hell of the Boko devils. That Chibok secondary school from where the girls were abducted in the middle of the night is the only secondary school in the entire Chibok local government (LG) area of Bornu State. The principal of the school did not have a reliable record of students who slept in the school dormitory on that fateful night. Neither the LG chairman, state commissioner of education, state governor, area legislators (representative and senator) nor the federal minister of education has any accurate data source for student enrollments breakdown for Chibok LG. When everybody including the rescuing JTF generals initially gave the number of missing girls as 200, the world stood still in unprecedented shock. When days later, despondent parents whose wards did not come home alerted the country that 100 more girls were still unaccounted for, the world recoiled in horror and disbelief. The Nigerian leaderships only became more obstinate and blamed the parents for not coming out sooner! You just don’t know who or which to pity more, the girls, the parents, or the country. I wept over all the three.
Strangely, Nigeria simply carries on business as usual in the face of a state of strife that is hacking citizens to death in thousands and banishing the living out of their homesteads in hundreds of thousands. The petrodollars continue to flow especially now with crude at over $110 a barrel due to renewed instability in Iraq. Nigeria, slightly more than twice the state of California, suddenly has more cash reserves available to share among its 36 omnipotent state governors and their 774 LGs, overpaid 360 representatives and 109 senators and the all-encompassing president and its extravagant cabinet. The general elections in February seem unassailable. The national convention of APC, the opposition political party, holds in Abuja without any hitches, displaying more dubious wealth than manifesto to the electorate. The coronation of a new but atavistic emir in the Northern city of Kano, a town that has seen multiple Boko bloodsheds including an assassination attempt on the immediate past emir, is making folks forget about the menace of Boko Haram, for now.
The political leaderships spare a minute on Chibok and spend the rest of the day on the stratagem to partake in the spoils of governance and over-invoiced war. No tactic is too puny for use against citizens who are asking hard questions on reality and priorities. Banning of Chibok protests, clamping down on the local press, etc, all are fair game to retain and maintain the status quo. The new official attitude turns logic on its head by scolding Nigerians to unite in not protesting the government over its handling of Boko Haram and Chibok shame because these are challenging times for the country and because nobody is perfect.
Nobody is perfect, you think? Neither is everybody endowed with leadership qualities nor can everybody be a leader. Trouble is, in Nigeria, everybody wants to be either president or governor. I don’t believe it is too much for Nigerians to expect competent leadership from anyone who puts him/herself forward to lead them. Whoever wants to be the leader from among us might not be the most intelligent citizen, but she/he had better have a vision and know how to source a pool of citizens with content, integrity, concerns for the plight of ‘we the people’ and who know how and have the capacity to take the people to Jericho. Leaders who attend or junket to meetings unprepared, who live for the loot in office or who throw up their hands in frustration at the first break of a national challenge don’t cut it for us. Such traits are too many imperfections to tolerate in the kind of leaderships that we need for Nigeria at this time.
War against terror is not a conventional war, granted. The facelessness of terrorists and the near impossibility of protecting every single soft target especially in the rural areas of a poor country like Nigeria are huge frustrations, checked. But what’s with all the heart wrenching eye witness accounts that we hear from local residents all the time? It was them who first told the world that the Boko hideout was in the Sambisa forests and hills. It was them who gave chase after Boko Haram with bows, arrows and sticks within 24 hours of the mass kidnap only to return frustrated and dispirited. There are so many reports of the local people knowing of impending Boko attacks and alerting their local/state government authorities. Yet, Boko Haram would arrive as scheduled and carry out their burning, looting and killing operations for 4-8 hours without the JTF soldiers ever showing up. Are these stories false?
What about Boko Haram conducting their dastardly acts in full Nigerian military uniforms, confusing the heck out of citizens in the villages not knowing whom to trust or dodge? What about the porous borders through which the damned Haramists come in and go out of Nigeria at will? And the planted Boko Haram flags in the numerous villages they raze and “conquer?” What’s with all these in a region that is supposedly under a state of emergency? Is Nigeria containing these ridiculous events that undermine our sovereignty and territorial integrity? Of the ten thousands border crossings into Chad, Cameroons and Niger, are we working or planning to seal any one? Are we reclaiming any “lost village” yet? If there was a group enemy against the Nigerian state that should be blockaded of food, water and funds by Nigeria, it ought to be Boko Haram in Sambisa.
A group known as the “Concerned Leaders of Ethnic Nationalities of Borno South Senatorial District” released some eyewitness data on 11 June 2014 in which in the previous 4 weeks alone, Boko Haram has killed nearly 750 people across more than 50 villages with 100,000 survivors fleeing into neighbouring countries. Concurrently, news report gave the number of Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram that the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has registered to date at just 6,227. In spite of the usual bravados of the Nigerian government and the presence of half a dozen military powers from the ‘international community’ with their armada of modern technologies, not a scratch yet on the Haramists. The Boko killer squad still goes in and out of the Nigerian territory leaving smokes of death and destruction in its wake, on a weekly basis.
These are hard questions from Nigerians that won’t go away. They are about progress reports on the Chibok girls rescue and general control and containment of our state of fear, despondency, hunger and joblessness. Nobody is perfect but we the people demand that the political class work for those outlandish monthly emoluments that they cart home in wheel barrows.
New elections on our current state of existence in Nigeria are a mirage on the horizon of our future. Boko Haram and its root cause need to be tackled before we can move in the forward direction as a country. The news about heavy gun running and armament build-up in the North will neither tame Boko Haram nor preserve Nigeria. The expectation that Boko Haram mayhem will stop when the presidency rotates back to the North is a blundering fantasy. Neither have the Boko Haramists demonstrated they give a rat’s ass of the North establishment nor have the North ruling elites shown any creativity that they can control the evil bozos. The way I see it, the Boko devil are not the type the North could hope to convert into a regional militia.
At any rate, should any power shift to the North potentially lull Boko destruction by any chance, what does the North think Asari Dokubo and his MEND boys in the Niger Delta will do? Stay quiet or afraid of the new improved Boko Haram in power? Would we have simply shifted the pain from one foot to the other? We need to have serious conversations and sincere solutions to our problems in Nigeria.
The thought that the ‘international community,’ especially America, would help us solve our problems continues to make the rounds. I get dizzy each time I read or hear of it. It started when the 12 governors from the North came begging Susan Rice and US State Department officials to come and help them fight off Boko Haram in the North. It is not working people.
We need to take personal responsibilities and amalgamate our futures, this time by ourselves. Having a roadmap in hands would make it easier for an outside mediator to adjudicate our issues.

This is the time to sit down and seriously talk.

We still have time left for optimism.

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