Chidi Oguamanam

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Bring back our girls, our country!

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on May 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM

MAY 9, 2014

Chidi Oguamanam, Punch

Nigeria has forced a shift in the attention of the global media from the disappeared Malaysian Airways flight MH370. Events in Nigeria in the past several weeks are unprecedented but not unpredictable. Boko Haram has progressively capitalised on the ineptitude of the Nigerian government, emboldened to “success” by the failure of the state apparatus on several fronts. Recently, through successive car bombs on soft targets that have yielded monumental casualties and the successive kidnap of more than 200 schoolgirls from both their hostels and families, the sect has aroused international anger. It has called international attention to Nigeria, a country of contradictions and complexities, wherein the more you look, the less you see.

 

Nigerians and all people of goodwill are united in not only demanding the release of the abducted schoolgirls, but also for an end to terrorism that is festering in that country and, by extension, in the Western and Central African regions. The brazen nocturnal abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria’s North-East zone has the potential to be both the tipping and turning points for Boko Haram and the Nigerian state. We should seize this moment for good. Already, the social media has been co-opted to fire the campaigns, thanks to Ms. Ramaa Mosley of Los Angeles. Mosley heard and took up the plea of Nigerian mothers: “BringBackOurGirls”. Facebook, the Twitter verse, celebrities of all shades, and civil society activists have now pushed the reluctant Obama administration and segments of American political leadership to join in. The same is true of Canada and the rest of Africa and the democratic world. Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora have found a sense of partnership globally. Before now, all the atrocities targeted against Nigerians by Boko Haram seem to have gone unnoticed in the eyes of the international community. Nigerians felt lonely and left alone. The Western media have woken up from their slumber or convenient blackout of the Nigerian crisis. The spotlight seems to have now turned on Nigeria and inexorably on its failed political elite and the cesspool of corruption under which they habitually wallow. Nigeria is now bared naked before the whole world. Knowledgeable, ignorant and pretentious experts on Nigeria are all competing for space in the media with genuine and questionable statistics and information about the country. So be it. It is a welcome opportunity to interrogate “Nigeria” and to hold its leadership to account across the globe.

 

But what took so long before everyone weighed in? The Nigerian leadership and the international community have equal blame in keeping the Nigerian crisis out of the radar. Nigeria has created and sustained the illusion and delusion that it has the Boko Haram menace under control. In the characteristic arrogance of its political leadership, the “giant of Africa” is equal to the task. After all, it has the strongest military power in the West African region and has been a stabilising military power on the continent. Did President Goodluck Jonathan not promise to assist Kenya following the WestGate Mall massacres in Nairobi recently? Nigeria has long pretended that it does not need outside help. If it did, it did not seem to approach the needed help with deserving seriousness. How one wishes that it truly needed no help. But terrorism is not like conventional warfare. It is not the exclusive internal affair of any country, not even the strongest country on earth, let alone for one incapable of policing its borders. Perhaps, Nigeria is afraid that with outside help comes close scrutiny in regard to accountability for resources deployed, even those claimed to have been deployed in fighting terrorism. Accountability is a department in which the Nigerian governments at all levels perform most woefully.

 

Consistent with the arrogance and ostrich mentality of Nigeria’s political class, one of the country’s political actors at the Presidency was recently playing to tune. Making a highfaluting claim to CNN’s Aisha Sessay, a presidential aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe, enthused that Nigeria has the manpower, resources and what it takes to deal with the situation on the ground. He ended the encounter by pleading with the world to give his government “sometime”! Not any more, the parents cannot wait; the people are tired of excuses; the world is running out of patience. The presidential official needed to have wondered where in the world could such large number of casualties and victims be recorded in quick succession without consequences. How many more people would have to die, how many more girls would have to be abducted while Nigeria is given sometime?

 

Nigeria is not prepared but it has no choice but to embrace the consequences of a global outrage and the scrutiny it entails. The Nigerian government had claimed that shortly after their abduction, its security forces rescued a large number of the girls. But it retracted the claim when it did not add up. With the continued global scrutiny, more details are coming out, for example, regarding the timeline of the abductions and with critical information that unmistakably put the government on the defensive. Clearly, these accounts point to the bungling of the prevailing crisis. Meanwhile, the government has constituted a panel on the Chibok schoolgirls abduction – another bureaucracy in the line of much needed result. Many Nigerians believe that their governments at all levels have failed them. Whether they are right or wrong is a matter of the evidence on the ground. Everywhere one looks, that evidence is incontrovertible in support of the prevailing sentiment.

 

In their anger and outrage, Nigerians are demonstrating both against Boko Haram and their governments. Gradually, they are tapping, with the rest of the world, onto the power of the social media. Nigerian government ought to sit up and read the handwriting on the wall. No government should underrate the power of the social media, especially as it relates to a people that are increasingly resentful of their political leadership. One is sick and tired of the worn-out refrain of not politicising national security on account of terrorism. The truth is that only a few things are apolitical. The rise of Boko Haram is an integral part of both Nigeria’s political fragility and its political metamorphosis. Weighing government’s response or failure of response, or even lack of effective response to Boko Haram is essentially a political exercise before it was a security one. What else can it be? Politics is like air; it is everywhere even when we do not see it. Those who want to conveniently take many things out of the political realm are often quick to take political credit over the stuff they seek to exclude. Assuming that the Boko Haram crisis has been decisively resolved, one wonders if the ruling party would not gloat about that in its imminent campaign trail.

 

In seven months, Nigerians would head for the polls in another general election. At the moment, Nigeria is conducting a National Conference from constitutional sidelines with a view to a collective reflection on its political future. Deliberations from the conference point to a country in which its constituent nationalities have a strong appetite to renegotiate the basis of their political engagement from all the important fundamentals. That sentiment assumed unusual urgency since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999 and subsequent introduction of what ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo called “political Sharia” law in parts of Northern Nigeria. A combination of interrelated factors including corruption, chronic poverty, wealth and educational gap, religious fundamentalism, ethnic distrust, struggle for resource control, youth restiveness and unemployment remain combustible threats to Nigeria’s existence. Not too long ago, tens of unemployed youths were choked to death as hundreds of thousands struggled for employment opportunity open to only a few hundreds under a bungled public recruitment exercise. The plight of the Chibok abducted schoolgirls and others and the victims of the recent Nyanya double car bombings in the Abuja suburb are enough to transform the #BringBackOurGirls to #BringBackOurCountry! But not the old country.


This opinion was first published in the PUNCH 

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