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Jonathan's listless response to disasters – Punch

By The Citizen


Tragedies and disasters come with pains and grief; but they are also events that unite a nation. When a country is afflicted by the twin evils, especially on the scale experienced in Nigeria in recent times, it draws the grief-stricken people together and provides a perfect setting for the leadership to reconnect with them. It is an opportunity for the leader to share in the pains of those affected; it is time for him to attempt to restore hope to the disillusioned, those who may have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to live for anymore.

Nigeria, in the past few years, has had her fair share of tragic events. Since the blood-thirsty terrorist group called Boko Haram started its campaign of terror in the north-eastern part of the country, thousands of people have been killed in very gruesome circumstances. In some instances, whole villages have been levelled. And, almost of equal ferocity have been the frequent attacks and the loss of lives witnessed in Plateau State. It could, therefore, be excused when reports of fresh attacks in those areas no longer attract the attention they used to, perhaps due to their frequency.

But, even then, there is a stage that the attacks could reach that would still make people to stop and take stock. That stage has been reached with the recent escalation of killings in the past weeks in both Borno and Plateau states. Responding to a scurrilous attack last week by a presidential aide, after a second visit to the Presidential Villa in 48 hours, the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, said over 300 innocent Nigerians lost their lives to Boko Haram onslaught in February alone. In one single day, on February 15, about 106 people were reportedly dispatched to their early graves by the mass murderers in what is fast becoming a daily routine.

In the last seven weeks, no fewer than 74 people have been killed in Plateau State, according to the Christian Elders Forum of Northern States. If the 40 killed in Kaduna, the 24 in Benue and the 33 in Adamawa are added, Nigerian is fast becoming a land dripping with the blood of her innocent citizens. On Tuesday morning, the murderers went to the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, where they killed 29 pupils in their sleep. The situation is, however, made worse by the apathetic disposition of the President towards the plight of the citizens who, invariably, are left to their fate.

Sadly, as the land continues to soak in the blood of the innocent, and even that of soldiers and other security agents, President Goodluck Jonathan, who should be the chief mourner, has been going about as if all is well, a permanent smile etched on his face wherever he goes. He has even found time between his busy schedule of sacking and replacing state officials to pay courtesy calls on traditional rulers across the country. No visit to the troubled spots, and a message of hope for the people and the soldiers has not been deemed necessary. How many people are expected to die before the President takes symbolic actions that leaders in other parts of the world take in their countries' trying times?

In 2010, in one of the extraordinary disaster management stories in human history, 33 miners were rescued in Chile after spending 69 days buried 622 metres in the belly of the earth. The Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, made the rescue a national event. He was at the scene to personally receive each miner as they were dramatically brought to the surface after more than two months underground, following the San Jose Mine collapse of August 5, 2010. What else does a person need to be convinced that he is a valued and cherished citizen of a country?

Since Barack Obama came to power in 2009, America has suffered a tornado in Joplin, Missouri; mass shooting in Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado, and the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. There was also the Boston Marathon bombing, in which three people died and over 170 others were injured. Obama had personally gone to console the people in all these cases. In Boston, he visited hospitals with his wife, Michelle, where a nurse, Alice Gervasini, said, 'He was extremely complimentary and I think, as he left those areas, people were thankful that he came.'

Similarly, on July 8, 2009, China's then President, Hu Jintao, had to cut short his attendance at the G-8 meeting in Italy because of ethnic tensions in the Xinjiang region of the country. Right now, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been involved in the bid to help flood victims in that country. According to newspaper reports, a resident in Yalding, Kent, confronted the prime minister that she had not enjoyed electricity at her home four days after her area was hit by flood. Even Prince Williams was also physically involved in efforts to prevent flooding by loading sand bags in affected areas.

Needless to say, as the few examples have shown, election period is not the only time for the leader to go to the people. As Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University, USA, historian and contributor to the Cable News Network TV, once said, the role of 'consoler-in-chief' is one that modern presidents have become accustomed to playing. Leaders must be there to connect with the voters in times of joy and times of grief.

Jonathan owes the distraught relations of the massacred Nigerians a duty to empathise with them. And, for the rest of Nigerians, there is the need for him to address the nation, to regularly reassure them that the situation is not as hopeless as they feel.