THE FAILED RESCUE BID
Nigeria, for some months now, has had to endure relentless image battering, locally and internationally, on account of the activities of terrorists in the country. For a country that was still in denial over the existence of terrorists within her borders just about two years ago, our country has now become a hotbed of terrorism. Bombs are exploding and killing people at will, especially in Borno, Yobe and Plateau states; poverty and brigandage daily mar the lives of the people; unemployment stalks the nation on all fours. It is not unexpected, then, that the nation, instead of being a tourists' destination has become more of a tourists and residents' nightmare.
Hardly a day passes without reports of gory happenings on the front pages of national newspapers, but last week, an incident in Birnin Kebbi further dented the nation's image. A Briton, Chris McManus, 28, and Italian Franco Lamolinara, 48, who had been kidnapped and held incommunicado in northern Nigeria since May, last year, were killed during an attempt to rescue them by the State Security Service (SSS) aided by British forces.
The two hostages had been held in a house behind a hospital in Birnin Kebbi before the location was ferreted out by the SSS.
Their kidnappers had demanded a ransom of $6.5 million dollars and released a video of the kidnapped men in December 2010, vowing to kill one of them if they did not receive the money. Unverified reports from the spokesman of a splinter group of Boko Haram, which is said to have carried out the attack, said the group had been negotiating the release of the hostages and had reached an agreement with their families that excluded the government. A portion of the 1.2 million euros allegedly agreed upon with the kidnappers was said to have been paid before the failed rescue attempt that claimed the lives of the hostages.
Since the incident, there appears to have been no love lost between Italy, which appeared not to have been properly carried along on the rescue bid, and Britain. The country has demanded explanations from Britain. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, however, explained that events moved very fast towards the commencement of the rescue bid and there was really no time to keep Italy abreast of developments other than informing the nation as the effort was about to take off.
Beyond the disappointment of the Italian authorities on the failed effort and the loss of face by Britain which appeared to have made a mistake with the rescue plan, the death of the two foreign hostages is yet another dent to Nigeria's image. This is one incident that has again put the nation on the global stage as a nation that is being dusted by Boko Haram insurgents.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan has since commiserated with the families of the victims and the British and Italian authorities, there is no doubt that the incident is another minus to Nigeria's image. It is bad enough that the two men were kidnapped in Nigeria while reportedly working on a project for a construction firm. It is disheartening that they were held for so long - May 2011 to March 2012, yet all the efforts to rescue them resulted in disaster.
This paints a picture of Nigerian security operatives as inept. It leaves room for doubt on the credibility of the rescue arrangement. Taken along with the general insecurity in the country and the failure of our security agencies to contain the onslaught of Boko Haram, the impression that has been created is that the country is a terrorist enclave where the government cannot guarantee security or secure the release of anyone who is kidnapped.
This view flies in the face of frequent assurances from President Goodluck Jonathan that the nation is winning the war against terrorists. The president, who issued another of his reassurances while reacting to the bombing of St. Finbarrs Catholic Church, Jos, at the weekend, hinged his position on the arrest of a number of leaders of the Boko Haram sect recently. He urged Nigerians not to despair or be discouraged by the activities of terrorists. He, expectedly, condoled with all those who died in the attack. The Nigerian government, he promised, will continue to progressively destroy terrorists' ability to unleash murderous attacks in the country. It will also continue to take the battle to merchants of terror and close in on their locations, funding and sponsors.
These are brave words from the president, but they offer little comfort. Although government, of late, has arrested few leaders of the sect, including the alleged spokesman, Abu Qaka and Kabiru Sokoto, suspected mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla; and we have reports of occasional killings of Boko Haram members by security agencies, these are not likely to end the onslaught of the sect.
This is because, historically, it is not possible to end a guerilla warfare using such tactics. Boko Haram has become ubiquitous in the North. The president himself has admitted that it has infiltrated all arms of his government, including the security agencies. It is hardly possible to predict where they are likely to strike next and pre-empt them.
Boko Haram elements are also faceless. They are not known, at least to the security agencies and there is no doubt that for every one of the terrorists that is gunned down, there are four or five sympathisers ready to physically avenge his death, not to mention the closet 'Boko Haramities' that are ready to sponsor such attacks. Moreover, these are people who are ready to give up their lives for their cause.
The lesson from this is that Nigeria may not win this campaign against Boko Haram by force of arms. The occasional reports of killings of two or three members of the sect in one part of the country or the other will not solve the problem, because it is virtually impossible to protect every church or public office at the same time. Something more intelligent and profound will have to be done to end the onslaught of the terrorists. This is why the president and his security team will need to put on their thinking caps on Boko Haram. This is not a game of 'a life for a life'. People who want to live and flourish cannot play that game with terrorists who are ready to die at the drop of a hat.
Nigeria/South Africa face-off
The 'no love lost' relationship between Nigeria and South Africa was back again on the front burner last week as South Africa deported 125 Nigerians who arrived on two flights in the country on account of what her authorities called 'fake yellow fever inoculation certificates' known as Yellow Card. Before the Nigerians were deported, they were improperly treated as they were reportedly kept for 24 hours without food. Nigeria, angry, immediately retaliated with deportation of over 100 South Africans who arrived our airports. Although South Africa initially refused to apologise for the unfair treatment of the deported Nigerians, it later did when Nigeria deported South Africans and also threatened to investigate South African companies in the country.
It is good that the spat has since been resolved. While it lasted, it brought to the fore the age-old issue of maltreatment of Nigerians in many African countries, including the small ones that we have been very helpful to. Is it not odd that Nigerians, to put it the way it really is, are mostly despised and barely tolerated in many African countries?
In fact, some deliberately harass Nigerians and come up with impossible trade conditions just to keep our compatriots away from their countries. It is good that a House of Representatives Committee has invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs on this problem. The recent tiff with South Africa is a good opportunity to get to the bottom of the resentment against Nigerians in many parts of Africa. It has been said in some quarters that this could be because Nigerians are more dynamic, lively and aggressive than most fellow West Africans. Some say it is because Nigerians intimidate other Africans and also engage in sharp practices that are alien to the countries. Let all hands be on deck to get to the root of the cold war against Nigerians across Africa.