Nigeria bleeds and it needs us
By Bola Ahmed Tinubu
NIGERIA'S current security situation jars the mind and troubles all those who have a touch of conscience about the plight of their fellow man. We have been brought to the point where we must now admit that basic security no longer exists for a vast segment of our people. This means too that our people have been cast into the no man's land where law and order, justice and respect for human life and dignity do not abide. These harmless people now live in harm's way. Once again, innocent people have been turned to sacrifices on the altar of evil.
The terror of Boko Haram strikes and strikes again for nothing but wicked purpose. Through their indiscriminate killing and destruction, they seek to destroy the spirit of this nation and pit us against each other. They want Christian to curse Muslim and Muslim to curse Christian. They want to pit Southerner versus Northerner. By the spilling of innocent blood, they hope that we come to blame each other for what they are doing to us. WE shall never fall into this fool's trap and, though they may win the moment, they shall never prevail in their vile scheme.
We stand united against this threat to our national existence. The twin-bombings in Nyanya are a challenge to us all. The explosion was craven attempt to demoralise the nation by striking an important transportation hub in our beloved nation's capital. The second bombing stands as an act of evil defiance of constituted authority. The terrorists now try to frighten us by showing that our security forces are unable to stop them, even in our nation's capital. However, whatever terrible lesson they think they teach us, we refuse to learn. Our classroom is life, liberty and justice. We do not take lessons in oppression, fear, hatred and death from them or anyone else. Whatever they think they won by this bloodletting, they have lost. They have made implacable enemies of every man, woman and child in Nigeria. We shall prevail. Boko Haram shall lose.
Yet, it is not enough that they have the courage and moral fortitude to withstand the injury they inflict on us, it is long past time that this menace to progress and order be subdued. While they can never claim our hearts they have already taken too many lives. The carnage must stop so that our walk to a better Nigeria may continue unhindered by this weak presence.
What I say next is not to curry political advantage but to state the obvious. No matter my political differences with the current administration, what I am about to say I wish were not true. Like every Nigerian, my heart aches because of the lowly state of our security. No matter what and no matter who is in office, our security should never sink below to a level where widespread death and destruction can descend on us with impunity. Yet the Nyanyan bombings and the abominable kidnapping of over 200 girls from their hostels in Chibok have brought to fore the weak underbelly of our security apparatus.
The people neither deserve the feats of terror against them or the defeat of the security system meant to protect them. Unfortunately, this is our lot.
While I have no interest in partisan bickering at the moment, I also cannot allow the mere fact of my political affiliation to silence me on this transcendent issue. All Nigerians have a right and responsibility to let their voice be heard on this matter. Thus, I say what I believe must be said. If you think I do it for political purpose, so be it. Yet, I say it that I fulfil my civic responsibility as a citizen whose nation and way of life have been placed under siege by a hidden and sinister force. In this, I believe what I will say speaks for most progressives today.
Boko Haram is the greatest security challenge to Nigerian since the civil war some forty years ago. We stridently oppose Boko Haram because the Nigeria it craves is not the place of democratic good governance and economic opportunity we seek. Many of us have advocated a multifaceted strategy and have petitioned government to amend its policy accordingly.
Thus far, government policy has been an unimaginative, one dimensional military approach. Even here, the Jonathan government implements its own policy only half-heartedly. As a result, Boko Haram's evil has spread geographically but also with regard to the pace, scope and complexity of its operations. If you weigh success by the impact Boko Haram has gained or lost over time, any objective observer would say government policy has failed to contain, much less eliminate, the terrorist scourge. Government policy needs reform in five important ways.
First, government must admit its solely military approach is inadequate. Boko Haram's challenge has economic, political and social dimensions that government ignores at our collective national peril.
Second, to address these aspects of the crisis, government needs to reach out to northern Nigeria, especially those areas most blighted by terrorism. Much of that part of the nation now suffers severe economic depression. I believe only a small minority of people actually support Boko Haram. The real problem is most people in the affected areas think ill of this government. Thus, they are indifferent to the fight between government and Boko Haram. Despite Boko Haram's homicidal ways, the population does not see government as coming to their rescue. They see government as another layer of suffering and oppression. Until government breaks this perception, it will have a hard time breaking the back of Boko Haram. The most effective way to counter this impression is via an economic development plan for the area. Under this plan, government will inaugurate infrastructural development that not only creates a platform for economic growth; it will provide employment for many young men. Such legitimate employment will lessen the pool of desperate youth from which Boko Haram recruits its foot soldiers. Deplete the numbers of recruits and you diminish the group's ability to operate. Also, this policy builds goodwill among the people. Ultimately, it is the people who will defeat Boko Haram. If the people were to see government as their ally and true guardian, Boko Haram will have no space to operate. Right now it operates in the space created by widespread indifference and cynicism.
Third, government must refine its military operations. The military's hand has been too heavy and indiscriminate. It has committed abuses against the innocent in its clumsy attempt to pursue Boko Haram. These offences only increase the pool of disaffected people from which Boko Haram recruits. To be seen as the true protectors of the people, government security forces must restrain themselves so that they do not lash out in frustration against innocent people for the harm Boko Haram has done. The people have already been meant to pay a price by Boko Haram; it is painful for government forces to compound their suffering. At this stage we can expect nothing more than terror from the terrorists but from our own forces, we have the right to expect so much better.
Fourth, government must improve its intelligence-gathering capacity. This is partly a function of the people's disposition toward government. They distrust government and thus are reticent to provide information. All intelligence gathering is first local. There is a lot of sense in the community policing in Western nations where the police is welded to the community and security is every citizen's business. In our case, I am afraid, security have alienated the locals and in that process shut the door to the floor of useful information about the dangerous gang.
Fifth, this challenge has a regional dimension. Elements of terrorism are now trafficked across regional borders. As the largest nation in West Africa and the nation most affected by this problem, Nigeria has the standing to convene a regional summit to discuss with our neighbours ways to end this problem before it becomes a hot and pressing issue for our neighbours as well.
NOT one reason will suffice for the insecurity that now confronts us. Many people have tried to parse the issue to determine whether the rise of Boko Haram is attributable to political and economic conditions (what I term “secular” factors) or attributable to extremist sectarianism. While grist for lively debate, this parsing is mostly counterproductive and artificial. As with most complex situations, causation cannot be accurately reduced solely to one factor. To do so is simplistic and likely to blind us to things that must be part of the solution to this problem.
Many non-Muslims will see Boko Haram as an Islamic assault. I am Muslim and I abhor Boko Haram for it mocks, not honours, the tenets of my faith. There is nothing Islamic there except that it uses the legitimacy of Islam to lure the ignorant, gullible and hopeless into their sordid trap. Boko Haram exalts violence, not God. It kills Muslim and Christian alike because its faith is not Islam but mayhem and lawlessness.
Extremist thought can spring up anywhere. However, it needs dire secular conditions to brew and attract enough adherents to become an organisation capable of the things Boko Haram has done. Without the economic and political injustice and hopelessness now chronic in much of the nation, particularly in the north, Boko Haram would not have the strength of numbers it seems to have. Without the extreme poverty and the great disparity between wealthy and the poor, Boko Haram would be a small fringe movement capable of nothing except petty crime and making periodic noise. In other words, sectarian extremism cannot gain sufficient momentum in the absence poverty and a widely shared perception of injustice. Secular and sectarian extremism are not independent, incompatible factors; they feed each other. To end this trouble, both sides of this equation must be solved.
Government policy has been ineffectual. If it maintains this present form, government policy will continue to be ineffectual. This means the situation will either remain the same or deteriorate, with the latter being more likely. Either road is impassable if the objective of our trek is a better Nigeria.
Some now say parts of Nigeria are ungovernable. I disagree. The issue is not that parts of the nation are ungovernable. The real problem is that the current administration seems incapable of governing these and other areas. No parts of the nation are ungovernable. All sections are amenable to good governance if only good governance were to be had. Trouble commences where there is bad or no governance. This government, by folly or omission, has done too little good. It has lost legitimacy among segments of the population. While it may hold predominant power and money, this government is approaching the point where it is morally spent. This government is a bumbling monument to barren policy and corrupt practices. Given the obvious danger before us, may this government regain sobriety and a sense of purpose equal to the moment and the challenge we face.
After every terrorist attack, government tries to soothe the public by stating it is doing all it can and soon everything will be under control. Alternatively, the president nonchalantly will say terrorism affects every nation and Nigerians must grin and bear it. Clearly, none of this expressed the sense of urgency required. I have no doubt this administration would like to answer this problem. Sadly, this administration seems to lack the capacity to find that answer. Instead of doing the hard work of governance, it gives itself to grandiose empty statements and sloganeering.
A senior military official boasted months ago that Boko Haram would be corralled by April. Instead of containing the menace, Boko Haram unleashed death this month in our nation's very capital. Government is no closer to ending this national ordeal. Instead of working to make true headway, this government throws words at serious problems, and then asks the people to believe the job is done. When it comes to Boko Haram, it vows that the problem is shrinking, but it is not. As long as this government lives in the realm of fantasy and neglects to work in the world of fact, Nigeria will look to Abuja for answers but find none.
Since Abuja seems incapable of helping us, we must help it. That people, especially women, have begun to protest government's apparent foot-dragging is encouraging. These efforts must continue. Those of us in positions of leadership must offer ideas to government to help it meet this challenge because before any of us became PDP or APC, we were all Nigerians.
With regard to the Chibok abductions, I ask government to seriously consider these steps.
• Lack of contingent planning. Sadly, this is not the first abduction although it may be the largest. Most major militaries around the world have developed plans for the major challenges they shall face. It is a terrible lapse that our security apparatus failed to have such plans for this situation.
• Response on the ground: Some delicate questions need to be asked. The seizure of this many children is logistical a major operation that takes planning and execution. How is it that Boko Haram is better at planning and execution than our trained professional security agencies? How could this have taken place without detection and a rapid response?
• Talk to us. The nation is in anguish yet the president has not talked to us directly. Let him make a broadcast to the nation at this time of hurt and pain to assure us, in broad terms that he has a plan to free our daughters. He needs not give us operation details but he needs to more actively and visibly lead the nation at this time.
Now, the nation is faced with a dilemma. With each day that passes, the likelihood that some of the girls may be transported across the border or suffer in their current surroundings increases. The people rightfully demand action to free our children but whatever action government takes must be geared to saving these children not to “doing something” just to avert the political pressure. Government must act with purpose and urgency but also with prudence and compassion for our captured, distressed children. This will require greater levels of coordination and planning by our security than we have heretofore witnessed. With all reasonable dispatch, we ask the government to plan strategically and execute with precision and care.
This nation needs her children back and all of us, regardless of political stripe, religion, region and origin, stand behind government as long as government does its utmost to win back the lives of our daughters. Until then, we are reduced to peering into the sky and hoping for the hand of Providence to redeem us, be you Christian or Muslim.
• Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State, is a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC).