ABUJA BOMB BLASTS: THE PRESIDENT AND HIS KINSMEN
Let's not delude ourselves that these are normal times in Nigeria. On the contrary, let's make no mistakes about it: these are times of grave concern in our country. Since the independent anniversary celebration double tap bomb blasts in Abuja in which at least 12 people were killed, fear has reached a frightening level, anxieties are rattling down everybody's nerve paths.
Each passing day brings torrents of fresh worries that our worst fears are sadly, but steadily, becoming a foreboding reality. And our people are living each day with unprecedented suspicion of the sincerity of the political leadership.
It is not unkind therefore to say that the sense of common national unity and purpose which the Golden Jubilee anniversary celebration was meant to foster in the citizenry, instead brought to the fore the fault lines that have continued to divide us, fifty years after political nationhood.
Now, embers of disunity are being fanned every day.
It is so because there is something in Nigerian politics, and with its politicians and even presure groups that heave with hysteria. Attempts to parse the horrifying incident of October 1, leaves anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of bomb making and the mechanics of its detonation that, indeed, the line between fear and reality has narrowed.
As Nigerians continue to live in shock and utterly scared at work not knowing when and where the next bomb will explode and the means of its detonation, the October 1 explosions have left many questions unanswered. For instance, whodunit? With fingers of blame pointing in different directions, with a section of the North threatening the President with resignation or be impeached, one thing is certain for now.
The ethnic coloration and inflammatory comments that have trailed the tragedy will surely distort or prejudice investigations. It means that whatever the outcome of the probe will elicit a flurry of disputations, from one section of the country against the other. Clearly, the Independence Day Celebration tragedy has opened different mirrors through which are can have a hard look at how we are as peoples, not as one nation. One mirror shows that insecurity in the land has become a present danger. The greater worry is the near complete inability of the security agencies to respond swiftly to emergency situations that terrorists now pose to national security.
For example, is it a fact that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), one of the fingers of blame in the blasts did give advance warnings at least, a day before the bombs were detonated? Jomo Gbomo, the publicity arm of the movement, had in an email posted on its website, a day before said, that several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by its operatives working inside the government security services.
The group had warned people to evacuate the area, and keep a safe distance from vehicles and trash bins. The movement even gave hints of the hour it would strike, as well as the location of the bombs. Is it also a fact that foreign intelligence agencies in UK and USA did alert our security agencies that such attacks were likely?
Intelligence reports are like the Boy's Scout Motto: Be prepared!! They serve as leaks to nip plots in the bud. Few hours after the tragedy, MEND did not play the ostrich. It quickly claimed responsibility.
Curiously, and this is where the presidency has shot itself in the foot, President Jonathan swiftly exonerated MEND of any complicity in the blasts. He said, 'we know those behind the attacks and the persons sponsoring them; they are terrorists, not MEND'.
The President also claimed that MEND was impersonated when he said, 'I grew up in the Niger Delta and nobody can claim to know MEND more than myself'. Really? Mr. President may have the facts to make such claims, but he might have got his facts wrong. Now, he is struggling to recant his earlier statement.
This is simply nimbling away at objectivity. If he knew who the sponsors were, what did his government do to stop it, knowing full well that such tragedy, had it being nipped in the bud would have served his image and his presidency better? President Jonathan should know this, especially when he makes public comments on a matter of huge public interest with broad national implications.
For a president, every word said in public or private (especially the one uttered in public) is parsed for meaning beyond the surface and every expression of doubt, frustration, is construed as a sign of weakness. In times of crisis like this, that's a good time to test the stuff of leadership. The truth of the matter is that the higher a president rises, the more the impact of his public statements are weighed in every perspective.
Though the statements from some northern leaders like former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and Alhaji Adamn Ciroma who signed the resignation/impeachment threat last week, were quite incendiary, inflammatory and totally uncalled for, President Jonathan should have resisted the prickly temptation to join issues with them. His presidency has now been put on the defensive, not only from the motley of northern opposition but from one of his own kinsmen, Mr. Henry Okah, the founder of MEND, who is currently living in South Africa. Okah is a man built like a micheline tyre.
He is 5ft 4in but gifted with a lot of emotional intelligence. He has succeeded in putting the presidency somewhat in a round box. Okah had reportedly told a cable TV network, Aljazeera last week that a close associate of the President had called him and urged him to reach out to his colleagues in MEND to do one vital thing: recant their earlier statement that the movement was responsible for the bomb attacks. He also accused the President of instigating his arrest.
The Presidency has since debunked Okah's claims as that of a drowning man. Few hours after he went to the Presidential villa with his fellow militants to pledge support for the President, Dokubo-Asari, the irascible leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, gave an exclusive interview to a Nigerian cable TV network NN24 in which he claimed he forewarned the president two weeks earlier that the Okah brothers (Henry and Charles) were plotting attacks on Abuja. Dokubo also claimed that many times he had sought an audience with the president and many times said: he was snubbed.
He collaborated one of Okah's claims, when he remarked that 'some people in Jonathan's government are funding the Okah brothers'. Dokubo alleged that the Okahs want an oil block from the Federal government, a demand he claimed, the President was aware of.
Put together, what Okah and Dokubo alleged tends to give vent to a case of a broken family whose members would prefer to destroy their inheritance rather than share it. Both men are the President's kinsmen.
I did say in this column August 31, with the title: ' The Problem with Jonathan campaigners, that the president's kinsmen might be his Achilles heel. The Presidents campaigners, especially from his geo-political zone, I cautioned, should stop behaving like insurgents. So far, there is no coherent strategy on their part that Jonathan as president is for Nigeria, not for the South South alone. What the Northern elites are currently doing, and they are succeeding, is to create a geography of mistrust and hang it on President Jonathan as someone who will be a divider not a uniter. With fiery politicians like Adamu Ciroma, Senator Kanti Bello and don't dismiss Atiku yet, these folks have a handful of listening ears in the North. The days and months ahead could be troubling.
How the President is able to manage the growing size of the opposition will, to a great extent determine how he can lead. You destroy the value you have when you are perceived as the man behind the curtain. That's the picture they are painting of Jonathan, with some of his kinsmen acting as the pawns in the chess game. What these elements are doing is to make the President lose his cool which could result in a possible unrest that might prove inimical to the conduct of credible elections next year. The President's opponents are succeeding in this grand plan,at least for now. The truth in all of this is: If we don't get the political process right, every thing else just might fail.