Nigeria: A government of inertia
The primary duty of any government is to protect his citizens from crime, create a safe secure and healthy environment. In any responsive democratic society the government is accountable to its citizens in making sure this duty is met. However when a government through inertia fails to react, watches and folds its arms at the slightest hint of danger akin to a father at the park watching his child playing in the park but with his back to the child not mindful of the dangers his child may encounter but oblivious to them then questions need to be asked of that father. In that vein questions need to be asked of this government. The well planned, well timed with gusto and to maximum effect the bombs attacks on Christmas day against innocent citizens including babies at churches in Abuja, Suleja Jos and Gadaka were accidents waiting to happen. The unfortunate causalities and walking wounded were sitting ducks and blameless victims of an absent government. The government must have been sleeping, took their eyes off the ball, inert, complacent in taking adequate precautions to prevent these attacks having been warned weeks before that there was a clear and present danger that such attack was imminent. Either we live in a world of self-denial and deceit or are too dumb to realise our failings when the grim reading of most western nations travel advisory available on their websites had warned that, 'Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country'. Rebuttals by the government is not good enough in saying the country is safe but failing the any concrete and visible steps being undertaken by our government why were these warnings taken seriously? You can issue all manner of press statements, shout on the roof tops that you are the 'giant of Africa' or the 'heart of Africa' but when you do not live your giant status and your heart is weak then of what use is your size and its weak heart!
Our government's immediate reaction to the bomb attacks on Christmas day was anything but 'reassuring'. I have emphasised the adjective 'reassuring' because that seems to be most favourite word from the government in response to any bomb attack. Whilst foreign leaders were quick to react and condemn the bombing our government spent the better part of the day searching for an appropriate response which when it did eventually it came it was like watching paint dry! There was no empathy, human emotion or care in the statement. It was a careless statement to make. There was no visit to bomb site by President to show a message, a defiant message that he is in charge; that we shall not be defeated, we shall not be overcome by terror and that terror will never win in our society. No such words. In this day and age of modern communications you expect better from a responsive government that cares about the lives, security, health and well-being of its citizens. At a time of national tragedy and mourning the government should response appropriately. This is not too much to ask. We can all recast our minds back to 19 April 1995 and remember how then President Bill Clinton reacted to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, United States and on 7 July 2005 London Underground and bus bombing how then Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain reacted in being 'mourner in chief' (for better use of the a title) in rallying the American and British in expressing the grief, shock, sorrow, emotion, compassion and courage of their nations during those troublesome times. In what has now become our own very Annus horribilis (year of horrors) the year 2011 has become, the comportment and decorum expressed in years gone by, the text book way of dealing with such tragedies has been lacking on the path of our leadership.
I would for emphasis reiterate our government reaction in their own words to some of the tragic bombing that have occurred this year.
“Let me reassure Nigerians and indeed the world in general that even with the limited technology we have, the Nigerian security agencies have done well. Look at the October 1, 2010 bombing experience, all the people that were involved have been arrested and prosecuted. Most of the countries that are more sophisticated that us have done nothing to that stage. “Yes we have the Boko Haram challenge now, but just like other terrorist attacks in other parts of the globe, we are working on it. It is not as if the security services and the government are not doing anything about the situation, we are working round the clock to bring the issue under control. The challenge is only a temporary setback and we shall get over it,” said President Jonathan Goodluck, The Nation 10 November 2011.
“Let me seize this opportunity to therefore reassure the nation that I have initiated a very rapid and robust process to enhance the capacity of our security forces to protect life and property. Even as I mentioned security scare, I am confident in the ability of our security agencies to overcome the present one. We are resolute in our charge to security agencies to go after all promoters of terror and other anti-social activities and bring them to book”, President Jonathan Goodluck is reported to have said according to The Vanguard of 16 November 2011.
“I want to reassure all Nigerians that Government will not relent in its determination to bring to justice all the perpetrators of today's acts of violence and all others before now,” the President said Press statement after Christmas day bombing. President Jonathan reaffirms the Federal Government's total commitment to vigorously combat the incursion of all forms of terrorism into Nigeria, and wishes to reassure all Nigerians and the international community that his Administration will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice. Press statement of President Goodluck after the bomb attack on the United Nations Abuja Head Office on Friday 26 August 2011.
“Of course, wherever you have terrorist attack in any country, Nigeria is not an isolated case. Many countries have suffered from terrorists attacks, may be it is the turn of Nigeria. But we are on top of the situation”. President Goodluck after the visit to the UN Head Office Abuja, Nigeria on Saturday 27 August 2011.
“The issue of bombing is one of the burdens we must live with. It will not last forever; I believe that it will surely be over,” President Goodluck said when he received in audience a delegation of the Christian Community in FCT led by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Bala Mohammed on Sunday 25 December
What is noticeable in these statements is the word 'reassure', not taking ownership, blaming others and promises to apprehend culprits which to date have been nothing short of empty words with not a single conviction to date in Nigeria for a defendant in a terrorist case. The dictionary meaning of to 'reassure' means 'to restore confidence'. Can we honestly say our government has done that this year? I leave you to answer this.
For the past two consecutive years there have been attempted terrorist and actual terrorist attacks planned, executed and undertaken in Nigeria. On 25 December 2009 in sign of things to come our own very home grown, spoilt prat rich kid Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab a.k.a. 'Pant Bomber' planned to blow up a plane in Detroit, Michigan United States having started his journey in Lagos, Nigeria but due to the high vigilance of the passengers on the plane who quickly apprehended him he was stopped in his tracks. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is currently on trial in Detroit for his crimes. Shortly after this incident on 3 January 2010, the United States Transport and Security Administration the United States Department of Home Security Agency responsible for security of the United States transportation system issued a new security directive 'Guidance for Passengers on Heightened Security Measures' to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010. The directives mandated the increase use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for majority passengers on United States bound international flights from Nigeria as a country of interest with a host of other countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism. Our government as always was quick to condemn this listing and also to deny that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab actually started his journey from Nigeria. When CCTV footage later emerged that he had indeed departed from Nigeria the government was forced to back track in its denials.
It was reported that on 24 December 2010 and two days later at least 80 people lost their lives in violent clashes involving sectarian youth groups in Jos.
Since Wednesday 29 June 2010 authorities in Abuja, the capital territory have imposed listed curfews in recreational centres, restricted parking controls on main roads and directed that night clubs and cinemas close by 2200 hours daily including weekends. Public parks and gardens that admit children ordered to close at 1830 hours. The measures were said to be necessary because of the need to ensure adequate security of lives and property in the federal capital territory in light of the prevailing security concerns according to a statement signed by the city's spokesman Muhammad Hazat Sule. The curfew was done without any consultation with the businesses or residents on the economic and social impact of the measures to businesses and people affected by them. However despite the lockdown of Abuja the situation has become worse. What next? Stop Christians from going to churches and Muslims from going to Mosques. The curfew which was absurd in the first place has not made Abuja safe and secure. The ineffectiveness of the measures is apparent because it has not stopped the barbaric bombing campaign of terror waged by the extremist brutes in the sect called Boko Haram. In fact it has made them all the more made them bolder, brazen in their attacks which they do with impunity.
If the government utterances is anything to go by and that terror goes away by keeping a blind eye or closing eyes and then looking from the corner of your eye, with eyes half open hoping and praying that the problem would be resolved at a stroke there is nothing to suggest that this will happen. In fact it is not going to. It is very strange how our government has reacted to certain issues but in matters that concerns issues of the security, health, safety and well-being of its citizens, our government time and time again has been found wanting. The zeal in enacting legislation for banning gay marriages and drumming up support for removing the oil subsidy is not the same kind of zeal that is evidenced in addressing the terrorist issue. One of the United States greatest President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said the, 'only thing we have to fear, is fear itself'. Our government has not shown the same boldness, valour and courage exemplified by the two heroic Police Officers reported to have stopped the cowardly suicide bombers from detonating their explosive device in the churches on Christmas day for which the death toll could have been a lot higher. Instead what we have observed is fear itself.
When citizens cry for the government to restore confidence in making their neighbourhoods safe and secure what they want to see s for those in charge of governance feeling their pain. By feeling their pain they do not want to be part of photo opportunities being presented with government cheques of monetary compensation or announcements of free education of surviving children of victims. They want and do deserve more than that. What citizens what to see is courtesy not necessarily announced in advance with the usual fun fare that goes with VIPs high profile visits but visits by the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker and other top government dignitaries to the locations that have suffered acts of terrors by the brutes who have perpetrators these acts in Abuja, Damaturu, Maiduguru, Jos, Suleja. It is sad that as the time of writing none of the top dignitaries mentioned have deemed it fit to visit locations outside Abuja that have suffered from terrorist acts. If Presidents Bush, Obama, Sarkozy and Prime Cameron can leave the comforts of their capitals to visit such far flung conflict zones of armed theatre on moral boosting tours to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, why is it that in locations closer to home ours cannot do the same? A key attribute of leadership is being visible, motivating and rallying the troops, the citizens. If leadership is by being invisible who do the citizens look up to? Who do they see as feeling their pain, understanding what they are going through? Leadership never achieves results by inertia as to do so means achieving nothing. A responsible government acts by being proactive in catering for the needs of its citizens. Governance is done not by a repetition of failures but by a repetition of successes. Words cannot bring back those unfortunate citizens who died from the bombings neither can it bring comfort to parents, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends who loved lost ones on Christmas day and in this year of horrors. However what the government can do as a lasting legacy to those bereaved is to guarantee that never again shall we continue to live in fear and let terrorists win. This is a war in which good shall triumph over evil, good over bad. It is not done by appeasement to terrorists. There is nothing to appease terrorists for of indeed they no longer want to be part of our union they should be told they cannot compel innocent citizens to adopt their way of life. Terrorists have friends in the community. They are not a shadowy group. Let the government and these friends of their flush these terrorists out. The government should in confronting this challenge create the awareness and conditions as done in countries with track record of successes in fighting terror. The sooner our government acts the better.
Omoba Oladele Osinuga Esq. Solicitor and Advocate Supreme Court of Nigeria, International Criminal Lawyer works in the Mission of a leading International Governmental Organisation in Europe writes from Dagenham, Essex UK.