By Emmanuel Nwachukwu
As war rages in the North East and insurgents continue their onslaught, annexing towns and villages, politicians and indeed Nigerians seem oblivious of the inferno at their gate. As if unperturbed, politicking for 2015 has commenced in full force with the same corrupt individuals asking Nigerians once again for their mandate; these same individuals that are responsible by their actions and inactions for this insurgency and the current state of insecurity in the country.
Being in government, for this ignominious club of career politicians, has proven to be a very lucrative business as they move from one political post to another, sharing the money. But for a few individuals, politics in Nigeria has become ‘theft incorporated’, as voters mortgage their better judgement for the proverbial bowl of porridge or ‘stomach infrastructure’ as it is now comically referred as by politicians. Vital funds that could have gone into hospitals, schools and roads and other public services are being shared for votes.
With impunity waxing strong because of the weakness of our institutions, it is now open season for looting. Wherever you look in the public sector, the story is the same ‘share the money’. The tragedy is that there is nothing anyone can do about it, even more so in a society where individuals are more powerful than institutions.
Meanwhile millions of our fellow citizens are fleeing the advance of Boko Haram as towns and villages are abandoned to insurgents. Fleeing families are left to fend for themselves as the political elite and the rich run to Abuja.
The government had hitherto been in denial of the threat we face as a nation, burying their heads in the sand, as if that would make the problem go away. Good advice from concerned Nigerians were shunned and these individuals were maligned and labelled as opposition by government. Even when the Borno State Governor Shettima made his honest assessmentearlier this year on the challenges facing the military in prosecuting this war, he was slapped down by Dr Doyin Okupe and the presidency, with the usual response, that ‘the government is on top of the situation’. Current events have without a doubt vindicated the governor. Since his comments in February, the insurgents have become more brazen in their attacks, emboldened by their successes. Many local governments and towns like Gwoza and Mubi have been overrun. The insurgent are no longer content to operate just as a guerrilla outfit but are now holding territory and setting up what can only be described as a parallel government. A once rag-tag army has evolved in a very short time into an organised fighting machine that is able to make daring forays to towns as far south as Lokoja, to release prisoners from jail.
Nigerians must not be under any illusion that they will stop at Mubi, unless there is a radical revision of the current strategy. Now we hear that even Chibok itself has been seized by the militants in a show of strength that makes the safe release of the Chibok girls a more distant prospect than ever. Nowhere is safe in Nigeria, not even Abuja. The more territories these insurgents are able to hold the more confident they become.
We have a serious situation on our hands but you won’t know this from watching the machinations of our politicians. It was said of Nero, the Roman Emperor over 2000 years ago that he fiddled whilst Rome burned. What is unfolding before our eyes are the symptoms of many years of institutional decay that began in the late 1980s and worsened in the last 10 years with the institutionalisation of corruption.
The military can only operate within the limit of its resources. They cannot be expected to act outside the conventional chain of command or the parameters set by government. The buck must stop with the president as Commander-in-Chief.
The recent Boko Haram video was crushingly disappointing for those campaigning for the release of the Chibok girls. After weeks of speculation, the venomous words of the Boko Haram leader, who we were told had been killed, informed the world that far from freeing the girls, they have married them off. This is heart breaking, especially for the parents, but not surprising nonetheless after over 200 days of these children being in captivity. The video was particularly humiliating for Nigeria, as it scoffed and mocked the government’s jubilant claim of an agreed ceasefire, leaving our president looking at best naïve.
The lesson for government is that you don’t make such an announcement to the world until you have physical custody of the girls or at least some of them. We are dealing with an ideological enemy that wants nothing from Nigeria and so the only way you can negotiate with them is from the position of strength. The problem is not that this group is too strong but that the State is seemingly weak. We cannot go into a ceasefire agreement from a position of weakness. As a commentator noted, these individuals are diametrically opposed to all that Nigeria stands for or aspire – democracy, education, openness, tolerance, secularity and freedom of worship. There can be no meeting of minds with this group until fighting ceases to be an option for the group, at which point a discussion can then be held from a position of strength.
The president had no business visiting Burkina Faso when he has greater challenges at home, with millions of citizens displaced. You do not leave your home when it is on fire to put out a spark in your neighbour’s house. No one died in Burkina Faso.
We need a radical revision of the way we have approached this insurgency. Efforts must be intensified to win the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised youth in the North who believe they are not part of the Nigerian project, making them ready recruits for Boko Haram. Islamic clerics must work with government to stop the brainwashing of these youths. The government must devise effective strategies to ‘follow the money’ allocated for the prosecution of this war and also the funds allocated to NEMA for the welfare of displaced persons.
The president’s advisers will tell him and indeed Nigerians that there is terrorism everywhere in the world just to placate Nigerians and explain their incompetence. The president must now jettison these advisers, they are enemies of Nigeria. With the increasing spate of bombings in the country and the spectre of Afghanistan lurking at our gates, we must all give the military and our security agencies all the support they need. Sadly, with 2015 election is almost upon us, the response from our politicians is all too familiar, ‘share the money’.
*Emmanuel Nwachukwu is an International Business Consultant and
Director, PS Solutions Management Consultants