Uzokwe's Searchlight

Monday, May 5, 2014

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe, P.E



resident Goodluck Jonathan has not told the nation that he will run for Nigeria’s coveted post, come 2015, but it is a foregone conclusion. Infact, judging from the rhetoric coming from some people, if he fails to run, they will all but disown him. Many, from across the nation, have been willing to help him actualize his dreams. Infact, even here in the Diaspora, every time Nigerians gathered, especially those from the Southern part of Nigeria, a sizable number of them will be rooting for him to go for and win the 2015 presidential election.

I have attended a series of Nigerian gatherings lately and my observation is that the seeming love affair that some Nigerians had for President Jonathan is taking a precipitous downturn. “Under this man’s watch”, one said angrily, “Nigeria has turned into killing fields and he is sitting back in Abuja, acting as if nothing has happened”. “He just does not have what it takes to preside over Nigeria”, the other said. All these effusive reactions are in response to the continued carnage that terrorists have been unleashing on the country, in relative succession, without any noticeable push back from security agencies. It started a few weeks ago when a bomb was detonated in Nyanya, near Abuja, inside a motor park where hardworking Nigerians gather to board public transportation. The explosion caused the untimely death of more than 70 Nigerians and maimed many. The site was gory as body parts, dismembered by the explosive force of the lethal agents, littered the motor park.

Well-meaning Nigerians cried out to the government to protect them and hoped that securities agencies would soon expose and bring the perpetrators of the dastardly acts to book. It was not to be because as Nigerians mulled what the nation was coming to, the agents of death struck again. Another bomb was detonated in the same motor park at Nyanya and more than 30 people lost their lives. Of course Nigerians and the world were and are still outraged by what happened in Chibok, in the north, where the merchants of terror swooped into an all-girl school, hoodwinked and swept of, by way of abduction, more than 200 innocent girls.

Seeing that no meaningful action was being taken, by the federal government, to bring the terrorists to book, Nigerians began to feel that the man who rose to power by accident of history, a man who had never been placed in a position where summary and decisive action was needed to right injustice or wrongs, did not have the chops to bring to an end what has become a frequent and horrific spectacle. Nigerians concluded that the man they believed in, not just because of his seeming good heart and willingness to carry all Nigerians along in decision-making and spreading development evenly across broad swaths of the nation, was not the right person to suppress an uprising that was taking a critical and dangerous turn. As a corollary and slowly, Jonathan’s most ardent supporters, who would naturally prefer a peaceful and secure Nigeria, even with a slightly high-handed president, have started jumping ship in search of a “real messiah”.

The stories that Nigerians are reading about the probable situation with the more than 200 abducted students, is not making things easy for the president. It is rumored that the young girls are now being married off at $12 per person. The outrage being generated by this is further making Nigerians who hitherto supported Jonathan to slowly start distancing themselves from him and opting for a “strong” leader that will take the bulls by the horn no matter whose ox is gored.

No sane person is blaming President Jonathan for this scourge in Nigeria, because many feel that the separatists are simply espousing an untenable and unacceptable agenda. They want to Islamize Nigeria and do away with Western education. However, many now believe that the seeming inaction and helplessness that the president and those around him, including members of the security agencies, are showing, is emboldening the insurgents to continue on their mission of carnage and wanton destruction. Just yesterday, the wife of the president insinuated that if the abducted girls were not released, she would lead a protest. The question is leading a protest to whom? People are leading protests to Jonathan to do something as the president but his wife wants to lead a protest to somewhere else. Yesterday, during a speech, the president, in addition to expressing alarm at what was happening and saying Nigeria was seeking help from Western nations, appeared to say that one solace he had was that they had not heard that the abducted girls were being harmed. That was the height of cluelessness. Is the president, who is being accused of inaction, saying that until he hears that the girls are being harmed, he will not begin on drastic steps to have them freed?

Many Nigerians continue to wonder how it is possible that in a nation that has police and army, a small group is able to continue to carry out back to back terror acts without being exposed and punished accordingly. If one assumes that their first attack took the president and security agencies by surprise, how about the second, and the third and so on? Fool me once, they say, shame on you. But fool me twice, shame on me. These elements have now fooled the president and Nigerians multiple times and the bloodletting on the streets speak volumes about what this has become.

That this insecurity issue has infuriated and continue to infuriate Nigerians is not a secret. So many people I used to think of as lackeys of President Jonathan, many who had hitherto felt that he was a god sent to put Nigeria on a trajectory to peace and prosperity, no longer have faith in him. Many that used to support his bid for another term, come 2015, now feel that he has no guts, ideas nor strategy to secure the nation. They feel that a nation without security robs citizens of peace of mind and if investors believe that there is no concerted effort to check the scourge, they will start keeping away from the country. If investors keep away, the economic stagnation and unemployment that have been critical problems setting the nation backwards, will worsen.

I was surprised when an ardent supporter of President Jonathan, for 2015, declared that he has now seen that the man lacks the knowledge, the experience and even the will to bring the scourge under control. In an emotionally-laden voice, he declared that if this were during Obasanjo’s term, “the terrorists may have gotten away with one or two first attempts but would have been wiped out of the face of the earth” by now. At this point, another opined that Jonathan’s lack of military experience, coupled with the fact that he is surrounded by people that may not truly be giving him the right advice, makes him agree that at this moment in Nigerian history, Nigeria needs a resolute president willing to act summarily and decisively.

The sentiments displayed by Nigerians, which I noted above, is no longer just limited to a small section. Many now realize that without security, everything else comes to naught. They now seem to be embracing the last president that was once despised because of his high handedness and dictatorial tendencies. They seem to be willing to endure a little bit of high handedness from their leader in exchange for a secure nation. They are hoping for a nation where one would not be afraid to go to the motor park to board buses; a nation where citizens will not be afraid to go to public gatherings. I recall that when the first Nyanya bombing took place, someone I was talking to, in Nigeria, said he will just refrain from going to or taking his family to motor parks to board public transportation. Now, after the second bombing, he said his family will, for the time being, keep away from all public places including markets and shops. He reasoned that if these “animals” as he put it, have changed their game and started bombing motor parks, going to schools to kidnap innocent kids, nowhere is safe. In anger, he derided President Jonathan by saying that every time important national events took place, he would deck himself out in full military regalia with swagger stick in tow but now that situations that call for true and decisive military action have come calling, the president seems to be missing in action. He even notes that sometimes they feel that the president’s seeming preoccupation with another term, come 2015, gives him less time to fold his sleeves and put in place a lasting strategy to uproot this cankerworm that seems to be eating deep into the fabric of the nation. For that reason, he says Jonathan should forget 2015 and face 2014.

The truth is that Nigerians are right to be angry that the government seems to have allowed separatists to murder sleep amongst the populace and people now sleep with one eye open. Because no one understands the modus operandi of the terrorists, and hence unable to predict their actions, Nigerians are confused as to what type of personal strategy to adopt to keep themselves and their families safe. One person said to me that this is a very unconventional war. “In conventional wars”, he said, “the people fighting it want to live another day so when they see situations that could put them in harm’s way, they retreat. But in this case”, he continued, “we are dealing with people who do not seem to value their lives. They love to give up their lives and hence do not retreat in the face of danger.

President Jonathan must now go back to the drawing board with regards to his strategy for fighting this scourge. Whatever strategy he has employed so far, is any, is not working judging from recent events. He has to begin to seek wise counsel elsewhere because the advice he has been getting from current advisers are clearly not working. Giving speeches will not cut it either. I am unsure about Nigeria’s military strength and might but the military ought to now be deployed in its full strength and splendor to go after this scourge. There is the school of thought that President Jonathan surrounded himself with some who would not want him to truly lift a finger against the terrorists because, even though they may not be sympathetic to their cause, they feel that engineering the attack of people from their regions would be tantamount to fratricide. If this analysis is right, then Jonathan must look elsewhere.

Jonathan should adopt a new approach in the fight against insecurity that simply espouses the mantra that anyone against the attempt to check the terror scourge is an enemy of the country. The letter that was written by Governor Murtala Nyako, saying that the president has genocidal tendencies because of the fight against terror, is a good example of how some from certain parts of Nigeria see the fight against insurgency. Instead of seeing it as a war that Nigeria must fight and win, they see it as genocide against “their people” and this is counterproductive.

For the sake of Nigerians, born and yet unborn, President Jonathan must recalibrate, retool and re-strategize. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. He must now try something new and more drastic. Unfortunately, I am not a military man and hence cannot proffer any solutions but that is why the president is the president. He is the man at the helm and should not just throw up his hands in disgust and hope for a miracle. What he does today and the way he handles this emergency will determine the direction Nigeria goes tomorrow. If Nigeria has to degenerate into a nation where citizens are afraid to gather in public places, a precedent that the president set when he stopped the use of the Eagle square in Abuja for national celebrations, an action that betrayed a sense of helplessness, it will be most unfortunate.

A contemporary of mine opined that the toughest question Jonathan must ask, in trying to unmask and bring this scourge to a halt is this: how do these people get the sophisticated weapons they make and utilize in their heinous acts? how do they get the funds to get these weapons and keep their nefarious activities going? Better yet, where do they get the know-how and schooled manpower to prepare their machines of destruction? My friend argued that these people cannot accomplish all they do without sponsors in high places. To begin to arrest the situation, he suggested, Jonathan must attempt to get the answers to the questions above and then go after the perpetrators and anyone found to be colluding with them.

Furthermore, it is alarming to read the ease with which these insurgents seem to cross into and leave Nigeria. One cannot understand why and how the borders of a nation at war within should be as porous as it seems to be. If it means inconveniencing the army for a year or two to win this war, Jonathan must be bold and courageous to deploy them along the border with a mandate to restore normalcy.

If Jonathan must win back the hearts he has lost because of insecurity in the nation, making endless speeches or the first lady bursting out in tears about the abductions will not yield results. Nigerians need concerted and visible action from him. So help him God.