June 2012: Who is “Crushing” Who?

President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Patience Arriving in Seoul, South Korea

March 28th 2012 is one of those memorable days many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. This was the day when reports filtered out that President Goodluck Jonathan had in an interview in far away South Korea, the previous day, confidently assured the international community that Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad commonly referred to as Boko Haram would be contained by June 2012. Of course Boko Haram, not one to let such an opportunity to display its peculiar propensity for viciousness and violence against its perceived “enemies” to pass by, shortly after, did what it does best — carried out deadly attacks at select targets such as Universities and Media Houses along with its usual offensive against churches, police stations, security posts and installations. These attacks so far have persisted and become more fierce and bloody, and the rest as they say is history…

I can vividly remember that afternoon in late March, what I was wearing, and what I was doing when I learnt about President Jonathan’s enthusiastic and optimistic assurance. I cannot recall though, the precise flurry of emotions that coursed through my very being in reaction —  amusement, incredulity, perplexity, exasperation or a mish-mash of all these. I wondered why the President couldn’t have been more tactful in his choice of words knowing well that Boko Haram generally relishes the slightest opportunity to flex its ferocious muscles and it would interpret his statement as some sort of dare. I also dreaded what Boko Haram would do to disprove the President’s statement.

And indeed, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad retorted, first, with a very menacing video clip, vowing to “bring down” and “consume” President Jonathan’s administration and then unleashed a string of attacks against several targets with such astonishing levels of aggression and ferocity, dashing the faintest hopes of anyone who thought the group would be contained within this period. The most recent violent campaign within this month, being the mayhem in Kaduna state – attacks on churches in Wusasa, Sabon Gari and Tirkanniya, the reprisals and the counter reprisals – and the bomb blasts, gun battle and prison break in Damaturu, Yobe state have left hundreds dead in a bloody trail of death and terror. Residents of these cities have been subjected to 24 hour government imposed curfews for the better part of last week, paralyzed in fear and uncertainty. Though the curfews have been somewhat relaxed, the sudden clampdown on movement has had traumatizing effects on residents, has done little to calm frayed nerves in a very tense atmosphere and crippled economic activity in the interim.

As June fast approaches to an end, leaving in its wake, an atmosphere of uncertainty and gloom, it is pertinent to reflect on the President’s statement and consider whether Boko Haram is really being contained, controlled or crushed as the international community was assured way back in March or whether it is Boko Haram which is containing and crushing Nigerians. If the reality on ground is skewed towards the latter scenario, one has to wonder then, why Mr. President made that statement. Was it because he felt that such an assurance was necessary to restore the confidence of (potential) investors in Nigeria’s political and economic viability to absorb their crisp emerging market Dollars, Yuan and Won?

Kabiru Sokoto, alleged master-mind of the 2011 Christmas day bombing at St. Theresa church Madalla, Niger state, Nigeria

Of course as Commander-in-Chief, President Jonathan is privy to classified reports from intelligence agencies and his security advisers. Based on such intelligence reports, he probably felt confident that the noose was tightening fast around Boko Haram and thought it timely to enthusiastically inform the world of such impending victory, at Seoul. Quite possibly, the President felt sufficient information to close in on Boko Haram had been garnered from the scores of suspects apprehended in the past few months, such that security forces were just on the verge of moving in for the kill. Or perhaps President Jonathan’s premature enthusiasm was just one of those one-off statements leaders make, on the prodding of their advisers, as a gamble, with their fingers crossed under the table and toes crossed in their presidential shoes, hoping against all odds that such a statement turns out to be true.

Whatever the reason behind this rather impulsive and premature assurance, it is now evident that the exact opposite came to pass. One could speculate thus, that it is owing to this realization by the President, that he fired his erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Owoye Azazi and the erstwhile Defence Minister Alhaji Haliru Mohammed Bello. This much can be inferred from the reason given by President Jonathan for sacking them in order to “conform to the changing tactics of the Boko Haram insurgency”.

Photo courtesy: Naijanedu.com

Considering how dark and bloody June 2012 has turned out to be contrary to earlier assurances, one truly hopes that the President would be more tactful and selective in his choice of words on such combustible issues, in the near future. This would perhaps depend on the outlook and the new security strategy that would be adopted by the newly appointed NSA and yet to be appointed defence minister. Hopefully again, this bitter and dark lesson learnt would spawn a culture of having regular press conferences which would avail Nigerians of real and actual progress made by security agencies in tackling insecurity in Nigeria at all tiers of government, especially the Federal Government. This should particularly apply to progress made in the arraignment, trial and conviction of key suspects who have so far been apprehended. This is just so that ordinary Nigerians’ fears are allayed and people are more informed about what is quite frankly, a life or death situation for many.

A Few Weeks’ Silence

Sometimes I wonder if the ancient Chinese prayer that goes thus: “may you live in interesting times” was finally answered in the 21st century with all that is happening around the world at a dizzying pace. Perhaps, it is just that information technology and new media tools have given us access to tons of information we otherwise wouldn’t have had, thereby giving an illusion of a quickening of the pace of events. This is because since my last post on this blog back in the first week of June – when Nigerians were still reeling from the aftermath of the Dana plane crash tragedy and the bomb attacks in Bauchi state – it feels as though a lot has happened within that period.

I haven’t written in a number of weeks mainly because I have been extremely preoccupied, but these days, aren’t we all? In my case, I recently changed jobs, moved houses about 3 times: from a city centre neighbourhood, to a predominantly minorities-dominated neighbourhood, then to a predominantly white neighbourhood; I went through a gruelling and nerve-wracking visa application process; relocated to another country, took up a new job; and I am now settling in and facing another bout of culture shock all over again – never mind that I moved from one part of Europe to another (more on this soon) –   all within a span of 6 weeks. The last one week has been particularly eventful and exhausting but all’s well that ends well…

Despite all these, I have tried to keep up with events happening around the world, particularly in Nigeria. I followed with utter disbelief and total revulsion, the sordid $3 million bribery scandal between billionaire oil tycoon Femi Otedola and chairman of the House of Representatives committee investigating fuel subsidy fraud, Honourable Farouk Lawal and how this scandal unfolded like a mite-infested rug, spewing its insect-ridden contents. Like many, I was initially outraged at the perceived clandestine attempts to tarnish Lawan’s integrity  as an incorruptible member of the Nigerian lower Parliament – the House of Representatives – but shortly after, mellowed down when confronted with the sobering reality that an exchange of some sort did take place between the two. Like many others, I was heartbroken and felt let down by one of the upright few we thought were the incorruptible ones that we could look up to; I felt absolutely disappointed that Lawan did not realize the enormity of the burden of the fuel subsidy probe that hung on his shoulders; I was heartbroken that one of the most important reports unearthing massive corruption and fraud, quite possibly the largest in Nigeria’s history, would most likely be flushed down the toilet because of Lawan’s folly, recklessness, greed or all of the above.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel cheers as Germany scores a goal against Greece. Photo courtesy: AFP

Though not a football or any sort of sports fan, I followed with keen interest the Germany vs. Greece match, popularly dubbed Battle of the Bailout match in the Euro 2012 football league and observed with absolute fascination how in the prelude to, and in the aftermath of the match, the political dynamics of Germany’s bailout of the Greek economy spilled over to the match with all sorts of innuendos reflecting on the relationship between the two countries. I have also been following the events in Egypt –  I’ve always held a deep fascination for that country, and the fact that my masters dissertation was partly on the Egyptian revolution made me more interested in events there. It was with keen interest that I followed the recent elections in Egypt, the continued occupation of Tahrir square by Egyptians who felt they were being taken for a ride by the SCAF, the military caretaker regime, Hosni Mubarak’s deteriorating health – one wonders why these dictators after ruling ruthlessly with an iron grip suddenly become frail after being ousted from power – and most recently, the victory of Mohammed Moursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate as President-elect in a free and fair democratic contest. Egyptians have fought hard for, with sweat and blood, and rightfully earned their democracy.

Photo from Celeberations in Tahrir square after Mohammed Moursi was declared President-elect

Finally, with great sadness and trepidation, I learnt about the carnage and mayhem that took place last weekend in Nigeria – namely the simultaneous attacks on churches in Zaria and Kaduna, the reprisals and counter reprisals and the bomb attacks and gun fights in Damaturu, Yobe state – with casualty figures running well into the hundreds. It has been a bloody and tense week as my family and friends in Zaria and Kaduna have been grounded at home, under a curfew for the better part of last week. However, normalcy is being restored, albeit at a frighteningly snail pace.

Now that I am a bit more settled here, I would have more time to blog and write. I would also like to use this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude for the concern expressed by all those who sent me emails, Facebook messages and twitter messages asking if I was okay. Your messages are really appreciated.

Our Silent and Unsung Heroes

It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In the era of new media and youtube videos though, one could well say a video clip is worth a thousand photo albums, a few seconds of which could tell a compelling story better than any book, verbal explanation or detailed written analysis. This is very evident in the recent video clip that has gone viral in social networks and Nigerian online communities, of Sergeant Sunday Badang, the young police officer in Kaduna, Nigeria who is blown to bits in a roadside bomb explosion set by the dreaded Boko Haram group. The video is very graphic and disturbing, viewer discretion is advised.

At first glance, one might regard the young policeman’s fatal action as reckless at best and utterly foolish at worst. The video captures the scene of an earlier bomb blast but a suspicious bag is seen at the roadside which in all probability seems to be packaged explosives. Everyone steers clear of the area, but Badang walks gallantly with a confident stride towards the suspicious package perhaps acting on the command of his superiors. As you watch the video, dreading what you think might and would happen in the next few seconds, you wonder and might even utter it out loud “what on God’s earth is this guy thinking”? He is without a bomb suit, body pad, body armour or any bomb detonation device. He is neither wearing a common bullet proof vest, nor a pair of gloves at the very least!! Incredulously, he is armed with only a metal detector to detonate an explosive device. As he approaches the bag and opens it, the dreaded happens, there is a powerful explosion and the rest is history. You are saddened, you are horrified, you are appalled, your stomach turns and when these feelings abate after a few minutes, you wonder how anyone could be so foolhardy.

Upon deeper reflection though, you may begin to realize that the entire two minutes and twenty four seconds long video clip aptly sums up Nigeria’s key problems especially those bedevilling the security apparatuses and their medieval approach towards tackling grave security challenges. With all the confusion and activity around the scene in the aftermath of the first explosion which had gone off earlier, the police didn’t think it wise to cordon-off the area from the public and comb it thoroughly. The late police officer who, attempted to denote an explosive device with his bare hands was, believe it or not, a member of the anti-bomb personnel as the Kaduna state police commissioner confirmed. This proves beyond reasonable doubt, how poorly trained and ill-equipped our police force and other security apparatuses are to handle present security challenges in the country. Their training is usually based on archaic techniques derived from colonial edicts and military decrees with few revisions here and there. It is easy to dismiss our much loathed police officers as a corrupt, incompetent and inefficient bunch whose specialty hardly goes beyond perfecting the art of harassment, extortion and brutalization of innocent Nigerians, as corroborated by police chief Mohammed Abubakar.

Looking at the bigger picture though, it becomes obvious that Sergeant Sunday Badang, his superior who (probably) gave him the orders and the numerous much loathed police officers are not the culprits themselves, but like everyone else, they are victims of a broken and decaying system that urgently needs to be overhauled. In our hurry to condemn, we fail to realize that officers like Badang receive poor pay, remuneration and incentives to work in treacherously perilous situations they are extremely ill-equipped and incapable of handling, yet we expect them to compete with Scotland Yard in discharging their duties. The tragic fate that befell Badang is by no means an isolated incident, only that it was captured on video. Hundreds of Badang’s ilk have fallen victim to Boko Haram’s deadly ambush of police stations and military bases in Maiduguri, Damaturu, Bauchi and Kaduna; police officers and even immigration officers have been out-gunned and ruthlessly murdered in the recent attacks in Kano and in other parts of the country, police officers have fallen prey to the killing weapons of not only Boko Haram, but kidnappers and armed robbers as well. They risk their lives in such perilous circumstances and when they fall in the line of duty, their valiant efforts are hardly acknowledged; widows, bereaved families and scores of dependants are left devastated from the loss of the only bread winner perhaps with little government compensation.

Now that the crippling deficiencies of our security agencies have come to the fore, at least the government has a better idea where it could judiciously channel the  N922 billion ($5.8 billion) slated for security in the 2012 budget to train and equip our police officers on handling present day challenges. And for everyone else whom this video struck a tender nerve, we could be a bit more appreciative and understanding of what our police and security officers go through. Overall as a nation, perhaps we could imbibe a culture of celebrating everyday heroes like Sergeant Sunday Badang who fell in the line of duty, not just as a victim of Boko Haram, but as a victim of a broken system.