The Monster Next Time By Sonala Olumhense

Culled from saharareporters.com

With its January 2 ultimatum dividing Nigerians between “Southerners” and “Northerners,” Boko Haram did incalculable damage to the idea of ‘One Nigeria.’ For some reason, however, you would not get this impression from reading much of Nigeria’s mainstream media.

Speaking through “Abul Qaqa” on that day, the cowardly militant group announced its divisive intention by calling on Muslims to “come back to the North” on account of supposed evidence they would be “attacked” in the South. They then gave “a three-day ultimatum to Southerners in the North to “move away,” without needing to say it planned to kill them.

Boko Haram had already butchered many in several states, including the Christmas Day onslaught on defenceless Christians, including children at prayer with their eyes closed.

Sadly, under a government that seems unable to tell its fingers from its toes, the ultimatum has seen Nigerians fleeing helplessly across the geographic divide, often to places where they are complete strangers in every sense but ancestry.

Many “Northerners,” some of them actually foreigners from Chad and Niger, fled the South in fear on any form of transportation they could find. Many Igbos in the North have abandoned successful businesses and the only life they have ever known, to return to places where they are regarded as strangers.

And let us remember that some of these flights for life and limb have been undertaken during a period of the highest transportation costs in our history, courtesy of Mr. Jonathan’s New Year Day’s hiking of the price of petrol. In other words: citizens being forced to give up their property, jobs, schools and businesses to spend money they do not have, in order to go and live in places where they have nothing.

Overnight, Nigeria has thus wound up with a new category of Internally-Displaced People needing help.

The worst part of this is that the government has not noticed, except in one respect. “The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought,” Mr. Jonathan said when he made the allegation that Boko Haram has infiltrated his government.

Unfortunately, he was making that comparison in a hunt for sympathy, in the sense of the difficulty his government faces in not being able to continue the freewheeling style that is the hallmark of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). There has been no attention since then on the suffering of these Nigerians who are trying to flee the guns and cutlasses of the zealots. Some families have fled across the border into other countries. We are on the edge of the precipice.

I know there has been no major violence, but that cannot be far away if nothing is being done to pre-empt it by helping the displaced and talking to communities. If reprisal attacks occur in just one location in the country, the violence can spread quickly—especially given the vast pools of the frustrated and the unemployed—and we may even find another civil war in our hands.

That is why one had expected that Mr. Jonathan and his team would turn their undivided attention to this historic mess once they got a reprieve from the petrol price business, but our lucky leader choose to go to Addis Ababa and run for the chairmanship of the African Union, which he promptly lost to the leader of the Republic of Benin.

According to his Special Adviser in charge of daily denials, he did not actually contest that election. The Nigerian president had merely facilitated the ascension to the position of the gentleman from Benin Republic.

Which raises the question: what do we call the government of Mr. Goodluck Jonathan: a government of denials or a government in denial? All they seem to do is deny, and I fully expect them to deny there are Nigerians crossing the North-South geographic divide, which is a direct indictment of their government.

If there is no denial forthcoming, then what is the government doing to ensure that what Nigeria has given to Nigerians—the right to live where they wish and where they can—is not taken away by Boko Haram?

A responsible government would have intervened right away to pre-empt the ultimatum of the militants and offer strong guarantees of security and protection of economic assets in the event of attacks or death.
It is not enough to recognize, as Mr. Jonathan has, that the current situation is similar to the one that preceded the civil war. It is far more important to ensure that Nigeria is not redefined for law-abiding Nigerians by law-breaking Nigerians.

I know that Boko Haram has demonstrated great cruelty and the ability to deploy violence. It is so menacing that it took on Nigeria’s security forces and deflated their considerable ego.

Before our very eyes, it devastated the United Nations House in Abuja and almost drove the organization out of Nigeria. It bombed the Headquarters of the Nigeria Police, ran rings around its intelligence machinery, and cost the Inspector-General of Police his job.

Boko Haram made nonsense of the Joint Task Force and nearly cost the National Security Adviser his job. It has caused the president to confess that his government has been infiltrated by the group, and led him into about 10 policy flip-flops in the past year.

The ability of the religious fanatics is no longer in doubt. Still, it is a source of serious national embarrassment that, beginning from a single node in the Northeast alone, and with neither air power nor the benefit of good roads, they were able to run across the North and into Niger and Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory, hundreds of miles away.

Not satisfied with punching holes in the Nigerian government’s propaganda of “national security,” they then moved on to open an old and insidious political fault line by asking Nigerians to choose between geography and death.

The government of Mr. Jonathan did not cause Boko Haram, I know, but it must change its attitude because Boko Haram is now its baby. Whether it decides to talk to the group or fight with it, the government has a duty to fight for the Nigerians who have been displaced.

If we are ever to encourage Nigerians to invest their lives and resources outside their villages in the future, this is the time to send that message by ensuring a comprehensive account of properties and businesses being left behind. Some of these people are a significant part of Nigeria’s economic engine, and a database of this nature would help should such conditions exist as to let them return, or in calculating compensation.

It is also important to look at Boko Haram very closely for what it is not saying: that it is a part, perhaps many parts, of the half-hearted governance Nigerians have suffered from year to year. One and a half PDP decades got us into this bind: No sincerity, no security and no economic development. Not only has this decay left layers of unemployed men and women, it has left mountains of cynicism and discontentment.

Some of those mountains emerged as armed robbers, some as political thugs, some as kidnappers, some as political aides and assistants, some as members of the National Assembly, and some as Boko Haram.

Look closely: in each stage of the evolution, the new animal has proved to be more expensive and regrettable to Nigeria.

In that sense, what we should worry about is not Boko Haram, but the monsters that, if we survive this, are sure to follow.

• sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

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