A Nation Under Fire – Dele Momodu
“Everything continues in its state of rest or uniform motion
Except an external force acts on it”
– Isaac Newton, First Law of Motion
Fellow Nigerians, it must be miserably obvious to everyone by now, except the incurable optimists, that Armageddon is here. You don’t have to be a prophet of doom to foretell the apocalypse that has enraptured our embattled nation. If we ever thought otherwise, those who should know more than the rest of us have succeeded in jolting us out of our somnambulism. And it has been a rude awakening from a deep slumber that could only have been an act of the almighty.
First, came the bombshell from no less a personage than our National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi. The occasion was an innocuous event tagged The South South Economic Summit, which had been a gathering of distinguished speakers, eminent personalities and assorted spectators, from far and near. No one had anticipated any more volcanic eruption after the volatile delivery by the one and only Kongi of Africa, Professor Wole Soyinka. In fact, my belief was that everything was going to be an anti-climax after listening to the Nobel Laureate in what must have been one of his best performances in recent times. General Owoye Azazi put paid to my prejudice.
When the former Chief of Defence Staff took the podium, I was looking forward to one of those government rigmaroles, or a pot-pourri of lies that would wake up the dead in Bethlehem. But General Azazi turned out to be a born again preacher who sneaked into our consciousness unannounced. He was expected to speak on the state of security in Nigeria and address how it affects the South South, the region that currently lays Nigeria’s golden eggs. Thanks to Channels Television, I was glued to my screen and watched as General Azazi waltzed his way through a most delicate and sensitive topic.
He had started on a calm note and built his thesis, slowly but surely, to a resounding crescendo. His famous moment came when he suddenly exploded like an Iraqi bomb and placed the blame for the general insecurity in Nigeria at the doorsteps of no other than the ruling party, PDP, thereby committing an unprecedented heresy that would haunt him and the government he represents. The appreciative crowd had nudged him on with a thunderous ovation as he fired the first salvo. As if that was the tonic he badly needed, he paused to acknowledge their cheers, before firing more bullets from his well-oiled cylinders.
General Azazi was not just saying what many of us had always known or suspected, he said it with a straight poker face. He was eloquent and magisterial. But he had chosen to hold the tiger by the tail. I knew that the PDP hawks were going to come after him with a vengeance and try to shoot him down with the efficacy of American drones. It is in the character of these rascally guys to maul down anyone of their own whoever goes against the commandments. None of their members has ever been prosecuted for corruption until he falls out of favour with the Party’s political godfathers and warlords.
But I doubt if General Azazi was not aware of the unwritten codes or he just chose to challenge fate and secure his own future. His speech was a veritable distraction that President Goodluck Jonathan did not need. He had suffered enough nightmares in the last couple of months and could do without more. But his most trusted ally and kinsman had chosen to tell in public what he had probably told him privately without any useful impact. If nothing ever moved our dear President in the past, this act was guaranteed to move mountains and elicit some shock waves in high places. And it did.
A devastated Jonathan was visibly embarrassed to the extent that he had to offer a tenuous excuse that his National Security Adviser must have been misquoted; a perfect alibi for a bruised ego. As I write this piece, the storm is still raging and its eventual destination is not yet known. What is most certain is that things are no longer at ease and the centre may no longer hold.
As if that was not bad enough, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma came out to tell it in his characteristic manner that Nigeria was under fire and may be heading for the atrocious way of Somalia. For those who have studied the life of Lt. General Danjuma, he’s not someone who’s given to frivolities. On a regular day, Danjuma’s taciturnity is legendary while on a special day his words are few and carefully chosen. He minds his own business, and he is very astute at it. Love him or loathe him, General Danjuma has demonstrated that there’s life outside power, and that army retirees can run businesses successfully without waiting for hand-outs from their successors. He’s one of our most respected retired Generals at home and abroad, and when he speaks, he’s the voice of the military fraternity. He’s fearless just as he’s feared by his contemporaries and subordinates.
I know for a fact that General Danjuma only comes out once in a blue moon to intervene in public discourse. When such a man speaks, we must listen. A few days ago, he spoke like the oracle that he is. It is not a mere coincidence that two army Generals who literally walk in the corridor of power spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians within one week. What they are telling us in very few words is that when a handshake goes beyond the elbow, something has gone terribly wrong. The situation in Nigeria has become totally dangerous with the entire citizenry going neurotic. Everywhere we turn, the story is bad news and unmitigated disaster. The Somalisation of Nigeria, as Danjuma describes our precarious situation, would certainly spell doom for Nigeria and ultimately the whole of the Africa sub-region, and indeed beyond. It is one major reason why the interventions of these experienced, retired army Generals should not be dismissed with the usual lackadaisical attitude of the ruling government. This is not the best time to bury our heads in the sand like the ostrich and pretend that all is well with us. If we don’t know where we are going, we should at least remember where we are coming from. Only fools travel, the way we do in these parts, without having a map of our direction.
Now that bombs are flying undetected like UFOs, the time has come to accept our helplessness in handling the Boko Haram issue in particular. It is obvious that those who want Nigeria destroyed at all costs are more powerful and determined than those saddled with the responsibility of protecting our nation. Even the league of senior Christians seems to have lost all hope in a man they fervently supported only this time last year. They are no longer in doubt that their man lacks the capacity to combat a crisis of this magnitude while Boko Haram has left no one in doubt of its incredible capabilities. I will not get tired of pleading with our wonderful government to face brass tacks and firstly admit its gross inability to deal with common criminals and not tell us it can handle the highest form of terrorism ever known to many shores.
Someone should tell us how many Nigerian lives need to be wasted before our government owns up to its abject ineptitude and abysmal failure in protecting their lives and securing their properties. All we hear daily are empty promises that are never matched by any concrete action. As a matter of fact, presidential reaction has come in mere clichés. As someone noted on Twitter days ago, there seems to be a template for these releases and government only inserts the location of each new act of terror. This is because the words used are predictably similar and never good enough. Too many lives have already been wasted and those lives are too precious to their families if not the government. We cannot continue to hinge our hopes and faith in mere words of a failed leadership in a failed state.
If the President must know, I can tell him for free that his aides are not helping matters. They are too reckless and fatalistic. Their combative nature has made it impossible for them to listen to any voice of reason or wisdom. The added fact that they are completely paranoid and see the President’s enemies in even natural disaster is an invitation to more chaos. I suggest they purge themselves of the arrogance of “this is our time and we shall do what we like till the next election comes; we will battle you with more than enough money to win a second term mandate, and let the heavens fall” because this may turn out to be a fallacy and a misplaced delusion of grandeur.
Rather, what the Presidential aides need to do urgently is fight less and put on their thinking caps before our ship of state sinks like The Titanic. It costs nothing to be humble in power. Heating up the polity the way they are doing can only spell doom of unprecedented proportions.
Without being simplistic it is apparent that the major cause of the unbridled unrest in the Country is the extreme poverty in the land. Poverty of self, education, ideas, development and the State itself have hands in our matter. Poverty is not always economic. Government must take urgent steps to correct these anomalies which can only cause untold damage to our collective psyche.
Where do we go from here? A few tips will suffice for now. Government must begin to show some seriousness in handling the affairs of state by declaring visible austerity measures on itself. It would be useful to learn from our neighbours in West Africa how they have moved from penury to prosperity. Our education, for example, and other key areas begging for attention, will never improve if politicians continue to spend recklessly on themselves while neglecting their primary responsibilities to the people. Our President must find the courage and charms to gather all politicians and ignite a new vista of hope. He would succeed in doing this only if he can lead by example. The people under him are watching his expensive style of governance and would never agree to downgrade theirs. He needs to get experts to look at how politicians can be forced to cut down on the waste and drain of our resources, starting from the very top.
President Jonathan must urgently water down the powers, responsibilities and functions of the Federal Government by divesting government interests in many businesses, agencies and corporations. It is obvious to all reasonable Nigerians that central government has not been able to fix any of our problems despite the trillions that we have been pumping into various so-called projects of developmental value. This calls for a redirection of how we conduct business in Abuja. These powers and functions must be transferred to the energetic private sector. That is the major way in which our country can truly develop. Of course it is also necessary for true federalism to be practised so that the allure of the centre which is also majorly responsible for the crisis we are embroiled in can take on much less significance.
If our present style has failed to yield desired results, it is only pertinent to try something new and effective. Until we stop the rot in government and offer succour to the citizenry, we shall continue to build a community of frustrated and desperate people who are willing and ready to make life uncomfortable for the rest of society.
I can only hope that someone, somewhere, is reading and would be willing to act before it is too late.