Like chicken beaten by a rainstorm, like men beaten and betrayed by their most trusted allies, most good-willed Nigerians must have, by now, begun to wonder at themselves, totally unsure, whether Afghanistan has not become next-door neighbour to their fatherland. For the scores that, hitherto, struggled to make sense out of the mess we are in, Alakyo, a village near Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State, has pushed the matter beyond the realm of conjecture.
Alakyo has jolted the citizens to the painful reality that terror might have taken permanent residency in Nigeria. And as we reflect on how and why we found ourselves in this dire strait, we can only pray that the permanence does not take the nature of infinity. We just pray.
Wednesday, last week, a contingent of about 121 security agents, comprising 90 police officers and several officers of the Department of State Security, DSS, were deployed to Alakyo village, some 10 kilometres from Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital. Their mission was to invade and seize the command centre of a fledgling terror cult, Ombatse, and arrest the chief priest. Sadly, the contingent never accomplished that mission. The ‘cultists’ ambushed and massacred them. They reenacted the tragedy of Wase and Odi. Of the 90 policemen in that tragic contingent, only 17 are alive to tell the story. The others were massacred, burnt beyond recognition.
However, that tragedy has a precursor.
On April 16, hell came down on Baga in Borno State, as the multinational force, comprising Chadian, Nigerien and Nigerian forces, clashed with the Boko Haram insurgents. Over 250 lives perished in the confrontation. On another dark day, hell also visited Bama, another town in Borno. Forty-seven people perished in what has now become know as the ‘Battle of Bama’. The massacres took place within a space of three weeks.
Cumulatively, about 3000 lives have been lost since Boko Haram broke out like a sudden storm, few years ago, advertising its murderous mission with mindless killings. Apart from the horror of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970), I’m not sure Nigerians have ever seen destruction on the scale and magnitude that terrorism has inflicted in the north these past three weeks. Perhaps, this was the shock that General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma got through the devastation in Baga and Bama that he told Weekend Trust, in a recent report, that the north was right in the middle of a civil war. He may not be far from the truth.
The scary prognosis of our current situation supports that. We are in a situation where neither pleading nor negotiation has been able to engender a change of heart on the path and philosophy of the foes against the nation’s soul. Neither counter-force nor reprisals by the joint military task force, nor the olive branch being waved by the federal government, has been able to dissuade Boko Haram and emerging sub-sects from continuing the war against Nigeria.
Rather, their campaigns get bigger, more sophisticated and more ferocious by the day. The cocktail of horror they dish, daily, to the innocent and the nation mimics what we see every day in failed states like Somalia, or failing states like Afghanistan. Like in those states, where the establishment, or the state is the primary target, the insurgency in Nigeria looks for targets of maximum impact. Like bombing police units and army barracks, slaughtering law officers like chicken; like last Wednesday’s horror in Alakyo, near Lafia.
Like the insurgency in Afghanistan, the local breeds here get more and more sophisticated by the day by whatever cause that propels them. They shock and awe our nation with eerie impact. With each attack, they remind us that Afghanistan is now a shouting distance. Everywhere you turn, there are increasing signs that the base of terrorism, whether homegrown or imported, is getting wider and deeper in this country, despite the best efforts of government, and in spite of the prayers and cooperation of patriotic Nigerians who daily tread in the throes of apocalypses.
With groups like OPC, MEND and MASSOB threatening retaliatory responses should Boko Haram and any of its hybrids export violence to their regions, there are real and present dangers of cataclysm staring our nation in the face. With the discovery at Ijora Badiya, Lagos, coupled with the recent revelation that the insurgents had procured weapons like rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, amongst others, there are present possibilities that they may spread terror across the Niger. God forbid that from happening. But if it should happen, that would be the real trigger for apocalypses.
I confess I’m not a fan of President Goodluck Jonathan, though I voted for him. But I must confess that what I now feel for the president is pity, not anger. The bags under his eyes show me that he rarely sleeps. But which normal leader would sleep when his house is on fire? Who is that leader who would play Emperor Nero when bombs of insurgency boom everywhere around him?
Let the truth be told, President Jonathan has shown glaring commitments that he wants peace for his country by whatever means. Which informs why he, now, through the amnesty committee, dialogue with Boko Haram, a group whose leadership he once thought were ghosts. Though most Nigerians wait to see how the amnesty package would unravel, especially as it pertains to compensation to the victims of terror, it is not a bad start altogether. But the president needs to do more.
It is clear that this government cannot, on its own, fight and defeat terrorism. It needs to solicit help from countries, like the United States, that have vast experience in counter-terrorism, and have battled the scourge to almost a standstill. We need help and better collaboration from and with responsible members of the international community without allowing any of them to infringe on our sovereignty. We need help in terms of training and retraining of our security personnel and relevant agencies on counter-terrorism. We need equipment, intensified intelligence sharing process, and any other support that could help us defeat terror and its sponsors. Help could even come in terms of funding from better-endowed countries and organisations, without mortgaging our country.
Adjunct to that is the urgent need to review the strategies we currently use to fight terrorism in Nigeria. A strategy that would turn our security agents to sitting ducks, make them easy targets by the enemy, cannot be said to be the best for our situation. A strategy that allows our law officers, our security agents, to be exposed and mowed down at will like it happened, last Wednesday, in Alakyo, is certainly not suitable for the resolution of our current dilemma. Rather than steer us away from the dangerous crossroads, our current strategy would further erode the confidence of Nigerians in the ability and capability of the state to protect them. We need to re-strategise. The current strategy is not working.
Equally important is the need to engage religious leaders and preachers, especially preachers of the two most popular religions-Christianity and Islam, to preach love, reconciliation and genuine peace. They need to elevate their game and extol virtues that bind us together rather than divide us. Government must move against hate-preachers, and they are many in this country. They must be made to align with national interest, otherwise we will wake up one day and discover we have no country.
Good-willed Nigerians have said a lot about the need to do something urgent on the increasing population of unemployed youth in our country. Their ranks swell every day. And as long as they remain unemployed, as long as they remain idle and frustrated, as long as their country offers them no hope, so long we would continue to sit on the ticking time bomb of self-assigned implosion and explosion. To avert that, we must do something urgent about creating jobs, about creating opportunities for our teaming youths so that the next time anybody tries to convince them to wear bomb belts and blow themselves to hell to prove a point, they would hiss and turn away from the offer. We must give our youth hope or they give us bombs.
Then, there is the very serious issue of those in leadership to allow the nation’s wealth to work for the citizenry. Like Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the immediate past Regional Vice President, Africa, World Bank, counseled in an interview I conducted with her to commemorate her 50th birthday, recently, President Goodluck Jonathan must admit that his government is plagued with massive corruption and heartless looters. Consequently, he must clean the Augean stable and recruit God-fearing people who are ever ready to render service as unto God. This country is bleeding profusely. Government officials are bleeding our country to death. Jonathan must stop this haemorrhage lest we die. The president must stop this haemorrhage lest we will have no country.
We will have no country if less than one percent of 170 million (our population) sprawl in obscene affluence and the remaining 99 percent wallow in abject poverty and have no hope. We will have no country if our leaders continue to run down the economy through their needless profligacy, run down our institutions and go abroad to buy mansions, buy hospitals, adopt schools, acquire he latest automobiles, when the ranks of almanjiris swell by the day. We will have no country.
Therefore, President Jonathan must do something today. He must act fast lest the glaring inequality engender an explosion that would consume all of us.
Finally, as we ponder over these lines, we must constantly ask ourselves this question: How far is Afghanistan?
God bless Nigeria.