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Celebrating behind closed doors

By Ochereome Nnanna
RARELY does a week pass these days without one blunder or the other being reported from the Presidency. Clearly, the decision to hold the 51st independence anniversary parade inside the secure walls of Aso Villa was a grave slip-up. The Presidency’s denial of holding such an event almost a week later was a bigger goofing. We will take them one after the other.

It is my considered opinion that the almighty Federal Government of Nigeria held the 51st independence anniversary parade in Aso Villa. I do not know why that decision was made. Now that the Presidency says what took place was merely “a change of guards”, we may never be told why it was staged.

Weeks before the anniversary was billed to take place, there were obvious signs that it was going to hold at the traditional Eagle Square, Abuja. The security agencies were putting finishing touches to safeguard the venue. It was this build-up that encouraged the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and the Boko Haram Islamic sect to threaten to bomb the square on that day.

When the threats  came, the Police authorities announced that they would disregard the threats and press on with their preparations.

It was after these that we started to hear about “low-keyed celebrations”. Presidential sources had indicated that the recourse to low-keyed celebrations was to “save costs”. Fewer people would have raised eyebrows if the low-keyed celebration had taken the pattern of similar past events.

Almost always, security issues were responsible for shelving the opportunity to go out and salute the national flag. And at no time, as far as I can recall, were parades held inside the State House when there were low-keyed celebrations.

The blunder

The blunder in this case was that the parade was taken from its usual place of national pride to the fortified confines of the presidential palace. It gave an impression of the Federal Government running from anarchists to celebrate in hiding. Celebrating in hiding thus gave psychological victory to the anarchists, who now believe they possess the capacity to push the Federal Government around.

The citizens are left with the feeling that the terrorists and anarchists are beyond the capacity of the Federal Government to apprehend. If the Federal Government would hide in its fortress when threatened by violent outlaws, who will the ordinary citizen turn to when their lives are threatened by MEND, Boko Haram, or anybody hiding behind the facades of these and other anti-social elements?

Since no citizen will be allowed to run into Aso Rock to hide as the Federal Government did in this instance, where will they run to? With nowhere – and no one – to run to, the ordinary Nigerian may be forced to surrender to terrorists. How then, can you blame those who shut their mouths and refuse to give information about Boko Haram and MEND, knowing that no one can protect them?

Perhaps after the barrage of criticisms, the Presidency decided to call in the fireman, as usual. As usual with broken vessels, the more you patch the more it leaks. That is why every chinaware comes with these wise words: Handle with care.

Think of the consequences of your action before you act. It would not have cost the Presidency anything to cancel that parade altogether and tell Nigerians the truth (or at least something believable), including assurances of progress being made to bring the anarchists to book.

President Goodluck Jonathan

Press statement

The face-saving press statement that Dr Reuben Abati, the presidential spokesman, issued last week Thursday made matters worse. Abati reported a press conference by President Goodluck Jonathan in Kigali, Rwanda where the nation’s leader was on an official visit. He debunked the notion that it was an anniversary parade. Rather, according to him, what took place was a “ceremonial weekly change of guards at the Presidential Villa”.

My question is: Does the President also invite dignitaries to attend this mundane weekly change of guards parade? I saw some pictures taken at the event, including those of former Chief of General Staff, retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe sitting next to the Chief Imam of the National Mosque, Alhaji Ustaz Mohammed and others.

Information has it that it also involved the signing of the independence anniversary register by the President, the release of anniversary pigeons to signify peace and the cutting of an anniversary cake.

The statement also alleged that no country celebrates its independence every year with invited foreign dignitaries. We may not have invited foreign dignitaries for this year’s independence anniversary event, but we did invite local dignitaries.

Besides, the idea of “low-keyed” independence celebrations only started in Nigeria when evidences of a failed state started showing. Nigeria had always celebrated her independence every October 1 until the second return of military rule in 1983 when the fear of coups and counter-coups brought on the “low-keyed” celebrations.

We all grew up looking forward to October 1 every year to go out and march after listening to the President or head of state’s early morning broadcasts.

The millions of Nigerians who gave their votes to Jonathan in April this year did so in the hopes that he would lead Nigeria out of the quagmire of history created by a neo-colonial and sectionally dominated military class. That dispensation ended with the Obasanjo presidency.

The new Nigeria of our dreams failed to take off under the late Yar’ Adua for obvious reasons. In Jonathan we saw a new kid on the block without the burden of history shackling him from making a clean break with the demons that held us hostage in the past.

Under dog posture

Yes indeed, we have seen a few new things being done, especially in addressing issues of injustice that the post-war military class sidestepped since 1970. But we have a big problem with the president’s underdog posture while occupying one of the most powerful offices in the world.

The deployment of troops notwithstanding, he has been knackered by the terror campaigns of Boko Haram and the Jos crisis. Only God knows what would have happened if the Yar’ Adua amnesty for Niger Delta militants had not taken place before Jonathan assumed power as Acting President in February 2010.

With overwhelming security challenges in the northernmost and southernmost parts and the Plateau as well, who knows if the nation could have survived till now?

The mission of former President Obasanjo (obviously at the instance of the Presidency) to the Babakura Fugu family to curry the favour of Boko Haram gave the terror outfit a bold opportunity to demonstrate their clout and implacable posture.

The self-portrayal of the president as a David facing Goliaths and the general tone of the speech at the Nation Christian Centre when the week-long 51 anniversary started were the antics of an underdog.

This is the second time in the history of this country when the occupant of the presidential seat (whether in civilian or military toga) is marketing himself to Nigerians and the world out there as “the little guy” facing bullies within and outside the Presidency.

The first time I saw it was when Chief Ernest Shonekan was there as Head of Interim Government. Shonekan expected to be kicked in the bum or hit over the head any minute. When it finally came, he, with a “church mind”, took his leave and returned to Lagos by car overnight (we were told).

How sad this makes us!

Probe Galtimari’s panel
THE report of the Presidential Committee on the Security Challenges in the North East Zone, headed by Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari, to me lacks credibility and should be discarded and the Committee probed.

There was little evidence to show they actually engaged the Boko Haram leaders to find out from them the necessary information the federal government needed to apprehend the problem they are posing to the system. There was also little to show that some of their recommendations were based on actual consultation.

For instance, Boko Haram quickly disowned the call for dialogue and amnesty consequent upon their surrendering their weapons to the authorities. They, instead, reiterated their original demands: unconditional release of their members and ceding of power over Northern Nigeria to them.

The most outrageous recommendation was the appointment of Sultan Abubakar III to negotiate on Boko Haram’s behalf, when His Eminence had, times without number, told the world that Boko Haram’s murderous campaign had nothing to do with Islam. How could such a leader be put at the head of a negotiation on behalf of the same people whose bloody activities he had condemned?

Galtimari’s Committee report was merely a continuation of the “I surrender” posture of northern leaders, who out of ear for their lives and wellbeing of their family members, do not want to be seen on the bad side of Boko Haram.

Secondly, some see it as part of an alleged plot by some northern elite to corner a multi-billion naira post-amnesty package for them to administer, while pushing their children and wards into a programme that will see them being sent to institutions all over the world, just Niger Delta ex-militants.

The real Boko Haram militants have made it clear that they would not take up this offer.

This Committee’s self-serving work must be probed.


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