By Kassim Afegbua
Just as I was about putting pen on paper to put down my thoughts for this weekend, I saw screaming headlines about the plan by Federal Government to remove the much-talked about fuel subsidy which has dragged on for so long. Reactions to the subsidy removal proposal have been expectedly interesting; each one threatening hails and brim tones, the usual Nigerian way.
But the reaction I am most interested in these days is that of the Boko Haram which has assumed something like an alternative government.
While President Jonathan celebrated Nigeria’s 51st Independence in the Aso Presidential Villa, “President” Boko Haram and “Vice President” MEND, celebrated their own independence at the Eagles Square. For daring to issue bomb threats, President Jonathan vacated the traditional venue for the hosting of such landmark occasions and beat a retreat into the Aso Rock cocoon, for Boko Haram and MEND to have a field day.
A week before the independence celebration, President Jonathan had told world leaders in far away New York at the UN Assembly that terrorists cannot intimidate him in Nigeria. Speaking tough in very uncharacteristic manner, he poured out his heart on his impressions about Boko Haram and terrorism in Nigeria, while beckoning on world leaders to see the war on terrorism as a winnable one.
Barely a week after such a tough stance, Boko Haram and MEND issued statements differently about plans to bomb Eagles Square, with a stern warning that Nigerians should stay away from the venue or face the consequences of any negligence. President Jonathan quickly beat a retreat.
He was simply intimidated and forced to relocate the celebration into the Villa. Nigerians listened to the alternate voice or do we call it directive, by staying away from the Eagles Square. How else do we describe the action of Mr. President, with such an awesome power, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, bowing to the directive of a sect on a day Nigerians should be on the streets jubilating everywhere about our independence celebrations? I wept like a baby that Mr. President vacated the Eagles Square for another “president” called Mr. Boko Haram.
Does it mean we do not have leaders that can die for the country, if at all the threat was real? Does it also mean that Mr. President cannot lead us into battle with Mr. Boko Haram if that becomes the option for us? How can a President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Almighty Federal Republic of Nigeria, run away from Eagle Square to hibernate in the Villa, in a function where he was supposed to be playing host to other African Presidents?
We should begin the process of reinventing this country, not in the manner of the present snail pace approach to issues. Certainly not in the manner of this “I won’t change my style” of approach. Nigeria is drifting away like a rolling stone that gathers no moss. Life is becoming increasingly difficult for an average Nigerian. Life is tellingly insecure for the ordinary folks out there.
These days, we hear views and perspectives on issues from two canon-folders; One from the Spokesman to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati and the other from the Spokesman to the “President”of the Boko Haram. On every item on the public menu, we await what the Boko Haram has to say or the choice they have to make.
If it is not about giving government directive as to how they want to be dialogued with, it is telling government what it requires for cease fire. If it is not threatening government on the one hand, it is giving government clues of what next to expect. The people are living in palpable fear every day, including the President, else he would not have shifted the venue for the independence celebrations. If the President is showing sign of timidity as this action is wont to suggest, then who do we turn to for succour?
While I was still ruminating over this noxious happening, I saw another big headline again; President Jonathan on a Diplomatic Shuttle to Ghana, Rwanda and Ethiopia, whatever jargon that is; that the President was on his way to those countries on a peace mission. At first, I thought the President just requires a place away from home for retreat, but the mention of the words; peace mission, beats me hollow.
Crises at home, diplomatic shuttle abroad? Can someone tell me what is happening? How many times has President Jonathan visited Jos since the conflagration started? How many times has President Jonathan visited Borno since the Boko Haram mayhem started? How many times has he taken it upon himself to carry out on-the-spot assessment of the damages and destructions that have attended those communities in the wake of the hostilities?
Talking very seriously, I would have preferred to see Mr. President visiting troubled Nigerian spots and states to ascertain a few things different from what his cabinet members would feed him. In the light of government’s over-bloated overheads, we should dwell more on how to reduce our spending on not-too-necessary trips abroad in order to make certain impacts in other areas of our national life.
Once the plane has got to a cruising level, the President will have enough time to carry out his diplomatic shuttle to only God knows. What we need at present and which I have seen to be the preponderance of opinions in the land is for the President to show leadership and direction. He needs to unite us. The country is presently polarised along religious and tribal lines, much deeper than what it used to be in the past.
The President needs to be dialoguing with us every day, every hour, every minute and every second. He needs to educate us about government’s thinking on education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructural development and a host of other issues. He needs to enlighten us on what government is thinking about the call for sovereign national conference, our federalism and lack of it, our saddening unemployment situation and the general state of insecurity.
He should not give “President” Boko Haram the opportunity of being heard every now and then. When the President is not communicating to us, Boko Haram will be winning converts. Without deciding for the President what to do and where to go, I would have recommended he visits Libya in the light of thousands of Nigerians that are reportedly trapped in that war-torn country. Such “diplomatic shuttle” would have yielded some other positive points for Nigeria and its place in Africa.
“President” Boko Haram seems to be enjoying the headline news it is getting as a result of its own nefarious activities, simply because the President has not taken it upon himself to pay more attention to the crisis by embarking on unscheduled visits and carrying out on-the-spot assessment. It is not enough to be holed up in the conclave of Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Allowing Boko Haram free reign to the extent of restricting the movement of President Goodluck Jonathan is to understand why something urgent must be done to arrest this ugly trend. Nigerians cannot continue to be under the stranglehold of “President” Boko Haram, the world has become too sophisticated to be under the spell of a sect that is setting us up.
With the decision of government to remove the oil subsidy, and with the threats of labour and Nigerian workers to fight this new development, President Jonathan has succeeded in heating up the polity once more. And like the products of heat that we all are, we become ready meals in the hands of Boko Haram.
On fuel subsidy, let me ask Nigerians; who do we listen to? President Jonathan or “president” Boko Haram? Why come up with policies that would win more converts for this good-for-nothing sect? God save us.