THE price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” There is some controversy regarding the exact origin of this quotation. What is not in doubt is that those who negate it invariably pay dearly for their folly. With the rampant terrorism of the Boko Haram sect, can it truly be said that Nigerians are eternally vigilant? Hardly.
Let’s examine three recent developments on the security front. There is this report that a consignment of military uniforms, flak jackets and boots was impounded at the Lagos ports by Customs officials. Since the Federal Government of Nigeria knew nothing of the importation, who had brought these items into the country?
Only last week, hundreds of Boko Haram suspects travelled in a convoy of many vehicles from Northern Nigeria but were not apprehended until they were only kilometres to their destination of Port Harcourt. How come they hadn’t been seen and intercepted even before they drove across the River Niger, heading South?
Only last week also, the authorities reported that the terrorists plan to plant explosives in fuel tankers in order to cause widespread carnage in the Abuja metropolis. In the light of the doomsday scenario possible from such a contingency, what is the proper way to respond to the threat?
A good way to begin to address these challenges is to highlight the wrong way of combatting them. When the Chibok girls were kidnapped months ago, it rightly shocked world consciousness. The terrible development brought to the fore the extreme difficulties facing Nigeria in the security terrain. The situation for the victims and those closest to them is, to put it mildly, absolutely traumatic. But there is another side to the coin. More girls of the age bracket of those kidnapped have been killed over time by Boko Haram. Yet, neither the instant #Bring Back Our Girls demonstrators, nor the world at large appeared to have taken even the most fleeting of notices. Why?
Suddenly, there was all over the place daily demonstrations by those agitating for our girls to be brought back. Something didn’t quite sit together in those demonstrations. If Wole Soyinka, say, was arrested and detained by the Police or the Department of State Security because of his attitude to political developments in the country, there would be justifiable cause for railing at government to effect his immediate and unconditional release. To protest drone attacks in Pakistan, Imran Khan, the former cricket star and rising Pakistani politician, organised demonstrations against the United States. That too is understandable.
The Chibok girls were not abducted by the Nigerian government. The uncompromising stance of the abductors, a priori, is eternally anti-rationale. A million years of demonstrations will not change their disposition one iota. The abductees themselves, as all experts averred, will come to grievous harm if direct military operation is launched to free them. So, what was the point in using the unfortunate development as excuse for railing at government on a daily basis? In the end the misdirected demonstrations simply served the ends of disreputable politicians, and bored, jobless or frustrated characters eager for exposure on the silver screen. Demonstrations to bring back our girls are meaningful only in the sense that they keep the political authority aware and active in its responsibilities.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. An aspect of vigilance is to insist that all those in executive political authority, who collect every month funds by the hundreds of millions, must demonstrate to what use they are putting the money for the benefit of the masses. It is known that hardly a state governor exists in Nigeria today who does not collect upwards of N500 million every 30 days in the name of security vote. Vigilance means that these privileged governors must not be allowed to utilize their so-called security votes only for the purchase of private jets, the fomentation of pointless political crises and the servicing of expensive lifestyles.
Imagine what difference it would make to the security profile of the nation if every Governor had in their state payroll at least 2000 men and women trained in intelligence work, while carrying out other functions like road maintenance, traffic directing and environmental sanitation. If such trained personnel exist – three weeks crash programme in intelligence training makes tremendous difference – a convoy of countless vehicles carrying nearly 500 people of undetermined motives cannot move 50 kilometres without detection. But, alarmingly, those caught in Abia State had done nearly a thousand kilometres. This absurdity is better to rail at than the exhibition of finery and frippery that passed for #Bring Back Our Girls demonstrations at choice Abuja locations.
People should agitate on some other scores. It is their right, for instance, to insist that the brains behind the imported military gear impounded by Customs officials are exposed and prosecuted. When materials meant solely for military use become handy objects for people outside the disciplined forces, it only means that when criminals perpetrate atrocities, this would be blamed on innocent men and women under arms, simply to compound the nation’s crisis points. There are today two disturbing realities: The illegal proliferation of arms, and the proliferation of illegal arms. Either way, the nation is left with the short end of the stick that is maelstrom. These are the sort of things agitators, legislators and civil society organisations should be complaining about, it being their constitutional responsibility.
Then there is the dreadful matter of causing conflagrations in crowded metropolises by exploding tankers laden with highly combustible substances. In a society with a Fire Service that is of primitive credentials, the result of the unthinkable is easily predictable. All those who want our girls back must add to their concerns the urgent necessity to adequately secure towns and cities. In ten years of living in London, this writer cannot remember ever seeing a fuel-bearing tanker on the streets. Yet, the gas stations were never short of supply.
Agitators have the right to demand that the authorities compel fuel distribution to now take place in cosmopolitan areas only in the dead of the night, the operations carried out by properly vetted tanker drivers accompanied by adequately trained security personnel. It is achievable. It is not rocket science.
As for the 460 suspects arrested in Abia State, the right and proper thing is to allow the security people do their work. Most of the blames incessantly heaped on those with the primary responsibility of ensuring national security are, in fact, misplaced. They have been making a lot of sacrifices, fighting against daunting odds, donating their lives for the rest of society. They need all-round support and understanding. Yet, it should not be difficult for them to determine the owner(s) of the vehicles in which the suspects were travelling.
It should not be difficult to determine how many of those arrested are foreigners. Using medical hypnosis which is legal everywhere in the world and utterly harmless, it is not difficult to determine the real motive behind their mass vehicular movement. The point is that, by everyone playing conscientiously at their wings, the chorus will sooner change to #Bring Back Our Lives!
Mr. CHUKS ILOEGBUNAM, a commentator on national issues, a journalist, wrote from Lagos.