IT is instructive, for instance, that even in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist tragedy at New York’s World Trade Centre towers in which almost 3,000 people were killed, the US government did not ask Americans to avoid high-rise buildings or stay indoors at night.
It took active measures to protect citizens. The Nigerian people deserve no less from the Nigerian government.
Fifth, the curfew could backfire, alienating citizens from the government, weakening the government-citizen partnership that is crucial to fighting terrorism and eventually even propelling some citizens into solidarity with the terrorists.
When government authorities respond to terrorism in ways that ruin the freedoms and livelihoods of other citizens, they alienate such citizens and swell the ranks of the disaffected in society. Monitoring compliance with the FCTA’s new curfew has simply handed the city’s so-called environmental task force operatives a wider licence to extort money from people running businesses at night. It may, therefore, only aggravate the prevailing public perception of government as an institution of incompetence, corruption and impunity, further discrediting it in the minds of the people.
With time, some of these people will terminate any cooperation with the government in fighting insecurity, and may start lending their ears to alternative ideas of social organisation and governance, including those offered by religious demagogues and extremists.
Sixth, the curfew only further damages Nigeria’s image in the eyes of the watching world.
For a country that is already viewed by most foreigners – often unjustly – as a case of “anarchy in progress”, the imposition of a curfew, however limited, on its flagship city, only further reinforces that perception of chaos, identifying her more closely with countries like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Nigeria recently improved its democratic credentials by successfully conducting a highly credible election; it also gained the UK government’s recognition as “the fourth fastest growing economy in the world”. The message of fear and insecurity, which the new curfew is sending out to the world, will only rob the country of the investments and other benefits that should follow the recent positive indicators.
In conclusion, therefore, it seems clear that the new curfew is hardly relevant to the security situation at hand, but will merely create new problems of its own.
We must concede that Nigeria – not just Abuja- is certainly faced with security challenges: There is always the possibility of further bomb attacks in Abuja and elsewhere. But any regulations intended to avert or mitigate these dangers must be seen to be relevant to the risks at hand. A country seeking to lead Africa in the 21st century cannot be throttling its own capital city back into a medieval past, in the name of providing “adequate security of lives and property”.
The Jonathan administration, including the legislative and judicial arms of government, needs to go beyond knee-jerk measures which, even at their best, only respond to the symptoms of the nation’s serious pathologies. What is needed is not a curfew, but a more rigorous and comprehensive strategy, involving social, economic, political and security elements.
We, at Safer Nigeria, will lay out our proposals on the way forward, in an upcoming briefing, scheduled for early July.
Mr. Obasi, a public affairs commentator, wrote fromLagos.