Tonye Princewill

January 27, 2012

National security: Time to give Jonathan a break!

By Tonye Princewill

MY original intention was to digress from political issues, in this week’s column, and focus on the current outbreak of Lassa fever–which has already claimed two lives in Rivers State and is currently on the loose in six others.

But while the resurgence of Lassa fever is unnerving, the national security question looms even larger—and much more menacingly–given the recent upturn in unchecked terrorist activity, particularly in the northern states.

I will return, thematically, to the insidious recurrence of this haemorrhagic invader. More urgently apt now though, is the need for all Nigerians to rally to the national cause and reaffirm their belief in the efficacy of our precious republic: By proffering on the president, their unreserved loyalty and support. Let me tell you why.

The office of the Presidency is a repository of our faith, a symbol of our cohesion and corporate existence. The holder of that office is not, in our collective psyche, a person but an institution. In his role as president, Goodluck Jonathan gives active expression to our national ambitions.

What the president requires, at this critical juncture, is the strength to weather the raging storm. This strength can only come from his fellow Nigerians, whose yearning and aspirations he embodies. We must endow him with the emotional resources he requires to lead us through this crisis.

Accordingly, I implore all patriots to put aside their qualms and criticisms. We must, perforce, sublimate our previous disappointments, our political differences, personal interests and ethnic propensities and do what all countries do at times like this—come together.

It needs to be stressed, that I write as an alarmed and aroused Nigerian, rather than a national security expert. Although in my moment, I was fortunate to be involved in the successful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis, I brought no “expertise” or technical prowess to bear.

What motivated me then was, first of all, a firm belief that a solution was possible and necessary and, secondly, a resolute determination to play my own part in finding it. Likewise, I am equally convinced that a positive resolution of the current national crisis is both possible and of the highest priority.

Few of my readers will need to be told, that I have often been at political odds with the President and the policies of his administration. Indeed, I supported Alhaji Abubakar Atiku during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries.

My last column, for example, took issue with the President on the fuel subsidy issue. I supported the strike and would have preferred that the pump price of petrol remained at N65.00 per litre until Government demonstrated their ability to also be responsible.

Still fewer will have to be reminded that I am, above all else, a Nigerian.  In fact, I rarely miss an opportunity to explain that my commitment to the Niger Delta and my partisan ties are subservient to and are intended to serve the national interest.

By this time, you must have already arrived at the point I’m making. It is, simply, that the nation is bigger and more important than its distinctive parts. It transcends the narrow political interests of parties, tribes, regions and religions, not to mention personal ambitions.

A nation state is these things and more. This “more,” is what biologists refer to as an emergent property—an attribute of the whole that arises from the interaction between its various constituent parts. The synthesis of our experiences, gives rise to a sense of selfhood and cohesion.

This synthesis is never entirely peaceful or placid. Invariably, it entails sacrifices in the form of bloodshed, violence, civil war, famine and all manner of catastrophe. Nor does a nation ever come as a fait accompli—you wake up one morning and “presto,” there it is! A stable and prosperous country!

Not only is a nation forever, but it is also forever in the making. The battle is never really won, and never just one. There will always be the equivalent of “Boko Haram,” “MEND,” “Lassa fever” and a myriad of other challenges to contend with. But contend with them we must. And we must do this together.

As president Barack Obama told Americans in his stirring “State Of The Union” address, “we have come too far to turn back”. We might not, at this early stage in our national journey, have formed the strongest possible fraternal bonds. That takes time.

The man has not been President before, Nigeria has many distractions, he has to decipher – contrasting advice from several interests many of who do not care about Nigeria as much as we do and he is resolving problems he came to meet.

Think about this. Just like Boko Haram, the issues of underfunded security agencies, ineffective intelligence and social and political injustice are as old as our Nation. The one thing he needs more than anything now is our support and I for one will be giving it to him. If he fails, so do we.

If we love our nation, we will survive; and if we survive, we will eventually learn to love each other, watch each other’s backs whilst acknowledging our differences. I am relatively young and my generation represents the future. My constituency did not start the problem but we have an opportunity to end it. Nation building in my opinion has only just begun.

In the United Kingdom, the Conservatives and Labour alongside the Liberal Democrats united publicly to confront the IRA terrorists whilst addressing the issues behind closed doors. National security issues are never played out in public.

Neither the Americans nor the Israelis play politics with it. Neither should we. Should we put an end to criticism of the Government? No. But we owe it to our country to lower the temperature and reduce the volume. It doesn’t help, it only hurts. It’s time to give the President a break. Recent changes suggest he knows we are watching.