By Rotimi Fasan
For the third time in as many years the national Independence Day celebrations usually marked with pomp and ceremony were held in the relatively safe confines of Aso Rock Villa. Eagles Square, venue of the event in Abuja since the movement to the Federal Capital, is now a no-go area for such matters even though the states still manage to hold relatively public celebrations at parade grounds and parks.
The usual excuse these days for Abuja’s bashfulness with the National Day celebrations is that the state of the nation demands a low-key event or the government is simply not interested in any elaborate celebrations.
But Nigerians know the real reason is the fear of attack by mainly Islamic insurgents whose respect for life is non-existent and have thus made it brutally short and nasty.
This last October 1 celebration was Nigeria’s 53rd and in the days leading up to it, the country’s security agencies were put on high alert after nearly 80 students of a school of agriculture were murdered in cold-blood by the cowardly zealots of Islam in Yobe State.
Thereafter, Nigerians waited anxiously for the next combustion by the renegades and their ilk not knowing where they might strike. But what followed days after was the crash of an Associated Airlines plane right in the vicinity of that same Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos where stowaways all but hibernate these days in wait for the next plane to board away from the farce that life is fast becoming in Nigeria.
The crashed plane had been conveying the corpse (?), family members and pall bearers of the remains of the former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu, for final rites for the deceased governor in Akure, the Ondo State capital. It was, as Fela would have stated it, a classical case of deadi bodi geti aksident. It demonstrates the danger in which we live in this country where nothing is safe, nothing even walking on the ground. Just anything can happen!
It was in the last week of September that the world rose with one voice to condemn the slaughter that was perpetrated by Al-Shabab at the Westgate mall in Nairobi.
About 70 persons, including celebrated Ghanaian poet, Kofi Awonoor, were killed in the four-day siege. Nigeria joined to condemn the attack even when we all knew that far worse massacres had been perpetrated by the Islamic infidels in the north of Nigeria.
And as if to demonstrate their capacity to wreak havoc as and when they desire, the cowards locked innocent students of the School of Agriculture in their hostels in the dead of night and proceeded to unleash the most unspeakable horror on them. It was a repeat of what they had done to school pupils only many weeks before on a slightly lower scale.
Understandably President Jonathan is depressed about the mindless murders or so he has been reported to say. There is also no way anyone can claim he is the cause of our many wahala. But he is the president and the buck stops at his desk. The most he can expect is the cooperation of Nigerians, not wring his hand in frustration or hang his head in self-pity. It is at times like this that leaders show they are made of sterner stuff.
Thus, he must tell Nigerians what he is doing, now that efforts of the committee he set up to mediate peace between the Islamists snuffing life out of Nigerians and his government has failed. Neither he nor the rest of us can afford to fold our hands in despair or fear now. He must take the battle to the killers who have shown again and again that they understand nothing but the language of force.
At 53 Nigeria is a country held hostage by its own people- from the country’s rulers and politicians, armed bandits and kidnappers to university teachers, resident doctors and all what-not. Nigeria is being assailed from all angles. These are indeed trying times for President Jonathan as for any Nigerian. Which probably explains the determination of many to celebrate the last independence in their different ways in spite of the national acknowledgment that there is nothing worth celebrating.
Everything is in disarray and nothing seems to shock us any more. We move from one cycle of doom to another and our case only gets more and more complicated. The few solutions that have been proffered are yet to get the attention of our rulers. The President doesn’t think corruption is as bad in Nigeria as people make out. He does not think that he runs a bloated government in which hired hands of advisers and presidential aides have legions of aides. This much he made plain in his last chat with the media.
Obviously, the President has been working at cross-purposes with people in his government. He does not appear to have been listening, for example, to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, CBN governor, and others in the know that have cautioned against the huge waste on recurrent expenses such as salaries and allowances of politicians.
He thinks infrastructural deficit ranks higher than corruption on the scale of problems facing Nigeria. But while the Sagamu-Benin expressway may be pothole-riddled and unusable , leading to huge travelling costs, the politician or minister who awarded a multi-billion Naira contract for repairs of that road to a non-existent company is guilty of nothing but corruption. This should explain to the President the connection between the obvious deficit in infrastructure and corruption and why the latter should rank higher on our scale of national problems.
But without putting the blame at his doorstep, Jonathan must realise he has the responsibility to put things right. He cannot be cavalierly dismissive of criticism or make light of them in the manner he seems to be doing in his last media chat without showing himself grossly unworthy of the years he has so far spent as president to say nothing of his being worthy of more years as he obviously desires even if he is loathe to admitting it just yet.