By Dele Sobowale

“..Where the question is of gaining only a minor advantage if he succeeds, and courting disaster if he fails, no one demands that a general should risk his life fighting like a private soldier.” Plutarch 46-120 A.D.

History never repeats itself; human beings do. Unfortunately, our almost total regard for the lessons of history drives us, and we sometimes drive our leaders, to avoidable disasters.

Indisputably, when the story of Chibok is written, in the future, one of the episodes which will feature prominently will be whether or not President Jonathan acted appropriately, meaning wisely, by not going to Chibok on the day he was announced to be heading in that direction.

Please note the last twelve words “on the day he was announced to be heading in that direction.” They are critical to the discussion which follows.
As usual, when seemingly novel events occur in Nigeria, generating controversy, I withhold judgment until I can get hold of historical precedents which can serve as the basis for my reaction to the issue in question.

In other words, I temporarily forget the name of the main actor e.g Jonathan and instead ask what should have been done by ANYBODY, especially a leader, presumed sane, in that situation. To me that is the most objective way to judge people.

Plutarch, the historian of the Hellenic Age and one of the greatest ever, provided the guide on this matter. What he wrote about all generals applies, with greater force, to the “general of generals” – the Commander In Chief, C-I-C, of the Armed Forces. About the C-I-C, Plutarch had added that “it is his first duty to protect the man [meaning himself] who holds the fate of others in his hands.” (Plutarch in THE AGE OF ALEXANDER pp 70-71).

Whether we like it or not, and I know that some of those who brought him to power now regret it, President Jonathan is the man who now holds the fate of Nigerians in his hands. Starting with those self-evident truths, we can now address the question with the degree of objectivity it requires.

Should Jonathan have gone to Chibok at all? And on the day he was announced to be headed in that direction? The answer to the first question is a qualified “Yes” – qualified because no Head of State heads for a war zone with his arrival date and time, made known to the enemy in advance.

That amounts to courting disaster and a dereliction of his first duty as C-I-C “to protect the man who holds the fate of others in his hands.” Let me provide two examples from American involvement in two wars – Viet Nam and Afghanistan.

American Presidents, Johnson and Obama, visited American troops when the two wars were in progress to provide moral support to the men at the front. That was permissible good public relations. But, no American President had ever visited the war front after his arrival was announced well in advance.

I lived in the USA during the Viet Nam War and I also read a lot of American war history. Air Force One, the American President’s plane, would have been air borne by the time an announcement was made that the President would be visiting troops in Viet Nam.

Even, the exact location in Viet Nam would not be disclosed until the President had landed. Why? Because the military commanders know that the enemy would have been prepared to commit any number of men just to kill the American President. Who can vouch that Boko Haram was also not waiting on that day to attempt assassination of the Nigerian President?

Whoever released the story of Jonathan’s plan to visit Chibok, if ever there was such a plan, should be held for treason. Chibok is war front. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Jonathan to plan a visit to that small town without Boko Haram knowing about the impending visit.

Even with the near absolute secrecy surrounding the American President’s visit to the war front, the security alert is still the highest. There is no way the Nigerian armed forces could have mounted the security required to safeguard the President’s life without Boko Haram knowing about it in advance.

With their arsenal including rocket launchers, we expect them not to make an attempt. Let’s be serious, for God’s sake. We don’t have to like Jonathan but he is our President now.

Obviously, those carpeting Jonathan for not heading to Chibok on a suicide mission are either being sentimental, at best; or mischievous at worst. Some of the mischief makers might even hope to get rid of a President they don’t like by sending him to Chibok.

The truth is, President Jonathan and the nation have very little to gain by that visit and risk a lot if the trip ends in disaster.President Jonathan has no business visiting any territory in the world, not just Nigeria, which is not safe for him to go.

Granted, people might argue that the Nigerian army is in a bad shape because he had failed to provide adequate resources and had failed to combat corruption within the forces. I cannot dispute that.

But, the solution to funding and probity with regard to the armed forces is not deliberate presidential suicide. Jonathan alive and President until May 2015 is the best option we have at the moment. Anything else, including resignation, is an invitation to anarchy.

It is amazing how many Nigerian political leaders, Ministers, as well as military leaders refuse to publish their memoirs or biographies.

Yet, if our future leaders are expected to avoid mistakes of the past and learn from successful measures we must have memoirs and real biographies, as opposed to praise singing or malicious criticism. IBB had the best collection of Ministers and the broadest vision. It is a shame nobody is ready to revisit the era.

Budgets then were well-articulated and presented on time. Abubakar presented a different experience – quitting while there was still any ovation left. Buhari/Idiagbon introduced discipline etc, etc. how did those measures emerge from each administration and what were the guiding philosophies. Even now, American scholars are still writing about Lincoln, Jefferson, Kennedy, etc.

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