By Rotimi Fasan
THESE are dangerous times for Nigeria. They are times that try a nation’s soul and it is the choice of the country’s leaders what they make of the times. The choice we make or that those who lead us make for us have grave implications for the continued existence of Nigeria as it was formerly known. I described Nigeria in the past tense, in the manner I did in the preceding statement, advisedly.
The country we live in today is vastly different from the one we lived in even a few years back. But as I said before, these are dangerous times for our country. There are ominous signs on the horizon.
There are hands writing on our national wall. The question now is, what does President Goodluck Jonathan make of these writings? Can he read the writings on the wall? If he can, does he understand what the signs tell him, especially of the future of this country? Otherwise he would be sleeping now with only one eye closed. That is if he can afford to sleep at all.
One thing, however, happened in the last week which suggests the President may be reading the signs right. This was the meeting between him and his former mentor and benefactor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
The meeting which, according to Obasanjo, was at the instance of the President tells me he may be looking now beyond politics and recognising what his immediate priorities are. It was a meeting to discuss the state of national security which is quite deplorable. And that is putting it mildly. The details of the meeting between Jonathan and Obasanjo are yet unknown in specific terms.
This in my view may be one appropriate way to address our security challenge, away from the practice where security chiefs discuss the details of planned military operations at press conferences.
It may be instructive that the meeting came in the wake of the upsurge in the activities of insurgents in the North East of Nigeria. These raging marauders appear to be gathering strength and making gains by the day.
They are ravaging Adamawa in a manner that questions any claim of that part of the country still being part of Nigeria. They are indeed so buoyed by their sense of victory that they claimed Gwoza is now part of a so-called Islamic state under their leader.
This is definitely a copycat act. These insurgents are certainly following up on developments in other parts of the world like Iraq and Syria where outlaw elements have declared what they call an Islamic state. Our local insurgents went on a shooting spree, celebrating their victory, after overrunning Gwoza and several neighbouring towns. Surely, they already imagine themselves in their Islamic state.
The military has questioned these claims of victory. But it is easier to question these claims than to deny some of the facts on the ground. Facts seem to suggest that all is far from well in the North East. All has been far from well for a long while.
Indeed parts of this region which increasingly takes on the character of a frontier space have been under sustained insurgent control for many unbroken months now.
If there is anything that should tell us that there are some unpleasant things happening over here, it is the increasing reports of deserting soldiers. The insurgents are spreading out and setting up bases in many parts of the North East. As our military fights shy of Sambisa forest, the forest and its hordes, like in the Shakespearean tragedy, are moving to Gwoza and possibly more places if not contained.
Nigerian soldiers, reports have it, are refusing to take orders to fight the insurgents until there is definite improvement in the weaponry available to them. The military high command has typically denied this even while promising dire consequences for deserters. It is hardly a matter of laughter that trained soldiers are becoming deserters. Nigerians have a right to know how much is available for prosecuting the North East operations and the security vote in general. Of course, Abuja wants $1 billion more to fight the insurgency.
But how has it spent what it has up to now? What exactly is the military doing about the evil wind of insurgency and the general lawlessness enveloping Nigeria from the North East? There is too much being made of the President not being a military man. But he does not need to be a soldier to act. Obama is considering different options on Syria and Iraq.
He need not be a soldier to do this. All he needs are the right military advisers. Is it not time that Jonathan starts talking to Nigerians, even retired military leaders, who have had experience of handling insurgency before? The present crop of military top brass seems to be at the end of its tether handling our present security concerns.
This may be why Obasanjo returned to Aso Villa last week after months of estrangement. Jonathan may need to talk to more people. Unfortunately his options look limited in certain respect.
He might, for example, have to forgo talks with people like Mohammadu Buhari and others thought to have kept silent in the face of terror. Otherwise, he should talk to anyone willing to talk not minding their standpoint in the recent past. That way nobody could accuse him of sponsoring terror against Nigerians in regions different from his, as Murtala Nyako tried to do without success. Should Jonathan go on and act in the manner he thinks fit, nobody known to have spurned his overtures for solution should or would have the moral right to talk hereafter. Whatever he chooses to do, however, he has little time left. He cannot wait too long in the restroom of decision or disgusting flies would swarm around him.
This must not be another Chibok. President Goodluck Jonathan must seize the initiative from the insurgents as they move out of whatever holes they were hitherto hidden in to prepare for Hamas-style warfare in populated areas except he is willing to rule over a divided Nigeria? If Abuja couldn’t go into Sambisa forest for fear of harming the Chibok girls, how easy would it find it fighting in towns fully under rebel control?
What assurances are there that the insurgents would be content to remain in the North East once they take total and unquestioned control of the area? Won’t they take on the task of marching down South in the intoxicatingly ambitious enterprise of dipping the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean? Nigeria once fought a civil war. What do we call what the insurgents have been up to in the North East in the last many months or what they are setting up shop for now?
Act now Jonathan!