The More Things Change
By Simon Kolawole
Confirmed: nothing ever changes in Nigeria. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This immortal epigram of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, the 19th century French critic, journalist and novelist, captures the fortune of the Federal Republic of Drama aka Nigeria. That is why when anything happens these days, I’m like: haven’t I seen this before? I’m seeing repetition all over again. As we say in Nigerian Latin, “Soja go, soja come, barracks remain the same.” I’m no longer as excited or as agitated as I used to be. An Igbo proverb says what a dog saw and is barking ferociously is the same thing a goat saw and barely bleated. It’s a depressing feeling of “I’ve seen it all”.
The kidnap of 105 female students of Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe state, was Chibok all over again. As it was in April 2014 so it is in February 2018. The president has changed, the service chiefs have changed and the crime scene has changed — but the details are so alike. We were told they were kidnapped, they were not kidnapped; they were rescued by soldiers, they were not rescued by soldiers. Presidential fact-finding team finally confirms abductions. Déjà vu. The missing link is that President Buhari and his inner circle have not blamed political opponents for the kidnapping yet. And, yes, the first lady is yet to cry “Diariz God o”.
What a pity of a country. Every day, we spend billions of naira on security, but Nigerians are far from safe. The people who are safe are the leaders, our lords and masters. Nobody kidnaps their children. Nobody rustles their cattle. No herdsmen invade their farms. How many presidents, governors, senators, reps, ministers and commissioners have been kidnapped so far? As at last count, a whopping zero. They are all well protected — a convoy of armoured vehicles, soldiers and policemen guarding them front, sideways and back. The ultimate losers are the Nigerian people on whose behalf the leaders are having fun.
I’ve watched in horror as the Buhari administration keeps claiming to have defeated Boko Haram, for two years non-stop. We saw the celebration of the take-over of “Camp Zero” by the Nigerian army in December 2016. That, we were told, was the final nail in Boko Haram’s coffin. The Sambisa forest had been wiped clean of the insurgents, we were informed. There was a major State House dinner to celebrate this. The Qur’an supposedly used by Abubakar Shekau was handed over to Buhari at the elaborate ceremony. Yet in 2018, we’re still flushing out Boko Haram from the same Sambisa. We are too much in a hurry to proclaim victory when there is still work to be done.
Incredibly, anytime we claim to have “technically defeated” Boko Haram, they unleash more horror. While I understand the role of propaganda in situations like this — at least to boost the confidence of citizens in the ability of government to protect them — it can only work when it is closer to the truth. There is no doubt that our courageous soldiers have recorded significant victory against Boko Haram — for which appreciation and commendation are not out of place. But of what value is painting the narrative that Shekau is about to wave the white flag when we know asymmetrical warfare is too complex to extinguish, especially with the horrendous north-east terrain?
There is something that really scares me about the security ecosystem in Nigeria. Recently, I attended a confidential briefing by the heads of the security agencies. As they took turns to tell lies, hailing themselves and even scoring themselves 80%, I was disheartened. It was more of a chest-thumping PR initiative than a security briefing. I left the meeting vowing never to attend another one again. If this is the kind of lies these people feed to the president, then Nigeria is almost finished. And if the president, with all his experience as a former military governor and former military head of state, believes these lies, then Nigeria is finished.
Our security agencies are so excellent at unleashing terror on ordinary Nigerians and failing spectacularly at fulfilling their job description of protecting life and property. They can arrest BBOG activists, provide security for the demolition of the houses of political opponents, declare IBB’s spokesman wanted, harass motorists and motorcyclists, and arrest harmless bloggers — but, with all the billions, they cannot protect schoolgirls from being kidnapped; they cannot protect cattle from being rustled; they cannot protect the lives of herdsmen, farmers and villagers. Something is awfully wrong with us in this country. We need our heads examined.
Sadly, I can sense a feeling of hubris among some supporters and sympathisers of the PDP and former President Goodluck Jonathan over the Dapchi kidnapping. “God don catch Buhari,” many of them are saying. Maybe gloating has its place, especially with all that Jonathan went through in the hands of APC over the Boko Haram crisis. But people are missing the point: returning PDP and Jonathan to power will not stop the insecurity. Our problem is worse than we think. There is something endemically wrong with Nigeria and we all — Christians, Muslims, northerners, southerners, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, etc — are victims. I kid you not.
I pray that one day the eyes of our understanding will open to realise that though tribe and tongue may differ, we are all in this mess together. We have voted government after government since 1999, but we are still importing and queuing for petrol, the refineries are still being repaired with billions of naira and they remain comatose, electricity remains unstable, the roads are still a landscape of potholes, the schools are still a shambles, the hospitals remain deathbeds, kidnappers and robbers are still kings, and corruption is still on the rise. Shouldn’t this tell us there is more to our problem than PDP and APC?
Nevertheless, APC deserves all the knocks. While I was certainly disgusted with the PDP, I have never been a fan of APC. In an article, May We Now Discuss the Issues, Please?(THISDAY, December 21, 2014), I wrote: “I am one of those Nigerians who cannot be easily moved by political slogans. I love the music of ‘change’ as rendered by the APC, but talk is cheap. What we need to know now is the content of this ‘change’… APC has done a very good job of highlighting the failure of the Jonathan/PDP administration in tackling the [Boko Haram] insurgency. What it has not told us, convincingly, is what it would do differently.” I still stand by my words.
It is simply amazing that having promised us so much, the APC guys have turned themselves into a nuisance and laughing stock in record time. Everything they criticised in Jonathan they are replicating in bad measure. And they are so shameless about it. Even their response to the latest ranking on the corruption perception index by Transparency International is much like what Jonathan would say: “It is political.” I agree, wholeheartedly, that change does not happen overnight. But if the morning foretells the day, Nigerians are in for a peculiar kind of change that is an inferior replica of what they voted out in 2015.
Buhari came to power on the back of two promises: fighting corruption and tackling insecurity. The anti-graft war has particularly been about exposing how PDP financed its presidential campaign in 2015. I am yet to see those who financed APC being called to answer questions. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I get all the time. As for security, while we have dealt with Boko Haram more seriously, we are not tackling other challenges satisfactorily. Buhari allowed the herders/farmers crisis fester for too long. Nigerians are being killed every day in avoidable circumstances. Critically, Buhari needs to urgently go back to the drawing board on Boko Haram.
The saddest side to the Dapchi abductions is the big blow to girl-child education. It is already a very difficult job persuading parents in the north-east to allow their daughters go to school, especially after the Chibok nightmare. Now that the Nigerian state has demonstrated yet again that it cannot protect these kids despite billions of dollars spent on security, how do you persuade the parents to let go of their precious jewels again? Potential doctors, nurses, accountants and beauticians will be too scared to go to school. They will end up as hawkers and child brides. I am on my knees praying that these girls will be reunited with their families as quickly as possible. Depressing.