EDITORIAL: Boko Haram attacks, an inept government and the survival of the Nigerian state

On Tuesday, in an act of breathtaking savagery, members of the extremist Boko Haram sect murdered more than 40 innocent children in their school in Yobe State. For sheer barbarism, there is nothing to compare it – except of course the killing last year of another set of students in Borno State by the same vicious group.

Over the last five years, Boko Haram has been responsible for the most violent death of Nigerians outside the civil war. It is the worst threat to national security and even national unity.

Yet we continue to prevaricate. We are still not sure whether to woo them with amnesty or mow them with bullets.

Even the presidency which is privy to more facts than the rest of us seemed to think that we exaggerate the menace of the deadly Boko Haram sect. Or perhaps it just likes to play down the threat, in the hope that we will be lulled into a false sense of security.

Last week when the harried governor of Borno State, Kashim Shetima came to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan after another horror attack on a sleepy community, he told the press that what we face was war and that our army was less equipped and less motivated than the enemy.

Anyone who has followed events in that unfortunate part of the country knows that the governor had merely stated the truth. Yet the president and his handlers decided to subject him to very brutal attacks. The Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, accused the governor of peddling hysteria while the president himself used his last presidential media chat to lambast Mr. Shettima .

After Tuesday’s savage attack however, we now know who suffer from hysterics and histrionics. The presidency has made the usual condemnation, issued renewed marching orders and offered condolences. There is even talk of the army chief temporarily relocating to Maiduguri.

The Chief of Army Staff, General, Kenneth Minimah who appeared before a Senate Committee to defend his budget said the army did indeed needed more money, and more arms. In essence, the governor was right: we are not winning this war. Not yet.

But there is no talk of a presidential visit. In not standing by the governor, in never visiting the schools and villages where all the mayhem took place, President Goodluck Jonathan has deepened the people’s sense of abandonment. He has given the impression, unwittingly perhaps, that the lives of those children mean less than they should.

The sorrow of their parents will find no relief in the visit of the nation’s leader. In any civilized democracy, such a massacre would have merited at least one condolence visit by the President to the school. Indeed, the president would have been judged by how well he responded to the crisis, including whether he had shown the right amount of emotion. The quality of his empathy would have been the subject of intense national discourse for a long while. And how his visit was judged would have reflected on the opinion polls, with serious bearing on his presidency.

If we have any sense at all, the next elections will be lost or won solely on this administration’s record on security or the quality of the opposition’s alternative strategy. We cannot continue to condone a situation where a group of terrorists kill at will, cheapening the very essence of our being.

The taking of any human life is a horrible thing. The brutal murder of over 40 students in a boarding school is the height of bestiality. It is also proof that the government has failed in its most important task of protecting the lives of the people. There is no way of sugarcoating this fact, and no public relations gimmick can put a fine face on this matter.

This country cannot long bear the kind of savagery that took place on Tuesday. No government, indeed no system, can survive this sort of impunity.

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