“Aides of the president cannot indulge in political contestation, so long as they are paid by the public.”
Many Nigerians are understandably agitated by the slaughter of their compatriots in the northeast states, a trail of murder and mayhem that most recently consumed dozens of children at FGC, Buni. The outrage is directed at both the terrorists, and a federal government that is evidently failing to provide security for its citizens. The conversation has been dominated by a sense of shock at the failure of the government to deliver results in the field and the casual indifference with which it treats the victims of this tragedy. Suspicions have lingered that the Jonathan government sees political advantage in the Boko Haram insurgency, a reason critics cite for its unwillingness to competently assert the prerogatives of the state to contain terror, stabilise the restive northeast and secure its people.
Amidst the shock at the killing of school children, in a federal school in Yobe, a presidential spokesman could only apprehend an opportunity for mindless propaganda. Reno Omokri, a presidential assistant on new media, got caught as he indulged in the dark arts of blaming the Boko Haram resurgence on ousted CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Mr Omokri, was exposed as he tried to pass off his specious views using the alias Wendell Simlin. This level of insensitivity to the victims is mind-boggling. From an ordinary citizen, it would be an unwelcome reflection of barbarity. It is a sacking offence for an official paid by the public.
Mr. Omokri personifies the bumbling incompetence of the Jonathan government. It has been as unable to properly orientate its spokespersons as it has been deficient in projecting any sense that it can govern for the whole country. Aides of the president cannot indulge in political contestation, so long as they are paid by the public. Presidential spokespersons ought to be restricted by considerations of best practices to only explaining or clarifying policy. They are not paid to abuse, antagonise or smear citizens they perceive as hostile to the government. That is a province for party officials, who not being paid by the public, are able to embrace the rough and tumble of politics. But even party officials are expected to be guided in their conduct by civilised ideals and recognise moments of calamity as occasions to respect the humanity of victims, survivors, and their relations.
Mr. Omokri’s tactics are reminiscent of the official attitude during the wanton killings and bombings under General Sani Abacha. When Abacha’s goons shot and failed to kill Afenifere leader Abraham Adesanya, the government blamed the aborted assassination on the old man’s NADECO colleagues. When Chief Adesanya sued Wada Nas, Abacha’s most notorious spokesman, for libel, all Nas could offer as defence was that it was all political banter! An elected government is expected to do better than a military dictatorship in respecting human life, dignity and reputation.
President Jonathan should act now to demonstrate that, though weak and ineffectual, his government is not totally bereft of virtue. He should relieve Mr Omokri of his duties promptly, and cause an apology to be made to the people that were traduced. It is time to set out a clear code of conduct for special assistants and advisers that is unambiguous in removing them from the political fray. The president should do a better job of injecting into his administration the qualities of inclusiveness, sensitivity and empathy. Without these values, no government can be truly responsive.
After weeding out characters like Mr. Omokri from his government, the president must act decisively to check the ongoing insurgency. The northeast states have been under a state of emergency for nearly 10 months. After a momentary retreat as soldiers poured into the region, the terrorists seem to have mastered the situation. Boko Haram have attacked security and military installations, including barracks and airbases at will. They have pummeled schools, towns and villages unchallenged and have ransacked highways. As the litany of atrocities lengthened, the silence from the president has been ominous. The president will rather felicitate or party with supporters, and very visibly so, even as the victims of the latest outrage are being ferried to the morgue. Nigerians have learnt that is a vain hope to expect prompt official acknowledgement of casualties or a display of empathy from their government. The president is failing both as commander-in-chief and as comforter-in-chief, and there is every need to condemn this leadership failure.
It is this leadership deficit that has transformed a crisis into a deepening tragedy. When indifference and incompetence merge during a tragic event, the victims are robbed of their human dignity, and they are treated as little better than fodder. Mafia clans can get away with this crude view of life, but much better is expected of a government. It is an abdication of responsibility when a government is so unable to command a challenge that it permits its sense of helplessness to ossify into callous unconcern for the human toll. This impunity must end now.