This Boat is Sinking, By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri

Adamawa State governor, Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako’s memo to the president has been trending on online and offline media circles in the last couple of days.

This latest memo emphatically alleging that the ongoing military action against terrorism in North-East Nigeria is a “full-fledged genocide” against the North, is not significantly different in context and content from a similar epistle he delivered at the 3-Day Symposium on Current Economic, Social and Security Challenges Facing Northern Nigeria held in Washington DC, USA in March this year.

Quite frankly, no discerning citizen needs to read Nyako’s memo to fully comprehend that the Nigerian government’s handling of the security crisis in North East Nigeria has been tragically shoddy, consistently wobbly and frighteningly incompetent. From the Apo squatter settlement shootings to the Yellow House jail break massacre to the recent Nyanya Motor Park bomb blast up to the false official claims regarding the rescue of abducted Borno school girls, overwhelming evidence of an institutionalized kwashiorkor approach to countering terrorism are not hard to find.

The rescue operations of rural hunters and vigilantes with mere bows and arrows nets higher credibility and wins greater confidence among local populations far more than the 1Trillion Naira budget-equipped Military Force. That fact alone speaks volumes about the quality of crisis management in Nigeria. It’s a simple case of rep ipsa loquitur. (The facts already speak for themselves).

To begin with, Governor Murtala Nyako, just like every other Nigerian citizen is within his rights and limits of free speech to ventilate his grievances against the state. How and where he chooses to unleash his characteristic venom are equally of little significance. With the intensity of the bloodletting and alarming statistics of citizens mauled down daily in northern Nigeria, placing emphasis on the propriety of his outbursts reeks of insensitivity and unfeelingness. Attempting to silence the governor with threats of a probe is tantamount to flogging a child and trying to gag the same child from crying.

The big issue, in my view, is how the Governor’s messages and that of other visibly-angry Nigerians about the sustained leadership failings are processed, managed and attuned to achieve broader conflict transformation objectives in and around the country. What matters most is the effectiveness of the response and engagement strategy deployed in managing such heated citizen-state communication towards winning back the rapidly-eroding public confidence in the current leadership, while pulling the country quickly away from the precipice it currently hangs.

The president’s handlers, of course, never fail to disappoint. As with other official communication riddled with perpetual blunders, the handling of Governor Nyako’s memo has been anything but presidential. Party spokespersons and media aides of the president instead, seized every available opportunity to splash muddy water at real and imagined voices of dissent, politicizing the ballooning conflict at the expense of public peace and social cohesion.

As usual, the popular rhetorical threats about ”making the country ungovernable” as well as the tired lines echoing blame-not-the-president-but-his-bad-advisers were rehashed to weary ears of citizens. If the presidency chooses to sustain this antique custom of shifting accountability for its daily missteps to every animate and inanimate object in sight, it should at least, dispose of these tired lines and come up with more compelling storylines.

Depending on the sources you have been reading, no less than 200 Nigerian school girls are trapped in some extremely dangerous Boko Haram-controlled forests in Borno State. Eight days after their abduction, the fate of these young girls remains unknown. Serial rape, sexual slavery and killing of abducted young girls are common place. The knowledge that the lives of these young girls hang precariously in the balance is enough to trigger caution and self-restraint in official circles. Instead, falsehood is peddled with impunity. Till this day, there is no accurate data of the number of missing school girls. All the national dailies report fluctuating figures – 234, 230, 188, 79, 100, 270, 280 and what have you, reducing the victims to mere figures instead of human beings desperate to return home to their parents and loved ones.

EIGHT DAYS AFTER, not a single message of concern has been heard from the ministries of education, youth, women affairs and the farcical office of the first lady! The relevant ministries that ought to spearhead the search and lead the campaign for safe return of the school girls have maintained a deafening silence.

EIGHT DAYS AFTER, the plethora of federal and state government agencies that corner more than 70% of the annual budget to themselves communicate no known strategy or action plan for gathering accurate data of missing, displaced, wounded and disappeared persons. Without shame or guilt of underperformance on their part, both the state and federal government agencies now totally rely on the foreign media and external NGOs to assist them with routine data-gathering. What a slide!

It is important to underline that Governor Nyako did not say anything new. In actual fact, he is voicing out what many others discuss in hushed tones across the regional divides. He simply employed a rich mix of valid and conjectural propositions to espouse the fears, suspicions and unspoken perceptions held by both concerned citizens and curious spectators within Nigeria and beyond. That is why a higher level of tact, executive discipline and official decorum are required in engaging both the issues and non-issues the governor has raised.

This is a very trying period in the country’s history. The Nigerian boat is sinking with unrestrained haste. It is in trying times like this that responsible leadership is born and nurtured: a leadership that assumes FULL RESPONSIBILITY for its rights and wrongs. This is a critical time to mend broken fences and reconcile warring social and regional differences rapidly pushing the country to dismemberment. Except something happens by some sheer miraculous intervention, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has consistently demonstrated that he lacks the focus, energy and capacity to steer this boat safely to the shore.

Given the unsurpassed corruption credentials of this administration, the total flight of accountability and the complete collapse of security infrastructure, political scientists, academics and historians will – at the end of this tenure – dedicate several years studying Goodluck Jonathan’s misrule as an exceptional case study of disastrous leadership.

Beyond the duplication and recycling of press statements with traditional swiftness condemning the violence in strong terms, private sector organizations now need to understand the limits of what the public sector can do to mitigate and respond to security emergencies and terrorist-linked disasters. This means that it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Nigerian military alone cannot meet the continually growing security challenges and now more than ever, needs the support of the private citizens and corporate sector to assist with preparedness, mitigation and response interventions. In this regard, multinational corporations and corporate players can no longer continue to watch from a distance. In other words, corporate social responsibility initiatives must now move away from white-washing old classroom blocks to donating part of their fat security budgets and advanced security infrastructure to national emergencies.

Its high time someon counseled northern elders to look inwards for potent solutions to the multifaceted problems plaguing the region. Last week, Punch Newspapers reported that the Lamido of Adamawa and the Emir of Gumi in Zamfara State came to the national confab with the highest number of palace guards, escorts, special assistants, drivers, aides, drummers, wives, children and personal security!!!
It is sinisterly bewildering that states that rank lowest in all known indices of social and economic progress could allot huge chunk of scarce resources to service the flamboyant lifestyles of a few elites at the expense of the largely-poor populations they claim to serve. It is time to overturn this pattern of leadership that perpetuates excess, poverty and disempowerment, which further heightens the vulnerability to fundamentalism, violent crimes and other social vices.

The politicians are not without blame as well. It needs to be drummed into their ears that politicizing the Boko Haram insurgency is an unpardonable delinquency. Sending ill-equipped and ill-motivated soldiers to the frontlines while politicians take delight in making political capital out of military inadequacies exemplifies a weighty injustice deserving of capital punishment.   On the other hand, sensitization of citizens on security consciousness cannot be overemphasized. Hired and unhired characters hurling ethnic tirades against each other on cyber spaces need to realize that when this boat eventually sinks, all of us – regardless of our tribes, tongues, regions, and privileges – are potential victims. The time to act is now!

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change, a youth development and advocacy group working to deepen youth and citizen engagement in public policy development. She can be reached on

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