Dear President Jonathan:
We, the more than 200 victims of Boko Haram’s latest savage bomb attacks, feel we must write to you from beyond the grave. Our simple message is summed up in the phrase: Enough is enough.
As you know, we were dispatched to our sudden death by the gruesome bombs of depraved people who think they have God’s mandate to kill and maim others. We did not commit any crime deserving of any punishment, much less the horrific deaths meted out to us. We were simply going about the business of our varied daily lives. We just happened to be about when craven men who take pride in playing god set about their heinous business of sowing bombs the way more honorable people sow yams.
The bombs exploded in a fraction of a breath, left us no praying chance, no time even to think swift, endearing last thoughts about loved ones. Forget about saying hurried good byes. Incendiary, deafening blasts, and it ended. In a flash, more than two hundred of us, men and women, adults and children, became gored, scalded, bloodied bodies, twitching as we turned into corpses. The bombs severed limbs, tore open skulls, disgorged brains and viscera.
The rabid, misbegotten zealots of a twisted version of Islam planted the explosives that killed us. But the space and idea called Nigeria is complicit in our dastardly fate.
The pieces of our decapitated bodies had not been harvested yet when the Nigerian state commenced its mindless business of dishonoring the dead. The security agencies that could not anticipate and forestall the attack that wasted our lives began its usual dumb game of statistical fibbing. They said “only” twenty-something of us had died. And then, as the evidence mounted about the scale of the tragedy, they revised their figures upwards. Only seventy plus people had perished, they asserted.
Why does the Nigerian state resort to lies after every act of carnage? Isn’t it bad enough that the country’s security agents are unable to protect innocents from the murderous designs of evil merchants of death? What end is served by this macabre falsehood? Is there a prize of nobility handed out to countries that consistently under-report the number of people who perish in acts of violence? Even if twenty-five of us died, instead of two hundred, does that earn Nigeria some great glory? Does that make Nigeria a rosier destination for tourists? Are foreign investors perpetually on the lookout, waiting to rush their cash into any country that, a, routinely falsifies the number of casualties in terrorist attacks and, b, would place the word “only” before twenty-five or seventy-five corpses?
This morbid lying with figures is yet another way that Nigeria violates most of its populace. Most of those unfortunate enough to be called Nigerians are systematically degraded in life and diminished in death. Alive or dead, Nigerians don’t count!
About this time last year, two young men, blood brothers, set off pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Three persons died, with scores more injured. US officials did not spend one moment trying to mislead the world about the number of victims. Instead, from President Barack Obama through Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts to the mayor of Boston, one message and one message emerged: the perpetrators would be unmasked, and the people of Boston would grow stronger from the horror.
The full power and intelligence of American law enforcement got cracking. Investigations led to leads led to identification of the perpetrators led to a massive manhunt that led to the death of one suspect, the capture of the other.
Through it all, the American people, led by Mr. Obama, remained focused, resilient, determined to learn the hard lessons and to be more vigilant in order to avert, or at least reduce, future attacks.
What President Obama did, Mr. Jonathan, is a profile in what’s called true leadership. Let’s contrast his admirable example with yours.
Our torn limbs were still being gathered, it seemed, when you, President Jonathan, took off to Kano to keep a campaign date. It was deplorable enough that you felt the urge to proceed with partisan politicking hours after a dreadful series of explosions killed so many, physically scarred many more, and left uncountable numbers bereaved, shaken with grief. But the kind of political rally you choose to have spoke volumes about your profound confusion about the meaning and quality of leadership. You had on stage with you musicians who played heady music, as if the slaughter of Nigerians at Nyanya motor park was a crowning achievement of your presidency. You even swayed to the music, titillated your fellow party men and women with a few dance steps. Then you unleashed a torrent of lowbrow, partisan vituperations against your political opponents.
Here’s what you didn’t do, what you failed to do. You didn’t project a solemn expression that would have shown you were aware of what time it was in Nigeria—aware that it was Death time, Horror time, Mourning time. If you had to do an event in Kano, you might have used the occasion to spell out a major policy initiative for addressing the plague of Boko Haram. You did not tell confused, angry and terrorized Nigerians what you plan to do to checkmate those who deal death to others in the name of fighting western values.
No, you danced. You danced—we might as well say—on the corpses of those who died; on the wounds of those still bleeding from their injuries; on the agony of the bereaved. For you, sir, and for other Nigerian officials, leadership seems to be one giddy carnival that goes on interminably, must go on regardless of the number of corpses piling up on the streets, no matter the depth of disquiet on the faces of “ordinary” Nigerians for whom death at the hands of Boko Haram is a real and present danger.
You and your aides have often accused your political opponents of sponsoring sorties of Boko Haram attacks. If this is true, then it’s your duty to do something about it. Nigerians are sick of this ploy, tired of the fruitless pointing at faceless, nameless nemeses. Unmask the sponsors, now. Order their arrest and prosecution, now. It doesn’t matter how politically or financially big they are. Go ahead: name, arrest and prosecute them.
If you’re scared of these champions of death, if the arsenal of your presidential powers can’t match their homicidal will, then it’s time you stepped down from the office you hold. If Nigeria’s crime entrepreneurs are so big that the president and the institutions of the state must cower in fear of them, then Nigeria has zero reason to continue existing.
Mr. Jonathan, stop this carnival train that parades streets piled with corpses! Leadership is not a party.
Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe
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