Why The President Matters, By Ifeanyi Uddin

Ifeanyi Uddin

One of the wackier arguments with which boosters of the Goodluck Jonathan administration have met the charge that his government has been unusually feckless in its response to the recent abductions of schoolgirls in Chibok is that the whole affair is a prank. The “why?” of what would then qualify as the most pathetic swindle ever played out on the Nigerian people makes sense only within the dynamics of our domestic politics. On this understanding, opponents of the government have apparently contrived the disappearances in order to buttress their “clueless” narrative on the trajectory of this administration.

However, even if one were to concede this bizarre possibility, i.e. if it was possible to ignore the spectacle of grieving parents/guardians running from pillar to post trying to recover their missing children/wards, or to stop one’s ear to the horrific accounts of those children lucky enough to have escaped their abductors, the government’s responses to an existential challenge have again been sub-par. How best to have exposed fraud on a scale as large this, than on the day after the alleged abductions, to have come out with a list of students registered with the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, and an accounting for each child having returned home? And to have exposed the “victim-parents” as crooked actors, their grieving as “crocodile”, and the tales of a handful of girls stealing away from the clutches of “phantom” kidnappers as idiotic”?

The Jonathan Government did not do this. Instead, it dawdled. It squatted on its haunches in the sand in which its ostriches hid their heads. Now and again, stretching its limbs. It yawned, even. Thereafter, like Emperor Nero, it twiddled its thumbs. Anything but literally, “take the bull by the horns”. It let social media activists gain and drive traction on the matter. It let the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag trend globally. And as diverse interests got on to this new bandwagon, it let the bandwagon trundle all over its space.

Then three weeks into this chapter of accidents, the president found his voice. By admitting the fact of the abduction (in his set piece media chat), he drove a stake through the heart of the conspiracy theorists’ wild imaginings. Then the home circus came calling, gaudier than lachrymal! All of which reinforced the fear that congenitally, this government might not be capable of decisive action. Did it help that even after no less a person than the president had acknowledge the full extent of the problem, we had to wait upon a committee to investigate the immediate and remote sequence of activities leading up to, passing through, and succeeding the abductions? Not really! Except to dispel residual doubts as to the government’s tortoise-like DNA.

Unsurprisingly, just about every new commentary on the government has been negative. From the “New York Times”, through “The Economist”, and back, the flow of adjectives have ranged from “callous” through “inept” to “corrupt”. I guess it is the close parallels between these words and the ones with which the local opposition has assailed the government for the last 6 years that may have convinced the federal government and its minions that most of the foreign commentary in the wake of the president’s most recent media chat was “ghost written” by the domestic opposition.

Still, there was a window of opportunity, brief, true, but open nonetheless, for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to have acted as president of this country. To have led from the front, in other words. In order to have successfully exploited this window, as soon as the kidnappings took place, he ought to have had his security apparatus establish the circumstances of that faithful night (no need for the new committee?).

This would include ascertaining the number of kids on the school register. How many are back home? How many ought to have been in school that evening, and how many remain unaccounted for (some may have just played hooky)? Then the number of assailants. The mode of assault, especially transportation (this matters because you can then estimate how far each such vehicle can travel before refueling), and the armaments used (there must have been bullet casings left behind).

The president ought thereafter (not later than two days after the event) to have addressed the nation armed with these statistics and pledging to do all that is humanly possible to extract as many of the abductees as possible while inflicting as telling a blow on their kidnappers as possible. That window unfortunately was not going to remain open forever.

Now we are looking through a looking glass that has the all-knowing Americans pulling this chestnut out of the fire for us. But I wonder how many feet the Americans and our new coterie of non-African helpers mean to put on the ground. For each foot holds out the possibility of being returned home to the US as a body bag. Is the current domestic political environment in the US kind to Americans dying in Nigeria? Which is the bigger threat to world security? A government unable to bake its own cakes? Or a domestic terror movement that wants to gobble up the kiln? Or are these but flip sides of a failing state?


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