Dante Alighieri’s epic 14th century poem titled ‘’Inferno” (which means ‘’hell’’ in Italian) paints a frightful picture that portrays hell as having nine burning circles, each of which is reserved for various categories of offenders. It is a deeply disturbing and troubling depiction of a place that was clearly not designed for human souls and that no sane person would ever wish to go.
It describes each of the circles vividly and tells us that the seventh circle, which apparently is guarded by a Minatour and which is divided into three rings, is reserved for the violent and those that like to shed blood. If this is to be believed then I have no doubt that given the amount of blood that has been spilt in recent times in Nigeria and the amount of violence that has been unleashed on our people, our entire nation and people may well be on the brink of being sentenced to the seventh circle of Dante’s hell in the afterlife.
We are not only hell-bound but in the last three years we have also been subjected to the most heinous form of terror and trauma and to the most debilitating form of ridicule, shame and humiliation. One wonders whether if it can get any worse. As an example of this consider the following words from the President of a fellow African nation and take a moment to reflect on them deeply.
“I have never called the United Nations to guard your security. Me, Yoweri Museveni, to say that I have failed to protect my people and I call in the UN: I would rather hang myself. We priorotised national security by developing a strong Army, otherwise our Uganda would be like DRC, South Sudan, Somalia or Nigeria where militias have disappeared with school children. It would be a vote of no confidence in our country and citizens if we can’t guarantee our security? What kind of persons would we be?”- President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Kampala, May 19th 2014.
As a Nigerian I am embarrassed and saddened to hear these words. Yet whether we like to admit it or not Museveni is absolutely right. As a matter of fact that is how a real President is meant to think, speak and behave. I share his views and that is precisely how I would have spoken and behaved if I were in his shoes.
Like him, I would rather take my own life than to shamelessly go cap in hand to ask others to protect my people and to do my fighting for me. I would rather hang myself from a tree than do that. It is for this very reason that despite a raging war with the Taliban for the last twenty years no NATO or American troops have ever been allowed to operate or deploy lawfully on Pakistani soil. That says a lot for the Pakistanis and for their Armed Forces.
How sad it is that things have degenerated to this level in our nation. Our President was forced to go running to Paris, having been summoned by the powers that be, to meet with the French President and the leaders of four neighbouring Francophone countries and to solicit help in the fight against Boko Haram and in the quest to find our girls. There was a time when we did not need help from anyone to do such things. There was a time when we did our fighting all on our own and when others came running to us for military support and for help. Yet all that seems so long ago.
There was a time when we boldly and openly challenged France and the Cameroons on our eastern flank and dared them to cross the line. There was a time when we stormed the southern borders of Chad, overwhelmed their army, drove them into the desert, took their territory by force and brought them to their knees. There was a time when we closed our border with Benin and brought their economy to a halt. There was a time when we intimidated Niger by our very presence and that when we sneezed they developed a cold. How times have changed.
Worse still, and as an additional example of our glaring misfortune, a Commander of the American military also passed a vote of no confidence on us. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington a few days ago, General Mark Welsh III, U.S, Air Force Chief of Staff, said the following about the Nigerian military:
“We are now looking at a military force that is, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage. The United States doesn’t have the capacity or the capability to go rescue every kidnapped person around the world.”
Our soldiers have now been described as being ”afraid to engage”. They have been depicted and branded before the entire world by their own professional colleagues from foreign lands as essentially nothing but gutless cowards that are unwilling to fight the enemy and that cannot even rescue their own little girls. I have never been as ashamed to be a Nigerian as I was when I heard those words from the lips of this American. It was painful and pitiful..
How on earth did it get so bad? Our nation is at an all-time low before the international community and we are now on a slippery slope. We are clearly on the brink of the seventh circle of Dante’s hell. The only good news on the horizon is the fact that our President has finally admitted the fact that Al Qaeda are in Nigeria and that they are helping Boko Haram. He said this during his press conference in Paris about one week ago. Well they say that your problem is half solved once you recognise and acknowledge its source but I really do wonder what is new here?
How come our President has only just realised that Al Qaeda is alive and well in Nigeria? I, together with a number of others, have been telling his Government and the Nigerian public that Al Qaeda is here in full force and that they have had their own local sympathisers and agents in our country for the last few years. I have done so in numerous statements, letters and essays and yet they refused to listen.
Worst still, in the typical Nigerian manner, they treated those of us that blew the whistle and that asked them to treat Boko Haram with a hard hand and brutal decisiveness right from the outset with nothing but contempt and disdain. They subjected us to all manner of insults and instead of listening to us they buried their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
Instead of taking our admonitions seriously and doing something concrete and decisive about it they played the whole thing down and urged the Americans and the international community NOT to label Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation. Worst still some of them publicly exclaimed that the terrorists were ”our siblings and compatriots” who they ‘’could not move against’’ and that they were simply ”fighting for justice”. They also kept appealing to the terrorists to ”come and negotiate” and they kept begging them and offering them amnesty even though the Haramites themselves rejected their offers, kept treating them with contempt and kept killing our people. Finally they labelled those of us that expressed our deep concerns publicly and privately as disgruntled ”yesterday’s men” and ”alarmists”. Now they know better.
After no less than at least 12,000 innocent Nigerians have been butchered by the terrorists in the last 3 years alone and after hundreds of our children have been abducted from their schools and homes, caged in demon-infested, dark and dingy forests, turned into sex slaves in foreign lands and sold like cattle in filthy markets our President has only just realised that Al Qaeda is involved.
He has only just realised that we are fighting a full-scale civil and global war against a relentless, merciless and callous enemy that seeks not just to topple his Government and put him to shame but also to consume us all and decimate our country forever. Well I guess that it is better late than never.
Yet if the truth must be told it is not only President Jonathan that lacked foresight in this matter and that failed to treat it with the urgency, commitment and decisiveness that was required. Some of the key members of the opposition did as well. If this were not the case how do you explain the fact that only last year a leading Presidential candidate in the APC said that Boko Haram members should not be killed or brought to justice and that they ought to be treated in the same way as the Niger Delta militants were.
In other words he believed, at least up until last year, that they ought to be treated with a light hand, granted amnesty, rehabilitated, paid off, given jobs and pampered. The fact that this same Presidential candidate told the world in 2001 that political sharia was here to stay, asked ”why should any non-muslim be concerned if muslims want to cut off the hands of other muslims” and publicly asserted that ”muslims should only vote for those who will support and protect their interest” speaks volumes and says a lot about his mindset.
Permit me to go further. How do you explain the fact that only last year one of the leading members of the opposition castigated the Federal Government for proscribing Boko Haram as an organisation and went as far to say that this was ”unconstitutional”. This is after that same organisation had killed thousands of our people. Thankfully the more moderate, mature, level-headed, discerning and circumspect elements within the ranks of the opposition like Kayode Fayemi, Adams Oshiomole, Sam Nda-Isaiah and Rabiu Kwakwanso ensured that sanity prevailed and that the misguided ones did not go any further in their reckless and provocative pronouncements which stood the risk of bringing the party to disrepute.
It is clear from the foregoing that leading figures within the political ruling class, from both sides of the divide, fell short of the glory of God in this matter. Many of them were culpable when it comes to the matter of not standing up against Boko Haram right from the outset and not recognising them for the evil that they are right from the beginning.
Yet the tales of woe continue and they are almost too much to bear. As the international outrage about the twin bombings in Nyanya and the abduction of our girls reached a frenzy last week, even more horror was unleashed on our beleaguered land.First a bomb went off in the city of Kano killing dozens of people and two days later two massive bombs went off in Jos killing at least 200 of our compatriots.
It didn’t stop there. The following day more innocent people were slaughtered by Boko Haram gunmen in numerous villages in Borno state for two days running and the number of casualties recorded has gone into hundreds. Thirty more people were killed by Boko Haram in Borno state yesterday and as I was putting finishing touches to this piece this evening there are reports that another massive bomb has just gone off in Jos with an undisclosed number of casualties.
To make matters worse, we are seeing signs of cracks in the military along regional and religious lines. A glaring illustration of this is the open mutiny that took place in an army barracks in Maiduguri about two weeks ago. The catalyst for the rebellion was the fact that a GOC, despite numerous protests and concerns that had been expressed, sent three officers, together with the men that gallantly served under their command, to certain death by ordering them to leave a town near Chibok in the middle of the night and find their way back to Maiduguri. This behaviour on the part of the GOC speaks volumes. Sadly and predictably the team was attacked by Boko Haram whilst on route to Maiduguri and the three officers together with many of their soldiers lost their lives.
This raises many questions and amongst them are the following: why did the GOC insist that the unit should leave for Maiduguri that night despite the protests and concerns expressed by the officers that were later killed? Why couldn’t they have been allowed to stay till the morning and leave then? Was the whole thing a set-up? Does the GOC have links with Boko Haram? Were those men purposely sent to their death? These are questions that ought to be asked and that must be answered because the life and safety of every Nigerian, including our soldiers, ought to matter to us all.
To be Continued…