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Published On: Tue, Jun 3rd, 2014

Do they care when it is the North (East)?

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President Goodluck JonathanBy Garba Shehu.

Beyond the issue of the 200+ missing school girls in the North-eastern state of Borno, what is rarely talked about these days is the execution of innocent villagers in those areas bordering Cameroon. With Boko Haram making these raids a daily occurrence, killing 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 ordinary people in their places of worship, markets or on the highway, many cannot escape the sense of déjà vu. Human beings have become mere numbers. The Sunday Trust reported that 1,140 Nigerians were killed in May alone, and that thousands of Borno state indigenes are stranded at the boarder as Nigerians make desperate moves to escape into Cameroon. Why is the Nigerian government showing an unwillingness to take ownership or responsibility of what is happening there? What is our government doing to stop the country’s slide into medieval lawlessness?

The screaming headline on Saturday May 31st edition of ThisDay sums up the point we are making: “Boko Haram’s relentless killings continue, kills First Class Emir.”Barely 24 hours after the killing of the Emir, gunmen in 20 Hilux vehicles and motor-cycles attacked three border villages in Ngala local government area of Borno state, with that, killing 42 people. The day after, some say 18, others say 60 were killed in a bombing incident at another border town, Mubi, this time in Adamawa state. As Adewale Kukpoluyi wrote in the Punch edition of March 5, 2014, “Why are they really fighting? Is it the government?… What does Boko Haram really want?”

As for the government, which has overall responsibility for security in the federation, you sometimes wonder whether our current rulers have the will and capability to run the state. This daily massacre of innocent citizens, is not greeted by arrests, trials or retribution on the part of the outlaws. No, killings are greeted by empty condemnations released by Dr. Reuben Abati, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity. Is it the United Nations that will come to defend the lives of citizens in Nigeria?

On those occasions leaders of government are forced to give an account of the daily lives that are being lost, Nigerians are told to be thankful that it could have been worse. At a recent event, the President, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck delightfully told his audience to thank God that the nightmare of Sunday-Sunday Church bombings had been overcome( which is commendable). In his 7th “Media Chat” on May 5, the President pushed this point further, saying that a majority of states had been rid of the scourge of terrorism, and that they had been pushed to the North-east corner of the country, restricting them thereby to only three states in the atrocities that they commit. When she spoke at length on the economic and security questions facing the country on May 6, that is in the run-up to the World Economic Forum for Africa, WEFA, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala conveyed a same sense in line with the President’s argument. Trying to reassure the anxious and clearly apprehensive global community about the safety of WEFA delegates against the backdrop of the second Nyanya bombing, the on-going slaughter in the North-East as well as the kidnap of those girls, she launched an emotive line of defence by first describing the girls as “our daughters. It’s like my daughter is missing. Every single one of those girls is my daughter.” But the country, she argued must move on as did England, in the face of the IRA attacks and went on and on. But the one that really got me sad was the pseudo-intellectual gymnastics by Oscar N. Onyema, the Director-General of the Nigeria Stock Exchange who, in another interview with CNN’s Richard Quest more or less ended up saying that Nigeria was two countries in one, one wracked by violence and the other an investors haven with a stock market offering the world’s best rewards. Inasmuch as these things said, either by the President, the Finance Minister and the DG of the Stock Exchange are factually correct, helping to give assurances to many of the WEFA delegates who trooped in in their hundreds and thousands to attend the Summit, such remarks can be interpreted as being cynical and immoral. Perhaps unknowingly, they convey an impression that the region is not important and that the country is ready to move on irrespective of the situation or plight they are contending with. Such questions as are we not human beings? Are we not equal under the Constitution? will definitely be agitating minds there.

It is good news from Oscar that the aggregate foreign capital inflow into Nigeria continues its growth in spite of the terror campaign by Boko Haram, leading to increases in direct and portfolio investment. But for anyone to say that business and investments were located far away from where the trouble was taking place and that the rest of the country was functioning normally was the kind of drivel dominating discussions at beer parlours. This speech is definitely not smart on the part of any public official. Terrorism as persons more enlightened than myself have said is like the cancer cell. If it is not checked when it affects a part of the body, it affects all others.

Given the type of thinking, it is not far-fetched to assume that this is the explanation for the lower government vigil in the crisis areas, a government seeming clearly more inclined or answerable to the more prosperous parts of the country. The sad side effect of this episode is that people in those regions, “that little corner of the country” to which terrorism has been cornered will themselves start asking the question whether their rulers care at all about their suffering. Does being poor and lacking in mineral resources mean that their part of the country can be left to the terrorists to do as they wished? Killing lives every day, pillaging resources and kidnapping their maidens who are forced to convert; forced into marriages and the new, terrifying ordeal of being sold into slavery?

This then takes us back to the question: Do they care that it is the North (East)? Terrorism, everyone keeps saying is a global phenomenon. In the case of Nigeria, we know that the North-east is the most vulnerable; the most exposed. It is already proving very hard for the people of the areas affected to live with that. That is why they are emigrating to Cameroon even as they face closed borders. But the government leaders are definitely making it harder for them by implying that all is well with the country so long as you, in the North-east are those left to face the challenge.

 

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