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Published On: Fri, May 9th, 2014

Feeble leaders, fearsome demons

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By Kadaria Ahmed

The response of the Nigerian government to the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeast of the country by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, has been a disgrace. Politicians from all sides have compounded the incompetence of their efforts to locate the pupils by attempting to gain political mileage from the abduction and from the wider issue of insurgency.

It is a reminder of the sorry state of both the government and the security services in a country that only last month declared itself Africa’s largest economy. The political class has lost its moral compass. Its chief concern is now self-preservation.

Across the nation citizens have united in their thousands to condemn the abduction. Meanwhile, politicians are trading wild claims. There has been conflicting information regarding the number of girls taken. The army at one point said it had rescued the girls, only to retract its claim shortly afterwards.

In the weeks after the April 14 kidnappings, precious time was frittered away. The opportunity for a swift search and rescue mission was all but squandered. So far as we know, the authorities have no clues and no coherent plan to secure the safe return of the victims.

With the attention of the world now focused on Nigeria, the authorities have no choice but to act. On Sunday President Goodluck Jonathan finally appeared on television to promise that everything would be done to find the girls and return them to their homes. Foreign governments including the US and Britain have offered “practical” help to rescue them. Given the dismal performance of the Nigerian authorities so far, such offers should be accepted without delay. Whatever the outcome of this tragic episode, it has revealed deep-rooted problems in our country that will not go away. It is a disheartening list: weak leadership, incompetent government, a polarised society and a political class at odds with the ordinary citizens.

Boko Haram must, of course, bears the primary responsibility for this outrageous act. But the Nigerian government cannot be absolved of its monumental failures on national security. Providing basic security for its citizens is, after all, the state’s most important obligation. It is one that the Nigerian government has completely failed to discharge. Nigeria’s defence and security budget stands at roughly 1tn naira, (about £3.6bn). A state of emergency has been declared in three of the country’s northeastern states. Yet despite all this, the Boko Haram sect continues unfazed in its campaign of terror. In the past three weeks it has twice hit Nigeria’s capital Abuja, with tragic loss of life.

The borderless nature of international terrorism means that no single state can defeat these wicked adversaries alone. Yet Nigeria has so far failed to take advantage of help offered by countries that have the experience and skills needed to tackle this deadly threat. It is difficult to see why not. Scores of Nigerians will die unnecessarily as a result. Many more will live in fear.

The abduction of the Chibok village girls has illuminated the fractured relationship between government leaders and the people who elected them. There is no longer any trust. The country has become deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines.

The Boko Haram insurgency had been viewed as a problem of the north, of little concern to the rest of the country. No longer.n Now more than ever, Nigeria needs leadership – not of the kind that is rooted in ethnic identity or religion, but genuine governance. The aim must be to fashion a better Nigeria for all Nigerians, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Mr. Jonathan has a choice. He can rise to the occasion and provide the decisive leadership that Nigeria has lacked. Or he can face a real possibility of watching helplessly as Nigeria disintegrates on his watch. For him and for a country that confronts pressing challenges, it is time to ask for help. This may be an affront to Nigerian pride, but it could also save lives.

 

Ms. Kadaria Ahmed, former editor at the defunct NEXT newspapers, and now television producer

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