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Nigeria: Time to pull back from the brink


Clearly, the time to act is now

By Richard Mammah


It was the poet, Niyi Osundare who penned these unforgettable lines (and I hope I get them right here): ‘If you say you have two hundred yams/when you have a hundred yams/After you have eaten a hundred yams/you will eat a hundred lies/


The state of the Nigerian nation today is to say the least most troubling. According to media accounts, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has described it as a virtual ‘State of Emergency.’ With troops presently deployed to 28 of the nation’s 36 states to help put out one smouldering fire or the other, the Speaker’s summation cannot be faulted. Nigeria needs all the help it can get now to pull back from the brink that it is furiously hurling itself into and this is not being alarmist.

 While the Speaker’s note is indeed a basic statement that the facts cursorily bear out, the deeper impact is that it comes so close to bringing back memories of a time in the Nigerian story that many would not want to very quickly exhume or re-interrogate. Flashback: January, 1966. The coupists have just struck and the nation is in a quandary. The ceremonial president, Nnamdi Azikiwe is literally ‘missing in action,’ Prime Minister Balewa confirmed dead, ministers of the ruling NPC/NCNC coalition are summoned from hiding to attempt to give the nation a new Prime Minister. But it turns out to be as fruitless as the epigrammatic challenge the ‘king’s men’ had faced in their spirited effort at putting ‘Humpty Dumpty’ together once again. The centre is no more holding.
The locus of power then moves over to the lawmakers but the then Senate President, Nwafor Orizu, re-affirming that things are indeed very bad, formally cedes power to the military.
Are things bad today? Yes. And who should fix them? The Government. Indeed, even the flawed 1999 Constitution got it right on that score when it underscores: ‘the security and well-being of the citizenry is the primary purpose of government.’ And if government today cannot give us well-being for fairly obvious reasons, it should at the least give security.
But what are we seeing? Over 100 Chibok girls still held by Boko Haram some 1000 plus days. To add insult to injury, the sect, which is supposed to have been technically defeated close to two years running now, only two weeks ago, disrupted a security convoy and allegedly took away 16 policewomen from the array of ‘officers and men!’ As we write, the women remain hostages even as the authorities busy themselves with cross-statements on how many policewomen are missing! Even if we concede that it may only have been two policewomen that were part of the women abducted, is it not altogether questionable that the murderous sect continues to operate almost at will, and with particularly most vexatious serial attacks on high-level targets as the University of Maiduguri?
Again, in expectedly less tumultuous Lagos, which as at the last count, reportedly supports the security infrastructure with something in the neighbourhood of a billion naira monthly, some 40 days after, 6 boys taken from their school in Igbonla, Epe are yet to be found even as the police has advised all Ikorodu residents (and visitors to the area, we add) to ensure they keep their identity cards handy (to avoid being caught in the cross-fire) in the wake of the launch of an all-out police action to fully respond to the escalation of crime and bestiality in which the latest ‘Badoo’ cult killings clearly demonstrates its more extreme variety.
Meanwhile the security and justice rot continues in different forms. The criminal justice system is so obtuse that the concept of prison as reformatory centre is an illusion in these parts. Part of the evidence is that as at today, almost four out of every five detainees in the prison system has not been tried and sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction as spelt out in the constitution!
Indeed, the most dramatic ‘awaiting trial’ detainee now is the eponymous Evans, the alleged kidnap kingpin, who has not been taken to court yet but very strangely, is daily relishing the public with tales of his escapades simply because our law enforcement now sees media trials as the real deal!
It is within this confluence of crisis that my good friend, Chido Onumah wrote not too long ago that: ‘we are all Biafrans!’ He has a point! But then what is to be done?
There is a sense in which this crisis is first one of political confidence. As we write, Nigeria’s substantive president, Muhammadu Buhari has been holed up on a medical vacation, somewhere in London for weeks now, with an Acting president that is barely managing to hold the rump of the governance infrastructure together, being the face of the ruling APC administration.
Within this climate, separatist agitations and calls for restructuring of the federation have more lately been loud and rising but there is yet no consensus on how to proceed, properly speaking. While the political elite would be more content with just doing nothing in the illusory hope that ‘even this too shall pass,’ the groundswell from the streets is becoming quite problematic for them to manage and they are being pushed to at least do something. But how far and how much?
 The nation waits.
President Muhammadu Buhari

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