On 16th October, our Government announced that a ceasefire arrangement had been made with the Boko Haram insurgents and the major outcome of the agreement was the imminent release of the Chibok Girls from bondage. This message was received with cautious optimism, cautious because there had been many other announcements that had been previously made that did not result in the desired outcome of the liberation of the girls. Following the announcement, what Nigerians observed was the escalation of the war against Nigeria and the capture of more Nigerian territory especially in Borno and Adamawa states. Hundreds of people are being killed in these attacks and hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have been turned into refugees and internally displaced persons trekking through the forests to escape from the galloping self-declared “Caliphate”.
People are running and seeking to escape because of the summary justice imposed by the insurgents who kill and maim innocent citizens with reckless abandon. People seek to escape because the insurgents give to their captors the unacceptable choice of conversion to their faith and cause or death. They run because of their awareness that the insurgents fully believe it is their right to take young women and girls as slaves acquired as part of war booty. Its a value system unacceptable to Nigerians and the prayers of all of us has been that our Government and armed forces will protect us from this aberration of ancient forms of bondage being imposed on contemporary Nigeria. As the atrocities grow, the concordant reports we get are about the absence of our armed forces. When the insurgents attacked Mubi for example, the people ran leaving everything behind and the armed forces also ran leaving their weapons behind for the insurgents to strengthen themselves. Of course the bank workers and security personnel also ran leaving money for the insurgents to further empower themselves. We cannot continue like this.
Today, the Chibok girls have been in captivity for 203 days and the BringBackOurGirls Movement has been campaigning for 188 days with a simple message. We cannot as a people and as a modern state abandon over two hundreds girls to a life of bondage and slavery. We must search and rescue the girls. The recent video released by Boko Haram that they have concerted the girls and married them off has been a major blow to our hopes and expectations. No Nigerian should be left to zealots to suffer a life of bondage. As a nation, we have invested considerably in our armed forces so that they can protect us the type of life that has been described as “nasty, brutish and short” by Thomas Hobbes, which he said no modern nation should accept.
Yes, we cannot but hang on desperately to HOPE, but we must also start asking serious questions of our Government. Why are we left to suffer so much? Why is the suffering spreading so fast? Why are millions of Nigerians left at the mercy of the insurgents? Above all, we must begin to ask questions about ourselves as citizens. Where is our outrage as a nation at our elected Government that is focused on only one issue, retention of power, while millions of Nigerians are suffering and even our territorial integrity is in question?
In my column of 9th January 2012, I expressed the sentiment that one of my greatest fears about the future of Nigeria is our collective loss of the capacity for anger. I was referring to the moment Nigerians re-discovered anger following the increase in fuel prices in January 2012. It was the Cameroonian author, Celestin Monga, who reminded us in his book, The Anthropology of Anger: Civil Society and Democracy in Africa, that the capacity of civil society and citizens in Africa to advance the democratization agenda of their countries is a function of their ability to express outrage at the destruction of their societies and its assets by selfish ruling classes.
The nouns that define how we feel are important indications of our capacity to act. Anger, rage, fury, ire, wrath, resentment and indignation are vital elements in creating human agency and carrying out a real transformation agenda. Fury denotes our marked displeasure at a particular situation and demonstrates we have not given up and substituted passive sadness for anger. Every week, Nigerians are inundated with news stories about massive corruption and bad governance. The least we can do is show our indignation at how our rulers are ruining rather than ruling our country.
Following the end of the Second World War, the anger of Nigerians at British misrule boiled. Nigeria had a leadership that could channel the anger. Herbert Macaulay, Michael Imoudu and Nnamdi Azikiwe organized a national strike in 1945 and in 1946, toured 153 communities to get the popular mandate to end colonial rule and use Nigerian resources for Nigerian development. In Kano, Ibadan, Enugu and Lagos, tens of thousands of Nigerians turned up in the “cost of living” demonstrations and the death knell of colonialism was sounded. Herbert Macaulay, an 82-year-old “angry nationalist”, died on his way back from the Kano rally. The British authorities, seeing the anger of the people, were forced to stop making the claims that the nationalist leaders were talking for the elite and not for the masses.
In January 2012, Nigerians became angry because President Goodluck Jonathan annoyed us on New Year’s Day by breaking his bond on creating conditions for Nigerians to enjoy a breath of fresh air. He did this by increasing the pump price of petrol (PMS) by over a hundred per cent. By this act, Nigerians were guaranteed to suffer extremely high costs for transport, food and other essentials. It is a policy decision aimed at deepening poverty and the suffering of Nigerians. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians were unable to return from their holidays because of the escalation of transport costs beyond their pockets. Nigerians were angry because a cabal associated with the powers that be pocketed over $8 billion in the name of a fuel subsidy and most of the money went into private pockets and not the purchase of fuel.
In response, the occupy movement started and millions of Nigerians all over the country went out into the streets, created Freedom Squares, and angrily protested against the misery and suffering imposed on them by the acts of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. Nigerians were so angry that they were ready to call the President’s bluff that he could make them suffer as he pleases and as it pleases his bosses in the IMF and the World Bank. Nigerians were in the streets to make the point that Nigeria was a sovereign and democratic country, and its citizens reserved the Constitutional right to demand for good governance while the President has the Constitutional obligation to promote the rights and welfare of Nigerians.
Nigerians were angry because the price of petroleum products had been ‘adjusted’ or increased eighteen times in the 26 years leading to January 2012 event. In all the previous attempts, Nigerians were able to stop the government of the day from completely imposing world market prices on the only entitlement they have – relatively cheap petrol because we showed our anger. In January 2012, Nigerians were in the streets to tell the Jonathan Administration that he would fail like the others because he refused to address the core problem of corruption in the downstream sector, as opposed to ‘subsidy’ removal.
Today, the situation in Nigeria is much worse than it was in January 2012. We have lost and we continue to lose a considerable part of our territory in the North-East to insurgents. More and more Nigerians are being subjected to a life of bondage. In other parts of the North, rural banditry, cattle rustling and growing inter-communal conflicts are spreading death and destruction. In the South, kidnapping has brought life to a standstill and we are losing most of our oil production to organised banditry. While all these are happening, all that is shown on television is the great “achievements” of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. We are being given the impression that there is no crisis, just progress, transformation and joy.
There is a huge and widening gap between the life of insecurity, bondage and death that Nigerians live and the narrative on television of rapid progress. Nigerians are wailing about the capture of their towns and cities and the killing and enslavement of their loved ones, narratives and realities that “national’ television does not even mention. The gap between the propaganda on television and the suffering of Nigerians is becoming too wide.
The time has come for the proud citizens of Nigeria to start the process of occupying their territory and their politics. Citizens must start demanding for their security and welfare as guaranteed by the Constitution. Yes, lets begin to show our anger at the growing repression and bondage we are being subjected to.