Last week, I had to race against production deadline to do this column. The delay was caused by the deliberate waiting game occasioned by President Goodluck Jonathan’s planned nation-wide radio and television broadcast over the security situation in the country. As we waited with bated breath for the declaration of a state of emergency in the affected states, it was almost certain that the president’s speech, whichever way it went, was capable of polarisingNigeria down the line.
At the end of the speech, a quick appraisal was done. That also informed a quick write-up entitled :The sense (and nonsense) in Jonathan’s state of emergency declaration.One week after, Nigerians seem united that there is more sense in that singular action than had been anticipated. From the near unanimity of support the confrontation is receiving, the presidency’s undisputed victory song is now more than a propaganda stunt. It has perhaps, raised his profile, whether we’d like to admit it or not.
The government which had long lost the propaganda war in the Boko Haram debacle is gradually coming back from the cold to win the hearts of traumatized (by Boko Haram and government) populace who now have more kind words for the latter than the former. And with the way the army has engaged Nigerians—informing on the progress of the operation, casualty figures on
both sides etc, the initial fear is giving way to cautious optimism.
It may be too early to applaud any side, considering the fact that we— insurgents, soldiers and the unfortunate civilians caught in the crossfires—are all Nigerians and victims of the unfortunate incident; the hope that the four-year conflict may well be over is heart-warming.
However, it would be naïve of the Jonathan government to think that it could rout the group and get over with it in few weeks. For over 10 years, American troops have been fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and victory is still not in sight. So, it is an understatement to reckon with the fact that the Nigerian government is into a long haul.
Unfortunately for all of us, unlike America’s war on perceived enemies in other lands, ours is an internal resurrection . It, therefore, behooves on the government to confront the matter carefully, and with human face. I know as a fact that there is no morality in this kind of business, but we
should worry about consequences. As a mother I’m doubly concerned. Each time I hear of killings, my body cringes, and my heart goes to the widows and orphans left behind by casualties of a (needless) war.
Fighting insurgency is no tea party; I hope the government knows that new and unexpected frontiers can spring up? And as part of their strategies, they should worry about the possibility of the fleeing members regrouping to reenact what they believe in. And for those arrested, the government should also establish coordinated rehabilation programmes that will re-absorb them into the society. This reminds one about the already established Turaki-led Dialogue Committee.
In my piece last week, I wrote: “There is also another question of what will happen to the Amnesty (Dialogue) Committee? How relevant can it remain in the face of the new realities. How can the committee members persuade the sect members to come out of their shells when henceforth, they will be hounded and haunted? Not up to two weeks after the committee was
inaugurated, the Baga massacre of innocent civilians took place… Then, people began to question the intention of the amnesty programme, and whether it was truly established as a panacea for peace or as a knee-jerk response that is not meant to work. These questions about the amnesty programme are relevant today more than ever before”.
Well, well, the government has since provided an answer. Four days ago, in an interview with Reuters, presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, said the government would still go ahead to offer amnesty to willing and surrendering insurgents. “Mr President has urged Boko Haram members to surrender their arms and embrace the amnesty option which is still open as the committee is working on the option of dialogue for a peaceful resolution”. This probably gives credence to the continued relevance of the Dialogue Committee in their continued search for peace.
Knowing that fighting insecurity is at a great cost, the Nigerian government and people will have to pay a price in their renewed vigour to get the state back. Besides the unfortunate and inevitable loss of lives of vibrant young men in their prime, is the issue of loss of resources
resulting from huge investments in military hardware to contain the situations. In a report by the Stockolm International Peace Institute, quoted by Sunday Trust last Sunday, was a revelation that last year alone, Nigeria’s military expenditure consumed the sum of $2.327 billion (N372.3 billion). The country’s military spending, according to the report, is the sixth highest in Africa, although the amount does not include wages and salaries, with the breakdown as follows: 2006, $1.0677 billion was expended; in 2009 with the advent of Boko Haram, it upped to $1.825; in
2010, government spent $2.143 billion; and in 2011, the amount rose to $2.386 billion. The Institute surmised the Nigerian military hardware expenditure thus: “Domestic and regional stability is the key concern of Nigeria. It sits with the largest military in West Africa, supported by a budget that is only smaller than that of education. Spending on its military has been increasing over the last decade and by 2016 Nigeria could leapfrog several spots to sit in the top three positions. The country is keen to flex its muscle as a regional peacekeeper. But it also has to deal with internal problems, specifically the militants in the Niger Delta and the Islamist group, Boko Haram”.
By this projection, the declaration of a state of emergency in some states and the expected reinforced military expenditures, Nigeria will soon hit a trillion naira mark. But who can blame the Jonathan government for the justified expenditures? Nigerians want at least relative peace in their homes and in their country and it would take proactive measures to get there.But will a ‘victory’ in the ongoing fight guarantee that? Only time will tell, but at least, it would have served as a warning to would-be insurgents, secessionists and apostles of a divided Nigeria.