Now the President Can Bark, But Did He Bite?

When Saul was anointed by God to rule over his people Israel, it was not long before his weaknesses began to manifest. He began to do strange things that made people to make jest of him. In 1 Samuel 10:11, the Bible records that “When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, ‘what is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?’

So when I saw President Jonathan’s red eyeballs last Tuesday—something we’re not used to seeing—I exclaimed: “So Jonathan can bark and bite?” So our president can, after a fortuitous concatenation of misery and unmitigated, unrelenting attack on the Nigerian nation and its people by terrorists, assert his constitutional power as the president of Federal Republic of Nigeria? Only that I came short of asking: “Is Jonathan also among the Presidents?” because I do acknowledge him as one.

I sat glued to the television set last Tuesday, listening to the broadcast of Mr President, with his words laden with anger and fury as he read his state of emergency proclamation on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states last week. I was, to say the least baffled and wanted to ask “what has happened to the son of Jonathan”. I chuckled with glee borne out of indignation and called to my neighbour—“come and see what I have never seen before o!, our president is now talking o!”

President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan’s action to declare state of emergency on these restive Northern states was arguably  a commendable one, only that it is coming a bit too late. The senseless killing of innocent citizens and foreigners may not have reached a crescendo if the President had taken the bull by the horns early enough.

Because of Mr President’s inaction, the crisis in the North has spread to many other parts of the zone, making a once peaceful and harmonious place a terror cell. For instance, and to say the least, the slaughter of over 80 Nigerians most of whom were security personnel by the Ombatse militia group in Nasarawa state was nothing but barbaric. Reports indicated that none of the 61 officers of the Mobile Police Force pulled from Squadron 38 in Akwanga  sent to dislodge the militia came back alive, including an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Momoh who led the attack. There is no report yet of how many of the militia group were killed, but when you total the figure you can see the carnage and bloodbath.

This, unfortunately, is coming on the heels of a similar recent madness in Baga, a border town in Maiduguri where over 280 people and more than 400 buildings were destroyed in a coordinated attack by the Joint Task Force and Boko Haram. From Adamawa to Yobe, from Kano to Kaduna, and from Borno to Plateau and recently Nasarawa states, the level of insecurity is high. No day or week passes without reports of mindless killing and destruction of property in these states. Because the president went to sleep and holed himself up in Aso Rock when he was supposed to act, the mayhem festered. The insurgency in the North has cost—and is costing—the nation so much. As the President noted, it is tantamount to a declaration of war on the nation. Business activities in the zone have been paralyzed as people flee their homes. Even interpersonal relationships have been compromised too, many churches no longer throw their doors open on Sundays and Christian gatherings are shunned.

We are surprised that it took the killing of many innocent security personnel for the president to act. Most often, when he was supposed to act and reassure the nation that he was firmly in control, the president preferred to treat the insurgents with kid gloves in order not to hurt powerful interests in the North. Although his approach to the matter which was premised on dialogue was a better option, he did not know when to apply the stick, believing that the war on terror can be won by peaceful means.

However, I commend the president for taking this initiative. It is when force meets force that there can be peace; you don’t always extend an olive branch to an enemy without subduing him first. With the level of resoluteness and bravado exhibited by terror groups in the North, the president can only win the war and restore normalcy in the area when he is on the offensive, not defensive. After all, is it not said in Latin: Si vis pacem, para bellum—if you want peace, prepare for war?

Unfortunately, I am surprised that this rare demonstration of courage by the president can by politicized. The outcry by the opposition groups, especially the Action Congress of Nigeria (or is it All Progressives Congress), against the emergency rule is balderdash, uncalled for, and smacks of deceit and treachery. How can the party condemn an action many of us see as even belated? Do they want Boko Haram to kill all of us before Mr. President can act? It is a well known fact that to keep and maintain peace in a period of crisis like this requires patience, love and understanding, and President Jonathan has exhibited them all, yet, the hope for peace appears forlorn.

State of emergency in the troubled areas, in my view, is the best option in the present circumstance. Jonathan has tried through peaceful engagement ranging from doling out N5.7 billion to the zone,  amnesty, dialogue with the elites, elders and Emirs in the area and other forms of conflict resolution to address the lingering problem but the perpetrators and their sponsors gets bolder and bolder in their heinous crime against the nation and humanity. What else do they want the man to do so that there can be normalcy in the North?

Where I have some bones to grill with the president is his decision to allow the governors and political office holders to still function as usual. That does not sit well with many of us; it negates the whole purpose for which the emergency rule was declared in the first place. This is where he did not bite. My understanding of “state of emergency” is the disengagement or dissolution of all the leadership structure in a troubled state or nation and its replacement by another, which is usually the military. It was therefore underwhelming when Jonathan said that all the political office holders were unaffected by the decision. But it is the same political office holders and some well-heeled moguls in the zone that are believed to be sponsors of these terror groups.  By the emergency rule Jonathan should have disempowered them by relieving them of their positions to cut down the source of funding for the rebels.

Well, I thank God that we have a president like Jonathan in a moment like this. If it had been Baba, what happened in Odi and Zakibiam would have been child’s play compared to what he would have done in Nasarawa, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states. But sometimes it is good to show momentary madness. And sometimes it is also good to toe the path of peace because, as the Holy Book tells us, God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.


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