Jonathan’s trip to the North-East By Uche Igwe

At last, President Goodluck Jonathan visited the troubled areas of Baga and Mubi recaptured from the Boko Haram insurgents by the Nigerian military. It was nice to see the President visit injured soldiers, commend and encourage those at the battlefield. It was nice to hear him chant, “Never again.” The visit constituted a big and commendable boost in the morale of the soldiers for which we must applaud the President. To many observers, such a visit at least shows that Boko Haram insurgents are not those invincible and indomitable entities that their regular virtual propaganda projects them to be. It will be fair assessment to say that since then, the renewed assault of the Nigerian military in collaboration with the multi-national forces, has been consistently productive in degrading the terrorists. As I write, Nigerian troops have captured Buni Yadi and Buni Gari towns while Chadian soldiers have taken over border towns of Dikwa and Damask. Many more towns have been liberated and Boko Haram has suffered more casualties in these past three weeks than they had suffered in the past three years. Many Internally Displaced Persons scattered across the country are excited at the prospects of returning to their communities.

However, many analysts believe that the President’s visit was quite belated. Thousands of civilians especially women and children as well as security agents have been murdered. Hundreds of thousand others have been displaced. This is almost a year after 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok. At a time when the international community has almost made up its mind about the President’s apparent ineffectual style of leadership. How else can a leader show crass insensitivity to the plight of his citizens and blundering irresponsiveness to international pressure? There are too many unanswered questions that we need to reflect on. Why did he wait for so long before making such an important trip even though the world mounted pressure on him to do so? Was it just another public relations move or is he now genuinely committed to take the war on terror forward? Was the trip made to justify the postponement of the elections? Did it lead any verifiable change on how the President is perceived in northern Nigeria? Did that visit enhance the support base of the President in that region? Will it make any difference in the outcome of the 2015 elections for him? What is the role of the Chadian army and other multi-national forces in all of these?

I must say that I am worried about the allegation making waves in much of northern Nigeria that President Jonathan is sponsoring the Boko Haram insurgency. My gut feeling will be to say that this is untrue. At least, not directly. Nevertheless, the fact that the military suddenly woke up to go on the offensive against Boko Haram and invade the Sambisa Forest and other towns formerly under the full grip of Boko Haram’s murderous grip made a lot more people curious. What changed? Is it that the same Nigerian military that has been complaining of poor motivation, poor equipment and corruption suddenly turned a new leaf to begin to do the right things? Were our troops just too ashamed at the successes recorded by the Chadian, Cameroonian and even soldiers from Niger that they had to buckle up on their own? If the renewed military action against the insurgents was at the instance of the President, does that not inadvertently confirm the long held view by many that he is able to manipulate the insurgency for political gains?

Now, there is another strand to the conversation. President Idris Derby of Chad is very defiant in his determination to lead Chadian soldiers to defeat Boko Haram. He is not leading from the rear. He is leading in front directly confronting the shadowy group and challenging its blood thirsty leader, Abubakar Shekau. With international support, they have invaded Nigerian territories to root out the insurgents. They seem quite prepared, better armed, better organised and with a robust propaganda machine. The 10,000 African Union men are on their way to give these efforts the needed boost. Curiously, they do not seem to be on the same page with Nigerian soldiers. At some point, the President of Chad publicly declared that President Jonathan was not forthcoming in the war against the insurgents. How come? In a way, one can understand the sense of urgency in the voice of Derby. The continued insurgency has given rise to worsening economic conditions in N’Djamena, the capital territory. Most of the trade routes through which essential items enter that country from Nigeria have been blocked and so prices of such items have quadrupled. Citizens are already feeling the harsh impact and no one can predict what it could lead to. So, the President of Chad is right to act and not wait for his taciturn neighbour to make up his mind.

There are many other outstanding issues related to the ongoing battle in the North-East which Jonathan has cleverly avoided. A commander in the army had written an open letter to him complaining about problems of corruption, lack of motivation and maladministration bedevilling their operations. The letter was so bad that the author fingered one of the senior commanders in the army and accused him of corruption. Has he been prosecuted or sanctioned? In addition, the fate of the 54 soldiers who were condemned to death for charges related to conspiracy to commit mutiny is still hanging. Twenty two more are currently being tried on similar charges in Lagos. Many international voices have pleaded with the President to grant them pardon. Will he heed to the appeal? No official statement has been made from his office with regard to such penitent issues yet he wants to be taken seriously by the world.

Beyond whatever immediate reasons that would necessitated the visit, beyond the widely orchestrated publicity stunts, it provides an opportunity for a review of the current efforts at securing the North-East and opportunities for improvement. An effective Commander-in-Chief ought to visit troubled parts of the country he presides over. He must not wait to visit as a presidential candidate before an impending election. He must not mix the two distinct roles. If he must do that, he must use such a chance to demonstrate clear and sustained political will to deal with all outstanding issues beyond immediate selfish motives.

Copyright PUNCH.


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