Metropole Magazine

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31 Dec

Today, our country is witnessing an unbelievable nightmare with the invasion by the murderous, senseless and bloodthirsty hounds in the name of Boko Haram. No fewer than a million Nigerian citizens have been displaced from their homes, while several thousands have been killed. To compound the situation, many of our compatriots are still wandering aimlessly in the wilderness, their entire communities having been sacked. Relatively safer host communities have been compelled to absorb hundreds of internally displaced people without any preparation, while other homeless people have registered to live in various camps that have sprung up in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Nasarawa states, as well as on the outskirts of the FCT.

Today, first class traditional title-holders around Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states currently reside outside their domains because their palaces have been taken over by the insurgents. Boko Haram flags have been hoisted on Nigerian soil, with villages and towns renamed by these blood-thirsty intruders. Almost every day now, we awake to the frightening news of yet another onslaught or bomb explosion, with rumours of our military and local hunters battling to confront the Boko Haram insurgents and reclaim lost territories that are most often lost and won again in a matter of days.

However, the reality that will never go away is that of Chibok, a community in Borno State. Chibok came to the limelight when the Boko Haram insurgents abducted 279 schoolgirls one dark night in April 2014. It took two weeks for the Federal Government to react, apparently not believing that the incident even occurred. The #BringBackOurGirls coalition, initially comprising just a few concerned women and men, succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of the girls. However, even while the coalition has gone international and despite all its efforts, it has not achieved its core objective: to ensure that the girls are brought back home to their parents, safe and alive.

Now that we have come to the end of the year, government officials seem more interested in the polls coming up in February 2015 than in rescuing the nation’s vulnerable women and girls, caught up and still held by the Boko Haram insurgents. Today, all that seems to matter, from the bickering going on in the public sphere, as well as the billions of naira being raised even from state governments (that have been unable to pay the salaries of their civil servants), is the coming general election. It does not even matter if the very citizens expected to vote for these politicians are being incapacitated and killed in their thousands.

The common refrain these days is that Nigerians should support the government in its efforts to combat the insurgency. Reminding these people about the ordinary Nigerian citizens that have been missing for months on end is perceived as confrontational and anti-government. Criticising the manner in which the operations have been conducted, that have so far failed to rescue the girls, is perceived as standing with the opposition. Demanding that our military officers in the field be properly equipped and motivated before being sent out on the deadly missions against the insurgency, is considered unpatriotic. The sincerity and patriotism of responsible Nigerians that continue to protest the absence of the girls are constantly put in question.

Nigerians are informed that in other climes such as America, when such calamities befall a nation, citizens would rush out with their flags, demonstrating and drumming up support for their governments. They conveniently forget that in those countries, their governments do not hesitate to act swiftly, as proof that they care for their citizens. Other governments go the extra mile to demonstrate that their citizens, no matter the class, gender, religion or ethnicity, are the heart and soul of their countries.

In most of these countries being cited, their presidents rush to the scenes of sudden disruption and violence, reaching out to the families of victims and survivors with words of solace, empathy and love. Indeed, there appears to be no limit to the extent that those governments would go to safeguard the rights of, and protect, their own citizens. Those governments certainly do not make feeble excuses for their inability to show love and concern. Neither do they attempt to physically (using hired thugs) or verbally (through government agencies and spokesmen) attack those who venture to express solidarity with the victims or survivors of crises.

In Nigeria, we have a government where high-ranking public officials unabashedly inform the world that there is absolutely no benefit to the president visiting Chibok as such a trip would not 'bring back the girls'. The motives of concerned citizens who remind government and its officials that it is their constitutional duty to protect and promote the welfare of citizens are denounced; official channels, sustained by tax payers money, are utilised to lambast and discredit caring and conscientious Nigerian citizens, because after all, 'none of them are the biological parents of the missing girls'.

In our country today, members of the BBOG coalition are condemned and castigated by government officials for standing up for the girls, innocent Nigerian girls whose only 'offence' appears to have been their desire to better themselves by acquiring an education. Massive resources are sourced and allocated for the sole purpose of harassing and intimidating perceived enemies of government, whereas the military personnel fighting the insurgency in the field are in dire need of such resources, bereft of the requisite wherewithal to effectively confront and combat the enemy.

What type of solidarity and support for government can be engendered by such an assault on the natural inclination to support fellow citizens with alienation and intimidation? What culture are we borrowing from, where we are told pointedly that we must not express solidarity and compassion unless we have blood ties, share kinship with the victims of violence and injustice, or do not belong to any political party? Why is it so inappropriate for a president to reach out to a grieving and apprehensive Nigerian community, even for the purposes of extending sympathies and reassuring those who are on the verge of losing hope, having lost kith and kin, as well as property and a home they can call their own? Have we lost touch with our own humanity?

Our Constitution provides that the purpose of government is to safeguard life and property, yet empathy is sorely missing in governance. All we hear and see nowadays are the sundry advertorials rallying for support for the sustenance of a government that has so far appeared devoid of compassion; pleas that only appear hollow in the present circumstances. A government that actively demonstrates that it cares for its people will continue to engender support from the people. Where a government appears steeped in its own selfish and parochial wants, however, it would be foolhardy for it to expect solidarity from the majority of the populace.

Ironically, it is not nearly as costly to reach out and show compassion, as it is to lavish money on propaganda that seeks to garner support. All that is required is a swift, sincere and good faith response, whatever the circumstances. Indeed, our government becoming proactive in so many spheres would do Nigerians (and the government) a world of good. Visiting the camps of internally displaced people this festive season, for instance, would be a good place to start. That singular act would expressly edify that government identifies with the plight of suffering Nigerians, thereby reassuring that all hope is not lost.

In a country where so much adversity has happened to so many, we desperately need to keep hope alive.

* Mrs Maryam Uwais, MFR, is chairperson of the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative and a member of the #BringBackOurGirls movement. 

For breaking news out of Abuja, follow us on Twitter: @MetropoleMag


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16 Dec

No matter what happens next year, 2015 promises to be another defining moment in our history. It would either be the year, when all the citizens of this country, united in our diversity by common fate decided to change the course of history, or the year that we missed the great opportunity to recover the soul of our country. It is times like this, a time of great social disequilibrium, when the nation appear to have lost its moral compass and, like the Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz said, "everything is acceptable and no one is accountable", that also provide a great opportunity for real change.

We are locked in an unrelenting war against a mindless insurgency group that has actively subverted our sovereignty and threatened our very existence. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many more have been turned to refugees in their own country. Our economy, despite the triumphalism of a rosy GDP, has not eased the struggles of many households to make ends meet as fewer citizens can afford even the very basic necessities of life. Our educational system, which in the past has helped so many children from poor homes to climb up the economic ladder, has collapsed. Only the elite can afford the right quality of basic education that gives children a chance in life or a higher education that is of any use to the market, thereby consolidating inter-generational poverty.

As if to further compound our woes, falling oil price has caught us unprepared, signaling a future where the main source of our national revenue is less and less relevant. Despite the best intentions of government, the future that we face is grim indeed.
When a nation is caught up in this kind of strait, what she needs, apart from God's infinite mercy, is a particular kind of leader. A leader whose brilliance of character would illuminate our paths to self rediscovery and remind us that we have not always been like this, therefore, we can be better than this.

In socio-political terms, 2015 is for Nigeria like 1993 or 1999. Unfortunately, even though the political elite recognized the utter significance of those moments, we missed the opportunities to bring about the enduring change that was necessary. And maybe this is partly why we are in this mess today. The South Africans found themselves in a similar defining moment with the elections of 1994, the first post-apartheid election in that country. When they elected Nelson Mandela, it was easy to wonder what a 76-year-old man who had been locked away for 27 years could do to change the living conditions of the majority who have suffered a lifetime of extreme deprivation. But what the South Africans realized was that there was no better man to lead the country's journey out of the historic trauma of apartheid than a man who, even though weaker in body, is much stronger than most in character. A leader that embodies the collective desire of the people for change. A leader, whose force of character could pervade the consciousness of every citizen and make everyone believe that they can be better than they are.

The Presidential Primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos last week promised this kind of South African consciousness. With the transparency, efficiency and harmony of that process, the APC has not only redefined party politics in Nigeria, it has also ennobled our democracy in the eyes of the world. But more importantly, by allowing a Muhammadu Buhari to emerge as their Presidential candidate, the APC leadership has demonstrated a self-preserving awareness that the situation in our country today ultimately imperils everyone, the rich and the poor alike. By choosing Buhari, the candidate who best exemplifies the kind of radical change that we need for this moment, the APC delegates have also shown that they understand that the soul of our country is at stake and that in the face of temptations, Nigerians still have the courage to take their destiny into their hands.

True, three decades have gone by since Buhari was our military head of state and he is not going to be the same 41-year old soldier who authorized 200 years jail sentences for corruption. Yet, there are no questions around the standards of integrity and trustworthiness that he has consistently set for himself over the past decades. Buhari's persistent willingness to submit himself to the democratic process and team up with more traditional politicians is also evidence of his own personal metamorphosis. However, nobody supporting him to be president has any doubts that this is a man still capable of drawing the line in the sand and daring anyone to cross it.

In his previous outings, Buhari's opponents had vehemently invoked his background of military dictatorship. They liked to recount especially his Decree 4 and the jailing of journalists without trial and other "draconian" actions of his regime. These are historical facts that can neither be denied nor be excused. However, we must not ignore also the fact that all that happened in those years were in the context of even more fundamental aberration that military rule was. So much has happened in Nigeria's history that shouldn't have happened. And military rule, with its various consequences, was not the only one. We must not forget every single one of them and the difficult struggle that brought us this democracy. It is in keeping memory alive that we can fuel our eternal vigilance and resolve to say "never again!"

However, we must also not allow ourselves to be held hostage by our history. This is one important lessons that we can learn from Germany, a nation that has built its unity and progress on its unabashed relationship with its history. A child that was born 30 years ago, in 1984, has more reasons to be afraid for her future than for Nigeria's past. In fact, what young Nigerians are most afraid of today is the promise of "continuity". This is why the strategy to build President Goodluck Jonathan's re-election bid on the theme of "continuity" is obviously wrong-headed in the context of current condition. The heartbroken parents of the Chibok girls would not want continuity. The grieving parents of Buni Yadi boys would not want continuity either. The thousands of bright and enthusiastic young Nigerians who crammed the National Stadium in Abuja in search of jobs but left with the dead bodies of their colleagues would reject any notion of continuity. Those who live in mortal terror of bomb explosion every single day of their lives would not want continuity. Continuity that devalues currency and devalues lives certainly would hold no appeal to anyone aside those who are currently connected to the gravy train.

In the past, we rightly adored those who had achieved success through hard work. They were celebrated as models of what was possible if one worked hard. These days, young Nigerians have grown cynical and suspicious of any story of success around them. Their social condition has led them to conclude that rich people do not deserve their wealth, just as they do not deserve their own grinding existence. While wealthy people thank God for their riches and life of luxury, poor people blame rich people for their poverty and life of misery. They know that it cannot be an act of God that so few would be so rich while so many would be so poor. They know that such inequality is unnatural and can only be consequences of unnatural acts: the choices that government make and what government has allowed some people to get away with.

On the clear evidence of our bleak future, what majority of Nigerians want is change. And if government is not able to bring about that change, then the time has come to change that government. 2015 provides a great opportunity for this change to happen. Anyone who has studied the Arab Spring would know that it is in the enlightened self-interest of the political elite in this country to make the peaceful change possible. Things are bad. But we don't have to wait until they get out of control. This opportunity for real change is what the Buhari candidacy presents to us all in 2015. It has come to remind us of the ideals that have propelled this country in the past and in which our history is grounded: courage, tolerance and patriotism. We must dare to give that change a chance.

* *Abdullahi, former minister of youth development and sports, is a member of APC.

For breaking news out of Abuja, follow us on Twitter: @MetropoleMag


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