Before It All Unravels, By Ifeanyi Uddin
Can one mourn too much? Are there circumstances in one’s life that one ought not to give up on? Are there bounds to the weight a camel can carry? Must that last straw, the one that compromises the camel’s back, be the heaviest? These are, indeed, very difficult times. An explosion of questions; but very few answers. What about those ordinarily responsible for securing our lives and property? How have they responded? Invariably, they are either too quiet, giving to the odd misstatement, or prone to the telling understatement!
At times like these, it is very easy to go over the top. To overreact, as it were. So it helps to separate the truth from how each one of us is minded to respond to the verities.
Fact is that we confront a most unusual situation in the country today. Perhaps not since the events leading up to the civil war in 1967, and the three years after, have Nigerians feared so much for the safety of their lives and property. Nor been this apprehensive over the short- to medium-term outlook for the country.
Invariably, we indicate Boko Haram and its brand of terrorism as the main cause of this sentiment. Now, within the broad church that this is, we nearly never make the distinction between bombings designed to frighten the citizenry, and acts of brigandage in likely support of terrorist cells. And, truth to tell, why split hairs? Any which way, the man on the street suffers the most! The latter category, acts of brigandage that fuel the new insurgency, include the rising spate of bank robberies, and the recent abduction of more than 200 school girls in Chibok. Yet, these distinctions matter. For it is through the analyses of these details that the identification of modus operandi, which helps separate terrorist-linked acts from copycat events, can take place.
Does it matter, therefore, that our criminal justice system may not be architectured to address these new risks properly? I never cease to wonder, as I approach major hotels in Lagos what the delays at the gates are all about. Running that upturned mirror by each vehicle’s undercarriage, how does that pass as a test? Why cannot the explosive device be concealed under the vehicle’s hood, in its boot, or in the cabin, for that matter? And what do they look like, these devices? Would the security checks recognise one were they to encounter it.
Take Semtex, for example, popular with terrorist organisations in the early 80s: colourless, tasteless, odourless, and extreme malleable, it was nearly undetectable — until international agreements governing its continued production decided on putting markers in it. Can our security establishment identify these markers? There may be a political environment to Boko Haram’s reign of terror, but without the right forensic competence, we combat the sect’s operations in vain!
Sadly, Boko Haram’s barbarities do not fully describe the universe of threats that we confront today. Another war, maybe not as bloody, but no less harmful to all this nation represents is being lost in the Niger Delta. Oil theft we understand eats injuriously into government revenue. On current form, the brigandage in the Niger Delta threatens future governments’ ability to meet the public sector’s wage bill (70% of our budgets, remember, go to paying salaries) and to maintain physical and social infrastructure. Along with the federal government’s failure to successfully reform policy in the oil and gas sector, current conditions there have dissuaded the new investments needed to drive capacity growth. As the independent oil companies sell marginal oil fields to local companies in response to the uncertainties in the sector, the official spin on the matter is to describe the transition as the triumph of the federal government’s local content policy.
For obvious reasons, the administration at the centre is in a funk. In its favour, it has been argued that we may be seeing the result of concerted efforts by disparate groups bent on making the country ungovernable as part of a process that ensures that the incumbent president is not elected next year. While this may be true, it is scant comfort. For the success of any group committed to the disabling of the infrastructure of governance directly impeaches the apparatus of governance itself.
In other words, these non-state actors have succeeded only to the extent that the state has ceded ground to them. Indeed, in its many utterances, the state, our government, has sought a new accommodation with disruptive non-state actors. While other jurisdictions have stressed the risk of negotiating (placating) terror groups, our government has invited us to accept our home-grown movement as our own contribution to a new global vogue. “Come to terms with these explosions, for the Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Egyptians also have them”, we have been told.
The auguries are far from healthy! For even if we were to vote our fears next year, and replace the incumbent administration with another one, all we would have done would be indicating our displeasure with how improperly the Jonathan administration has husbanded national resources. We can have no guarantee today, that come 2015, a new government will better address these new risks to the nation. It will take time and cost a prince’s ransom to reinstate good governance in this country.