Since the postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28, the Nigerian Military has reported a significant reclaim of territory from Boko Haram.
As I write come reports from the Nigerian Army Defence Headquarters that Bama has been retaken, leaving only Gworza still in the hands of the sect. A map published by the BBC two days ago shows nine towns retaken from Boko Harm this year alone by the Nigerian Military and its allies.
It would be helpful to have a graphic presentation from the Nigerian Army itself, of how the campaign is going on but, nevertheless, let us just for the moment bask in the fact that the militant sect is on the run and certain things are clear.
In about a month, a firm resolve has emerged against fighting back Boko Haram. A commitment made as the argument for postponing the election is bearing fruit. One hopes it will continue and that the bravery of the troops will be remembered, their sacrifices cherished not forgotten or disregarded or ignored, as before. Not nameless or unknown as Nigerians have been wont to treat their combatants on either side, federal or rebel or ECOMOG. No plaques, no walls, no medals, no wreaths whether of poppies of or palms; glory is saved for the high ranking rear echelon, the generals and commanders in chief and such, who survive to blow their own trumpets. It is ironic that so little value is accorded to sacrifice in a society that claims to hail achievement.
Surely, each soldier comes from a family, clan or village, a place where ‘everybody’ knows his or her father’s name and can remember the day his or her mother was led to her bridal home. These are the ties that knit families and bind communities, the memories that will link states and in the end constitute a national history and enable Nigerians to recognise a common enemy.
Little point now in dwelling on why this new found will did not emerge earlier, let’s just push on.
But amidst the good news on one front come disturbing events on others, such as demonstrations and all other actions calling for the removal of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, or for him to proceed on leave, a month after having agreed to a postponement of an election long ago scheduled. What can be the point here if not sheer mischief? This is the usual business of Nigerian politricks in which so-called leaders show how little respect they have for the intelligence of the electorate.
The First Lady has always been a vigorous advocate for her husband President Goodluck Jonathan, but demanding that those who want a change from him should be stoned? Where does that even come from?
I looked up references to stoning as a form of punishment because both the president and his wife are avowed Christians. There are reportedly six references to stoning in The Bible and none have anything to do with holding or expressing a view. Islamic scholars say there is no reference to stoning in The Koran. There are countries like Nigeria where Sharia law is in practice and some, unlike Nigeria, where stoning is punishment for specific crimes. The latest reports that link anything Nigerian with stoning are unverified stories of Boko Haram meting this form of punishment on their captives. And this is why when a First Lady makes such a reference you have to wonder why.
In a far less formal setting such a thought would have been described as random. But there is nothing random in Nigerian politricks. Even the hollowness of its professionals, like the chaos that surrounds decisions, is choreographed. Confusion has its purpose, the general direction being to point us backward to a place where suspicion, fear and innuendo reign as opposed to light, openness and efficiency. Exactitude is something to be avoided; fudging the numbers means you can manipulate the results. Dredging up old prejudices ensures that you maintain old fault lines.
Sometimes those issues you choose to harp on in a political campaign serve to emphasise what you are not saying. So ‘brain dead,’ not brian damaged, has become a term of abuse, something to be used to ridicule? Well, the party in which this occurred should know. A previous first lady schemed to cover up the fact that her husband, the president of the country, could no longer function. This was a crime of major proportions, which the government in power at the time made no effort to investigate or punish, and now to be ‘brain dead’ has turned into a jibe to be used in the cut and thrust of political campaigning. Following this there were similar cases involving state governors who suffered ill health while in office and a cabal arrogated to themselves the right to turn the destiny of a state into their personal lottery. The upshot of all this is the sense that anything goes…
It is often a struggle to find a hook to hang the hopes for a resurgent Nigeria on. Something that reaches beyond our ability to continue to survive and that reinforces the nation we are striving to be and presents our children with a foundation to build on.
Perhaps routing Boko Haram will be a first step and rescuing the Chibok Girls will be another. But it is clear that conducting a free and fair election and a smooth transition to whoever wins is crucial.
Eleven months and counting…
Ms. Amma Ogan, veteran newspaper woman and editor, is the 2013 recipient of the Wole Soyinka Media Centre award for lifetime contribution to journalism.