President Jonathan’s missed Borno opportunity

4 mins read

“To be frank, Mr. President, but for dialogue, you wouldn’t have become the President of this country today…Mr. President, sometimes we wonder whether you are running a military government, a democracy or something called diarchy. We can hardly put our finger on what type of government you are running”

– Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, Elder Statesman

AFTER running out of a stock of ridiculous excuses, President Goodluck Jonathan finally plucked the courage to visit Borno and Yobe states, last week. As if to underline the various strands of prejudice which have informed official security thinking since the commencement of the Boko Haram insurgency, three thousand policemen were deployed to secure the presidential visit, commanded by the IGP himself!

The entire atmosphere surrounding the visit showed that we have a President reluctantly visiting a major region of his country, rocked by an insurgency that he clearly has refused to understand and which he approaches with a subjective mindset that makes it difficult to move meaningfully forward.In truth, it seemed clear that if the President had his way, he would not have visited those states at all. But the pressures to visit overwhelmed President Jonathan and while it lasted, it seemed with hindsight, it was better that he never went in the first place.

Stripped of the more perfunctory gestures of commissioning a few projects, the most substantial event of the visit was the town hall meeting with the Borno Elders. In the days before the visit, the leading traditional ruler in Northern Nigeria, Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, had called on the Federal Government to declare a total amnesty to all combatants, “without thinking twice”.

The Sultan had told his audience at the meeting of the Jama’atuNasrilIslam that “if the amnesty is declared, majority of those young men who have been running will come out and embrace that amnesty”. This call for amnesty was strongly canvassed by Borno Elders too, and speaking through the renowned intellectual, Prof. Nur Alkali, they argued that there was no better time than now, to declare an amnesty. “Mr. President, even if it is one person who came forward to call for peace, he should be received with open arms and reintegrated into society. The journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step”.

Prof. Nur Alkali spoke passionately and clearly about the collateral loss of lives in the wake of the JTF’s counter-insurgency tactics, stating that: “When the militants kill one security officer, a whole ward is put on fire and dead bodies have to litter the streets”. In the main, those who spoke at the gathering were people who have made contributions to the development of Nigeria and who in the period since 2009, have chronicled the massive loss of lives and property in the wake of the insurgency and the state’s counter-insurgency.

It was in response to the various appeals, that we saw a bellicose President Jonathan, adopt that insensitive posture of telling the gathered elders that they were playing to the gallery. Jonathan told Borno that the troops were not going to be removed, but “if the elders agree to come and sign an agreement with me that I should withdraw the JTF, but anybody that is killed [SIC] in BornoState, I will hold them responsible. Come and sign a document and guarantee the life and safety of life and property of individuals”.

With that insensitive posture, Jonathan Goodluck lost a major opportunity, not only to win the hearts and mind of the people that have been caught up in the insurgency and counter-insurgency, and as Prof. Nur Alkali said, almost all of who have lost a relation to the crisis. The stridently bellicose posture adopted by the President was so out of place on the occasion.

It is becoming worrisomely clear that we are not likely to see the end of the insurgency soon. The reason is simply that the South-South group running the Nigerian federal administration today is hopelessly lost in the mindset that make it impossible to find a peaceful resolution.

The “They-versus-Us” attitude is so strongly internalised, that it has become almost impossible for them to think out of the box of the prejudice that is of their own making. It is also located within that mindset that the President pitiably attempted to sound tough in a setting which demanded empathy and wisdom, not the gung-ho. Jonathan did not offer the long-suffering people of Borno and Yobe any hope, beyond the promise that the JTF will not be removed. He could not even be gracious enough to promise to investigate widely reported cases of extra-judicial killings or the collective punishment of communities.

When he stated that his administration will not negotiate with ghosts, he probably did not see the irony of the unending announcements by the JTF of killings of militants and arrests of commanders of the Boko Haram group. Were these ghosts? It might also be appropriate to remind the President that he had stated in the past that there were members of Boko Haram in the government he leads; certainly, those in the Jonathan administration cannot be ghosts and the PDP chieftains arraigned in court as Boko Haram financiers cannot also be ghosts!

President Goodluck Jonathan lost the opportunity to make the grand gesture for peace and the turning of the sod of the foundation of reconciliation in Borno and Northern Nigeria in general. It was almost like telling the people in their homesteads that they do not matter and in a place like Borno where elders are revered, it is significant that he more or less spat at the gray hairs of the elderly. Maybe, the difference in culture was always brought to the fore; but if Jonathan wants to be a successful president of Nigeria, he must be schooled in the complexity of this country.

He was amongst the Niger Delta elite that financed the Niger Delta militancy, most of the past decade in Nigeria. But these elite went scot free, because one of the clauses of the amnesty that Umaru Yar’Adua offered in the Niger Delta, was a pardon for all those who financed the insurgency. It is this group that now controls the levers of power in Nigeria today. Unfortunately, they have assumed that Boko Haram was set up against their accession to power and that centrally has conditioned their attitude and misunderstanding of the complex religious, ideological and socio-economic roots of the Boko Haram insurgency.

For as long as Jonathan refuses to think out of the box to find a far more peaceful route out of the impasse we are inside, we will not need crystal balls to see that we are being led to perdition in the long term. What tomorrow holds is very frightening, using the realities of today. Last week in Borno, President Jonathan just lost the opportunity to make a positive difference.


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