By the time you read this, the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in Boko Haram captivity would have been rescued.
I do not know this for certain, but last week, 10 days last week after they were abducted, President Goodluck Jonathan was convening something called an “enlarged Security Council” to respond to the country’s security situation.
According to reports, the idea was to formulate a response to the security challenges confronting Nigeria.
Actually, the idea was to head off all of the local and international criticism and embarrassment. In addition to seizing the girls in Borno on April 15, Boko Haram had also fearlessly blown an Abuja suburb apart. That did not stop the Nigerian leader from a festive political rally in Kano where he was seen in merriment.
The most important reason last week’s meeting was necessary is that Abuja is to host the World Economic Forum on Africa in just two weeks, and the government was worried about its image.
On account of that international meeting, the “Security Council” gathering suddenly took on a very important profile, but both mission and composition were curious. Nobody was crying in the streets about our girls. Nobody was comforting parents in Chibok.
And then, arriving in Abuja to hold Mr. Jonathan’s hands at the presidential villa were the heads of the country’s security agencies.
Also present: governors or deputy governors from Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Ebonyi, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kwara, Kano, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.
The meeting was also attended by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor; the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, who also heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs; the Marshal General of the Federal Road Safety Corps; the Minister of Police Affairs; the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration service; the Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps; the Minister of the FCT; and the Attorney-General/Minister of Justice.
The problem is that they all participated in a meeting that was both illegal and unproductive.
First, an “enlarged” National Security Council is a fiction in Nigerian law. The constitution provides for a National Security Council, which comprises the President (Chairman); the Vice-President (Deputy Chairman); the Chief of Defence Staff; the Internal Affairs Minister; the Minister of Defence; the Foreign Affairs Minister; the National Security Adviser; the Inspector-General of Police; and any other persons the President may appoint to the Council.
The president has the power to appoint whomever he wishes to the Council, but he does not have the power simply to invite or to “enlarge.”
By design, the body is an advisory group that is so streamlined it does not even include the heads of the so-called “security agencies,” although it is obvious the president may hold other security meetings of his definition that may include them. Using this measure, at last week’s gathering, the interlopers outnumbered the legitimate members by at least 4 to 1.
It is obvious that meeting suggests the government ignores the constitution under which it exists. The more startling point is that, as I have argued in the past, the government exists only in a very generic sense.
Coming at a time that the entire country and the rest of the world was aghast at the Abuja bombing and the scandalous abduction of some 239 girls, the meeting was a veritable demonstration of why the government is dysfunctional and ineffective.
It shows that the Nigeria government does not understand that it is defined first by a set of laws, and then by public expectation.
This misunderstanding is why the government does things that breach the law; things that breach common sense; and things that breach the expectations of the people.
The “expanded” Security Council meeting breached the law, just as Jonathan and his party breached common sense by holding their infamous Kano rally just after the Nyanya bombing, and just as the government breached the expectations of the public by embarking on meetings in Abuja when the entire world was waiting for an active search for the abducted girls in Borno.
Predictably, when Mr. Jonathan’s meeting was over last Thursday, the government vowed to find the girls, as if it took an unwieldy meeting of dignitaries in Abuja to prepare a vow.
By that time, the girls had endured 10 days in the hands of their abductors, while the government sat on theirs. Mr. Jonathan was not overheard warning anyone not to touch a hair on the head of any of those citizens.
By that time, the families of the girls had been through a lifetime of torment waiting for the government to do something. Many of the hurting parents had ventured into the Sambisa forests on their own, demonstrating the courage and the commitment that are lacking in their government.
We have to hope that it is not too late. The abduction is an extraordinary story; it is very unusual that in a territory under a state of emergency, someone would walk and take what is the equivalent of an entire village of young women.
Now that the government has vowed to rescue the girls, what follows? The vow came after the abductors had been awarded two working weeks to work with. We are now assuming that the entire village of girls is still in one location. We are assuming that they have not been distributed to various Boko Haram leaders or republics in three or four Nigerian States, or in three or four countries. We assume they are all still alive.
The vow also comes from a government that is rather lavish with vows and promises. In May 2012, I documented some of Mr. Jonathan’s vows.
Equally important, Mr. Jonathan has not made himself memorable as a man who sets up a committee and actually implements its recommendations. He seems persuaded that all he needs to do to deal with a problem is to confer the illusion of action by setting up a committee. It is business as usual.
Fortunately, the World Economic Forum next week means there will be closer attention to Nigeria than ever before, a factor one hopes will help the government to understand that responsibility, not power, is the objective of governance.
What Boko Haram has achieved with the abduction of the Chibok girls is to put in play a game of chess in which the Nigerian government and its military, security and intelligence communities have been made to look very ugly.
But this is no joke, and Abuja must understand that nothing short of bringing all those girls back alive and unharmed will improve that image. What the government must do now is to swiftly reach out to Nigeria’s friends and allies who have the appropriate resources, towards ensuring this story can end with some happiness. Actually, that should have happened two weeks ago.
This is a matter that unites Nigerians and their resources, and the government should work to deploy our common nationality and humanity in that direction.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sonala Olumhense. Follow this writer on Twitter: @Sonala.Olumhense