It is indeed pertinent to ask if President Goodluck Jonathan, the armed forces over which he presides as Commander-in-Chief, and other security agencies, will go after the terrorists that abducted more than 200 teenage girls into their hideout in Sambisa Forest, in Borno State.
That question can be posed in another way: Can President Goodluck Jonathan go into Sambisa Forest? The point is that the question of willingness is closely allied to that of capability. But before one goes on to look at the issue of capability, it is important first to settle that of willingness because that is at the very heart of President Jonathan’s administration’s strategy towards prosecuting our own battle against terror.
From the very beginning when the terror insurgents resurfaced during his administration, President Jonathan had showed himself incapable of rising to the challenge. He lacked the will to take on the terrorists and failed to exercise the power invested in him as president to bring the terrorists to their knee. He was all too tentative, in turns weak and vacillating on what to do.
Even though what he needed to do was clear –crush the rising revolt with one firm and determined blow and thereafter take the initiative from the terrorists- he was clearly unprepared for it. More so, as the Northern oligarchy that lost the election that brought him into office were yet breathing fire and speaking from both sides of the mouth about the dangers posed by the terrorists. It’s no wonder today that he is effusive in his gratitude and showering of praise on Mohammadu Buhari for his belated condemnation of the terrorists.
But lacking both the decision and the decisiveness to act, the President went about making virtue of his weakness by saying he wanted to respect the law and avoid the mistakes of Odi and Zaki Biam. But the criminalities that prompted the military outrage of Odi or Zaki Biam were not the handiwork of terrorists. Yet, Jonathan blossomed in weakness and continues today to luxuriate under the delusion of respecting the rights of beasts who are neither human nor respectful of the minimum standards of human relations. He dithered way too long in the pit latrine that flies now swarm around him.
He allowed the sore of intermittent outbursts of hoodlums to fester into the cancer of routine terrorism with international dimensions. Now Nigerians wonder how things got to this point where terror has taken over our land, where school children are shot on their way to sit public examinations and hundreds of teenage school girls are rounded up in their hostels and herded into forests within national territorial spaces known to the ruling authorities. The impunity of terror is spreading fast as was reported in parts of Mushin in Lagos where rival criminal gangs terrorised, robbed and raped residents for many hours without a whimper from the police.
Which brings me back to my earlier question- Will Jonathan go into Sambisa Forest, will he, can he effectively deploy the apparatus of state power to take on the terrorists? For his initial lack of initiative, he now has a tough row to hoe. His job has been compounded and he cannot and must not expect any relief any time soon- not when his thoughts are wholly directed at retaining his tenancy at Aso Villa.
His strategy against terror, if he has any, has become too routine to be effective just as the battle his poorly motivated, battle-weary military pretended to be waging against the terrorists has been too much prolonged. You don’t have to be Hannibal, heard of Napoleon, read Sun Tzu or fought alongside Shaka to know nothing good can come out of it. It is a non-starter of a battle. We need not confer the grandeur of war on these boys scout-like skirmishes yet. So let nobody call this a war on terror.
The postponed meeting between the President and the state governors last week confirmed the routing bog into which the response to the reign of terror has fallen into. The much anticipated meeting was an anti-climax as all that came out of it was the same call on the military and the security agencies to work to rescue the abducted school girls. Wonder what comfort this would be to their traumatised families.
This confirms my suspicion that the military, personified by Goodluck Jonathan, is not ready for Sambisa. Or they wouldn’t make false military claim on the rescue of the school children or, in fact, got the actual figures of the abducted wrong while going on with their jaded promises of ensuring the end of terror.
Although by their initial silence on, justification of and covert accommodation of the activities of the terrorists, the Northern oligarchy stands complicit in nurturing them, not minding the blame-trading, unreflective letter of Murtala Nyako who appeared to have been sleeping while terrorists prowled his territory. But by playing footsie with them when he ought to have sent hot lead into their midst and scattered them into the winds, Jonathan can neither escape blame nor responsibility for the terrorists gaining ground. So entrenched are they now that their enclave in the forest of Sambisa is a no-go area for even the military. The President until recently kept far from the terror zones in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and even travellers in far-flung places like Lagos and Ibadan are now held by the terror of insurgent attacks as was the case a few days ago. This is pure madness, where people can no longer see order or feel the protection of state power.
The terrorists have been lionised beyond measure, their capacity given mythical proportions. Sambisa is now the metaphor of the forbidden, of the criminalities of the Nigerian society writ large. Nigeria does have a huge fight ahead of it. Large sections of our society are being brutalized. The enslavement -and I use that word deliberately- of over 200 teenage girls in the 21st century in their fatherland by criminals whose hideout is well-known routs whatever anyone can imagine. We now have 234 more potential terrorists on our hand and for no fault of theirs!
The trauma of such enslavement may never be healed. The exploitation that must go with this enslavement is painful to imagine. That the parents of these hapless youths are alive to witness this and powerless to act is beyond words. The shame is not theirs but of a people that would allow it. We are all held in Sambisa until the terrorists are destroyed. As a metaphor of our failures and challenges many are the Sambisa and Soka forests in which Nigerians are bound. There is the Sambisa of corruption, the Soka of misappropriation, of dereliction of duty and, above all, inept leadership.