Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bombing Jonathan's Ambition

Yesterday, Nigeria celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. Born 46 years before 1960, it was formed by the British colonialists when they amalgamated their Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Since 1960, the country has witnessed a lot of things to be happy about, warts and all. At least, it is still one nation in spite of a debilitating 30-month civil war, military dictatorships, ethnic and religious crises that claimed thousands of lives, corruption and insecurity. Bad leadership has stunted its progress, forcing it to remain a Third World entity despite the huge human and natural resources God has endowed it with, and made it impossible for its citizens to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Life in Nigeria is short, brutish and violent.

Yesterday's bombing incident in the otherwise serene city of Abuja was another crude symbol of our backwardness as a nation and a challenge in our desire to drag ourselves out of the shackle that has held us back in the past five decades of nationhood. According to reports, two explosions, which took place a stone's throw frm Eagle Square, venue of the colourful ceremony to mark the 50th independence anniversary, killed about 16 people, injured over 10 and destroyed many cars. Like America's 9/11, it has left the nation's psyche scarred once again, resurrecting the ugly spectre of violence, divisiveness and criminality. It proved that ours is, as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said, a wasted generation.

The question is why did the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have to carry out this attack at this time? Hours before the attack, the group had dispatched e-mails to selected media houses, threatening that they would bomb the anniversary venue. MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo had claimed that several explosive devices had been "successfully planted" in and around the venue, warning guests to leave the area by 10:30 a.m. The warning, which some newspapers posted on the websites, was apparently ignored by the security agencies.

It is easy to surmise why MEND committed this atrocity. Obviously, they wanted to draw attention to their struggle for a share of the oil revenues frm the Niger Delta and government to address the environmental pollution in their region. In making their grievances known, however, MEND has demonstrated readiness to commit any act of terrorism, including the kidnap of expatriates and Nigerians, bombing of oil facilities and robbing innocent people.

Before his death in June, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had bought the nation some respite frm such criminality after a futile effort, including military action, to force the militants to capitulate. Apart frm treating leaders of the uprising to red carpet reception in the presidential villa and paying stupendous bribes to the militants in order to tempt them to lay down their arms under an amnesty programme, he had created the Ministry of Niger Delta to address the genuine grievances of the ordinary people. Under the amnesty programme, former militants are being trained for a more meaningful life in the society, and they are paid salaries. Many people were angry with Yar'Adua for giving in to this cheap blackmail, arguing that instead of wasting scarce resources on criminals and bandits calling themselves freedom fighters, the government should rather tie to the stake and shoot anyone identified as a militant. But the president's gesture was hailed by others who saw in the amnesty package the most sensible road to achieving peace and tranquillity in that beleaguered region.

Amnesty is still on course. But the damage done to the nation by the so-called militants is incalculable. They, with government collaboration, have bequeathed to the nation the violent culture of kidnap-for-cash which has since become a lucrative industry for other criminals, including would-be armed robbers and assassins. The coming of President Goodluck Jonathan was supposed to assuage the feelings of the militants and end all forms of criminality. For, under our type of ethnic politics, the militants ought to have heaved a sigh of relief and recognised that at last somebody frm the creeks is now in the driver's seat. I have it on good authority that Jonathan did not stop or reduce the entitlements and other mouth-watering perquisites the militants have been enjoying since the amnesty deal began; if anything, he had even increased them.

So, why detonate bombs in Abuja at a time when the president was enjoying probably his best moment as Nigerian leader - in the presence of dignitaries frm all over the world? The president's spokesman, Ima Niboro, said the bombing was meant to scuttle the anniversary celebrations. Hence their warning that people should evacuate the venue before 10:30 a.m. That, indeed, was only the apparent reason. The real reason must have been MEND's desire to once again capture the imagination of the world after a lull forced by the amnesty deal and eventually collect huge payoffs frm the government. Should they waste innocent lives in order to achieve that? MEND are being myopic. The implication of their current action is that apart frm succeeding in refreshing the world's memory about the appalling insecurity situation in Nigeria, they have also shot themselves in the foot. The message they brought home through their cowardly act, which Mr. Niboro appropriately described as "a low, dirty and wicked act of desperation by criminals and murderers," is that no one should have confidence in the ability of President Jonathan to deliver on his promises. They are telling the world that their own "son of the soil" is incapable of solving the nation's problems, including that of environmental pollution in the delta and, by extension, oil supply frm Nigeria to the rest of the world. Creating this impression just when Jonathan is facing stiff opposition frm the North to his 2011 election bid is more damaging than the campaigns of calumny the PDP presidential candidates are waging against one another in the mass media. And to prove that MEND is crime-bound, they were the same group that promised hell and brimstone if the president is "denied" his constitutional right to vie for the top job in the ruling party.

They are telling Jonathan himself that they are blackmailers who engage in cheap tricks in order to rake in as much money as they can, and under any regime - be it one headed by a Northerner or by a South-Southerner. If that is the case, why should anyone wish to vote for the man who tries to sell his candidature on a platform of freshness, newness and peace in the creeks?

Jonathan should do all he can to retrieve his stamina by tackling yesterday's challenge with all the seriousness it deserves. It was, indeed, a litmus test for his desire to rule Nigeria as a democratically elected president, not one who merely got the position by chance. The militants have tossed a challenge on his laps, tasking him to find them if he can and show the Nigerian people that he can really hold the nation together. Already, he has the dubious record of the last deadly Jos crisis taking place under his watch, and so far no one has been punished for it. If by this latest incident - and more that might come the nation's way in the coming months - it is proved that Jonathan cannot handle this country very well, let him not ask for our votes. It'd rather be good for him to find a teaching job in a university or simply go home and enjoy his cool millions.

Above photo is of Henry Okah, leader of MEND, who is based in Johannesburg. Nigerian officials have accused him of having a hand in the blasts.

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