By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Let us view it this way. A tenant in a different house leaves his own landlord and tweaks the moustache of the head of another home. Something must have gone amiss. This is analogous to the way John McCain, the US Senator from Arizona, recently referred to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria – another megida. McCain told The Daily Beast that the U.S. should send in special forces to rescue the over 200 school girls that Abubakar Shekau and his Boko Haram insurgents abducted from Chibok, Borno State in April, whether the Nigerian government gives permission or not. In his words: “If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in US troops to rescue them… I would, without permission from the host country… I wouldn’t be waiting for some guy named Goodluck Jonathan.” Some guy! When a ruler’s name is put as some guy, or a Mr. XYZ, then we do not need a language deconstructionist to tell us that contempt is implied, not only for the bearer of that name but the people over whom he presides. This is the case with the President of Nigeria and us, the citizens. We have all become objects of snide remarks at the international community.
To accentuate the gravity of how low Nigerians and their leader have whittled, a former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, took a dig at the Nigerian government in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News. She accused our government and its functionaries of making bad choices, not hard choices, and that they have “squandered their oil wealth, allowed corruption to fester and now they are losing control of parts of their territory because they wouldn’t make hard choices…” She was referring to the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa which have now become subjected to, in a manner of speaking, the invasion of Mongol hordes.
The hard choices are now the crux of the matter. Why has Nigeria, despite its huge resources, been unable to equip its armed forces to defend its own territory and citizens? And what are the social conditions that have thrown up such ogres as Abubakar Shekau and other bombers? These are about making hard choices between doing what is right and wrong. The only trouble is, we chose the latter and we have, as a result, become objects of ridicule in the comity of nations. What has gone wrong with Nigeria which, at the height of its military might, intervened, along with other West African countries, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Congo and dealt ruthlessly with Chadian rebels that invaded its territory in the 1980s?
An example here is worth some elaboration. Some Chadian rebels, in 1983, made incursion into Nigeria. Hissen Habre, head of the insurgents, was in Lagos, hosted by President Shehu Shagari on the Friday preceding the attack. Professor Ishaya Audu, Nigeria’s external affairs minister, was also in East Africa, pleading with many African countries to recognise and accept Habre into the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union, AU. Two days after these friendly gestures from Nigeria, Habre’s men attacked our soldiers, arrested 20, killed five and looted the Army’s ordnance depot. General Muhammadu Buhari was then the General Officer Commanding one of the military formations in Jos, under Shagari. When TheNEWS interviewed him in his Haliru Dantoro home in Kaduna in 1993 (5 July edition), and asked him to defend himself against the accusation that he disobeyed Shagari’s order, he argued: “How can you really, if you have a system of command, allow this kind of nonsense to happen? We didn’t like it. The military felt very bad. We taught Habre some very hard lessons. I gave Habre a bloody nose. I gave the fool a bloody nose. I taught him a lesson, a very bad one.”
In other words, the Nigerian troops pursued Habre and his soldiers across the border, right into Chad. What happened between then and now is not so much about the quality of the rank and file but equipment. You cannot doubt the intelligence of an average Nigerian soldier. The late Stanley Macebuh, one of the greatest intellectuals produced in Nigeria, once wrote that it was, in the past, permissible to snort at the ill-bred caricature of the average Nigerian military officer who could not knot a tie with perfect dexterity. But, as he put it, today’s officer is an altogether different breed; he “is as familiar with Von Clausewitz as he is with Mao or Che Guevera”.
What Nigeria, therefore, needs to do, is to tackle the issue of weapons and take the armed forces to higher realms. The other aspect is adequate welfare, so much that average Nigerian military personnel will see Nigeria as worth laying down his life for. The second part of my submission is that government has to do something decisive about the social condition that threw up Abubakar Shekau: poverty and the right education.
Let me take education first. I wrote “right education” because, whether it is Western or Arabic, it could be misdirected as was the case in the formative years of Osama bin Laden, the late leader of al-Qaeda, the international terror group that operated from the Middle East but caused mayhem in far-flung places.
As a pupil of Al-Thagher Model School, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, young Osama was indoctrinated by his Physical Education teacher, a Syrian. It was a time when King Faisal of Saudi Arabia needed expatriate teachers and some of those Muslim Brotherhood members, driven into the four winds by President Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, became useful. After school, the man would gather the pupils, in the name of sports, to recite the Quran and narrate some parts of the Hadith. Then the man would veer off tangent and delve into some stories that were not parts of the teachings of their religion. One of such narratives is entitled, “A Boy Who Found God”. Steve Coll, in his New Yorker magazine piece, entitled “Young Osama”, wrote that there was this righteous and brave boy who wanted to please God. Since his father stood between him and quest for God, the teacher explained how the boy procured a bullet, loaded the gun, and made a plan. Strategically, the teacher would deliver the punch line: “Finally, the boy shot the father. Lord be praised.” The pupils’ eyes would now be as wide as saucers, the faces of young demons in the making! Such instances of indoctrination abound in the Middle East and they happen during the impressionist age of school pupils. This reminds me of a Palestinian teacher in one of Leon Uris’ novels (Hajj or Exodus, I am not sure now). In an Arithmetic class, he asks the pupils: “If a Palestinian kills five out of six Zionists, how many Zionists do you have left?” The children would chorus “five Zionists”. It was a subtle way of brewing anti-Jew hate in the minds of Palestinian kids. And it worked.
In Nigeria, therefore, it is not enough to build educational infrastructure. Parents and governments at all levels must monitor what teachers pack inside the brains of their wards in the western schools and the various madrasas in the North.
When you give all children (not only sons and daughters of emirs and chiefs) good education, you have provided a level playing field for wealth creation. Moreover, government should create more jobs to close the gap between the rich and poor
These areas, in my view, are where the federal and state governments can, after the defeat of Shekau, prevent other monsters like him from springing up.
Ademola Ademgbamigbe, 08055002056