By Tunde Leye
During the 2nd term of the Obasanjo administration, the then Minister of Interior Sunday Afolabi championed the National Identity Card scheme. All of us agreed that this was a long overdue project of great importance to us as a nation. But as is characteristic of many such projects in Nigeria, it became a shambolic disappointment, rife with corruption. Nigeria spent a humongous amount on it and we still did not have a reliable national identity system at the end of the scheme. First, only 36million of our almost over 100Million over 18 citizens were captured during the 2 week long exercise in 2003. More than half of those registered did not get their cards. To top all of this, there was a $214Million corruption scandal for which no Nigerian official has been convicted.
When one thinks of the failure of that attempt at the national identity project, the loss cannot be adequately captured by amounts spent only. We will not get the full picture of the true cost of corruption and a system that doesn’t punish such failures. The National Identity project had been debated, brought forward and considered for 35years prior to 2003. Everyone knew it was important, but in our usual way in Nigeria, we just didn’t get around to doing the obvious. Finally, we were about to get it done. And then someone bungled that chance to get it right.
Fast forward to 2014, and Nigeria is fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. This article by Okechukwu Ofili highlights how having a proper national identity system in place would have made the work of our military and intelligence agencies much easier. (http://ofilispeaks.com/boko-2/). But the unpunished corruption of 11years ago denies them of this vital tool today. As a result, Boko Haram fighters blend easily into the civilian populace, move across our borders in the North where people are culturally homogenous with ease, can hit without their identities becoming attached to their actions and generally leave our military fighting in the dark, making Boko Haram appear stronger and more cunning than they really are. Ultimately, it leads to the loss of lives needlessly. There is a straight line between the 2003 failure and the military failures in the 2014. Corruption costs us lives. The hospital without drugs where someone died simply because someone “ate” the money allotted for the drugs. The accidents on roads that are not fixed. The fact that CCTV installed in Abuja does not work in spite of the huge costs. Maybe if it was working, the bomber might have been identified before they killed so many people in Nyanya.
The saddest incidence of corruption I’ve heard of recently are reports that have been credited to soldiers who would understandably prefer to remain anonymous. They allege that there are generals enriching themselves from the war against Boko Haram. I have two friends currently serving in Borno. I am angered that these people who are fighting for this country might lose their lives not because they are ill trained or that the insurgents are better fighters – they might lose it simply because someone will profit from not supplying them the needed weaponry to fight. This is a serious allegation that the presidency needs to look into.
I take that back. The president’s actions in a week where we have had one attack after the other from insurgents daily, Monday through to Thursday tells us that his priorities are not resolving the serious security situation. He is more interested in campaigning for 2015 and throwing subs at his opponents, and dancing for all intents and purposes on the graves of those young and old that have died this week at centegenarian barely hours after the Nyanya bombing. It is a sad commentary on the leadership we currently have, where a president says “it is our turn” and “we will get over it” after terrorist attacks, and where official spokespeople of the presidency tweet pictures of the president campaigning and partying hours after 200citizens died in a terrorist attack. Like I said in a tweet yesterday, columnist Ayokunle Odekunle summarizes some of my thoughts on this in this piece, hence I will simply direct you to that (http://www.ynaija.com/ayokunle-odekunledear-mr-president-i-am-disappointed-in-your-lack-of-class/)
Boko Haram can be defeated. While it is more complex than Maitatsine, I believe consulting the officers that defeated Maitatsine will bring real experience based value to the table as regards defeating Boko Haram militarily. Also, reaching out to officers of the 3rd Marine Commando who had to fight in what could have been hostile territory during the Civil War but managed to get the ethnic minorities on their side, building strong local support will help the JTF in the battle against Boko Haram.
We must however not forget the two things that form the pillars on which movements like Boko Haram are built even when they become militarily weakened. There is a strong ideological element to Boko Haram that can only be countered by the respected Islamic Clerics in the North. They must step forward and play their parts in this. The second is the poverty that is pervasive in the North East. It is the poorest region in the country, and this provides an ample supply of jobless youths, unschooled in Western education and with fragmented Islamic knowledge for Boko Haram to recruit from and indoctrinate. I read a report that the family of one of the girls abducted from the secondary school in Chibok scrounged and scraped along with their relatives to give the vigilante money to pursue the abductors. They came up with N13,000 ($83) after this community effort. It is a leadership failure from the local government level all the way to the center. We desperately urgently need to tackle poverty in the North East.
One last note – we must not all forget, both the military and the especially the press that the victims of this violence are not just numbers. Playing propaganda games with the rescue of the Chibok abductees was totally unacceptable. Using terms like “only” to refer to people when they are still in captivity is unacceptable. We must remind ourselves of the humanity of every single victim, whether in Abuja or in Borno.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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