On September 11, soon after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the President of the United States then, George W. Bush addressed the American people. There was still much shock and disbelief in the air.
It felt like an American apocalypse. But in the American president’s exhortation to the American people, he urged them that night to take their families out to dinner, or to a movie; a good restaurant; “have a family night out,” he said.
It was imperative to return a shocked people to some degree of normalcy to stave off the possibility of collective fear and deadening melancholy.
No nation must succumb to melancholy or its defeat by forces arrayed against it would only be half accomplished. That was my reading of President Bush’s call on the American people to rise above that mournful and despondent moment and get back some laughter or pleasure, some family-shared fun back into their lives.
What the attack on New York City did was to unite Americans against what their government described as a dangerous enemy intent on destroying America.
Americans themselves rose up and backed their president across party line. They closed ranks in the national interest. Nobody blamed the president for a National Security slip that allowed terrorists to acquire a plane; operate under the radar of a vast and sophisticated American Surveillance capacity, and haul a deadly flying missile each on the World Trade Towers in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington DC, two powerful symbols of American power and invulnerability.
Whatever partisan reserve of animosity for the President was buried under the collective interest and the reserve of anger was fully and unalterably devoted to seeking American vengeance on the alleged perpetrators of the Attack on America and American citizens.
Nobody blamed George Bush for hunkering down, or for being at a classroom in Florida, while America was under attack, of for taking his wife Laura, to get some bad-ass ribs, while Americans mourned. It was all hands on deck.
The Congress quickly initiated moves to provide the US president with all the extraordinary powers that he would need to retake the initiative and take the war to those who had “attacked America.”
The battle itself was not framed as anything else but to reassert American capacity to defend itself and exert its full might over any one impudent or mad enough to attack its interest or its national space.
A quick internal audit process also commenced through congressional or legislative oversight to inquire into the security and institutional failures that allowed the September 11 attacks, and establish preventive protocols against any future attacks.
I am not here suggesting that Americans got everything right, or that they did not make mistakes. The most extreme in my mind was the suspension of the Habeas Corpus in the enactment of the Patriot Act that basically triaged certain key inalienable citizenship rights and which has turned America today into one of the most extreme surveillance nations on earth with its various “Big Brother” mechanisms.
But I use this example principally to contrast the Nigerian situation, and the questions that have arisen over the abduction of the girls of Chibok.
As I write this, reports of another bombing in Abuja fill the air, with many more casualties, and a nation askance, only two weeks after the last bombing of Nyanya and the abduction of the school girls in Chibok.
In the wake of these, critical voices have risen against President Jonathan’s handling of the situation, and there have been demonstrations demanding serious government response, first to secure the release of the abducted girls, and secondly, to deal with the increasing Boko Haram menace.
The criticisms against President Jonathan include the rather strange claim by Governor Murtala Nyako that the Federal Government is sponsoring Boko Haram and genocide in the North. I’m afraid I’m unable to further comment on Nyako’s outburst. Much has been said already about it by the Nigerian commentariat, and there is no point adding to the decibel to what most agree as coming from a lunatic fringe.
The president of Nigeria cannot embark on the subversion of his own government. There is much evidence that most Nigerians are missing the point though. It is true that a lot of power resides with the president, but even with such enormous powers, the president of Nigeria is not an absolute authority.
The power of the Federal government does not reside only with the president. As head of the Executive Branch, the president has limits placed on him by the constitution, and cannot expand his power into a tyrannical force.
This seems nonetheless to be the suggestion of those critics of the president who accuse him of being weak and unable to contain the insurgency. Nigerians, I’m afraid, are directing their attention to the wrong place.
They ought to compel their elected representatives in the Federal Legislature to act with the power of their mandate. Has the president failed in authorizing a security initiative to quell Boko Haram or find and return the abducted girls? From where I stand, this president has issued the necessary orders.
The question that Nigerians should ask include: how did about 200 hundred girls just disappear from a boarding school without trace? Two hundred is a crowd. They could not simply walk out of town, or be driven away, without some rustle. Is there no Divisional Police Command in Chibok? How did they respond?
What level of equipment and training is available to these Federal Agents in Chibok? Why was there no ground human intelligence about Boko Haram presence or activity in Chibok? Why did no agent of government respond quickly to forestall the abduction? The President is not responsible for these failures.
It is institutional failure: it is the failure of the police, the intelligence services, and other Federal Security Agencies who must account for their work and for all the funds expended on them. It is time for some reckoning.
The National Assembly must set up a Legislative inquiry into the operations of these agencies, and determine the source of the failures. Perhaps the President failed to heed, direct, or provide adequate funding as mandated by an appropriation law to these agencies established to protect Nigerians.
Perhaps it is time to radically reorganize these federal institutions, including recruiting, retraining, and expanding their technological and operational capacities to meet with contemporary reality.
It is time indeed to reposition the National Police Service to meet with this Boko Haram and other domestic security challenges. It is also time to publish the names and faces of these abducted girls, so that Nigerians can put a face and a name to them.
These are the daughters of this nation. They must not just be treated like abstract victims. The president must issue, therefore, a definitive order to the Inspector General of Police and the Director of the State Service to secure the release of these young girls by all means necessary and to deal with Boko Haram within a clear time-frame or turn in their resignation.
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