On Wednesday, 25 June 2014, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were preparing to take on Argentina at the World Cup in Porto Alegre, Brazil when an explosion ripped through the Banex Shopping Plaza in Abuja, killing at least 21 persons and injuring 17 others. The next day, the Washington Post carried an opinion piece by President Goodluck Jonathan titled, “Nothing is more important than bringing home Nigeria’s missing girls”. The article is a forthright restatement of his determination to bring the Chibok girls back home safely to their families, including information on things that are being done and proposed to be done as part of the general counterterrorism programme. This is our new reality. Boko Haram terrorists are holding little girls hostage, blowing up hardworking citizens in markets, malls and television viewing centres while the rest of us are helplessly drunk on football and whatever little else life offers besides death as the president struggles to explain what’s going on to a world since woken to the horrors of Boko Haram at that moment the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign hit the waves.
It’s great the president is speaking on this Chibok abduction matter specifically and on national security generally, but he isn’t saying anything new and this very one is clearly for the international audience. There is no doubt that this piece is prompted by the need to fill the information vacuum as the days go by without the girls returning. But where the information is only that there can be no information so as not to compromise details of the investigation, one wonders what purpose this serves. No doubt, it’s difficult either way for the president. Silence is not golden and talking without substantial result with regard to the centrepiece problem is as frustrating for him as it is for those law-abiding citizens listening to him or reading him. So, what else can he or the administration do?
I think while they concentrate on working to free the Chibok girls, the administration can do more in aid of the general fight against terrorism and pursuant to national security if more information is offered the Nigerian people from official quarters about what they are up against. I’m not talking here of information that will compromise or undermine investigation, but information that will empower the people in this fight against terrorism. When bombs are going off and killing people daily and the kidnappings and killings continue in Nigerian communities, Nigerians need information to keep up with things.
To this end, the security services would need to do an audit of the information they have garnered so far about the Boko Haram insurgency, be it from detainees, informants, captured materials or general intelligence and isolate what in these would be of value to citizens. Just throwing a huge blanket over all information under the notion that they’re sensitive intelligence does not help the fight. The government needs the people to join in this fight, the people want to join in this fight to save their nation and themselves, but they cannot just get on with it blindly without direction or without some form of guidance. Mobilizing citizens everywhere to defend the nation and themselves must be the most important task for this government now. This can only be done when the people are given valuable information to work with. They cannot just continue to be sitting ducks for terrorists’ target practice; they must be able to do something to help in their own security. Government must actively empower them in this regard and it bears repeating that the most important weapon in this regard is information.
Yes, we have not been able to get back the Chibok girls and we’ll continue to pray for their safe return as the security forces work round the clock to see that this happens; but there can be other ways we can improve Nigerians’ preparedness for more attacks and undermine the antics of Boko Haram. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) has reportedly been doing a lot in developing resilience programmes and in involving and training the press with a view to working together to further involve Nigerians in their own security. In fact, it has just concluded a two-day International Conference on Security and Development Challenges of Pastoralists in West and Central Africa in Kaduna and the theme was “The Role of Pastoralists in Preventing Insurgency and Conflicts for National Security”. I had cause to speak with some participants at the Conference, including journalists all of whom were unanimous in appreciating the value of the Conference in terms of information and how this would be really helpful if implemented by all stakeholders. But this is exactly the type of information the general populace needs as quickly as possible now.
One crucial timeline must be in our focus. The closer we get to the 2015 elections, the more important is the need to secure ourselves better. We are not only protecting our lives and property, we are protecting our way of life and our democracy. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Of course, it’s obvious that things have changed with regard to national security with the entrenchment of international terrorism in parts of our country and every conscious person now knows we are living in new times. So, there’s no point keeping valuable life-saving information away from Nigerians under any excuse. They know what they are up against and they need all the help they can get and most of all, from government.
We need to be prepared and government needs to take the lead role in directing us with valuable information without compromising on-going investigations or national security. Admittedly, this is new territory for the government, but so also it is for the people. Yet, nothing builds confidence better in the citizenry than to see that government is trying in every small way to protect them. Giving them valuable information that better informs them of the enemies they are confronting and tips on how to thwart them is as good as going after the enemy and killing or apprehending them or freeing those they are holding hostage. There has to be a people-government synergy. That is what is missing at the moment.
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