Last Saturday, I was in Sokoto where I witnessed the turbaning ceremony of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives as the Mutawalle of Sokoto. The highlight of the event for me was the brief remark made by Sultan Muhammadu Abubakar after the turbaning ceremony. Although the Sultan spoke without a prepared text, given the political season that we are in, it was no surprise that virtually all the newspapers would pick only his admonition for politicians to work together. But the Sultan said more and I want to quote the unreported part of his remark which would form the kernel of my brief presentation here this morning:
“I cannot end this short note without calling on all our politicians gathered here to please close ranks and work for Nigeria. All of us must work together irrespective of our political, tribal and religious differences to salvage our country. We know the problems we are facing, especially the issue of insecurity particularly in the North-East.Alhamdulillah, to some extent now, we have seen some changes but more needs to be achieved because when you hit your enemy in one area, there is tendency he will relocate to another place.
“We must work together collectively to fight insurgency because there is no politics in insurgency, there is no religion in insurgency. We must advise our political leaders at all levels to shun political leanings when dealing with insurgency. It will not help us as a nation and it has never helped any nation anywhere in the world. We have seen nations coming together to fight terrorism so we must come together and in doing this, government must carry everybody along. We have seen how when faced with challenges, we rise up to be a bigger country. We have seen how we came together to fight the Ebola disease as one people and we succeeded. When Nigerians unite, we will win and overcome any challenge no matter how tough it looks.”
Whether we realize it or not, the Ebola challenge was a huge one for our country and as it has been globally acknowledged, it is one menace we handled with an uncommon dexterity while the lesson from the experience, as the Sultan said, is that a people united can never be defeated whether by a disease or by insurgency. That message was underscored by President Goodluck Jonathan last Sunday when he said at an interdenominational Church service to mark Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary in Abuja: “…If we are united, there is no problem we cannot conquer. We were able to defeat Ebola because Nigerians were united and agreed that we should fight it. We have not defeated Boko Haram because Nigerians are not united yet.”
While I do not subscribe to the thesis that we have completely defeated Ebola, given the fragility of our healthcare sector, it is a fact that it is one emergency that we have handled with a national resolve and there are reasons to be optimistic that we will ultimately banish Ebola Virus from our land. However, the questions to ask are: What did we do right with Ebola and what lessons can we internalize from that experience in the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency?
Of course, I must point out that fighting the spread of a disease, however deadly such a disease might be, cannot be compared with fighting a bunch of violent and misguided sexual perverts who hide under religion to perpetrate all manner of crimes and are prepared to destroy our country. Nevertheless, I am also of the view that there are lessons to draw from the Ebola experience that will indeed serve us well as we face the insurgency. And I will highlight just four.
One, with Ebola, we recognized from the outset that it is a national challenge that required a unity of purpose by critical agencies of government at all levels and the cooperation of all Nigerians regardless of where they may be. Therefore, between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government, there was no acrimony, there were no recriminations and the officials worked together. On the insurgency, we have not seen any demonstration of such cooperation.
Two, in dealing with the Ebola challenge, Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu deserves accolades for his efforts but the greater credit goes to the Lagos State authorities. Whatever differences they may hold on other issues, President Jonathan and Governor Fashola were on the same page in the fight against Ebola. We have not seen such collaboration in the fight against insurgency between the federal government and the governments of the affected states. In fact, the kidnapping of over 200 female students of Government Secondary School Chibok almost six months ago and the unfortunate drama that immediately followed the tragedy is symptomatic of how the war on insurgency has been mismanaged, essentially due to mistrust and the cold calculations over the 2015 general elections.
Three, on Ebola we saw a demonstration of leadership, especially in Lagos State where the Governor took charge immediately. Unfortunately, on insurgency, we have not seen anything like that despite the fact that our nation is at war. For instance, the moment Fashola’s attention was brought to the index case of Mr Patrick Sawyer, he did not prevaricate on the issue. He moved in quickly not only by making bold symbolic gestures (visiting the hospital, speaking with the affected people, empathizing with them etc.) but also by putting in place the necessary structures to contain a possible spread. He also cultivated critical constituencies that shape public perception while making effective use of direct communications with the people through regular broadcasts.
Unfortunately, while our nation is at war, and we have actually been for more than a year now, there has been no official call to arms or an address to the people to make us understand the nature of the challenge we all face, the sacrifices we must make and the need to rally behind our troops, while making provisions to those who would be caught in the crossfire of the war. Hundreds of thousands of our people are being displaced with many running to Cameroon for succor but there has not been any assurance from the highest political authority in the land that we share their pains nor have we made provisions for their welfare beyond setting up some committees.
The people we are talking about are our compatriots, mostly women and children, innocent poor people who were living their lives before some lunatics came to turn everything upside down. Yet, in the absence of any coherent official declaration either to encourage the young men and women we have sent to fight on our behalf or to reassure the direct victims of the insurgency that they will not be abandoned, it is not too difficult to understand why the nation is divided on what should clearly unite all of us.
However, I must point out that the failure is at all levels and nobody, not even those in the opposition, can claim any moral high ground on the issue. For instance, I cannot understand the motive of those who are ever quick to put down the achievements of our armed forces while romanticizing whatever claims made by some Boko Haram lunatics. It is even sad that many of these people talk about Boko Haram as if it was a charity organization that only became violent just because its leader was killed. Whatever the motivation for such fraudulent narrative, it is now clear to everybody that nobody is immune from the madness of Boko Haram.
This now brings me to the fourth and last lesson we can learn from the Ebola experience as we seek to put an end to the Boko Haram madness in our country. It is about taking personal responsibility as citizens. Whether we realize it or not, the choices we make in our little corners are as important as those made in Alausa and Aso Rock and that for me is the greatest take-away from the Ebola crisis, apology to Governor Fashola who seems to have patented the “take-away” phrase. The point here is that we all have a role to play.
I began with what both the Sultan and the president said about how we have successfully fought Ebola but if we can reflect, the first demonstration of leadership was at the First Consultant Hospital by private citizens. As most Nigerians now know, the late Dr Stella Adadevoh, a consultant physician at the hospital, was at the head of the resistance against having Sawyer forcefully discharged from the hospital with all the dire implications for our country. If she and her team had not stood up to be counted when it mattered most, we would have today have a tragic epidemic on our hands. That was leadership.
As we seek to reposition our country for peace and prosperity, we need such commitment to duty, sense of patriotism and professionalism on the part of our soldiers if we are to win the war on insurgency. And we also need such responsible citizenship at practically all levels of our society. What I am saying in essence is that all of us must play our parts. There is so much that we can all do as we seek to put an end to the Boko Haram insurgency but the least is to support our troops.
Finally, I must say that at this critical point in the life of our nation, when several of our people are hurting and we need men of God to speak healing, it is unfortunate that some would rather sow hatred and division. At a time the Church should stand up to preach love, the message of the Cross is being perverted to serve the partisan agenda of some pastors who give our Lord Jesus Christ a bad name.
More than ever before, we need peace in our country and for that reason, Christians should be discerning about the kind of messages they listen to, especially in the build-up to the 2015 general elections. No matter the pretensions to the contrary, and regardless of whatever party they associate with, Nigerian politicians worship on the same altar and they know where they meet. So let no pastor deceive you into believing some politicians are better than the other just because of the faith they profess. According to the Bible, which remains our standard as Christians, by their fruits we shall know them.
Finally, on a day such as this, I think it would be most fitting to end my presentation with what is called the “Supervisor’s Prayer” in “God’s Little Instruction Book for men”. It is a prayer I love so much and one I want to commend to all of us: “Lord, when I am wrong, make me willing to change; when I am right, make me easy to live with. Strengthen me so that the power of my example will far exceed the authority of my rank.”
· Excerpts of a speech delivered yesterday in Lagos at THE PLATFORM, an annual Independence Day programme by Pastor Poju Oyemade’s Covenant Christian Centre.
The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; [email protected]
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