We live in a nation of contradictions. Every day bandits, callous herdsmen and “unknown” gunmen and women hold citizens hostage in their homes, in their business places, in their places of worship and on the roads, both during the day and during the night. We are told the police are unable to cope with the current security challenges. This is the case, we are told, because bandits have superior firepower. But look at how quickly the government we elected has ordered armoured vehicles and armed police and soldiers to hunt down innocent citizens in the name of enforcing peace in the South-East.
Paradoxically, the same police who are unable to confront criminal groups have shown sheer force on the streets in the South-East, not to disrupt or apprehend bandits but to shoot at sight citizens going about their daily activities. Clearly, this is a declaration of war on citizens. A police force that shoots to kill people who have committed no crime is eligible to face charges of war crimes. These are citizens whom the government ought to protect.
Some questions must be asked: Why are governors of South-East states keeping silent while their people are being abused and slaughtered unjustifiably? Why are fully armed policemen and women and soldiers roaming the streets and killing the people in the South-East as if they are rats fit for extermination? Why is the Federal Government ordering the police and army to use weapons of war to shoot citizens in one region of the country? Is Nigeria at war with its citizens? Will the presence of armoured tanks and fully armed police and army install peace or foster anarchy in the South-East region?
The presence of armed security agents and armoured tanks suggests that Nigeria is incapable of resolving its internal problems through diplomacy, negotiations, and cooperation. When shall we demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are a civilised country grappling with the challenges of internal security?
Here is an irony. While the South-East is under siege by armed police and soldiers, the northern states that have been conquered by Boko Haram terrorists, insurgents and bandits have been spared the kind of barricade that has been thrown around the South-East states. While the government has assembled security agents and weapons to silence people in the South-East, the government has been woefully unable to deal with terrorists and bandits in the North. These contradictions mock the government’s ceaseless calls for national unity. Nigeria cannot be united in a true sense and spirit when people in one part of the country are demonised, marginalised, and treated as animals.
One of the greatest problems confronting Nigeria is the adoption of destructive-style politics of might is right. It is all about failed political leadership that lacks ethical behaviour and moral responsibility. The government must halt the regular choice of violence to resolve local misunderstandings, or the use of intimidation, threats, and harassment as tools to unify the various ethno-religious groups in the country. Someone once said that politics is war by other means. That philosophy is currently playing out in Nigeria.
If Nigeria is a true democracy, it must be prepared to recognise, respect and uphold the tenets and fundamental principles of democracy, one of which is the right of citizens to express themselves freely, and their right to choose how they want to be governed. Nigeria is not under a military dictatorship but it looks very much like we are living in an authoritarian state in which force is the only language the government speaks and understands.
All over the world, history shows that nothing can be achieved, has been achieved, or will ever be achieved by a government that rules through brutish coercion of its own people.
The current instability and high levels of violence give the impression that Nigeria has turned into a theatre of war. Poor governance is partly responsible for that. Government apathy and insensitivity to people’s feelings have heightened public anger. Failure to strengthen national security has emboldened criminal groups to set up their own fiefdom in which they rule as they desire.
When a President is elected to govern, he must govern like a statesman who perceives the entire country as his constituency. Consultation, collaboration, compromise, and regard for the people constitute the guiding principles on which a President must operate. Anything else that deviates from fair and equitable treatment of citizens, regardless of their geographic location, ethnic origins and religious faiths, is guaranteed to disrupt the government’s policy or agenda.
Never before has Nigeria experienced the scale of public anger, as well as social and political dislocation that threaten the unity of the country. Everywhere you go, you hear agitations for separatism, for war, for an end to the deception that Nigeria is a democracy. The existing atmosphere of “anything goes” has given rebellious groups the strength and boldness to challenge the authority of the nation state.
Suddenly, Nigeria is facing disintegration and calls for self-rule by citizens who are unhappy with the way they have been marginalised, disenfranchised, denied their rights in their homeland and increasingly terrorised by agents of state who should provide security to everyone.
All these are symbols of a failed state. A failed state is a country that is unable to look after its national and international interests. It is a country that cannot provide for the basic needs of ordinary members of society. It is a country in which citizens work hard to destabilise state institutions. It is a country in which everything is falling apart and there is nothing to hold back or slow that descent into anarchy. It is a country in which the government and the governed cannot agree on anything, including pathways to future economic and social development. It is a country that cannot conduct free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections to select national, state and local government leaders. Regrettably, Nigeria epitomises all these and more.
When a President presides over a nation’s social, political and economic affairs for six years and fails to make a noticeable difference in the lives of the people, when the President fails to make productive use of the extraordinary powers granted to him by the constitution that is currently being contested vigorously, that President can expect to face regular inquisitions by the press and the people.
In every democracy, citizens have the inalienable right to question elected leaders, as well as the way the country is being governed. Accountability is an ongoing obligation every political leader owes the citizens.
One thing Muhammadu Buhari has taught us is that we must never judge a President on the basis of his pronouncements on the first few days of his government. Second, we must never celebrate the electoral victory of a President because of his melodramatic reasons for seeking political office. Premature celebration of a President could turn out to be a kind of Greek gift. Within a few months, the celebrated President could transform into a shooting star — bright and dazzling one moment, dark and diabolical the next.