The era in which government monopolised the flow of information has since gone. For that reason, government must be honest and patient in relating with the citizens.
One of the biggest lies ever told by any government in the history of Nigeria is that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.” Boko Haram has not been defeated. It is, in fact, waxing stronger. Any government spokesman, presidential media assistant or service chief who says that Boko Haram has been defeated will be answerable to God for every life that Boko Haram has destroyed.
Nigerians have the right and duty to interrogate government on the level of insecurity in this country. But, instead of honest responses, they are insulted by presidential spokespersons who combine insolence and mendacity. How many innocent Nigerians will be killed before our government and its functionaries admit that Nigeria is not winning the war against terrorism?
Incontrovertible evidence abounds that government is simply incapable of protecting the land and the people. As the year 2019 was coming to an end, a faction of Boko Haram, under the banner of Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), intensified its terrorist acts.
On December 12, ISWAP executed a police officer and 14 civilians in northeastern Nigeria.
On December 13, ISWAP executed four of the six workers it abducted in July 2019. One of the abducted workers had already been executed last September.
On December 14, as many as 19 Fulani cattle herders were killed by Boko Haram near Ngala, close to Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
On December 22, near Maiduguri, six persons were killed while five were abducted by Boko Haram.
On December 24, Christmas Eve, Boko Haram visited Chibok, a Christian town, killed seven and abducted a teenage girl.
On December 26, a day after Christmas, Boko Haram released a 56-second video of the execution 11 Christians. Timing of release of the video was obviously meant to dampen Christmas celebrations. Perpetrators of this heinous crime claimed it was to avenge the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Islamic State.
Then came the year 2020. It began with the abduction on January 2 of Pastor Lawan Andimi. He was eventually murdered by Boko Haram. Pastor Andimi was chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Michiki Local Government Area of Adamawa State, a state that has been repeatedly harassed by Boko Haram.
On January 7, no fewer than 20 soldiers were killed, and more than 1,000 people were added to the number of displaced persons in Borno. Meanwhile, Nigerians saw on video how the Governor of Borno State witnessed extortion on the highway by soldiers mounting a checkpoint in Borno. Nigerians are yet to be told what happened to those soldiers.
On the night of January 8, 2020, gunmen wearing military fatigue invaded the Good Shepherd Catholic Seminary in Kaduna at about 10.30pm and abducted four seminarians, young men being trained to become Catholic priests, namely, Pius Kanwai, Peter Umenkor, Stephen Amos, and Michael Nnadi. The story bears the trappings of Boko Haram’s mass kidnappings. One of the seminarians was found after his captors inflicted serious injuries on his body and on his mind. Another one, Michael Nnadi, was murdered.
On January 9, young Daciya Dalep, an indigene of Plateau State, on his way back to school at the University of Maiduguri, was abducted and later executed by a Boko Haram child soldier. Dalep was abducted along with Lilian Daniel Gyang, another student of the University of Maiduguri and fellow Plateau State indigene.
Meanwhile, Leah Sharibu, a young Christian woman, has spent over one year in Boko Haram captivity. Abducted among other young schoolgirls, she has not been released because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Her release does not look like something that will happen soon. Unconfirmed reports say she was forced into marriage and has given birth to a baby boy.
There is a noticeable pattern. While Boko Haram has not spared members of the Muslim community, the fact of the affiliation of these aggressors with Islamic religion is undeniable. Neither is it deniable that many of their victims are Christians. Young Christian women are abducted and forced to marry in the Islamic way. While it is true that friendship in Nigeria does cut across religious boundaries, it is also clearly evident that some practitioners of Islamic religion are saying it is a crime to be Christian in Nigeria.
Examples cited here are not exhaustive but illustrative. With these and other indices available in the public domain, can it be sincerely said that Boko Haram is in any sense defeated? And there are other questions our government must not shy away from. For the truth shall make us free.
With heightening insecurity in the land, Nigerians have a right to question the competence of the service chiefs. They are yet to demonstrate that they have solutions to the menace of Boko Haram. Nigeria is at war. But can it be said that she is showing signs of winning the war?
If indeed Nigeria is a democracy, then Nigerians have an inalienable right to ask government questions. This right is not limited by party affiliation. It is not limited to those whom government perceives as admirers. Even those who are rightly or wrongly perceived as opponents of government have a democratic right to interrogate government.
A democracy is not led by a monarch who is above and beyond questions. It would, therefore, be a great disservice to the government and people of Nigeria for government spokespersons to heap gratuitous insults on those who demand accountability of government. As government spokespersons, they are officials who are paid by the people. Of course, there is the mistaken assumption that Nigeria’s money is “government money.” But there is need to interrogate this assumption too. Nigeria’s money belongs to Nigerians, not to government. Such a mistaken assumption encourages mismanagement of Nigeria’s wealth. It also makes government officials ignore the fact that the people they insult by their insensitive and unguarded utterances are the same people who pay their salaries.
Presidential media men tell Nigerians that the President is in control. But President Buhari has himself expressed shock and disbelief at the level of insecurity in the land. He expressed shock at the killing of Pastor Andimi. If, in the past, he said he did not know that the Inspector-General of Police did not relocate to Benue State, as he had commanded, and if he now expresses shock at the level of insecurity, can it be sincerely said that he is in control of the security situation? Are those working with him telling him the truth about Nigeria?
While this country is burning, presidential spokespersons, allergic to dissenting voices, deceive Nigerians by peddling the myth of an omnipotent and omniscient President. The most potent dangers to our hard-earned democracy are the President’s men. It is disheartening that, while the government they represent has failed in matters of security, they tell lies and insult us. They are neither helping him nor helping Nigeria. A President who is really in control would have called them to order or fired them.
•Cardinal Okogie is the Emeritus Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos