by John Ainofenokhai
These are uncomfortable times for President Goodluck Jonathan. Recently the terrorist group Boko Haram resurfaced in the vicinity of Abuja, detonating two deadly bombs in Nyanya while also abducting an unclear number of girls from Chibok in Borno State.
As the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the ultimate responsibility of securing the life of every Nigerian rests with Jonathan. So it is safe to assume that under the present circumstances he is not having the best of times.
While it is true that the ultimate responsibility of securing every Nigerian life rests with Jonathan, it is not as if the rest of us have no role to play. As citizens, every Nigerian must realise that the nation’s security is a matter that cannot be left in the hands of the government alone. For this reason, the safe return of the Chibok girls must be seen as a collective duty.
To be clear, the role of ordinary citizens in enhancing the security of the country may not be as pronounced as that of Mr. President and the security agencies but it is still an important one. We all cannot take up arms and march to Borno to confront Boko Haram in their supposed stronghold, the infamous Sambisa Forest.
We all can’t even take part in #Bring Back OurGirls protest marches taking place across the country. But one thing we can do is give moral support to our military and other security agencies.
It is important to reiterate this point because the misguided notion that the military and security agencies have failed has led some people to make utterances that can, at best, be described as inappropriate and, at worst, treasonable. If any Nigerian ever doubted it, Senate President, David Mark, has made it clear that Nigeria is in a state of war with Boko Haram. And a nation at war cannot be divided when facing the enemy.
According to Mark, “The print and electronic media are daily inundated with criticisms so destructive that, at times, one is left to wonder whether the insurgents are now the heroes while those fighting them are the villains. The times do not warrant this kind of devious and divisive politicking. The impression must not be given that anybody who gives his life fighting insurgency has died in vain.”
As a retired general, Mark knows well the implication of having the populace criticise the security services. If, indeed, the security services have failed, as some unpatriotic elements are so hell-bent on insisting, is it the murderous Boko Haram that would now come and secure our lives?
Moreover, it seems many Nigerians are unaware that national security services like the Nigerian Army are not permitted by international law to engage Boko Haram as it would the army of an enemy country. As President Jonathan made clear in his recent Media Chat, soldiers are prevented by international law from using certain calibre of arms against insurgents. The dilemma is that terrorists like Boko Haram know this well enough and exploit these constraining rules of engagement to their advantage.
Additionally, it is pertinent to remind ourselves that insurgents like Boko Haram often mingle with the local populace. As such, even when an area has been identified as a hotbed of insurgent activity, as President Jonathan said, “You don’t expect the Nigerian Air Force to go and blast everywhere and wipe out everybody.”
At a time when Boko Haram is intensifying pressure just to strike fear into the hearts of Nigerians, it is important to support our President the way Americans traditionally support their presidents during wartime. Under President Jonathan’s watch, the simple truth is that the security services have stopped many attacks. But matters of security have always been in the ‘damned-if-you-do’, ‘damned-if-you-don’t,’ category, or what is commonly known as a Catch-22 situation. The security agencies rarely come out to celebrate their success in preventing terror attacks as such celebrations may compromise their ability to stop future attacks.
This is one point that makes the abduction of the Chibok girls so unfortunate. We have no way of ever knowing how many such abduction attempts may have been foiled by the security agencies. But even if only one Nigerian girl was taken by Boko Haram, let alone over two hundred, it is still a matter that should concern every single Nigerian. And the way to show our concern is not by pouring vituperations on the person of the President and our security forces.
President Jonathan is a parent and would certainly never wish for any daughter of his to be abducted by a sect like Boko Haram. As such, he certainly has an idea how the parents of the Chibok girls are feeling at this time. That is why he has given clear assurances that the government is doing everything it can to ensure the safe return of the Chibok girls. The very least the rest of us can do in these trying times is to support him and the security services through our prayers and words of encouragement.
John Ainofenokhai is a public affairs analyst who lives and works in Benin City, Edo State.