When Good People Elect Bad People By Sonala Olumhense

Apr. 20, 2014

Let me see if I understood the events of last week.

On Monday, two weeks after a supposed Boko Haram jailbreak in Abuja in which over 20 persons were killed, its militants arrived in Nyanya, on the outskirts of the city.

From their strongholds in the Northeast, they had done so by travelling past and through the fearsome Joint Task Force, and past and through a state of emergency that has grounded telecommunications and transportation and normal economic life, and through a thicket of government public relations machinery which has insisted the militants have been considerably weakened.

They had travelled past and through Nigeria’s fire-breathing soldiers, past housewife-beating iron policemen, past state intelligence officers that can tell President Jonathan what members of the opposition parties will have for lunch tomorrow, to set up business in Nyanya.

Then they blew apart a bus station, leaving about 80 people dead, and sending about 200 to hospitals so disreputable Patience Jonathan would not send her dog to any of them.

Someone then went to tell President Goodluck Jonathan: Oga, they have blown up Nyanya and killed many people, and a lot more are injured.

That afternoon he was seen visiting some of the injured in a hospital, dressed in a suitably morose expression, apparently recalling President Olusegun Obasanjo’s temperamental visit to the scene of the Ikeja Cantonment explosion in 2002.

“I am not supposed to be here,” Obasanjo famously told the mourners who had imagined he came because he cared.  He wanted to make it clear he had no time for such infractions on his very important schedule.

The look on President Jonathan’s face in that hospital in Abuja last week did not exactly expose such impatience, but his actions were even more abysmal.  Shortly afterwards, he left Abuja for a rambunctious political rally in Kano where he worked to shore up his hopes of retaining the presidency next year.

He campaigned, he joked, he sang, he danced.  He forgot.

He forgot the dead, the dying, the screaming and the bereaved in Nyanya.  He forgot the meaning of Nyanya, which is that he has failed in the basic challenge of providing security for Nigerians.

He forgot Boko Haram.

But Boko Haram did not forget him.  While he made his way to his scheduled party in Kano, they drove into Government Girls Secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, and abducted 100 girls.  Just like that.

We must keep in mind that Borno and two neighboring States have been under emergency rule for nearly a year, with the government and the military claiming increasing victory.  Through that thicket of propaganda last week, the militants strolled in, took 100 of our innocent girls from their beds, and left.  Just like that.

Naturally, the entire country, indeed the world, yelled a collective “Heck No!’

Jonathan must have heard the international outrage in the clouds as he enjoyed one of his gleaming jets, leaving the celebration of self in Kano for the celebration of the Olubadan in Ibadan.

And then the next piece of the conundrum dropped: We have rescued the girls, the Nigerian military announced.

I am sure you remember exactly where you were when you heard that.  It is the kind of news you always remember.  I know exactly where I was, because I was laughing so hard that the tears could reach my knees.

They had “rescued” the girls alive, the Nigerian military?  With their bare hands, or with bullets?

Remember, these are the same soldiers for whom three States were locked up one year ago, and the keys thrown away.  These are the same soldiers who have since then been so clumsy and ineffective in their mandate they have made Boko Haram look like elusive US Navy Seals.

For one year, those militants have sacked military and police facilities in the very states under emergency rule.  At any hour of their definition, they have strolled into locations of their choosing, burnt down markets and villages, and butchered innocent citizens.  They have bombed churches, slaughtered students, destroyed schools.  For one year, they have treated our soldiers like rank amateurs and rubbished our “intelligence” network and our police.

That was the background to the Tuesday morning Boko Haram show in Chibok.

The militants obviously had their assignment well-defined, and they arrived in trucks for the job.  Since they could not possibly have driven those trucks through bush paths, I presume they drove through streets and roads that are, in theory, known to our so-called intelligence, police and military people.  They probably refueled at a military fuel station.

That is why those tears streaked down my knees to my ankles.  How, I asked myself, was it possible that the soldiers “rescued” the girls?  Had they told us they begged the militants or negotiated an exchange for the girls, I would have had far more faith in the claim.

And then on Thursday, the army proved cynics right.  Unable to produce the girls it claimed to have rescued, it confessed it had, basically, lied.  A few girls were safe, but those were the ones who had found the courage and the good luck to escape on their own.

“A report was filed in from the field indicating that a major breakthrough had been recorded in the search,” a spokesman said, trying to sound less than stupid.  “There was no reason to doubt this official channel, hence the information was released to the public immediately…”

What did I learn last week?

Nothing:  I have said consistently that what we have in Nigeria is the semblance of governance, not governance.  That form, rather than function is starkly illustrated by Jonathan curious transition from Nyanya to Kano.  It is defined by incompetence at ever official turn, with the president having time not for policy, but to appoint petty officials for the pettiest of government agencies.

The blame for this mess is not that of the government; it is that of anyone who contributed to its institution in the first place.  Well before the election of Mr. Jonathan, it was clear he lacked the preparation, temperament and ability to move Nigeria forward.

When Mr. Jonathan said he did not “give a damn” about declaring his assets, some people pretended not to understand the implications.   The truth is that a man who does not give a damn about leading by character or accountability cannot inspire success, or productivity.

As a result, Jonathan leads a system where his key people are free to pursue their own conquests; a system where merit does not count and evil is not punished.

That explains the constant policy failures, and why his government thrives not on achievements, but on denials, corrections and clarifications.  Nigeria is grounded by system-wide mediocrity, insensitivity and dishonesty.

It explains why fear and frustration are mounting.  It also explains why, after Nigeria last week became the butt of jokes over the shameful abduction in Chibok, its ruler began to call “security” meetings. In his brilliance, the international outrage meant it was time to invent medicine to treat the corpse.

Yes, I understand all of last week pretty well.  Do you?