By Festus Adedayo
An early morning inferno broke out in Circus Maximus, Rome on June 19, 64 A.D. It spread like bushfire through the ancient city. Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar’s reaction was immediate: he scapegoated Roman Christians of the time and inflicted a persecution scarcely heard of in Roman history on them. Highly chagrined by the nauseating no-holds-barred interview granted by retired Commodore Kunle Olawunmi on Channels television last week which exposed its security underbelly, the current Nigerian government found the template of this Roman emperor, renowned for debaucheries and political murders, fascinating. It thereby went on a route similar to Nero’s, unleashing the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, (NBC) its broadcasting regulatory Rottweilers, on the journalists who conducted the interview.
The Roman fire had wreaked a colossal havoc. In nine days, of the 14 districts in Rome, it totally destroyed three, severely destroying additional seven later. While this fire was raging, classical sources among Roman elite claimed to have sighted Nero, the most infamous among Roman emperors, who had recently acquired an obsession for music and the arts, sitting on his palace rooftop, attired in theatre apparel similar to a performer about to enter the stage. He was said to be reciting by rote a line from the Greek epic, The Sack of Ilium. This new passion of Nero’s for music must have given birth to the typecast that he fiddled as Rome burned. The emperor then ordered the brutal persecution of these scapegoats. While he decreed some of his victims to be attired in animal skins, preparatory to getting dogs to tear them into shreds and eat their flesh, for some others, he ordered that they be burnt alive at nighttime pyres.
Last Tuesday, the Nigerian fire got so very intense too. Unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, terrorists caught the self chest-thumping Nigerian security apparatchik literally in flagrante. In the early hours of that day, these murderous elements, unconscionably named bandits, matched their infidel feet on the country’s military university, the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA) Kaduna. By the time they were done, they had murdered two officers as if they were snuffing life out of gnats and abducted another big-epaulette soldier. A few other soldiers sustained serious gunshot injuries. Like itinerant Mullahs, the terrorists walked out of this highly prized, foremost military training institution, unscathed, into the dusk. This came at a time when the whole world, except this government and its palace courtiers, knows and is aghast that, regarding security and governance of the space called Nigeria, Aso Rock lacks a rudder.
Now, entered Commodore Kunle Olawunmi. Clinical, bold and unconventional, the retired military top-brass dissected the malady of governance and leadership afflicting Nigeria to its basest form in that interview. Very seldom saying anything that Nigerians didn’t know already, as a top officer-participant in the Nigerian security equation, his revelation prised the bottom off government’s can of cant and hypocrisy. If you had a modicum of respect and regards for government hitherto, that no-holds-barred interview defrosted them all. It seemed to solve a long-time jigsaw puzzle on the epidemic of violence, banditry and Boko Haram insurgency that has held on tight to Nigeria’s jugular. With the recent take-over of Kabul without a shot being fired by the Talibans and the suspected compromise of Afghan leaders in this roulette, permutations are rife that there is a mathematical permutation to get insurgents to take over Nigeria.
Many analysts have demonised Olawunmi. Typically, they even alleged that his anger at that interview was as a result of the systemic frustrations he encountered in the twilight of his stay in the military. He was unprofessional, they alleged and his revelations were similar to prattles of a chatter-box, unbecoming of a highly placed military officer of his hue. Having been entrusted with sensitive information, he shouldn’t have exposed those information in the glare of the public, they pursued further.
To me, these criticisms are unmindful of the precipice that Nigeria has been pushed to. It is gross irresponsibility to be conventional at a critical moment like this when it is obvious that those who hold the Nigerian steering wheel are bent on crashing the ship of state. Except for the Islamization agenda alleged by Olawunmi which may seem a bit off-tangent, there was nothing the retired Commodore volunteered in that interview that was not in the public domain about this government. Were we hearing for the first time that this is the most divisive government in the history of Nigeria? Was it new on us that we are trapped with an unrepentant nepotist leadership?
Even Olawunmi’s allegation of Islamization agenda may sound logical when viewed from the background of his revelation that security breach was committed every Friday at the NDA. Even a dimwit will know that, by the opening of doors weekly to Jumat prayers and the ease of penetration of the Officers’ Mess, that breach could not but happen. In this kind of equation, it is trite knowledge that spying on this key military institution as a precursor to planning the NDA-type attack was a fait accompli.
The NDA attack may have awoken Nigerians from their slumbers. Allegations that some governors, ministers and Senators sponsor both the Boko Haram insurgency and the banditry of the northwest are ten a dime on Nigerian streets. Ditto, information that the Nigerian intelligence community and the defense headquarters were aware that Bureau De Change operators were covert sponsors of the Nigerian daily blood spillage. It is in the public domain that, recently, the government of Dubai sent lists of these sponsors to the federal government. The veracity of Olawunmi’s claim that the DMI, DSS and Police intelligence know the sponsors too can be easily interrogated, as well as claim that the DSS possesses files of the sponsors.
Shouldn’t it be logical, judging by Isa Pantami’s romance with Islamic extremism, details of which are in the public domain, that “our brothers” in the forest have his sympathy? Olawunmi merely ignited Nigerians’ sense of disgust at a government that chose hesitancy in bringing these sponsors to judgment, at the expense of taking action. When you now imagine the cheetah speed with which this government is mowing down “dots in a circle” who have scarcely spilled a pint of blood and those who are merely calling for self-determination, Olawunmi’s frustration with the escalating Nigerian riddle will come into focus.
The NDA compromise just won’t jell. Under whose purview was such colossal disaster that befell the Nigerian military? Government’s reaction to it too was very tepid, too simplistic and petty. Or a combination of all. Its claim that the attack might have been a ploy by a God-knows-who to embarrass it is sickening and weak.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, had said that government was looking at so many scenarios. “Could this be truly a criminal attempt to violate the sanctity of that military institution? Was this an opportunistic crime? Is it political? Does somebody want to embarrass the government by doing this?” He then went on a needless voyage to recount what he called the string of victories achieved by the government: “Look at how Boko Haram is unravelling in the north; they surrendered. All of the victories that have been recorded even in the north-west — these bandits are being taken out in large numbers. So, in a climate — political climate — in which people seek to make political capital out of this unfortunate incident, you don’t rule in anything, you don’t rule out anything.”
What makes the above claim worthless is that sensible governments all over the world don’t talk like a sissy as this; they act. While it is in the province of malefactors to embarrass governments, the government’s job is to make life miserable for them. Did you hear President Joe Biden after last week’s Kabul blasts where 13 American soldiers were killed? Biden had said, not through any proxy going by the name, “presidency” as we have in Nigeria: “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”
Terrorists killed soldiers fighting your war and all the president did was to convey his disgust through a voluble character. Nigeria has an infamous policy of granting amnesty to insurgents who kill its people at will, without regard for the philosophy behind forgiveness. In this regard, we shouldn’t be surprised at the bedlam Nigeria has become.
The global concept of amnesty is very ancient. Its principle was taken from the ancient Greek literature, Odyssey written by the great philosopher, Homer. Homer, author of the Iliad as well, had written, “Let them swear to a solemn covenant, while we cause the others to forgive and forget the massacre of their sons and brothers. Let them then all become friends as heretofore, and let peace and plenty reign.” The concept of amnesty was reinforced by Carl Schmitt, a German lawyer, who argued that a war against everyone was a civil war and “even the cold war turns to civil war” without amnesty. Without amnesty, he said, non-forgiveness becomes a vicious circle of self-righteousness and revenge. Still on the foundation of amnesty, Algerian philosopher, Jacques Derida, said it can only be measured against the fact that “forgiveness, if there is such a thing, measures itself.”
Predicated on the ethics of forgetting and what is called “the politics of a rejected memory,” amnesty is reconciliation and imposes “silence on the memory of the unforgettable.” In other words, the one granting amnesty and the amnestied, though the infraction of the latter is normally unforgivable, must take an oath to make a clean break from their memory of the past.
From the first recorded amnesty in history which happened in Athens in 403 BC, to the pardon of war criminals of the World War II, people who worked as spies, soldiers, politicians, guards etc, amnesty is the banning of recalling of a certain misfortune. As said above, a major essential of amnesty is that both parties freeze the memory of the crime but with a proviso of non-occurrence of the act.
No doubt due to the confusion of the acts of the two criminal groups that have attacked the Nigerian state – Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants – this government has sought to follow the Umaru Yar’Adua route by granting amnesty to insurgents. In 2016, through the Defence Headquarters, government inaugurated what it called Operation Safe Corridor, (OSC) a counter-insurgency approach to rehabilitate what is called “low-risk repentant Boko Haram fighters” so as to reintegrate them into society. It comes with vocational training, de-radicalization and civic programmes. Two years ago, government claimed to have rehabilitated 893 ex-Boko Haram members with the Nigerian Identity Management Commission registering about 900 of them as citizens of Nigeria.
The truth however is that, Amnesty should not be a government-militants, two way without a third wave of victims’ involvement. In Nigeria, insurgents’ atrocity is still fresh in the minds of the victims. This freshness elicits stiff opposition to granting amnesty to those who killed their children, parents and consigned them to IDP camps. More instructively, the forgetting that this government forcefully midwives is apparently linear; on government’s side alone, without reckoning with the forgetting of the amnestied. Have the killers of yesterday renounced their atrocities? Have they taken the oath to forget? Have they forgotten their deeds indeed?
Apart from the tragedy of the NDA attack, last week also brought the tragic quality of government’s interface with the public by Aso Rock to the fore. No matter his personal imperfections, Samuel Ortom of Benue State represents the undisguised antagonism of the people of Benue to this government’s eerie silence to the spate of killings in Benue, alleged to be handiwork of armed Fulani herders. In response to the Benue people’s umbrage, Nigeria’s presidency willingly took a shuttle to the sewage.
Alleging that Ortom was engaged in “promotion of ethno-religious politics and divisive utterances,” and “sectarianism and ethnicity,” government walked on a predictable route that has become a convenient path to tread by ethnic warlords masquerading as governments. These are people whose governmental style does not represent what they verbalize. This is “the Rwandan genocide.” In the release, shamelessly, the presidency tacitly underscored its Acheulean grazing route while excoriating what it labeled “so-called” Benue’s own Ranches Establishment Law. It abused Ortom for this law which it said was “intended to withhold rights and freedoms from one ethnic group alone, whilst inciting race hatred against them, amongst all others.’’ Purely self-serving and nonsensical!
It is a dramatic irony that this government would label anyone an ethnic canvasser and their defence of their people “a copy of the language of Hutu Power.” What is the difference between the president’s labeling of Igbo people “dot in a circle” and Hutu’s profiling of Tutsi as “cockroaches,” preparatory to their genocidal rout? Just after that dot labeling, Imo and the east in general have witnessed killings the figure of which seeks to shake hands with the Rwandan genocide casualty. Aso Rock’s obsessive impunity has activated that narrative of some felon dipping the Quran in the sea. It is what is burning Nigeria. The killings of the last 6 years are about rivaling the figure of the Nigerian civil war and they can be linked to promotion of the narrative of a Fulani ethnic ascendancy, just like in Rwanda.
As much as we can blame Retired Commodore Olawunmi for violating the oath of secrecy he swore to as an officer, we must realize that this is a season of anomie and not a time to acquiesce to or be rigid to observance of any ancient norms of engagement. The man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of the brand of tyranny that confronts us in Nigeria today. We needed an Olawunmi kind of engagement to ensure our sanity and to be sure we are all on the same page about these locusts among us. I agree with him that this is the worst government in the history of Nigeria but Nigeria is greater than the runners of this government. We should endure this insanity. As interminable as the remaining two years look, before we wake up, the years will soon evaporate into nothingness. What we have endured is not up to what is left. Nigerians are the ones who must be resolved not to allow this affliction to rise a second time.
THE UOKHA AND OHANMI WASHED AWAY ROAD
A photograph gained notoriety on the social media last week. It was a washed away asphalt of a road constructed at Ohanmi in the Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State. Said to have been awarded by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the four-kilometer asphaltic road spanned Uokha and Ohanmi areas. In less than three months of its construction, the road got washed away, as revealed by the photograph. A federal Permanent Secretary is even said to hail from the area.
Construction of roads of such inferior and substandard quality has cast Nigeria in bad light in the eyes of the world as a country of anything goes. A few months earlier, a video of another road in same Edo State had become a subject of discussion on the social media. The question is, how did such quality of work, under a federal ministry, go through the well-known construction bureaucracy and get certified as done?
The blight of haphazard construction of roads and other infrastructure has become a major nightmare in Nigeria. Apparently fueled by the slide into the hub of corruption and lack of rigour in every facet of life in Nigeria, a phenomenon of this type has wriggled itself into our national life.
Between those who award the contracts and contractors who get the contracts, there is an absence of fidelity to the need and desire by society to have infrastructure that endures. When construction works of this quality are done, the people lose two ways. They are the ones expected to make use of those infrastructure which they cannot and their money, used to fund the projects, goes into private pockets.
That such an eyesore could happen, and has indeed become a pattern, calls for serious concern. Nigerian roads are suffering severely from this blight that has almost become a Nigerian phenomenon. It will seem that the most profound way to attack the problem is for governments to award contracts to contractors who in turn must be made to legally adhere to an agreement. The agreement must spell it out that contractors who fail as in the Uokha and Ohanmi road, must get the roads back to shape as a matter of must, failure of which attracts sanctions.
On this Uokha and Ohanmi calamity, both the contractor and those who awarded and passed the road as having been executed should be made to face sanctions.