As I write this, the entire state of Kaduna is under a 24-hour curfew, while Yobe State Government has imposed varying degrees of curfew all over the state. While the state capital, Damaturu, is under a 24-hour curfew, other parts of the state have curfews from 6pm – 6am or from 10pm – 6am. What has led to this does not need to be retold: the stories of church bombings, reprisals due to misdirected anger, and gun battles between the Boko Haram Islamic Sect and government forces. Cities like Kano, Bauchi and Gombe remain at strong risk. In fact, the entire North is sitting at the edge of a major crisis.
Yet, as I write this, Goodluck Jonathan, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in whose office is vested the constitutional responsibility of protecting the territorial integrity of this country and the security of its citizens and residents, is in Brazil heading Nigeria’s delegation to the Sustainable Development Summit tagged Rio 20 Plus.
It was not that he had departed for Brazil and the crisis erupted behind him. Not at all. It had started on Sunday with the bombings in Zaria and Kaduna and the sectarian violence in Kaduna, before Mr Jonathan and his delegation departed on Monday.
I am still trying to wrap my head around the thought of President Jonathan smiling and shaking hands with people and posing for pictures when half of his country is almost ablaze; nay, potentially the entire country, especially if the sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna should spread elsewhere.
I am trying to find out what is so important about the Rio 20 Plus Summit that he cannot cancel the trip to stay at home and manage this crisis. After all, the last time I checked, we had ministers of environment and foreign affairs, under whose purview matters such as this fall. Interestingly enough, they are on his delegation to the summit, said to be the largest at the summit, even more than that of the host nation, Brazil. But this is a matter for another day.
I am trying to understand what it is about Brazil that makes our leaders want to visit while their countries are burning. It was so with President Jonathan’s predecessor, Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who said ‘he could not keep postponing a long-planned visit on the invitation of the Brazilian Government’, while the first ‘battle’ with Boko Haram was going on in July 2009.
Curiously enough, around the same time, there was a riot in Xinjiang Province of China, where Han Chinese clashed with ethnic Uighur Muslims. The response of the Chinese President was a stark contrast to that of our president and his crisis: Hu Jintao, who was at the G8 Summit in Italy while the crisis started, cut short his trip and went back home to oversee the efforts to restore peace in that region. This is even more interesting when one considers the fact that the Chinese people do not elect their top leadership, whereas in Nigeria, the President is an elective position.
I am also trying to find out if there is a reason as to why President Jonathan has not visited either Borno or Yobe States, despite these two states being the heaviest hit of the Boko Haram crisis since its resurgence in 2011. Can there really be any excuse good enough?
Presently, the people of the two states believe that the Federal Government does not care about them because their states are among the only 3 that have never been governed by the ruling PDP (Lagos State being the 3rd). Their belief becomes stronger when you consider that President Jonathan has visited Kano twice, after the January attacks that left over 200 dead and the May attacks on 2 churches within the Bayero University campus. They believe that the PDP does not even want to win Borno and Yobe States, hence, the lack of attention. Additionally, the last time Borno and Yobe States voted for the PDP at the center was in 1999. The combination of all these makes for a strong and believable conspiracy theory.
Could this be true? I really hope it is not. Even though I know that a visit by the President would not automatically solve this crisis, it will make the people feel that they are cared for beyond just the deployment of soldiers. Right now, they are beginning to feel like the adopted children of a family.
I remember the words of the US President Barack Obama in his acceptance speech after winning the elections in 2008:
“And to those I have not yet earned their votes, I am your President too.”
Can President Jonathan confidently say this to the peoples of Borno and Yobe States?
What manner of leadership is this, when a President abandons his people and favours overseas trips to quenching crises at home? Or when a President never goes to visit a part of his electorate when their lives have been at risk for 2 years?
When 2015 comes, and if President Jonathan decides to run for re-election, how does he want to stand and tell Nigerians that he cares enough for them to carry their burdens as their president?
I really hope I find answers to all my questions.