The 2011 presidential election was one of the most polemic events since the Nigerian Civil War in 1967. It was also the first time that a president was elected from one of the minority ethnic groups in the country. In many ways, it was a triumph of democracy. In at least one distinct manner, it was also a harbinger of the times to come. The results showed a nation divided along ethnic lines. Regardless of the disputes surrounding the results, what was clear was that the election was won –and lost – along very strong ethnic fault lines.
Major General (rtd) Muhammadu Buhari made a clean sweep of what many would deem to be the core North, whilst President Goodluck Jonathan had a firm chokehold on the rest of the country. The electoral “heat-map” would show a virtual “war-front” from Borgu near the Beninois border to Mubi as you head to Cameroun. All the land north of this fault line was stamped “Buhari’s Land”, south of this, with the exception of Osun State was President Jonathan’s roaming field.Such a divisive electoral outcome necessitated a statesmanlike approach to governance from the first day in office; it also demanded a firm, fair hand in pulling together the increasingly acrimonious cliques that constitute the nation. Anything short of this was likely to only worsen a fairly volatile situation.
The signs got ominous fairly early on. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (a product of the merger of the Nigeria Maritime Authority and Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council) gave a contract to Global West Specialist Vessels Ltd, a company ostensibly owned by Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo. For those who do not know, this is a man to be feared – and in all honesty, I am genuinely afraid of him. However, Chief Tompolo is not the subject of this essay. To cut a very long story short, in 2013 a sum of $326million was paid to GWSV Ltd as part of a contract to provide maritime security to the Agency. This was in clear violation of a few extant provisions and the House of Representatives started an inquiry into this.
Over the course of 2012 and 2013, lucrative oil pipeline protection contracts were awarded to Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom and Chief Tompolo. In 2013 Mr. Kingsley Kuku, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs stridently defended these slew of contracts as “part of the lifeline” under the amnesty program initiated by the late President Yar’Adua. Whilst the legality of these acts is yet to be ascertained, the picture it created was the emergence of a new elite class – the Boys from The Creeks.
The profusion of security contracts such as this, at the expense of a sound long-term objective like developing the Nigeria Navy has invariably meant a significant swathe of the Niger Delta is under the control of militiamen. This has dire implications for the security of the country, because regardless of the knowledge of the terrain and prior experience in insurgency, none of these contractors are trained military men, equipped to defend the nation from external aggression. It also deepened the suspicion held by other people from other parts of the country that the president is only keen on pacifying those he deems to be his kith and kin.
Over the past two years, the influence of these militiamen has grown to such an extent that when Tompolo issued a threat in November 2014, regarding the commissioning of a project against his will, the President cancelled the trip. The foolhardy journalists who went ahead were, well, “kidnapped” and given a fair dose of beating for defying the de facto president of the Niger Delta.
Today in many areas of the Niger Delta, you would be foolish, very foolish, to go against the express directives of Ateke Tom or Tompolo. It may not look like it to the outside world, but the rule of the law here is one that is first dictated by Chief Tompolo or Ateke Tom. In “pacifying” his own, the president ceded control of a significant swathe of the Niger Delta to militiamen. An area that is more than the size of Wales, and with a much higher population density is so firmly under the control of militiamen that they could confidently gather themselves in the Bayelsa governor’s premises to declare war if President Jonathan loses the forthcoming elections. Think about that again – an area that is more than the size of Wales.
The menace we know as Boko Haram today existed before President Goodluck Jonathan. It would be grossly unfair to lay the blame for the emergence at his doorstep. It would however be violently untruthful to look for any other reason for the continued existence other than his inability to deal decisively with the issue.
Madrasas have existed in the Northern part of Nigeria for ages and from time to time, the extreme elements amongst them get violent. At one time or another, previous governments have had to deploy the might of the Nigerian military against the successive reincarnations of these extreme fundamentalists.
It appears over the past four years, we have been saddled with a president who did not see anywhere north of Abuja as being part of Nigeria. What started as a series of random assassinations in Borno state slowly spread across much of the North-eastern part of Nigeria that over two-thirds of Borno State is under the rule of General “Mallam” Shekau.
The fight against Boko Haram has been one pockmarked by corruption, presidential indolence and outright mischief. Regardless of the stature of the fomenters of the insurgency in the North-East, the one Nigerian who has full control of the police, the army, the air force and the DSS is President Jonathan. He has had all what is required to mount a credible, sustained offensive against Boko Haram, but he has opted in most instances to do nothing. Nothing. Except the endless copy-and-paste “condemn, condole and continue” statements after each Boko Haram attack. His demeanour would have been risible, were it not tragic.
In failing to do his duty as the Chief Security Officer of the nation, he let over 200 girls down more than 290 days ago. He let over 50 boys down when they were killed in a Federal Government College in Yobe. He had not a scintilla of decency to even mourn the victims of the Yanya motor park bombing whom he let down by his failings.
The monopoly of the use of force is one of the things that confer legitimacy on nation-states. Sadly, President Jonathan misapplied this monopoly, first by ceding that right to militiamen down south and hamstringing the military in the fight up north.
In 2011, we gave him the right to rule over 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory. He has ceded the Niger Delta to “his own” and the North-East to “them”. He lacks the integrity to admit he has failed, but has rather come back to solicit your votes – bearing 32 states and some local governments in tow.
He has failed to perform the role of a president. His performance, sadly has been akin to that of a mortician called in accidentally instead of a doctor, who having no knowledge of what to do with a living patient, hastens to smother what is left of life in the patient. Left to his devices, there might be no patient in another four years.