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Recent gains in the fight against Boko Haram have justified growing calls for appropriate sanctions for those found complicit in playing politics with an insurgency that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, placed hundreds in captivity, displaced thousands and virtually grounded the economy of Nigeria’s northeast.

After months of turning the blind eye to the criminality in the northeast, Nigeria’s embattled president, Goodluck Jonathan, confessed last week that his government all along took Boko Haram for granted! The president, with his tongue in his cheeks, even issued a presidential order to Nigerian troops to capture Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, before election day! This is a radical departure from the president’s usual recriminations! It is as well proof, if more was needed, that the government all along took Nigerians for granted by playing politics with an insurgency that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, placed hundreds in captivity, displaced thousands and virtually grounded the economy of the northeast.

Of course, Boko Haram is not Mr. Jonathan’s creation; he inherited it. But then, the Boko Haram insurgency was one of the inherited ills the president consistently swore to tackle since his inauguration in 2011. What is more, he has effectively been in the saddle for five years. Is it the blood of 13,000 Nigerians that has suddenly awoken the president to the danger posed by Boko Haram? Or is it the reality of March 28 that suddenly stirred him? For all Nigerians cared, Mr. Jonathan could have passed the buck as usual, especially as he did with shifting the February 14 elections, by claiming that he was not consulted on the security situation.

It has not been all gloom and doom and Nigerians are realising that man too can bite dog. At least, Nigerians are excited to learn that their soldiers no longer flee and abandon their weapons at the rumoured approach of Boko Haram fighters. Troops from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger have made that possible. But for these liberating troops, chances are that Boko Haram would have further entrenched and captured more territory. Nigerians, especially those caught in the web of Boko Haram insurgency, would forever remain grateful to the liberating troops who took the initiative in the fight against the insurgents so that Nigerians can live peace.

But, while Nigerians praise the foreign troops, generals at Nigeria’s defence headquarters saw the need to join issues with home governments of these liberating troops over who dislodged Boko Haram fighters from where. Rather than bickering needlessly, one would have expected the generals to blame a system that was deliberately designed to make soldiers scamper from the battlefront. Soldiers are not politicians; it is politicians that revel in turning their chests into drums to celebrate emptiness. This apparently explains why Nigerians are justifiably scandalized that politicians prefer to employ soldiers not to rout insurgents but to intimidate innocent voters at polling booths especially at a time of heightened allegations that soldiers were used to rig the Ekiti governorship election.

If anything, recent ‘gains’ against Boko Haram further firm the belief that the civilised world was not unduly hysterical in accusing Nigerian authorities of playing politics with the insurgency. It is repulsive enough for a clueless government to resort to intimidation of voters in its attempt to cling to power. But the line is crossed the moment government turns a blind eye to, and is even desirous of scoring cheap political point from, the decimation of its most-prized resource. Whoever turned the blind eye as Boko Haram members abducted, raped, maimed and killed Nigerians and despoiled the northeast is complicit And much of the blame should be placed at the doorstep of President Goodluck Jonathan, a man who has a special knack for regional and parochial politics.

The president’s adroitness at playing regional politics is unrivaled. He barely conceals his disdain for national leadership and appears to find no fault with some of his misguided tribesmen who depict him as life president of his native Ijaw ethnic group. Mr. Jonathan will go down as one Nigerian leader who did not even pretend to aspire to being a Nigerian hero. Of course, the president most probably would remain a hero in his native Bayelsa State where many Nigerians would have wished he restricted his politics. But for luck that catapulted him to national political limelight, Mr. Jonathan would have saved Nigerians a lot of pain and embarrassment had his estranged mentor and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, allowed him to wallow in the political backwaters of Bayelsa State. All that changed after Mr. Jonathan, then deputy governor of Bayelsa, undid his larcenous boss, Diepriye Alemeiseigha. Even incompetent politicians do not fail to seize an opportunity for a free ride on the back of others.

Now, a word for attention-seeking publicists who flaunt President Jonathan’s veiled meekness as his main qualification for leadership. Lest we need being reminded, no great leader was ever described as meek, unassuming or incapable of hurting a fly. Nelson Mandela never turned the other cheek and, despite his gentle disposition, Mahatma Gandhi was never meek. So were the world’s best-known political leaders in whose class starry-eyed publicists lamely wish to place President Jonathan. When the chips are down, what really matters is when supposedly good men prove incapable of doing any good.

It is as well that the expression of serious concerns about Mr. Jonathan’s competence is coming from his best fans. Many Nigerians who campaigned and voted for Mr. Jonathan in 2011 have now seen the light; they have realized that the government’s so-called transformation agenda was a hoax; a weird and deceitful agenda designed to fool Nigerians. Even President Obasanjo who begged Nigerians to vote for his protégé in 2011 is today being advertised as a motor park tout and always at the receiving end of the caustic tongue of the president and his handlers. The destiny of Nigeria is at stake and the leadership Nigerians desire is one on a clear mission of salvation. And let no one serve up the crap that Nigeria is safe in the hands of a leadership that has a disdain for excellence.

The choice before Nigerians on March 28 is clear: it is either to back a tested race horse or an untested, patently incompetent cart horse. Sadly, even some of its best known supporters consider the idea of Nigeria’s present ruling class and vision as a contradiction. Four years ago and, for obvious reasons, a dark, cart horse was chosen for a crucial race. The decision left Nigerians in a lurch. Today, those who backed the race horse are not standing alone; next month, they will be joined by millions who were fooled, cajoled and threatened into making a costly mistake. After the self-imposed and avoidable miasma of the past sixteen years, the election of an incorruptible and visionary statesman will be a welcome balm on the country’s jaded nerves.

Now, a prayer for Nigeria: God! Direct Nigerians to elect leaders who will not play politics with the lives of their subjects. May March 28 not produce ill-prepared and divisive leaders who employ religion and ethnicity to cloak their incompetence! Can somebody say Amen?

* Abdulrazaq Magaji is based in Abuja, Nigeria.



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