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A wake-up call

I struggled to write this post in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s Independence bombing, which has so far killed between 12 and 15 people and injured many more. The initial information coming out of Abuja was that the hospitals were empty of staff; one can only imagine the mayhem and suffering people have gone through with their family and friends over the past 48 hours and no doubt will continue to go through. Will the government ensure those injured receive the best medical care? Will they provide financial aid to the families of the dead? Will those directly affected by the bomb receive compensation from the government? If the past is anything to go by the answer is NO. President Goodluck Jonathan will be under close scrutiny over the next few weeks and months and the choices he makes, not least how he treats the injured and the families of the dead, will go a long way to deciding whether this man is worthy of anyone’s vote. So far he has yet again proved to be a dithering, confused and inconsistent.

It’s only 48 hours after the bombs exploded in Abuja and rumours abound as to who was responsible, MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), AREWA, ex-military dictators or a mixture of all three. Whilst it does matter, what is even more despicable than the bombing itself, is that there appears to be truth in the fact that Nigerian intelligence, as well as possibly Britain, South Africa and the US, had good reason to suspect a terrorist attack or, even worse, knew there would be an attack. Even with only the slightest bit of intelligence information, they should have acted with thorough vigilance over the 24-hour independence period.

The government clearly believed it could pay off the militants to stop the violence but continue with business usual. Anyone with even a minute amount of intelligence would know this could not last

The President has claimed MEND were not behind the bombs, yet MEND insist they were. On the face of it this seems ridiculous. However, the president’s spokesperson is now claiming the man behind the bombing is MEND leader, Henry Okah, whose home in Johannesburg was raided before the bombing and who has since been arrested. I can only think that because Okah refused the amnesty he is no longer MEND in the minds of the Nigerian government and is someone else in some other group, hence the statement by Goodluck Jonathan that MEND are not behind the bombings! I may be wrong, but so far those in the Nigerian government are looking very much like characters in a farcical tragedy.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the elite in the Nigerian government knew about the plan well before independence day.

Peel back the layers of deceit and intrigue

If Nigerians can learn one thing from this day forward it would be to end the culture of secrecy, silence and lack of accountability amongst all levels of government. When all the rhetoric has ended and we peel back the layers of deceit and intrigue, we should be able to see 1 October 2010 as a turning point in our country’s history. It should be the point at which Nigerians make a decision on the way forward.. Business as usual – and a continuing downward spiral – or a decision by the people to engage in a mass mobilization movement on the ground and in the media to move in a new direction.

A country where the state engages in the extra judicial execution of its citizens rather than follow the legal process of the courts cannot expect anything but violence form its citizens in return

The Niger Delta region which creates 97 per cent of the country’s wealth but remains underdeveloped and in dire poverty. It’s just under a year ago since I was in Port Harcourt, and I can honestly say I saw no evidence of any development in the city or the surrounding rural areas. It is my understanding that the point of the amnesty was to end the militancy and to address the reasons which created it in the first place. So far only one side of that promise has been kept – the payoff to the militants, including the training of thousands of youths for jobs that don’t exist. The development side of that amnesty has not happened. The government clearly believed it could pay off the militants to stop the violence but continue with business usual. Anyone with even a minute amount of intelligence would know this could not last. When Jonathan became president he claimed the region would be a priority but he has so far not lived up to that promise – he ignored his own back yard. Presumably he, like many others, felt that just because a Niger Deltan was now President everything would flow from there. Just as those who claim that the US is post-racial just because there is a Black president. Instead, like many before him in Nigeria and elsewhere, Jonathan became so enthralled with his own self-importance and personal ambition to become an elected president, he forgot his backyard was a cesspit of oil waste, pollution and underdevelopment.

Targeting the Niger Delta

One of the problems of Nigeria which is seldom discussed in the political circles of the media and blogosphere is the level of state terror unleashed on Nigerians. For example, it is a well known fact that years before the militants became a visible force, the Nigerian army and mobile police were known to target Niger Delta youths for execution. There has never been an investigation or research to try to find out how many young men have been killed over the past 20 years. Nor has there been any investigation or research into the number of women and girls who have been raped or forced into prostitution and made pregnant by Nigerian military and police. Even over the past 11 months, human rights activists have estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 young men and women have been summarily executed by the Nigerian police force. Some were guilty of kidnapping and other crimes, many were not. Either way, a country where the state engages in the extra judicial execution of its citizens rather than follow the legal process of the courts cannot expect anything but violence form its citizens in return. A country which terrorizes its own people cannot expect not be terrorized itself. These acts are very rarely reported by the media and most Nigerians don’t even know these acts are taking place. This speaks to the unwritten ‘censorship’ by the government and of the collusion and self censorship of the media. Meanwhile, we have to wait for reports by various human rights organizations before these facts are exposed and even then these become meaningless unless the government at state and Federal level takes notice. There cannot be a situation where civilians are being murdered with impunity in one part of the country, whether they are guilty or not, and expect things to be ok elsewhere.

A wake-up call for Nigerians

In conclusion: this is a wake-up call for all Nigerians – but will we wake up? A wake-up call for people to get out and vote for someone who is going to be courageous in his or her approach to the way the country is run, and in particular to the Niger Delta; it’s a wake-up call for activists in the region who have to reclaim the struggle away from the militants and violence, and instead build a mass movement of civil disobedience as envisaged by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa; it’s a wake-up call for Nigerian civil society, which has been wholly ineffective in challenging injustice – the pathetic response after the 2007 elections is an excellent example of this. People have to mobilize and believe in the power of 150 million. I would like to end by imagining a different Friday – one to celebrate. I recall the uprising of the Aba women in the 1920s: 25,000 women came out in protest, day after day, week after week, against the colonial government. Imagine if instead of setting of bombs to kill and maim MEND had mobilized thousands and thousands in Warri, in Enugu, in Yenagoa in Port Harcourt, in Aba – to come and march and keep on marching day after day, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children demanding that Goodluck Jonathan and the state governors address the underdevelopment in their communities. There is much talk of the youth of today turning the country around. They may do this – but meanwhile they would do well to read up on the actions of their grandmothers and great-grandmothers!

Written 3 October. This post originally appeared on Sokari’s website Black Looks

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