On the presidential magnanimity and other stories to whine about by Yomi Odunuga

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So, with presidential alacrity, some detained Nigerians with strong links to the Boko Haram sect have been set free and handed over to various state chief executives? That is okay. But inasmuch as we cannot question the so-called ‘presidential magnanimity’ in the furious rush to ensure peace in troubled parts of the northern region, I guess we reserve the right to make some observations as regards the freedom granted these suspects, including women and children. We just hope that the authorities are truly convinced of the willingness of these persons to steer clear of suicidal tendencies and live the kind of normal lives which every law abiding citizens crave. Do we take it that the freed suspects now know that their freedom to exhale does not necessarily mean that they must force the rest of us to conform to whatever they believe in? In the simplest of words, do they know that we don’t need to die for them to live? That there is nothing salutary in turning the land into a killing field just because they perceive other Muslims, Christians and people of different shades of religious persuasions as mere unbelievers, worthy only of  being bombed or having their throats slit.

As a matter of fact, freedom or presidential pardon is one thing, showing remorse is another. Is there any guarantee that these mothers, suspects, wives and children have shown enough remorse for the deadly sins their husbands, nephews, uncles and relatives inflicted on the state? What kind indoctrination or radicalisation did they go through at the Boko Haram camps? And is this presidential pardon well thought out? Or is it just another jerky political gimmick aimed at consolidating towards 2015? Don’t get it twisted. This does not in any way suggest a radical position against playing politics with human face regardless of how scary some smiling faces can be. What should worry us is the hurried nature of the directive and the promptness with which it was carried out.

Question is: how much of justice is this government willing to sacrifice on the altar of peace? In Martin Luther King’s words, peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. It is commendable that Jonathan has seriously taken exception to the plight of these persons after the raids on their camps and has swiftly moved to ‘rehabilitate’ them through the state governors. But, while at it, can he also spare a thought for the widows whose husbands were callously slaughtered by members of the sect; children who now have to grapple with the harsh realities of precarious living as their parents had become victims of a mindless carnage by the sect. There are countless widowers whose wives were bombed into layers of shredded meat at worship places and such other persons who have deadly imprimatur of terror etched on their psyche for ever? These persons also need the attention of the state as the quest for lasting peace continues at the war front.

Knucklehead, still in the whining mood, read somewhere that respected Ijaw chieftain and President Goodluck Jonathan’s unrepentant apologist, Chief Edwin Clark, has posted a ‘No Vacancy’ sign on the gate of Aso Rock. Well, that is also okay too. It is jolly well that the 85-year-old has a good accomplice in another wily old fox and  Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, who once made such a proclamation some two years into Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s first tenure as a democratically-elected president. Now that the two forces have coalesced to work for Madam Patience’ husband, we can only urge them to exercise some patience in ensuring that their ‘son’ continues in that seat after the conduct of a free, fair and credible election in 2015.

Like the Catholic Bishops put it, those beating the war drums and threatening the final breakup of this fragile nationhood if their kinsman is not foisted on the rest of us for another four years should understand that the only way to avoid a cataclysm of bloodletting is the institution of an electoral process that is free of the shenanigans of the past. For Pa Clark and ex-policeman Anenih, did it not occur to them that the reality of oncoming general elections is indicative of a wide range of vacancies in government houses, including the one presently occupied by Jonathan? What we cannot quarrel with is the right of Jonathan to re-contest, subject to the people’s power. Surely, 2015 cannot be a Jonathan sole candidacy rant, neither is it that of any other candidate. One thing is clear: fragmented, callously raped and thoroughly battered as it is, Nigeria is just too big to be placed under the permutation of cavorting spin doctors. I whine!

The other day, I stumbled on a news report quoting the spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, DSP Frank Mba, as saying that “those making inciting statements about 2015 could only be arrested when they had carried out their threats.” The statement, I assume, was meant to hit the final nail on the declaration by the Director of Navy Information, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, who recently explained away the security forces’ impotence at shutting up those threatening war over a Jonathan presidency thus: “We are in a democracy and so it is not easy to gag members of the public. If we do so, the media and the human rights community will complain about infringing on the fundamental rights of the citizenry. We must not be seen to be gagging members of the public.”

So, Oga Mba and Aliyu, does it mean that any Nigerian, be it a knucklehead, dunderhead or even a yam head, can say anything for and against the system and walk free on our streets? You know, when these top security chiefs talk glibly about citizens’ rights, democracy and freedom of speech, I can’t help but giggle. Can Mba assure us that nothing, absolutely nothing, would be done to anybody that stands in front of Louis Edet House, shouting “I must bomb this police Headquarters someday. I must set this place ablaze!” Will the heavily armed police personnel ignore his rant and presume that since he had not carried out the threat, he should be allowed to ‘carry go?’ Or would the men of the Navy, SSS, Army, Air Force or even Civil Defence extend the same hand of fellowship to anyone making such potentially combustible comments at their gates in the name of democracy and free speech? Is it just a question of conforming to the ethos of democracy or kowtowing to the whim of those speaking in favour of the real Oga at the top for now? Yet, I whine.

The Yoruba have a saying that crying is no excuse to claim that one’s vision has been thoroughly impeded (“Bi a ba n sunkun, ko ni k’a ma riran”). Even in this private musing, I can see through their deceit. We know those who can sit atop Mt. Aso Rock and beat the war drums. We know those who have the effrontery to speak proudly about a negotiated presidential pardon as if they were doing the state a huge favour by accepting the gesture. And, like the Catholic Bishops noted, we ought to know when amnesty is being offered to repentant militants and when the state is surreptitiously appeasing criminals and their sponsors. We know when the rules are criminally trampled on to please some sacred fat cows. And we couldn’t have missed the message that there is a limit to this buzz about freedom of speech with the way and manner federal forces have been swooning on one Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi for daring to speak so ‘negatively’ on how the nation is sinking into the valley of a misbegotten governance. Why didn’t they wait for him to declare his intention to run in 2015 before asking that his head be made available on Oga’s menu? Or is the gander no longer qualified to take the sauce meant for the goose?

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by
Yomi Odunuga

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