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Sam Omatseye: Floodgate!


Sam Omatseye: Floodgate!

By Sam Omatseye

While the controversy festers over Sambo Dasuki and our so-called security money, I ponder the lives of Boko Haram victims. Those who lost limbs. Those who lost sons and daughters. Families hived and harried. The raided and raped. In the different camps of the internally displaced persons, or IDPs, hordes huddle in misery.

Last week, a news report had it that the IDPs are fertility clinics running rampant. Babies are bouncing out of wombs like ants out of hill. It may seem good news. Little miracles in the midst of misery. But it is the fruit of boredom, of lassitude and solitude.

It is also the lassitude of latitude, the fecund indolence of freedom. As novelist Scott F. Fitzgerald wrote: “The rich get richer, the poor get children.” It is even more tragic when the rich are fattening at the expense of the poor.

That’s DasukiGate. As I noted elsewhere, it is not DasukiGate, it is a floodgate. The roar and rush of the scandal are not discriminating. It carries the cargoes of big men. Big men in media, in politics, in business. It moves with a democratic quality of ferocity, treating no one with respect whether the arm of a tycoon or the belly of a former governor.

But they were stealing and storing our resources while individuals toiled and died. While on a daily basis, we lamented Boko Haram scorch earth after earth. Fathers fell. Sons either died or joined them. Daughters fell prey to their distorted vision of the marital bed. If, that is, they did not lose their virginal pride instantly. The Chibok girls, the other schools turned into vast slaughter slabs from stabbings and beheadings, whole villages sacked, their theocratic flags hoisted haughtily.

The scandal men fuelled the tragedy, so they could feather their nests. The horror brings to mind the work of Svetlana Alexievich who won this year’s Nobel Prize in literature. She dedicated her life’s career writing about how ordinary people suffer while leaders mint money and enjoy the luxury of high office. She is the first journalist to win the big prize, but her work is not mere journalism. Hers probe beneath the layer of reporting. She probes, in her books, the depth of angst, desolation and tortured alienation during disasters in the old Soviet Union. She writes about the Second World, the Soviet-Afghan War, the Chenobyl disaster. She is a raconteur of the emotional abyss of pain and loss. Which is no different from the story of the Boko Haram tragedy.

So, while we spoke about billions, they might have averted the dismembered hand, the kidnapped belle, incinerated home, the disoriented family, the devout sublimity of the boy now recruited into the circle of an apocalyptic belief. There are many individual stories, a thing not well documented yet about the tragedy whose flames are happily on the ruin. Each story is a deep wound, and that was the project of Alexievich. “Each substance of a grief has twenty shadows,” said Bushy in Shakespeare’s Richard II, demonstrating that if many had griefs in northern Nigeria, we had a million shadows. Let’s go beyond the statistic into the emotion. “One million deaths is a statistic,” warned Josef Stalin who was never squeamish about a dying mother, “One death is a tragedy.”

The FloodGate is indeed telling. What bothers is the place of due process. The military operated the way the politicians acted. In carting away the money, they respected no due process or decency. The same way the Chibok girls were taken away without due process or decency. We saw the barbarity of high office executed by the barbarians at the Chibok gate.

In the NSA’s office, money came there via the Central Bank without respect to protocol. They took raw cash, bags of dollars crackled through the CBN portal. They came one after the other once it had settled at the ONSA vault. Dokpesi came. Bafarawa materialised. Obaigbena waltzed in. Etc. As they came in, our money flew out. It was a sleek and extravagant comedy. Enter with false dignity. Sign on a sheet of paper. The paper could say media embed, or energy or spiritual work, or whatever. Not arms or uniforms or food for the boys then awaiting court martial. Somebody heaves out and counts the stack of dollars, arranges them daintily in a bag. The dignitary receives in a flourish. Nods to the NSA. Smiles to the gate. Car takes him either to the hotel or Abuja palace or private jet when fleeing out of town. Our police, in short supply to protect the vulnerable, are gun-happy beside them as they sashay away.

That was the due process. Not your business BPE, or Senate. Contempt for open bidding. No respect for such things as certificate of incorporation, tax papers. That is suffocating protocol. Speak to the president, get his approval, walk to Dasuki, pick your loot and flee. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Go and enjoy yourself.

But the military operated no differently. Recently the report had it that over a hundred soldiers were buried in a mass grave. The army denied it. I ask, when was the last time they reported any dead Nigerian hero? In the United States, once a soldier dies, he is buried in dignified ceremony. His family is notified in a special visit. In the killings in Paris, all the victims of the recent tragedy were not only noted, they had their families notified. Later, they announced to the public with pictures and biographies. It is a ritual of respect, a homage to patriotism.

It is when we lack this protocol of dignity that our army runs the gauntlet of accusations of human rights abuse. No such deference for order. Hence many soldiers were paraded for court martial. Femi Falana, SAN, led the agitation for respect of those who fought for us. Barely a year ago, I wrote a column on Citizen Fahat Fahat, who enthused into battlefield and posted many gung-ho Facebook messages about his desire to despatch Boko Haram goons. Yet many felt sorry when he posted he was being court-martialled for not fighting when no one stocked him with military hardware. I hope he is one of those set free by the military court. Alexievich laments this nightmarish paradox of service attracting punishment in her moving book, Zinky Boys, about soldiers brought home in zinc coffins.

The media fell prey to the same lack of due process. The newspaper proprietors collected drafts. No one asked for the cheques from the federal government. No one asked, why drafts and not NPAN cheques? No one asked for any official memo from the federal government on the agreement. No due process. The newspaper proprietors were guilty of naivety, especially in an ambience of financial putrefaction. It is an excuse not of nobility, but of inexcusable innocence. Yet, they were robed in. Their hands were not soiled but boiled, but they were numb hands. They did not know how hot the water was.

So, they story was messy. No due process in government. No due process with Boko Haram. It was an epidemic of impunity from the tony majesty of Aso Rock to the scalding heat Sambisa Forest. Boko Haram and the Jonathan government had two things in common: impunity, oppressing the average citizen. The Boko Haram leaders also lived large, with money, women and barbarian glamour. So did the Jonathan’s men.

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