The usually ebullient church service at Maitama Abuja was morose and unusually banal yesterday morning. For the first time, the congregation refused to clap at the end of the homily, as if the members, seated at scantily populated pews, were at a funeral, not a celebration. That usual radiant joyousness of the ‘Trinitarians’ was missing. Nobody seemed able to place a finger on the reason for the unusual sense of foreboding that enveloped the worship and the worshippers.
When the catechist got up to make his announcements towards the end of the Mass, he brought understanding to pervasive the mood of sorrow. When he announced that the “bombs are back”, he brought the sudden explanation for the funeral-like atmosphere that had reigned. He went ahead to announce that the Church had decided to bring back the security arrangements that had been put in place at the eruption of the Boko Haram insurgency some years ago, but which became progressively relaxed as the spate of the Boko Haram attacks ebbed in their occurrence all across the country.
Henceforth, according the catechist, body and bag screening would resume with heightened intensity while ladies were informed that the days of lugging large sized handbags to the church was over. Like was the practice during the heydays of Boko bombing, all handbags would be screened and searched if the need arises. The congregation were enjoined to be more vigilant than ever. The announcement obviously evoked pain and frustration because the people had thought that they had put that scary era behind them forever.
The pain would have been deeper had the congregation become aware that at that very moment, an ECWA church was bombed in church. Four and three years ago, such an announcement would have been normal and expected, as those marked the evil days of the indiscriminate bombings and shootings at the innocent congregations at their places of worship. Most of the churches in the North East were affected and decimated to the extent that the Sunday the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri came to our church to solicit for financial help for his parishes and fellow Catholics that had been bereaved, hurt and displaced as well as for the churches that had been destroyed or ruined, tears flowed like rain. In tears, members dipped very deep into their pockets and gave and gave.
The story of anguish that he was telling was near and dear to the congregation. The bombing of St. Theresa’s Church at Madalla, just at the outskirts of the FCT where scores of innocent worshippers were killed and maimed on the Christmas day of all the days was still fresh in their minds. Similar sad reports affecting other churches across the North were equally harrowing. In those days, many church members started to keep away from church services. Who would blame them; would even God not understand? But as an Igbo proverb has it, “when a wound heals, its ache is forgotten”, the outgone administration, during its twilight months gave the Boko Haram a severe beating and the insurgents became more interested in running for their dear lives than in making and planting bombs. Life had returned to a semblance of normalcy as the hitherto stressed lifestyle started to be relaxed and people started picking the pieces of their cracked and broken lives.
Church pews had become fuller, restrictions at the entrance of churches and mosques became somewhat relaxed and people started to notice that the military checkpoints were becoming unnecessary inconveniences and started complaining about their existence. Nigerians were further re-assured when the taciturn ex-general took the reins of power from President Jonathan, because judging from his antecedents and assurances he gave during the electioneering campaigns, Boko Haram insurgency, as well as other forms of violence would be done to permanent death, within weeks of his advent. At the time Buhari came to power, Boko Haram had been driven out of most of the territories it had seized and had effectively occupied. It was obvious that it was emitting terminal spasms and it was hoped that Buhari would finally bury it and level the ground.
So, when one of the first things that the new government did was to relocate the military command and control headquarters to Maiduguri, the hot bed of the insurgency, most Nigerians, not understanding what that entailed, nevertheless hailed the move, trusting that the new military minded president knew what he was doing. Again, when the president ordered the dismantling of military checkpoints, the people further applauded, as not many people had seen or heard that any Boko Haram insurgents were ever arrested by them. Nigerian people have amply offered President the only things they have in support of his fight against Boko Haram insurgency which are: their trust, confidence and prayers. Those are the only things they have and can offer in this fight which though a general one, must be prosecuted by those who are trained to do so – the military. Even though many Nigerians still insist that what is being seen worldwide as the tardiness of the present administration in doing many things as excusable, it is hard to find even one single Nigerian who excuses the spread and intensification of the Boko Haram insurgency since the advent of the Buhari administration.
While the delay in the appointment of personal aides and a cabinet can be explained, the obvious incapacity of the Nigerian State and its military institutions before the Boko Haram terrorism remains less justifiable with every passing day. And while most people lack the voice to protest vociferously, they are voting through their despondency, like keeping away from the church. Suddenly the terrorists seem to have become more emboldened and daring. Their bombings have started spreading to other places far removed from the North East. In a new escalation Kano, Jos, Kaduna, Zaria, etc, have joined the ‘traditional’ bases in the North East where they seem to have concentrated as they were being pounded by the Jonathan military.
The conversation everywhere one turns now is that Abuja residents fear that theirs would be the next port of call of the bombers. There is no doubt that President Buhari is more bothered than the ordinary Nigerians about the escalation of the BH activities – or he ought to be. But what is doubtful is whether he understands that while the appointment of minsters could wait, the security of lives and property cannot, or that everyday the Boko Haram insurgents are left alone, the become more emboldened and stronger. In effect, they seem to have recovered the impetus they lost some months ago.
We might not all be soldiers but just as Winston Churchill opined, “war is too serious a matter to be planned by soldiers”, we, the ordinary idle civilians have often become bewildered at some of the acts of omission of the government vis a vis the military. Most Nigerians re amazed that 40 days into his administration, PMB has not found it necessary to change the military heads and appoint new ones, especially as, during the campaigns he had often excoriated the inefficiency of those military boss as being responsible for the spread of Boko Haram. Or, did he on coming to power discover that they are better than he had imagined? One wonders whether people close to him are telling the president how impatient Nigerians and the international community are becoming with the lack of progress with the fight against terror.
The reason is mainly that up till this moment, he seems to be putting new wines into old skins in this battle and Nigerians expect him to pour his wines into his own new brand wineskins. Failure to have done that up till now is a very big minus, and such a situation continues to create a situation of confusion and denuded confidence, making it impossible to make Nigerians know where to look and how to leap.
For instance, what and who should Nigerians believe? Yesterday, Nigerians were hailing that, according to the Ministry of Defence permsec, the president had ordered the dismantling of all military checkpoints; today we hear the NSA claiming that the president gave no such orders. The sooner the president puts his military house in order to enable them fight Boko Haram to finish, the best for him. The patience of Nigerians is not permanently elastic. Everyday, through his tardiness, PMB continues to wear down his own hard earned reputation, a trend that neither serves him nor the nation well. Let the president not forget that reputation is like an inflated balloon…a like pinprick, it is gone.