A CALL TO SERVE

A CALL TO SERVE

By

Emma’Enenche Umele

As the ominously gloomy clouds of extremism continue to form in the North East region of our nation’s horizon, threatening to torpedo the balance of our territorial integrity, the clarion call from the opening lines of Nigeria’s National Anthem re-echoes through this reverberating storm of sectarian violence:

Arise, O’ compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey,

To serve our fatherland, with love and strength and faith!

This clarion call, no doubt, is one of the most familiar lines known to most Nigerians, both adults and children alike. It is the tune that first hit us when, under the tender age of four or five, we were enrolled in elementary school and queued up on those dusty terrains of assembly grounds in various nursery and primary schools across the length and breadth of Nigeria. It is the tune we sang gleefully even before we could fully comprehend the meaning of its lyrics (no wonder in our innocent ignorance, many of us, as kids, unwittingly sang this tune wrongly as, ‘Arise, O’ compassion’).

This tune marks the opening of many national events, occasions and rallies, and is been played by the police and military musical bands at the close of many events. We hear this tune before international football matches involving a Nigerian team. The tune has welcomed our Olympiads at the opening ceremonies of Olympic Games and blared through the gigantic speakers of the stadium where our charismatic Atlanta 1996 Olympics football winning team clinched the coveted gold, after putting up stellar performances to defeat world football heavyweights like Brazil and Argentina; the anthem was played when our own Chioma Ajunwa and Mary Onyali won the gold at the Olympics. In 2013 again, we heard this tune at the United Arab Emirates when our victorious under-17 Golden Eagles team rode on the wings of this anthem and patriotically played their way to victory, subsequently bringing home the 2013 Junior World Cup trophy to a most grateful nation.

It is time we heed the clarion call of this national creed and truly rise to defend our fatherland against the onslaught of marauding terrorists and unpatriotic elements who line our corridors of power disguised as leaders. Arise O’ compatriots and let us rise above the smallness of mind that is the bane of most mortals and let us achieve goals greater than ourselves by attaining seemingly unattainable feats. We have within us the seed of greatness that can move us from the realm of the ordinary level we are to that of that extraordinary realm which we crave to attain.

Do you know a search through the course of history could hardly reveal any worthwhile hero or heroine who emerged at a period of peace and quiet when all was going well? Heroes usually emerge at moments of great trials and tribulations. They arise from the ashes of adversities and ride on the waves of their courageous deeds in the face of adverse conditions to the majestic height of societal acclaim.  Heroes ride on the wave of life’s stormy seas to find themselves on the safe shores of solid global acclaim. It is the painful path which they dare to tread in their little corner of the world that eventually leads them to global halls of fame. It is the extra touch they give to everyday ordinary deeds that differentiates them from ordinary men to make them extraordinary.

Nelson Mandela, the contemporary bastion of love and forgiveness, became a global icon after he managed to hold his head high during and after the unsavoury experience of being blown by the wave of apartheid. Martin Luther King Jr. rose to national and global limelight after being unbearably buffeted by the storm of adversity. India’s Mahatma Gandhi, a physically diminutive figure, was made larger than life by his non-violent struggle against British domination of his people. Odumegwu Ojukwu shot into limelight out of the Biafran conflict. The ministry of Christianity spread like wildfire across the globe after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead following a most humiliating torture and crucifixion on the cross of Calvary. The name Isaac Adaka Boro is today held in very high esteem by the South-South people of Ijaw extraction as a result of his yester year’s selfless struggle for the people of this region.

In Nigeria we often speak of the labour of our heroes past not to ever be in vain. These heroes emerged out of the fire of difficult moments in our nation’s history. Difficult moments such as Nigeria faces today.

As trying as the current crises may seem, it creates an ample chance for heroes to emerge; for soldiers and ordinary Nigerians to weather the storm, holding their heads high. It is how mere men become a force to reckon with; it is how diminutive figures assume larger than life images; it is how ordinary people become extraordinary in the eyes of the world. Question is, what are you doing in your little corner of the world today?

I call on the highly revered men and women at the top of our security apparatus. Do all in your power to plug the leakage in the apparatus and extinguish the flare of corruption wherever it exists in our security framework. It is often said that there is no smoke without fire and to every rumour, there is an iota of truth, no matter how little. Therefore, it behoves on the top brass of our military to promptly ferret out and arrest the source of the whiff of corruption occasionally wafting across the nostrils of the citizenry.

I believe that the recent elevation of the top brass of our security personnel up the ladder of their chosen career is a call to greater commitment and responsibility to the country. The country has raised the bar for them and they are expected to rise to this expectation. It is a rare chance for them to either grab the hand of destiny or fail in their task and be seen as one of those who came and saw but could not conquer. Now is the time to truly serve Nigeria with genuine love, unreserved strength and an abiding faith. Now is the time to stand up for Nigeria and be counted among heroes.

It is such strong show of patriotism that can weaken the structure of armed uprising against the Nigerian state; it is this strong wind of loyalty that can drive away the ominous cloud of extremism that has beclouded this country’s horizon and make a way for the breeze of peace to blow across our once peaceful but now beleaguered country. So help us God!

Emma’Enenche Umele is a writer and comments on national and global issues

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THRILLS AND THREATS WHICH TRAILED MY TRIP TO ‘WE FM’

THRILLS AND THREATS THAT TRAILED MY TRIP TO ‘We FM’ 106.3

By

Emma’Enenche Umele

I turned the key in the lock to the door of my house, swiveled round and walked straight into the outstretched arms of the scorching sun that was blazing that sunny Saturday morning in Mararaba. After exchanging pleasantries with my neighbours, I stepped out of the compound and hailed a commercial motor-cycle rider popularly called ‘okada’ to take me to the T-Junction where Abacha Road meets the Abuja-Keffi Expressway, from where I could board a town-bound vehicle on my way to respond to the invitation for an interview at one of Nigeria’s newest media outfits, We FM 106.3.

On getting to the T-Junction, I paid the ‘okada’ man whose bike I had boarded from my compound and melted into the growing number of people waiting to cross the ever-busy road which was always teeming with ceaseless flows of fast moving traffic. I looked around at the mixed grill of men, women and school children most of whom took little or no notice of the persons standing next to them as they all strained their neck towards the left hand side of the road, their eyes fixed on the many oncoming vehicles, anticipating any slight lull in traffic flow, when it would be safe enough to make a quick dash across the expressway. We were all practically ‘on our marks and set’ to go, like Usain Bolt at the starting point of a 100 metre race!

Yes, going into the city centre from the densely populated Nyanya/Mararaba axis where I reside, is indeed, a daily race! Even all the vehicles seemed to be on a race track too, considering the very high speed with which they always move as if the drivers were competing for a secret prize which only they know about. An impatient woman who was standing next to me, lunged forward in a desperate attempt to cross the road, saw the high speed of approaching vehicles, thought better of it and stepped back. Like everyone else, she knows that impatience on a busy road like this could be suicidal!

Suddenly, a car slowed down to our left, its trafficator indicated it would turn right onto Abacha Road. That seemed to be our cue to move since everyone, as if by design, scampered across the road at the same time, first to the concrete median strip which divides the double-lane expressway. It was yet another round of waiting before we could finally cross the road from the median strip. It was the typical rush hour, so the high volume of traffic was not unexpected. Abuja was fast growing into a complex mega city and the growing population of commuters pile so much pressure on the only route leading from Abuja to all the satellite towns along the Abuja-Keffi axis. The sundry stop-gap measures such as the expansion of road shoulders, construction of by-passes and flyovers, to unlock the traffic gridlock all seemed not to have yielded much result as commuters still face the excruciating strain of traffic congestion.

As we watched the endless stream of buses, taxis and private cars move past us towards the city centre, a dilapidated, green and white-coloured minibus (popularly called ‘araba’) suddenly jerked to a stop right in the middle of the road forcing all other vehicles behind it to crawl to a stop. Obviously its engine had stalled. That was tough luck for the driver but it was good luck for us as it created just the right break for us to finally cross the road, with every one of us wearing various expressions of relief; some even let out loud shrieks of excitement, being so grateful for little mercies! No wonder they say Nigerians were among the happiest people in the world as they could still smile and laugh even in the face of gruelling hardships. I recalled, in my sub-conscious, the tingling melody which precedes Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s song, ‘Suffering and Smiling’. I smiled at the irony.

We had only scaled one hurdle! The next hurdle for me was how to board a bus that would be going to the Federal Secretariat part of the city where I was heading. As we waited, several vehicles crawled past us, all of them filled to the hilt with many of the passengers standing and holding onto the railings. The only vehicles which were not filled up, some of them even with lone occupants, were posh private cars which had their glasses all wound up to keep the cool air-conditioned breeze from escaping outside. These privileged commuters, looking smug in their cars and savouring their privacy, seemed unaffected by the fume-filled air and the hustle and bustle of their immediate surroundings.

At last, a 60-seater passenger bus, popularly called El Rufai, slowed down close to where we stood. A conductor hung by the front door and bellowed, “A.Y.A.! Secretariat”! I made a dash for it. The vehicle was still on the move when I leaped in through the open door holding onto the door handle in the process to secure a firm foothold in the moving bus. I then groped my way to a vacant seat somewhere at the middle of the stuffy bus. A middle aged woman who occupied the other part of the double seat I sat on had two children seated on her lap. The bus was filled up with passengers from diverse backgrounds – young artisans, middle-aged civil servants, applicants, hustlers and so on. I got this feeling that most of them were ‘hustlers’ who have no defined job anywhere but are aggressively determined to do one thing, or even several, to make ends meet.

It was while I was trying to settle down to the ride to town that a middle aged woman stood up, faced the passengers and requested that we commit the journey into the hands of God. She then launched into a session of prayers. Thereafter, she preached to the passengers, invited all to a prayer programme that she said would come up sometime within that week. She ended by calling on the passengers to financially support the work of God which she was doing. Many obliged her especially after she had emphasized that every donor must experience miraculous breakthroughs in life within seven days. She then prayed for the donors and gave out her phone number for them to call her as they receive their breakthroughs. I was quite sure other things would follow such calls. Then she sat down.

Thereafter, another young man stood up and greeted the passengers “in Jesus name”. Initially, I thought he was also going to preach as well, but instead, he introduced himself as Chief Professor Dr. Jerry and reeled out a stream of suffixes after his name such as OON, GCFR, HIV, etc. According to him he said he had good news for us and launched into advertising all sorts of medicinal products. He brought out a particular drug which he claimed could purify the blood, cure headache, toothache, stomach ache, boost body immunity and even ‘energize’ a man! So many persons patronised him and he urged those who didn’t, not to toy with their health by failing to buy his medicine. I found the irony of that statement quite amusing because if they really didn’t want to toy with their health, they would seek proper medical attention from qualified doctors and not from a drug peddler plying his trade on a 60-seater passenger bus along Abuja Keffi expressway. When we got to Kugbo Furniture Market, which is next to Nyanya on your way to the city centre, Jerry announced that the passengers should tell him when the bus got to Nyanya for, according to him, that was where he was heading. But he had actually boarded the bus at Nyanya in the first place! It was then I realised that it was only another comic crack from the funny drug peddler. It was on this comical note that Dr. Jerry ended his merchandising and sat down! Throngs of hawkers like Jerry covered the length of the road and ran after every vehicle, pushing their wares under the noses of passengers through the open windows.

Next was a young man who stood up and made a passionate appeal to passengers to assist him in footing his medical bills for a corrective surgery following an injury he said he sustained in an auto-crash so many years ago. Currency notes of fifty, twenty and ten naira denominations were squeezed into his twitchy hands.

And so we continued the trip to town which ordinarily should take not more than fifteen minutes, but instead took as much as an hour or even more due to the hold-up resulting in the waste of precious time – time which peddlers and some buccaneers had creatively converted into money-making opportunities. After all, “Time”, they say, “is money”.

Finally, we got to Eagle Square. As I stepped out of the bus and pushed my way through the mass of people who always mill around the Eagle Square Bus Stop, I pondered and wondered when I could own a posh car of my own, couched in the cocoon of its cosy interior and, like all those privileged posh car owners, savour the pleasure of driving from my house to the office, and back home at the close of the day’s work.

For now, one thing was clear: the ubiquitous araba would always be available to take me from place to place as I move about to ensure there was food on my table and a roof over my head. As if to affirm the train of thought coursing through my mind, a conductor who was sticking his neck and shoulder out of an araba window yelled in a menacingly raucous voice, “Mararaba, Nyanya, twochance! TWO CHANCE? Hmmm! All these conductors! They seemed not to care a hoot about the rules of grammar and would never use the plural word, ‘chances’, even if the number of vacant seats in their buses was more than one. As I stared at him, he again shouted in pidgin, this time an easy smile was playing around his tobacco-blackened lips which revealed a broken tooth, ‘Mararaba, Nyanya! Yellow, you dey go? It was an obvious allusion to my light-skinned complexion fast turning dark due to ceaseless exposures to the scorching Abuja sun. I smiled back at him and shook my head rebuffing his aggressive marketing drive. Instead, I hailed a green-painted taxi which whisked me to We FM at Rima Street in Maitama.

As I alighted from the taxi in front of the house which houses the radio station and paid off the driver, my eyes raked up and down the almost deserted street. We FM is a one-storeyed, residential-looking building nestled in a very quiet part of Maitama, just a stone’s throw from two landmark properties – the popular El-Amin International Academy established by former First Lady, Maryam Babangida and the imposing Abuja mansion of the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. With grim determination and confidence stemming from the audacity of an unyielding hope, I marched energetically towards the one-storeyed building of We FM to keep a date with the panel of interviewers – the team that would determine if my dream of getting my dream job would not end up a pipe-dream.

As I walked towards the entrance leading into the bowels of the building to face the reality that would either make or mar this dream, I pondered about all the thrills and threats which trail my daily trips to many other offices like this one as I hustle round this city of the rich and powerful, which some say is one of the fastest growing capital cities of the world!

          
Emma’Enenche Umele is a writer and commentator on national and global issues.

WHY THE BRING BACK OUR GIRLS CAMPAIGN?

When the terror-merchants struck weeks ago and took innocent college girls captive, most Nigerians went to sleep, relaxed on the couch of a costly assumption that the security operatives were ‘on top the situation’ only for us to be awakened two whole weeks later by the loud ‘snoring’ of the nation’s Chief Security Officer along with those of his security chiefs. It was only then we dusted our placards, took to the street and stirred the conscience of a bewildered global audience whose outcry then galvanised a slumbering C-in-C to start ‘setting up a committee’ to rescue the girls. How far so far?

LEARN FROM NATURE’S CLASSROOM

Nature is indeed, one expansive classroom with a lot of lessons to teach her willing students.
This must be one of the reasons the Good Book says, ‘go to the ants, you sluggard! Observe her ways and be wise’. Isn’t it profound that the greatest lessons of life can be learnt from the school of the simplest things around us?

The tragedy, however, lies in the fact that our human frailty blindfolds us from seeing the lessons embedded in the simple things that are right before our very eyes, overlooked and taken for granted due, ironically, to their sheer simplicity.

When solutions are sited squarely in our backyards, we still tend to seek answers from distant lands and climes. As a popular Nigerian saying goes, what we travel all the way to ‘Sokoto’(A state in Nigeria) for is right inside our ‘sokoto’(A kind of trouser). As it is with a grazing animal, so it is with man: to both the grass always seems greener on the other side.

Little wonder most didactic African proverbs are inspired by nature itself, banking on the simple things around the world – the sun, the moon, the stars, the entire earth and its fullness thereof.

This Mother Nature sure teaches us great lessons. Truly, nature nurtures.
For the man who is wise, only one word is enough!

THERAPY FOR TERRORISM

MILITARY DIPLOMACY: A THERAPY FOR TERRORISM AND MILITANCY
By
Emma’Enenche Umele
(emmaenenche@gmail.com 07037589898)

In the face of last year’s face-off between the United States and Syria and the threat by the Obama administration to attack the Bashir Al-Assad regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against defenseless civilians in the on-going Syrian war, the words of a former U.S President, Dwight Eisenhower, readily comes to mind: “I hope that as our country grows more powerful in world affairs, it will remember that the less power she uses, the more powerful she becomes.” An apt statement you will agree! Very brief, quite concise, but nonetheless implicitly instructive not only to the United States, but also to Nigeria – a nation saddled with the onerous and unsavory task of using force to quell uprisings both within and outside its borders.

On the face of it, this statement seems steeped in irony; as if it contradicts the very point it seeks to promote. How do you become more powerful by using less power? Rather, shouldn’t the greater use of that power make you even more powerful? Questions, thought-provoking questions that demand answers; answers which we direly need as a nation to solve the intractable problems of terrorism and militancy that are confronting people in terror-ridden hotspots of the world like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,…and Nigeria.

And Nigeria?

It may seem a bit odd to place Nigeria in the same bracket with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan when negative indices like militancy and terrorism are used as their common denominators. However, going by the unpleasant realities which Nigeria has had to contend with recently, and is still contending with even today, this comparison may not be so out of place after all. Yes, this is because stories of suicide attacks and dare-devil acts of terrorism which we only use to hear about from far-away lands have found their way into the very shores of our own country. Yes, terrorism sneaked into our shores like a thief in the night and now echoes of blasts reverberating through our once peaceful land are no longer breaking news! With the pitch darkness of terrorism falling upon us in broad daylight, it seems that, that thing which we feared most suddenly came upon us, just like it came upon the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis!

The North East, before now a haven of peace, has been torn apart by the destructive hands of terror and mindless violence. The South East and South-South hitherto known as the home of industry, innovation and hard work are gradually having their good name tainted by the ignoble appellation of a ‘den of kidnappers’, stained with the shame of unprintable names of dare-devil acts of criminality. News coming from the North Central zone of the country like Benue State and from states like Katsina and Kaduna are not in the least palatable. In all these terror-gripped parts of the country, people live in perpetual fear of not only the ‘terror by night’, but also of the ‘arrow that flies by day’; not only of the ‘pestilence that walks in darkness, but also of the ‘destruction that lays waste at noonday’. Therefore, it is not wisdom attempting to deny the actual complexity of the problems facing Nigeria as doctors will tell you that proper diagnosis is the first major step to treat an ailment. So, hard as it is to say it, let us begin to tell ourselves the truth no matter how bitter it may be in order to begin the healing process; the bitter truth which is a prelude to the urgent therapy we need to heal our ailing land.

However, a careful analysis of the afore-mentioned statement by this one-time chief security officer of the most powerful nation on earth reveals that the logic of his prescription is as flawless as the fact of it is irreproachable. What President Eisenhower’s statement means in clear terms is simply the moderate use of force; a sort of military diplomacy, I suppose, which we can use to curb terrorism and militancy. Military diplomacy in this sense comes to fore when a nation wields the force of its military might over any group or country which it wants to call to order. It involves the veiled or glaring threat of a nation’s readiness to use the might of her arms to quash any uprising against laid down rules and regulations. In his 2014 State of the Union address to the U.S Congress, President Obama stated that, “In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy…For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed…and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.”
Underneath the thin veil of such military diplomacy, however, lies a nation’s strong disposition to deploy its military paraphernalia to enforce agreements or to punish any breach of such agreements.Underneath the veil of military diplomacy lies a nation’s strong disposition to deploy its military paraphernalia to enforce an agreement or to punish any breach of such an agreement. It was this sort of military diplomacy that Obama used on the Al Assad regime to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. Deploying this same strategy, the Obama administration breathed down the neck of Iran when it seemed the then-President Ahmadinejad was getting too ambitious in the development of his country’s chemical weapons programme. This deft diplomatic move paid off with the coming on board of the new Iranian government which quickly capitulated to the request of the West and agreed to halt the development of chemical weapons.

In the past however, in its bid to police nations of the world through the monitoring of their possession of chemical weapons stockpiles, it seemed the United States made light of the Dwight Eisenhower prescription. This is because under President George W. Bush, the United States used the flimsy excuse of a mere allegation of the possession of chemical weapons as a launching pad to invade Iraq and oust its long-ruling dictator, Saddam Hussein. Later findings revealed that the allegation was baseless and the war which Bush embarked on was, in the words of Barack Obama, “an unjust war”.

The Roman poet Horace would be quick to remind us that, “force, if unassisted by judgment, collapses through its own mass.” This statement supports the philosophy of military diplomacy. The fingers of trigger-happy security operatives in terror-ridden regions not only kill innocent ones but they also trigger off sorrow, resentment and vengeance in the minds of relatives and friends of unfortunate victims which, in turn, may trigger off a chain of reactions capable of fanning the embers of terrorism by breeding more terrorists. In the end, the violent military onslaught only breeds more violence as, according to the great civil rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “violence is a descending spiral which leads to a cycle of more violence”.

In the final analysis, the gentle hands of peace beckon at us. At the end of every conflict, the warring parties end up at the round table of negotiation. We can as well begin from this table and cut out the violence. Just as light dispels darkness, we can extend the arm of love to dispel the deep-seated hatred in the heart of this conflict. Thus, as the military wields the big stick of force, they should also not fail to stretch out an arm of diplomacy because in the end, it is diplomacy that will win the lasting peace long after the drums of war have become silent.

As the government moves to root out terrorism, it must also go the whole hog by eliminating the seed which gave rise to the root in the first place. The remote causes of terrorism must be traced and eliminated. To achieve this, big toes would have to be stepped upon. Dirty linens would have to be washed in public. The rotten skeletons in clandestine closets would have to be brought to the open. A proactive move like this is tantamount to prevention which, they say, is better than cure. Yes, these decisions may be difficult but they are the bitter pills we must swallow to cure this ailing land, the stitch we must sew in time to save nine.

Few hours before he was assassinated, U.S Civil War President, Abraham Lincoln said, “enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union”. This statement holds true even for Nigeria today.

So, how do we tackle the twin-cancer of terrorism and militancy eating up our land and find a way out of this dismal darkness of destructiveness? Perhaps now more than ever, the afore-mentioned statements from these two statesmen, Lincoln and Eisenhower, should serve as the guiding light we need to lead us to that decisive point where we begin to moderate the use of brute force so we do not completely lose that which we set out to seek in the first place.

Emma’Enenche Umele is a writer and commentator on national and global issues.