Lessons from Ethiopia and New Zealand

Two countries, Ethiopia and New Zealand are struggling to come out of trauma brought about by unexpected globally devastating disasters. For Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 should have been a smooth and normal flight. It was a brand new aircraft, and the pilot widely acclaimed for diligence, experience and capability. Yet six minutes into the flight, the aeroplane fell down from the sky, killing all of 157 passengers and crew.

For New Zealand, it all promised to be a normal session of Friday Afternoon prayers for up to 300 people that had gathered inside Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch city. Suddenly their peaceful and solemn communion with God was abruptly disturbed by the sound of gun fire, even as the Imam Gamal Foudah had just begun his sermon. A deranged supremacist Brenton Tarrant we learn, visited two mosques close by one another and rained bullets on the worshippers, and by the time he was done, 50 people had been killed, and another 50, wounded. Senseless as this sounds, it happened so.

Nigerians are familiar with disaster. We live with it day by day. National security is no longer the external threat of neighbouring nations against our sovereignty, but the uncertainty of keeping alive through daily normal chores namely, shopping in markets, attending places of worship, commuting between city and city, or just merely going to work. What with the unending Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, the killings in Zamfara, Kaduna and parts of Benue, and to include the flashes in hotspots of Adamawa and Plateau States. Nigerians may easily have by the hand, waved off these two disasters in foreign lands like our own new normal.

What struck me and I assume the whole world in these two incidents are the spontaneous responses of the two leaders even though worlds apart. They both instantly and passionately rose up to the disturbing situation, and were about the crisis while the trauma lasted.

In Ethiopia, within minutes of the plane crash occurring, clearly distraught Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali broke the news to the world. Without details of the crash, the Prime Minister offered condolences and sympathies to the grieving nations and proceeded to mount daily briefings of assurance to the country, that Government would get to the bottom of the disaster with a view to keeping the public abreast. The office of the Prime Minister instantly became the reference hub for all activities relating to the crash. Grieving folks were consoled without leaving anyone in doubt that proper investigations would be carried out and the public duly informed. In New Zealand, the Prime Minister

Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern has as well earned the world’s applause for how swiftly she assured the nation labelling the attacks on the mosque as terrorism deriding any links between Muslim immigration and terrorism, and condemning any such insinuation as a disgrace. The Prime Minister personally took charge of the situation updates up to the arrest of the gunman, taking care to sooth frayed nerves and keeping the national focus of the crime of terrorism. In a show of identity, she visited Muslim communities in Christchurch wearing a hijab and in so doing, set the national moral tone and mood. New Zealand and Ethiopia  were both portrayed by their leaders as nations “united in grief”.

Incidentally Nigeria lost Canada based Professor Pius Adesanmi in the Ethiopian Airlines crashed flight. In his words in an article he wrote as far back as 2015 that went virile after the disaster, Adesanmi noted: “Few Nigerians understand that our chaos, our urban rot and rural decay, our decrepit roads, hospitals, and Universities, our power failures and water shortages, and our fuel scarcity are collective consequences of our wanton embrace of the unthought and unreflected society.”

Adesanmi blames our backwardness on the fact that “we have made not a single attempt to philosophise the Nigerian project through sustained critical thought. The price is always very heavy when a people develop a collective hostility to philosophy.”

I am pained that in Ethiopia and New Zealand, the leaders owned up to the embarrassing truth of what may have happened, whereas in Nigeria, we have imbibed a culture of considering as trivial, matters pertaining to the loss of lives of citizens. The President is reported by the same functionaries that announce public holidays and simple issues of state, as if there is a fear that the facts may not be correct. It suggests that our leaders do not personally respond to situations for fear that their facts may not be correct. This also makes counter narrative easy.

Armed bandits have killed more citizens in Nigeria from 2018 to date than have died in all of Boko Haram of over a ten year period according United Nations statistics. Yet Nigerians have no credible narrative on who is behind the persistent carnage.

As the second tenure tagged the Next Level dawns on Nigeria, one would like to see the President Muhammadu Buhari visibly at the helm of matters of national significance as our worsening insecurity. The President should adopt the approach of the leaders I have referred to here and could include Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya in response to Al Shabab attacks. It should be noted that on the Boko Haram, the field soldiers and their commanders are in disagreement about the sufficiency of weaponry in comparison to what the insurgents and the marauders are carrying. It should be obvious to everyone that morale is low, the zeal is faint and there is little sustainable progress on the fight against terrorism.

As I write this column, the Nigerian Service Chiefs are in a meeting with the President and no doubt, the worsening security in Kaduna and Zamfara, and the resurgence of Boko Haram, operating as far from the theatre of the insurgency as Michika in Adamawa State, form the topical talking points.

If the President must know, Nigerians generally believe that the truthful reality on the ground is being hidden from him. It is a marvel that the Nigerian Armed Forces is not as sure footed on the security challenges in the country as their combined potential makes them.

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