(An Independence Day Anniversary Message By UDEMS)

“America will not be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
?Abraham Lincoln

On Nigerias Independence Day Anniversary some news headlines call for some dispassionate examination in the light of efforts to move Nigeria forward. One of such headline news is the reported call by General Buratai (Nigerias Army Chief of Staff) for “spiritual awareness” to support the fight against terrorist insurgency and other security challenges currently weighing Nigeria down: ?(1) The Punch Newspaper:, “Spiritual efforts needed to defeat Boko Haram —Buratai” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/punchng.com/spiritual-efforts-needed-to-defeat-boko-haram-buratai/amp/). ? (2) The Sun Newspapers: “Boko Haram: Buratai goes spiritual, launches spiritual warfare seminar to defeat terrorists (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.sunnewsonline.com/boko-haram-buratai-goes-spiritual-launches-spiritual-warfare-seminar-to-defeat-terrorists/amp/). ?(3) Tribube Newspapers: “Army needs spiritual help to defeat Boko Haram ― Buratai”

?The Punch version puts the report this way:

“The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, has said that terrorism and terrorist groups could not be eliminated alone by the military unless religious bodies and organisations in the country come to the forefront of this spiritual battle. The Army chief noted that the focus must be religious groups interfacing on addressing the ideologies which fuelled the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists. Buratai stated this on Monday in Abuja during a spiritual warfare seminar at the Nigerian Army Resource Centre with the theme, Countering insurgency and violent extremism in Nigeria through spiritual warfare.
The Army chief, who was represented by the Chief of Administration, Maj. Gen. Sani Yusuf, urged Islamic and Christian clerics across the Army formations to join the fight against terrorism, and reorientate the people against negative ideologies.

However, in a twist, a Nigerian lawyer has reportedly claimed that Buratai never sought such spiritual backing (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.legit.ng/amp/1261737-boko-haram-buratai-sought-spiritual-backing—lawyer-speaks.html). The lawyer`s claim notwithstanding. the present writer does not see anything wrong or awkward in the call for prayers and spiritual backing reportedly made by the Chief of Army staff. In all our endeavours, the place of prayer cannot be underestimated. Prayer is a powerful spiritual force and something that God wants His people to do. Besides, as advised by François Fénelon (1651-1715), French theologian, poet and writer and author of The Adventures of Telemachus,time spent in prayer is never wasted. Fervent prayers produce phenomenal results; prayer delights Gods ear. Prayer melts His heart; and opens His hand. God cannot deny a praying soul; it is the nearest approach to God and the highest enjoyment of Him that we are capable of in this life. Prayer is the link that connects us with God. Accordingly, as Wesley L Duewel declared, God waits for us to communicate with Him. We have instant, direct access to God. God loves mankind so much, and in a very special sense His children, that He has made Himself available to you at all times. In the words of F.B. Meyer, the greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.

Lt General Buratai was perfectly right to have called for prayers and spiritual awareness to destroy the in-built and long-held ideologies of terrorists and their supporters and adherents. When the spiritual works together with the physical, great results begin to manifest. The Nigerian Army has committed tremendous efforts, human and material resources in the fight against Boko Haram and other terror groups operating in the country. And Boko Haram has suffered several defeats in our hands over the last few years. It appears, however, that the insurgent group is given to habitually resurfacing after each round of defeat.

Several reports have been made in the past of defeat of the terror group: (1) Boko Haram Technically defeated (https://www.google.com/amp/s/thenationonlineng.net/boko-haram-technically-defeated-says-president/amp/); (2) Lai Mohammed insists Boko Haram is defeated (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.legit.ng/amp/680625-isolated-bomb-attacks-not-confused-insurgency-lai-mohammed.html); (3) We have technically defeated Boko Haram Buratai (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2018/08/we-have-technically-defeated-boko-haram-terrorist-buratai/amp/); and this, too (4) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fru2zsbUyd0

Notwithstanding the successes reportedly recorded against the insurgency, recent reports show that the same dreaded and deadly daredevils have kept resurfacing, over and over again, and unleashing mayhem on innocent Nigerians, destabilizing our country, and driving away prospective investors and slowing down socio-economic activities and development. Few example would suffice: (1) Boko Haram kills 1,100 since being Technically defeated: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/boko-haram-kills-1-100-since-being-technically-defeated.html; (2)Technicalled Defeated Boko Haram carried out 135 terror attacks in 2017: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.pulse.ng/bi/politics/politics-technically-defeated-boko-haram-carried-out-135-terror-attacks-in-2017-un/4g6nkqx.amp; (3) Boko Haram kills two as Military says Group Defeated: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.france24.com/en/20180205-boko-haram-kills-two-military-says-group-defeated-0; (4)30,000 Flee Boko Haram Violence in Nigeria: https: //ww.egyptindependent.com/30000-flee-boko-haram-violence-in-nigeria-un/; (5) Boko Haram occupying eight LGs in Borno Reps member: https://www.google.com/amp/s/punchng.com/boko-haram-occupying-eight-lgs-in-borno-reps-member/amp/; (6) Koko Haram Controls Half of Borno Senator Garbai: https://www.google.com/amp/s/punchng.com/boko-haram-controls-half-of-borno-senator-garbai/amp/.

?From these disturbing reports, and the observed modus operandi and motiving ideology of Boko Haram and other insurgents, it could be concluded that insurgency in Nigeria has assumed a frightening dimension with religious coloration. And Buratai captures this well in the speech, as reported. At the event (opening of the Spiritual Warfare Seminar organized by the Nigerian Army Directorate of Chaplain Services Roman Catholic, Protestant and Directorate of Islamic Affairs on Monday in Abuja), Lt. Gen. Buratai called on religious leaders to support the Nigerian Army in eradicating ideologies fueling insurgency in the country. According to him, the insurgents wrong ideological beliefs had remained the driving force behind their actions. While observing that religious leaders regularly interfaced with the society, and so could make viable contributions in tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism, and that terrorism will wither and die if the ideology is killed, Buratai explained further:
By its nature, ideologies have the power to manipulate what people think, inform their opinion and direct their attitude. It is a well-known fact that terrorism and terrorist groups will not be totally eliminated by mainly military actions. This means focusing our effort on the underlying narratives through ideologies that are employed by these terrorist groups to lure innocent citizens into their fold. (see https://tribuneonlineng.com/army-needs-spiritual-help-to-defeat-boko-haram-%E2%80%95-buratai/amp/)
These negative, religious, ideological dimensions which are at the root of some people`s willingness to be recruited into insurgency, I strongly believe, could easily and effectively be dislodged through positive spiritual awareness, broadminded religious counselling and spiritual rejuvenation. More importantly, the situation calls for fervent prayers, to draw the face of God, who alone can do all things, He being the Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient God. With Him, the seemingly impossible could become possible. He is the Alpha and Omega.

There is however, another angle to the call for more spiritual awareness as a support to overcoming Nigeria`s challenges. There is also some urgent need for a fervent, sober reflection by all Nigerians, to see how and where we have gone wrong, (because this writer strongly believes we have gone wrong), individually, and as a country. Time is ripe to ask ourselves some cogent questions, and to find honest answers to these questions. To this end, many questions beg for answers- and finding candid answers to these nagging questions could go a long way towards helping Nigeria in surmounting pretty much of its current challenges, in order to be free to make concrete moves forward in our journey of sovereign, independent nationhood, which started exactly fifty-nine (59) years ago, and which has left us either stagnant or crippled and persistently gasping for breath in the ,midst of abundance. A highlight of just a few of these questions, would help to illustrate my point:

Have Nigerians been fair on Nigeria? Has Nigeria been fair on its citizens? Have our leaders been fair on us? Should the same Nigeria of the Giant of Africa fame still be grappling to survive after 59 years of independence? Why is Nigeria, the 6th largest exporter of crude oil in the world, adjudged the world`s headquarters of extreme poverty? With the humongous monetary allocation to the education, health and power sectors, why do Nigerians still go overseas for Medicare; why do Nigerians still send their kids abroad for good education; and why has Nigeria suddenly become, by conduct, a Generator Republic because its people live in total darkness as a result of total failure of successive governments to fix the power sector? Why are our hospitals mere visitation centers with zero facilities to adequately take care of health needs of our teeming population? Why is the Nigeria public education sector mostly an apology of everything that represents a good education? Have our leaders adverted their minds to these words of William Butler Yeats: “Education is not just the filling of the pail; it is the lighting of a fire. Good and quality education replaces an empty mind with an open mind. A country without a system that ensures/guarantees a good and quality education for the citizens is bereft of good life. Said John Dewey: education is not just a preparation for life; it is life itself. A nation without educational systems possesses no soul! Finally, in this section, why is it that the higher the number of mosques and churches and other places of worship in Nigeria, the higher corruption and depravity, vice, mischief, injustice and iniquity become?

Why are no refineries fully operational in a county that prides itself as the 6th largest exporter of crude in the world? Why do we have to import refined petroleum products when the countries we export crude to, refine their own crude in their own country? In summary, why is Nigeria still facing acute infrastructural, developmental, educational, health, socio-economic challenges despite the huge/abundant human, natural and material resources at its disposal?

Why are many Nigerians reluctant to accept fellow Nigerians as true Nigerians? Why have our leaders not allowed Chapter Two of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria to guide their leadership steps in a Multilingual, Multiethnic, Multi-religious, Multiracial, and Multitribal Country? Section 14 (3) of the Constitution mandates that the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies. Or, did we insert the provisions of Chapter 2 into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, only so new can make a mockery of its requirements? Section 13(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999 as amended provides that it shall be the duty and responsibility of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution.”

In their leadership, do our leaders carry along all the sections and zones of the country? Do we promote a sense of belonging among our citizens, as required by Chapter 2? To what extent have we accommodated other citizens? Why is tribalism, nepotism, clannishness, religion and language still major deciders of who gets what in Nigeria of the 21st century? Why is exclusion, suppression, intimidation, and lawlessness and impunity still major features of governance in Nigeria? How could we encourage and engender, promote and sustain inter-ethnic love, inter-religious understanding and harmony, inter-tribal cooperation and inter-party synergy, which are critical requirements of any developmental strategies aimed to move nations to the NextLevel of peace, unity, development and genuine progress, all of which are currently lacking in Nigeria?

Why do the average Nigerian prefer anywhere else on earth but Nigeria, for residence, work, etc.? Why are many Nigerians and many Nigerian youth running away from Nigeria? What is chasing after (pursuing) us? DO NOT TELL ME THAT OUR YOUTH HAVE NO REASONS FOR RUNNING AWAY! DO NOT TELL ME THEY are not patriotic! And do not tell me that our youth are just lazy. Come off it! Lets face reality; why are most Nigerians not comfortable with life and living in Nigeria? There must be a reason or two! Lets find it out and address it now, if we want genuine progress. Is Nigeria conducive for the youth and for Nigerians? Are we creating a conducive, safe, encouraging and sane environment for all Nigerians? To what extent are our leaders honest with themselves as leaders in all aspects of leadership and national life?

I respectfully believe that, in addition to heeding Lt General Buratai`s call for prayers and spiritual awareness, finding honest answers to the above questions would go a long way towards leading us aright in our journey towards spiritual rejuvenation.?As a starting step, all Nigerians and especially Nigerian leaders need to repent and embrace HONESTY, TRUTH, HUMANITY, and REASONABLENESS as their watchwords, or governing creeds. Only in this way would our prayers go farther than we imagine towards achieving the desired ends. We must heed the message given in the Bible book of Acts 3:19-20: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send you the Helper you need to overcome your challenges. We must first seek the face of God and his righteousness, (see Matthew 6:33) by immediately doing away with clannishness, hate for fellow citizens, governance by suppression, intimidation, segregation and exclusion, nepotism, ethnic jingoism, religious bigotry. These are chief among the ungodly actions that are holding Nigerian back and refusing to allow it make progress. Most importantly, we must begin to respect the sanctity of the human person/life; it is the blood of innocent Nigerian who have been senselessly maimed, killed and murdered in cold blood in their own country, as a result of failure of their own governments and leaders to provide them basic security and comfort, it is their innocent blood that has thrown this Nigeria of the living into confusion, extreme hopelessness, focuslessness and stagnancy. For this reason, we must repent of our iniquitous, wicked and unscrupulous ways and begin to pay high regard to human life, the lives of the masses of Nigeria. We must approach God with the type of song that was revealed to us in the Bible Book of Hosea 6:11: Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.”

Our prayers alone cannot save Nigeria and Nigerians. We need action, honest, selfless and concrete action, on the part of both the leadership and of the followership. We need an altogether new, improved way of thinking and behaving. We need to repent now and decide to be and operate as one country; we are not yet there. One does not place something on nothing and expect it to stand; it does not work that way. A popular man of God who goes by the name T.D. Jakes captured this well when he declared: if you put in nothing, you get nothing in return. The words of the Christian Holy Book is sufficient warning to us: In the same way, faith and prayer by themselves, if they are not accompanied by action, are dead (James 2:17 ). Further, as commanded by section 15 (2) of the Constitution, honest efforts towards national reconciliation and integration must be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited. Finally, on this point, the Nigerian State must initiate urgent, honest steps to “foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties,” in line with the provisions of according to section 15(4) of the 1999 Constitution.

During the war in the USA, some war commanders had approached Abraham Lincoln (then US President) to ask him to consider whether the Lord God had not abandoned America. Abraham Lincolns response is instructive. Permit me to paraphrase. Abraham Lincoln had retorted that the question to ask was not whether God had abandoned the USA, but whether the USA had not abandoned God. According to him, If we are with God, He would not abandon us.” Further, he had declared before them: “My concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on Gods side, for God is always right. I am seriously concerned about the situation of things in Nigeria. I am worried about our future. I am weighed down about the bizarre happenings in the land. I am worried by the fate of the masses the hapless, hopeless, and helpless masses of Nigeria. I am worried that our leaders appear to have abandoned the masses. I am worried that it appears that the Masses are complacent and also willful contributories in the fate they have found themselves. I am worried about the fate of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers, Independence of the Judicial, and the mandatory operational concepts of democratic constitutionalism — a talk for another day. As Nigeria celebrate its 59th Independence Day anniversary, I am only sad and deeply worried that almost everything has fallen apart, while we are no longer at ease as the center can no longer Hold. But there is still time, and there is hope. Yet, the time to act is now.

We have degraded Nigeria; I would not use the word, destroyed. But we (it is who) can and are in a position to repair Nigeria and rebuild the ruins, and restore the nation to its lost its glory. And the time is now! Only we can do this; no one outside Nigeria and Nigerians can do these for us. As Abraham Lincoln once counseled the Americans, “America will not be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. In the same manner, only Nigerians themselves can make or mar Nigeria. It is our choice to make. Whatever we want for our country is what we would get in it. However, we, one and all, must be prepared to live with the choice we decide to make for Nigeria. We cannot blame anyone else, no one but ourselves. We have our choices to make, but we have to be prepared to live with the consequences of those choices. The life and future and destiny of Nigeria depend on our choices – our actions or inactions. In the book, Lanthe (2015), author Cathlin Shahriary said, “all great choices are made with great risks. It is left for one to decide for oneself whether the consequences are worth the action one is willing to take.” We cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. If our leaders and followers have ears, let them hear this call. But, honestly, as experience has shown, our problem in not hearing is not that we do not have ears; it is just that most of us do not use them! This could be a part of the reason Craig D. Lounsbrough once queried: Do we forget, or, is it that we just refuse to remember?
Happy Independence Day, Nigeria!
May God help us!
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)

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