Wartime US presidents have developed a ploy over the decades to boost the morale of their soldiers and civilian population: they undertake overt or covert trips to the war front. It hasn’t failed to achieve that objective, according to the record in the books. Let’s take a look at three instances in the history of the country.
On December 2, 1952, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower went to Korea during the war that reshaped the map of the Korean Peninsula. His visit is said by chroniclers to have turned the tide of the conflict and raised the spirits of the US soldiers there. In 1990 following that tradition of US leaders in wartime, President George W.Bush went to cheer up American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia who were fighting a crucial war to maintain regional equilibrium in the Gulf. He was enthusiastically mobbed by the soldiers. And a little over a year ago on May 25 2014, US first African-American President Barack Obama went to Afghanistan to show solidarity with US combatants fighting in America’s longest war abroad. Far back in time in the 19th century President Abraham Lincoln had visited US soldiers during the country’s Civil War.
On each occasion, the trip by American leaders to the warfront, whether secret or open had turned out a game changer.
That is what is leading many Nigerians to conclude that this week’s tour of the troubled North-East region of the country by a team of senators led by the Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki on Monday signals a fresh era of triumphalism of our war against Boko Haram. Their visit to Borno State was followed on Wednesday by another undertaken by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
It has been a historic trip by the Senate to push the view that with the leadership crisis in the upper chamber driven into the dead past, the lawmakers are determined to play the great role of applying their legislative prowess to advance peace in the country. Lawmaking should go beyond the comfort zone of the Red Chamber judging from the visit of the senators to Borno State. The practical and more appreciable aspect is to align with the people and assure them that real politics is about going to the people and identifying with their needs.
Saraki and his colleagues were at the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) located at Umaru Shehu College of Education, Maiduguri and the Government College, Maiduguri, the two accommodating over 4000 displaced persons as a result of the Boko Haram war. They were also at Dalori IDPs Camp which has more than 18000 inmates from Bama Local Government of Borno State.
Saraki told them: “We have come to sit with you and listen to you and hopefully together work out solutions that will significantly change your situation for the better. We believe that after this visit your situation will not be the same again. The mission of our visit is simple; we have come to bring you hope and to let you know that the Nigerian Senate has not abandoned you and real change is coming. We are determined to end this carnage, this senseless and sorrowful war. We are determined to defeat Boko Haram. The Senate and indeed the National Assembly is willing to support you and your families to ensure that your lives return to normal. We will not in good conscience talk to you from Abuja. No. This new Senate will rather come here and this is why we are here.”
The Senate President went on to donate N10m to his fellow Nigerians in the camps. The money itself isn’t the main news of the visit even if it would go some way in alleviating the physical needs of the IDPs. The takeaway of the legislators’ tour is that it has afforded them the opportunity to have a firsthand dialogue with the displaced persons and enable them fashion out new strategies to deal a final blow on the insurgents. Eyewitness experience is more effective than “earwitness.” The travel to the scene of the conflict has also demonstrated that the senators are indeed the true representatives of the people in our democracy.
Our lawmakers and other policy formulators and executors had previously treated the Boko Haram war seemingly with a long pole, denying a real encounter with their victims and their suffering. This, needless to say, has led to halfhearted and therefore ineffectual measures in exterminating the extremists. We can’t have such a feckless approach again after the senators’ trip to the devastated epicenter of the crisis.
As I noted at the beginning, each time US Presidents returned from the warfront where America had committed its forces, the game changed. They came back churning out laws to improve the lot of the troops by providing them better fighting tools and upgrading their welfare. The outcome has always been that the troops fought better, gaining more victories, with the citizens sending out signals of support for the war effort.
I expect similar positive prospects after the Senators had travelled to the theatre of war. There must be a new collaboration between the Executive and the National Assembly with a view to terminating the insurgency in a matter of months. The displaced persons must be supported and rehabilitated speedily. The dilapidated infrastructure needs to be restored to a functioning status. Our troops must be fully kitted with weaponry more advanced than that of Boko Haram.
Above all, this trip by the senators must not be a one-off outing. It should be continuous, undertaken regularly by operatives of the Legislature and Executives.