26 Apr 2013

Boston manhunt and lessons for Nigeria

The attention of the whole world was drawn to Boston, in the United States of America, these past few days when two powerful bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killing three people, including an eight-year-old child, and injuring more than 100. This ugly incident, unfortunately, turned out one of the city’s most cherished rites of spring from a scene of cheers and sweaty triumph to one of sorrow, tears and blood.

Almost three-quarters of the 23,000 runners who participated in the race had already crossed the finish line when a bomb that had apparently been placed in a garbage can exploded in a cloud of smoke amid a crowd of spectators in the heart of the city. Thirteen seconds later, another bomb exploded several hundred feet away. Pandemonium erupted as panicked runners and spectators scattered, and rescue workers rushed in to care for the dozens of maimed and injured, some of whom lost legs in the blast, witnesses said.

Speaking at the White House, in response to the tragic incident, President Obama vowed to bring those responsible for the blasts to justice. He said: “We will get to the bottom of this. We will find who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

Within few hours after the president’s pledge to hunt down the perpetrators of the ugly incident, the security apparatus of the United States simply rose to the occasion. The entire city of Boston was shut down in a dramatic manhunt that saw security officials combing the whole of the town.

President Obama was fully involved in the manhunt as he was kept abreast of the situation in Watertown throughout the period by his assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco. Aside this, Obama was also watching the drama unfold on television in the White House.

Hours after the FBI released images of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, thereby narrowing the search for the suspects to two brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev  and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, both Kyrgyz nationals living in Cambridge. They later stated that Tamerlan, age 26, had been shot and killed, but younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was still at large. The manhunt intensified as the night went on, and the entire Boston area woke to find itself on lockdown, with public transportation shut down and citizens advised to stay indoors.

Shortly after, shots were heard in Watertown, as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered hiding in a boat in the backyard of a residence. And thus ended the nightmare of Boston residents four days after the bombing.

Now, coming home to Nigeria, there are some salient lessons for us to learn as a nation from the swift manner in which authorities in the United States responded to the Boston debacle. In the last three years, our country has plunged deep into the abyss of catastrophes resulting from the dastardly activities of the Boko Haram group and other activities of criminals who have continued to hold the country to ransom.

The tragedy, however, is really not in these acts of blood spilling; rather it is in the effectiveness of the response of appropriate authorities.  Thus far, we seem to be getting used to a stereotyped form of response. First, different people pay visits to sights of gruesome murderous acts, commiserate with those involved, promise heavens on earth until there is another incidence when the whole circle will be repeated all over again. In some instances the president and police chiefs would promise to get the culprits. If the magnitude of the tragedy is serious, the president or as the case may be, the governor, could choose to be very ‘decisive’ by setting up a committee to ‘look’ into circumstances surrounding the sad event. And you can bet that the committee would set about the job in a very ‘patriotic’ manner.

What about our people? Could our people have allowed a whole city in the country to be shut down in search of one criminal responsible for the death of ‘just a few people’ who had nothing better to do with their time than going to watch a marathon race? It wouldn’t take up to two days before traders and other ‘very busy’ people would begin to tell those who care to listen that those “that have died have died” and there is nothing we could do to bring them back to life. More so, when there is money to be made.

If there is any lesson that we have to take home from the Boston experience, it is that we have to be more serious in respect for the sanctity of the human life. This has to reflect in every aspect of our lives. The doctors in our hospitals, engineers at the various construction sites, police officers, public transporters, and other such professionals that deal directly with the people must hold human life as sacrosanct.

Another lesson we have to learn from the incident is that we need to put in place strong institutions that will ensure that criminals and crooks pay for their evil deeds in the spirit of the law of the land. What it takes for evil to triumph is for evil to go unpunished. Only God knows the number of unresolved murder cases we have had in this country. Governor Oshiomhole is currently battling with security agencies in a bid to unravel the murder of his late Private Secretary.

No matter the perspective from which we look at the issue of granting amnesty to militants and Boko Haram members, the bottom line is that we don’t have any concrete system that could decisively deal with crimes and criminals on ground. So, we would rather opt for the option that is easily available.  Similarly, where criminals are apprehended, our justice system is so absorbent that criminal cases go on for years without getting to any logical conclusion.

Perhaps more importantly, our leaders need to take a cue from the way President Obama personally got involved in the process that culminated in the nabbing of the culprits of the Boston tragedy. He did not only talk tough, he acted tough. He demonstrated the quality of a good leader. He stood by the people of Boston. He showed them he cares. He gave leadership and direction to a dejected people at a very critical period.

This is what is seriously lacking in Nigeria and that is why we are where we are. Our leaders need to empathise with the people by coming up with programmes and policies that practically demonstrate their love for the people. We must build good roads in order to stop avoidable carnage on our roads. In everything that the leaders do, they must always put the people first. This is true leadership. This is what our nation need.

By Tayo Ogunbiyi

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