No government should remain standing if after four weeks 225 of 300 abducted schoolgirls remain unaccounted for and 50 schoolboys are slaughtered in the week following the abductions in year that has seen 1,000 people killed in attacks on schools, churches and mosques.

President Jonathan Goodluck’s planned visit to Chibok – one whole month after the abductions – was cancelled due to “security concerns.” If the Nigerian police and military intelligence cannot protect its head of state so that he can visit the parents of the missing schoolchildren, then they might as well be absent.

But it gets worse. On the very day Goodluck cancelled his visit, he actually travelled to Paris for a Nigeria security summit hosted by the French. In what world can this be possibly sane? Nigeria is in pain and chaos and he goes all the way to Europe to discuss Nigeria’s security. And this after he has cancelled a meeting with the parents and relatives of the missing children.

This is not a government – it’s a caricature that cannot but allow Boko Haram to carry out its pogrom of terror for the sake of terror with near impunity. Even fellow purveyors of terror have expressed concern over Boko Haram’s violent excesses that have since 2011 killed 10,000 civilians.

But here is the thing: Boko Haram does not have the monopoly of terror and kidnappings in Nigeria. Goodlucks’s government has long been detaining civilian family members of suspected Boko Haram fighters. The Guardian (UK) writes, “Boko Haram’s move towards using the kidnapping of women as a tactic appears to have come hand-in-hand with a similar strategy deployed by the Nigerian authorities. From December 2011, the Nigerian police began to detain the wives and children of militants leaders – possibly to put pressure on the group, possibly to bring about negotiations.”

When the government does it, we call it detention. A terrorist group does it we call it kidnapping and abduction. But in both instances the victims are innocent civilians. In other instances, the Nigerian military has been accused of torture, extra judicial killings and indiscriminate killing of those same villagers it has been tasked to protect. The Human Rights Watch reports that “in 2012, security agents killed hundreds of suspected members of the group or residents of communities where attacks occurred [and] arrested hundreds of people during raids across the north.” The report goes on to say, “many of those detained were held incommunicado without charge or trial, in some cases in inhuman conditions. Some were physically abused; others disappeared or died in detention.”

So we end up with a situation where “ordinary citizens fear both Boko Haram and the JTF [Joint Military Taskforce], whose abusive tactics at times strengthen the Islamist group’s narrative that it is battling government brutality.”

Participants in a march from the Nigerian High Commission to Downing Street in London on Saturday, May 17, 2014, as they call for the return of the schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Nigeria. Photo: AP / Jonathan Brady
Participants in a march from the Nigerian High Commission to Downing Street in London on Saturday, May 17, 2014, as they call for the return of the schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Nigeria. Photo: AP / Jonathan Brady

The government has been so ineffectual that Nigerians in the North East have had to defend themselves and so far they seem to be doing a better job militarily than the government forces. Ordinary citizens in some villages have managed to repel Boko Haram attacks, killing about 200 of the militants in the most recent case.

But there is a problem with vigilante action in that the enemy is never clearly defined and if these actions continue we can expect innocent civilians to be attacked and killed by vigilante groups that eventually find the enemy everywhere. But what choice do the people have?

Looking into the future, we cannot keep voting the same kind of politicians into office and expect different results. We cannot keep voting in the same visionless leaders who whip up ethnicity and nationalism and make vague promises about development and transparency.

In Kenya, we saw two ICC indicted politicians elected into the presidency and deputy presidency. There were cleaner, tested politicians running for the top offices but they became national jokes because of just how few votes they garnered. Time will tell if the joke was not actually on the voters. In South Africa, it’s president Zuma again. Zuma’s government should not have remained standing after the massacre of striking workers in Marikana. And the growing inequality in South Africa is a time bomb that, when it explodes, will undo much of the last twenty years of democracy building. Democracies built along the fault lines of gross inequality can only manage that inequality for so long.

We are electing governments into power that in turn are selling the country to the highest international bidder, or more correctly to the international bidder willing to bribe the highest. The United States has leased over 4 millions hectares of land, followed by the United Arab Emirates with its lease of 3 million hectares. How can democratic governments, in countries that have to import food to meet their needs, lease millions of hectares to another country? What kind of stupidity is this that takes land away from African farmers and leases it to another country to grow its own supply of food and cash crops? And why should we keep electing the politicians overseeing these types of deals into power?

Nigerian elections are next year. If they do indeed let the Goodluck government last that long, if Nigerians can stomach the killings and counter killings for another year overseen by a discredited, and irredeemably corrupt government, it should be with an eye to a different kind of politics. One where young, visionary and progressive leaders with their heads in the 21st Century and politics looking into the future are possible. It is time for a people-centred and people-powered government.