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Asa’s Song: ‘There’s Fire On The Mountain’ – OpEd

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Multiple award-winning singer, guitarist, and international music star Bukola Elemide better known as Asa rendered her classic song ‘Fire on the Mountain’ at the unveiling of the new Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) in Abuja on July 19, the event, which held at the old banquet hall of the Presidential Villa was witnessed by President Muhammadu Buhari who also doubles as the Minister of Petroleum, as well as the crème de la crème of the oil industry, and of course the movers and shakers of society. 

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Inside the cozy ambiance of the old banquet hall, Asa sauntered leisurely to the dais dressed in a black flowing gown and spotting a dark google as though she was mourning a nation in the grips of insecurity. As is customary with artists on stage, whereby they genuflect and acknowledge their audience, Asa neither acknowledged nor bowed before the president and other dignitaries present at the occasion, which is a radical departure from the norm. Apparently, her action signified protest. It’s as if she came on a protest mission and not to entertain her guests. Of course, music is an instrument of protest. Anyway, she went straight ahead into business and gave a rendition of her song in her salt and pepper voice. Her song- ‘There’s Fire on the Mountain’ was not a praise song but a dirge to the high-level insecurity that pervades the land. Asa had rendered a song of lamentations.

Clearly her song was an obvious tribute to thousands who have been killed, kidnapped, maimed, and brutalised by the orgy of terrorism, banditry, and insurgency across the land. Of that, her song was a tribute to the numberless and nameless compatriots who have become mere static in the unending war on terror. Her song was meant to draw the attention of the high and mighty of society to the state of hopelessness and helplessness that pervades the nation today. Asa’s song was symbolic in several respects. It’s difficult to determine whether the guests were stirred up or offended by the rendition of Asa’s song, which is neither here nor there. Asa being a patriotic Nigerian concerned about the state of affairs must have concluded that the high calibre guests at the event were the right audience for the unique message she delivered at that ceremony.

Asa’s song speaks to the current reality of the Nigerian situation. Besides, the cast of high government functionaries including the president and other bigwigs listened to the lyrics of Asa’s song, and many would have been shell-shocked and transfixed in their seats, most especially the organizers of the event who invited her for the occasion, astounded by the audacity of Asa. Without a doubt, the organizers of the event did not anticipate what Asa had in store for the occasion, for they must have felt uneasy as she rendered her award-winning song to the audience. If it was possible they would have stopped her in her tracks, at least to save their skins, and to avoid official reprimand for bringing an upstart to such an august gathering. At the end of her rendition, the ovation was tepid and muted as the mood at the venue was somber and subdued. Asa had spoken truth to power. Both literally and figuratively, there’s fire on the mountain. For her courage and audaciousness, Asa received rave reviews in social media. Let’s hope Asa’s message would be taken with the seriousness it deserves.

To be sure, there’s fire on the mountain, as it were. Today terrorists rule the roost as they operate in the forests and jungles, highways, and byways, without let or hindrance. Vast swathes of territory are under the command and control of terrorists in Zamfara State. Even the Zamfara State government has acknowledged this fact and has encouraged citizens to procure arms and defend themselves against these outlaws. Indeed the nation is in a state of anomie. There’s widespread insecurity across the length and breadth of the country. Banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, and insurgency have assumed dangerous dimensions. What’s more, in a recently released video, terrorists who attacked the Abuja-Kaduna bound train last March and abducted about 140 passengers have released a video showing the abductees being beaten and brutalized in captivity. The terrorists also threatened to kill the abductees and sell some of them off into slavery. 

In the video, the terrorists boasted that they do not recognize the Buhari administration and that their next target is the president himself and the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El Rufai as well as Senators and other lawmakers. The audacity and temerity of the terrorists are as though the nation was rudderless and the government has virtually lost its bearing. Even so one of the terrorists boasted that he was among those who escaped from Kuje prison. Hear the terrorist speak “This is our message to the government of Nigeria and just as you have seen these people here, by God’s grace, you would see your leaders, your senators, and governors will come before us. These ones you are seeing here, we will keep some as slaves and sell some of them off just as our Imam told you in the past.”

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However, the government has dismissed the claims of the terrorists, saying it’s the usual propaganda by terrorists. Special Assistant to the president on media Garba Shehu said the president has tried his best and has done all he could to contain the festering sore of insecurity in the land and that everything was under control. He concluded by saying the government is neither clueless nor helpless. 

As if to rub salt in the wound, terrorists attacked men of the presidential guards’ 7 brigade, whose primary responsibility is to protect the president and the Federal Capital Territory, along Bwari-Kubwa road, Abuja. The troops were on routine patrol when they were ambushed and attacked. Though the ambush was forcefully repelled by the troops. However, two officers and a soldier were killed in the attack while a number of soldiers were injured. Meanwhile, the commanding officer and thirteen soldiers are still missing and the military has embarked on a search and rescue mission for the missing soldiers. Already the military authorities have confirmed this report. It will be recalled that an advanced presidential security party was attacked in Katsina State in preparation for the president’s visit to Daura for the Sallah celebrations. 

As the terrorist become more daring and emboldened, still it is most curious and perplexing that the Deputy Speaker of the House of Reps, Ahmed Idris Wase, on Tuesday revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari received 44 different warning reports from the Department of State Service (DSS) over expected attacks across Abuja, yet it appears those reports were ignored. This is simply confunding. Wase was speaking while presiding over a plenary at the Lower House in the aftermath of the killings of soldiers who were members of the Brigade of Guards.

Evidently, the pervasive lawlessness was brought to the fore with the turbanning of a terrorist kingpin Ado Aliero by the Emir of ‘Yandoton Birni, Zamfara State, Alhaji Aliyu Marafa, as Sarkin Fulani on Saturday, July 17, 2022. However, the Zamfara State Government has dissociated itself from the alleged turbanning of a Sarkin Fulani by the Emir of Birnin ‘Yandoto of Tsafe Local Government Area. The emir has since been suspended by the state government. Another bandit warlord, Abu Sani who masterminded the kidnap of 279 girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State recently boasted in an interview with BBC that he was in the business to make money, saying he had killed countless victims. 

In the light of worsening insecurity, the Federal Ministry of Education has ordered the closure of all federal schools in the FCT due to heightened security reports that such schools could be the target of terrorists. Also, the Ministry ordered all Principals of Federal Government Colleges to be on high alert and liaise with security agents to beef up security in their schools. In reaction to the current security threats, the Minister of the FCT Mohammed Musa Bello has ordered the immediate closure of all private schools in Abuja. It will be recalled that the Kuje Prison, which is about 39 km from the seat of power, was breached by about 300 terrorists in an attack that lasted about three hours during which over 600 inmates were freed, among those who were members of the Book Haram. The president during a visit to Kuje had expressed disappointment over the security breach at the Kuje Prison. President Buhari said “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security institution and get away with it.” Despite the presidential lamentations no official has been held responsible and reprimanded for this security breach. 

There are also unconfirmed reports that the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorist groups are planning coordinated attacks on parts of the northwest, north central, and the southwest, having mobilised fighters and acquired sophisticated weapons which include rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, and general purpose machine guns.

Even so, the security forces are at their wits ends as they are practically overstretched and overworked beyond the normal run of affairs, with ongoing operations in most parts of the country. It is to the credit of the military that the northeast has quietened, yet the northwest and parts of the north-central have become hotbeds of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. Last June several persons including soldiers were killed by bandits during an attack on a mining site in Niger State. In addition, several people, including four Chinese nationals, were kidnapped in the attack. According to reports, gunmen, believed to be bandits, killed at least 43 people including 20 soldiers and seven mobile police personnel in an attack on the Ajata-Aboki mining site in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, local sources disclosed. 

As for the economy, Nigeria’s inflation rate recorded a seventh consecutive monthly rise to 18.6 percent in June, representing a 0.9 percent point rise from the 17.71 percent it was in May 2022. This is the highest since January 2017. This has led to an unprecedented high cost of living, with prices of foodstuffs and consumer goods on an astronomical rise. Moreover, there’s a shortage of forex with the naira exchanging at 685 to the dollar in the parallel market. The naira plummeted to an all time low on Wednesday exchanging at 710 naira to the dollar at the parallel market.

On the other hand, the Oil industry which is the goose that lays the golden egg is in trouble. The industry is almost comatose with the unbridled oil theft that has bedeviled the industry. Between January and March, about 9 million barrels were lost to crude oil theft, estimated at 1 billion US dollars. Besides crude oil production has tumbled to about 1.2 million barrels per day instead of the 2 million barrels per day production that’s the normal output.  

Also, the education sector has virtually collapsed as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for over five months with no solution in sight as the government has failed to come up with a lasting solution to the paralysis in the education sector. Already the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has embarked on a two-day protest in solidarity with ASUU. 

As it stands, the economy is in dire straits as debt servicing now outstrips government revenue. There’s the risk of debt distress. Already the government is borrowing to repay its debts and also to pay salaries. The Oil sector which is the goose that lays the golden egg is haemorrhaging. The cost of debt servicing for the first four months of the current year, 2022, exceeded revenue earned even as the Federal Government said it would spend N6.7trillion on fuel subsidy in 2023. The total revenue for the period was N1.63 trillion, while the debt service gulped N1.94 trillion. In short, the economy has tanked.

Now we do not need a Sangoma (Medicine Man) to tell us that the nation is at crossroads. The security situation is worsening by the day. The economy is facing severe headwinds. In a word, the nation is on a knife-edge. Despite the fact that our armed forces have given their all to the battle against terror, it is crystal clear that they are not primed to fight an asymmetrical war, still, the armed forces will have to rise to the occasion and reset their strategy in order to defeat the terrorists once and for all. This is the right time to smoke the bandits out of their holes before they create greater havoc. The earlier we put out the fire of terrorism the better for us all. The armed forces should get cracking. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Last Stanza – There’s Fire On the Mountain

Oh there is fire on the mountain top

And no one is running

One day the river will over flow

And there’ll be nowhere for us to go

And we will run, run

Wishing we had put out the fire

There is fire on the mountain

And nobody seems to be on the run

Oh there is fire on the mountain top

And no one is running.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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