NIGERIA: THE APPROACHING VIOLENCE
These days Bauchi town is under strict surveillance by security agents. When Governor Isa Yuguda is in town especially, checkpoints abound every street at night. A visitor would wonder what is wrong with the erstwhile small, peaceful city. Boko Haram. They have threatened to kill the Governor and his Borno State counterpart, sooner or later, according to their spokesman who granted an interview to VOA Hausa Service. Exactly a month ago, the group launched a spectacular attack at Bauchi prison using sophisticated weapons and freed all inmates, including dozens of its members who were awaiting what seem to be unending trial for not clearly defined reasons. Sources say there are armoured tanks inside the Government House. While other cities celebrated the 50thIndependence Anniversary, Bauchi could not hold its. The governor could not take the risk. To secure his life, he condescended to employing his late in-law’s formula in solving the Niger Delta crisis. Pardon and Money. Yesterday, 7 October 2010, according to sources, he visited the prison and pardoned the only two of Boko Haram members present and gave each a gift of N100, 000.00! Other prisoners rioted, demanding same treatment and arguing that their offenses are not as grievous as that of Boko Haram. Soldiers were drafted to quell the prisoners.
Elsewhere in Borno State, the world heard that the group struck at the heart of the political class. Two days ago they killed the former State Chairman of the state's ruling ANPP and now National Vice Chairman (Northeast) of the party, Alhaji Ali Awagana Ngala, at his house and a policeman at the house of the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Earlier, they have killed a number of policemen and traditional office holders in reprisal to the killing of their members last year. Members of the group, true to their pledge after their massacre by the Nigerian Police last year, has adopted guerrilla warfare, riding on motorbikes and hitting their target and vanishing into the dark night of the Sahelian city. It was not Bin Laden… It was Boko Haram.
Since the group embarked on reprisal attacks, authorities have not been able to arrest anyone. The group’s assurance that it will pursue the governors no matter the time it takes must have unsettled the governors. The Governors feel helpless, now wishing that they had handled the group in a more civilized manner when they bizarrely executed their members extra-judicially as witnessed by the world. For the first time in this part of the country, a real threat of violence is unrepentantly directed at the political class. Insecurity and panic has finally reached Government Houses after it has tarried among ordinary Nigerians for long.
The residents of the modern city of Abuja, the Nigerian Federal Capital, equally share the same insecurity and panic for the first time. The tranquility that characterised its atmosphere for the thirty years of its life was ended on 1stOctober, 2010, our 50th Independence Anniversary Day. As the celebrations were taking place, two bombs went off killing eleven people and injuring dozens of others, in spite of 48 hours warning. While the controversy over the identity of the perpetrators was going on, warnings were given regarding other bombs planted at the National Secretariat and National Assembly complexes, among others. Panic ensued. Workers managing the Nigerian state abandoned their offices and started running for their safety. It was not Boko Haram… It was MEND.
Bombings in the Southern Nigeria has not been new. Various groups in the Niger Delta, coalescing into MEND – Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta – have been operating on the principle of violence since 2003. By 2007, the organization was able to substantially diminish the oil incomes of the country. The then new President granted them amnesty, money and pledged more physical development of their region. Though they obliged by handing over a number of their weapons and pledging to eschew violence, it is widely believed that many groups still carry out violent attacks and abductions in the region.
The prospect of this kind of violence that is targeted at government officials is very high as 2011 approaches. Elections in Nigeria are essentially won through violence. But that seems to be mundane. What is worrying is, as CNN put it to the Nigerian President, whether political instability will be precipitated by his strong ambition to return in 2011 against the principle of zoning enshrined in the ruling party’s constitution. So far, the President himself has lent credence to that theory when he hurriedly blamed his opponents for planting the Abuja bombs. Though the opponents have denied it, one needs to be very naïve to think that it will run smoothly for Jonathan. In any case, even if it happens, this would not the first time politically motivated violence would be used to bring down a government in Nigeria. Violence was used in the former Southwest by opposition politicians to bring down the First Republic in 1966. The Second Republic was likewise terminated by a coup in 1983. These experiences inform the fear among diplomatic circles that abandoning zoning in the PDP might bring the demise of the current democratic dispensation. The only difference is that while it was some elements in the South and the Military in 1966 and 1983 respectively that were aggrieved, this time it is some elements in the North who feel short-changed.
These forms of violence will continue so long as Nigerian leaders employ impunity to solve our problems. They are always selfish, inelegant and impatient with the law. They think having the treasury within their reach and the security agents under their command gives them the license to violate citizen rights and take political courses detrimental to the stability of the nation. Their primitive mind does not transcend the animal instinct to accumulate. They do not honour agreements except those which favour them and anyone who raises a finger at them is only fit to die.
Boko Haram will remain here for a long time. Given their ideological inclination it will be foolhardy for the authorities to think that by killing their members in gruesome manner, the followers will be terrified to recant. The opposite happened. They saw their dead as martyrs and swore that their blood will not go for nothing, giving credence to what Qutb once said that the tree of an ideology is watered by the blood of its martyrs. Those widely circulated clips showing how Mohammed Yusuf and Foi were killed remain a scar on the conscience of this country. The actions were globally condemned as unjust. The fact that Yusuf was killed shortly after he was visited in police custody by the Governor of Borno State who spoke to the detainee in vernacular implicates the Governor in no small measure. Foi, a former Commissioner of the Governor was asked to walk on a street by the Police and as he did he was gunned down in public glare. His in-law was equally killed when he came to enquire about him. In Bauchi, dozens of unsuspecting Boko Haram members who were reciting the Qur’an in their camp were instantly massacred and the camp levelled by government bulldozers. Some eight or so members of the organization were arrested at Yankari Motor Park where they were taking their breakfast before they board a bus to carry them home. They were surrounded by security agents and massacred right there before the eyes of the public.
The Bauchi State Governor then came out praising himself that the crisis did not escalate in Bauchi because he was prompt in ‘dealing’ with them. When the international community complained, Yar’adua set up a committee of inquiry whose report to date is kept secret. For over a year the trial of those detained continued to lurch without any hope that it will ever be concluded. The group therefore planned for and succeeded in freeing its members from Bauchi prison without losing the life of a single member and walked away freely. If the Governors and security agencies had abided by the law and showed respect for human life, I very much doubt there would have been any ground for the group to go underground and pose a threat far greater than it had before.
The political violence which many diplomats anticipate as 2011 approaches as a result of the President’s breach in zoning the Presidency to the North can only be disputed at the peril of the nation. Shouting down John Campbell will not solve the problem. Jonathan, being a PhD, should at least been wise enough to note that with every breach there is an attendant risk. On the page of this column, I pleaded with him on many occasion to be prudent in his thought. I supported his cause of becoming the President when ‘Yaradua was sick. I can even rightfully claim to be the first Nigerian to ask Yar’adua to resign in order to attend to his health. Then when he was sworn in, in The Task of Jonathan, I advised him, first, to fix electricity, fight corruption and conduct credible elections in 2011, but never to use his mortal hands to meddle with the destiny that brought him this far. He would then return in 2015, I argued, as a hero that the nation would warmly welcome. He was defiant. Secondly, when it was evident that he indeed wanted to contest, in Jonathan and the Northern Hawks, I advised him not to employ the services of sectionalism, religion or some political hawks that have misguided previous dictators. Rather he should seek his ambition through credible people in the North that would douse any suspicion. This was the route taken to bring Obasanjo to power. Again, Jonathan was adamant.
Jonathan’s supporters did not help matters. Those of them who saw a success for their religious agenda, especially among Northern Christians, and those who have inherited hatred against the North started insulting Northerners even though the party primaries are nowhere near because they believe nobody can stand up to his incumbency. The insult that the North must not think that the presidency is its birthright is often repeated. For the disciples of secession, this gave them the opportunity to bring back their war drums and start castigating Northerners. One wonders where were these voices when the PDP zoned power to the South in 1999. By sheer lack of tact, these supporters of Jonathan are doing more harm to his cause and decapitating the flowers of national integration that started to bloom since 1999. Well, from their jaundiced arguments, none of them believes in one Nigeria. They are making heroes out of Jonathan’s. I wish they were more patriotic.
Despite his wrong decision, Jonathan has not done anything to allay the fears of the nation. We have seen incumbency employed in his support as it was used during the Obasanjo era. The EFCC was used to chase out the former pro-zoning PDP national chairman, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor. The same organ equally terrorized northern governors –Nyako, Saraki, Lamido, etc – that are opposed to his ambition. Public funds are used to finance his campaign. Who paid for the crowd that attended his declaration ceremony other than state and local governments treasuries? He went as low as preventing a meeting of emminent Igbo leaders in Owerri after they have paid for the venue and invited all governors from the region. Finally, the President has expressed his contempt for his opponents in unequivocal terms. He rushed to implicate them in the recent bombing by extricating those who claimed responsibility at a time when he said the matter was still under investigation. He was impatient. He has also proved that he can close his eyes and contradict written facts, like when he said the Presidency of Nigeria was never zoned. What a pity! Certainly, this was not the Jonathan we prayed for when we supported his ascension to power.
The President and his supporters are so paranoid that they are taking every warning for a threat. Take the case of Adamu Ciroma. He is one of those that supported Obasanjo against all odds in both 1999 and 2003 as par the zoning arrangement of his party. Now he is regarded a villain by pro-Jonathan elements because he has refused to shift from the same principle of political stability that is enshrined in the constitution of the party. He warned of the instability which Jonathan’s unbridled ambition might bring and asked him to reconsider his decision to contest in 2011. Before he could shut his mouth, his warning was interpreted as threat and insults of all kinds were rained on him from their habitual quarters, as if nobody should any longer have any say in the country except "yes, Jonathan, yes Jonathan, yes Jonathan…" This degree of obsession and intolerance is really alarming. Jonathan has committed so many blunders and exposed so many of his shortcomings within a short time that many people are justifiably questioning his capacity as lead the nation. I remember an email I received from a reader from Bayelsa State immediately I wrote Yar’adua: Between Health and Power. He warned me that the country should not pray for Jonathan’s Presidency because the person, according to the reader is so inept. He said Jonathan would just be receiving orders from Obasanjo. But I supported Jonathan then based on what I thought was better for Yar’adua himself and, later, based on constitutionality. Today, that reader can write me and say, "Shebi, I told you."
I am not in a position to say whether the recklessness of the President would yield something sinister to this dispensation as Adamu Ciroma has warned. But I dare say it clearly that the President did not follow my advise. I doubt if he ever listened to it. Nothing may happen, we pray. He can only be there for eight years and life would continue as usual, with its official corruption and highhandedness. We pray that the Abuja bombing will be the first and the last in the quiet city. But should anything happen, providence will accuse Jonathan of short-sightedness.
As for Boko Haram, who prefer to be called Ahlus Sunnah wal Jihad – the vanguard of tradition and Jihad – I will advise that authorities should call them for a genuine settlement of their case. Their members in detention should be tried if there are sufficient grounds to do so without holding them in prison without trial forever and if they are not Nigerian enough to enjoy the amnesty and money extended to MEND. Compensation must be paid to the victims that were killed extra-judiciously. The report of the presidential committee set up to investigate their massacres should be released and the culprits punished accordingly. Above all, effort must be made to engage them intellectually. Their fight is ideological so only an appeal to their intellect would make sense. But if the government in its characteristic logic thinks that brutality would solve their problem, then it should be ready to shoulder the responsibility whenever they hit at one political figure or another, and especially the political big heads they are hunting for. The more dangerous trend would be their metamorphosis into a broader radical formation – Sata Haram – that would target the other fat cats who live in our midst and sucking our blood, for that is a cause that would earn the group thousands of followers among Nigerians of different creeds and origins. Then, its targets would be cheaper to reach as they travel on our highways or reside in their mansions amidst our imposed poverty and deprivation.