Building Informal Leadership For Nigeria's Good (Part one)
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In my last essay on Anarchy in Nigeria, I laid the blame for insecurity in Nigeria at the door step of the political leadership in Nigeria, epitomized by President Goodluck Jonathan. The federal government of Nigeria has huge resources at its disposal, which
may be deployed to achieve great good or to inflict egregious injury on society. Unfortunately for Nigerians, the latter is our recent experience.
What should be the natural response of people who have been offended by the state, broken by the state, and oppressed by the state, with no group of human rights lawyers in that state standing up in their defence? In May, 2009, in an essay entitled, A Nation in Peril: Raising Redemption Leaders for Nigeria, I wrote:
'It is no more news that Nigeria is sliding quickly towards a hopeless future aided by waste, ignorance, lack of vision, and corruption. The general consensus is that this country lacks the quality leadership which drives national integration, growth, and development. Many public commentators and analysts (including me) have written copiously about our common and present danger and what the Nigerian leadership needs to do. The conclusion I can make is that we do not presently have a leadership which has the political will to implement the far-reaching changes that we have written about. Besides, our governments hold scant regard for public opinion. The obvious question is how we can bring about the emergence of such leadership that ensures social and economic development.
Disturbing contemporary events:
Martial court-sentencing of 27 Nigerian soldiers
On April 27, 2009, the Brig.-Gen. Ishaya Bauka-led martial Court sentenced 27 former United Nations peacekeepers to life imprisonment for protesting the non-payment of their peacekeeping allowances. While those non-commissioned officers got this outrageous sentence for protesting injustice they received from the government which is supposed to appreciate and honor gallant service, the commissioned officers who perpetrated this injustice on them simply got a slap on the wrist, as they only got slight rank demotions. What rule of law! All the while the Commander-in-Chief Yar'Adua kept an uncaring silence.
If you are a young military officer reading this, understand that you have no dependable Commander-in-Chief who serves to keep you safe and happy. Our nation is sliding away and needs rescuing.
Genocide in the Niger Delta
Although President Yar' Adua should have prevented the exploitation of the oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta, which has not been to the advantage of the local communities, [See section 17 (2) (d): 'In furtherance of the state social order, exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons other than the good of the community shall be prevented'] , he has rather chosen to order the mass killing of Nigerian women and children in the Niger Delta and razing down of homes of Nigerians in the Niger Delta, purportedly to 'eliminate militants'. If bombing and burning of houses on your streets by government security officers in order to 'eliminate armed robbers' is in agreement with your interpretation of the 'rule of law' then go on and hail President Yar'Adua. As a scholar and northerner like President Yar'Adua, I find it difficult to place the face of rationality on this heinous crime against humanity. I cannot differentiate between this and the unequal response by the government of Sudan in 2003 when a group of black Sudanese citizens (The Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) attacked government infrastructure, seeking economic inclusion. The government of Sudan through aerial bombings encouraged the Arab militia, the Janjaweed foot soldiers, to attack and attack the black Sudanese 'militants' who had provoked government's 'holy anger', resulting in over 6 million people who had been either dislocated or killed in the Darfur region and made refugees within their country.'
President Yar'Adua's government ignored voices of caution like mine and only a few months after, a violent military raid on the camps of the group that is called 'Boko Haram' was authorized by President Yar'Adua; the leader of the group, Mohammed Yusuf was killed in an extra-judicial manner. The government did not order the arrest and prosecution of police officers that killed Mr. Yusuf in police custody, no human rights lawyers went to court to seek justice against extra-judicial murder of a Nigerian, no matter how vile he may be, and the group was highly provoked even as no man came to their rescue. Later that year, President Yar'Adua was taken out of Nigeria never to return to his office.
Injustice to one Nigerian is injustice to all Nigerians. When Nigerians, for whatever reasons, fail, refuse, and neglect to speak up and act out against any injustice being perpetrated against any group of Nigerians, this questions their humanity and threatens societal peace. We are all reaping the consequences of our collective selfishness, cowardice, duplicity and complicity by silence. Until perceptions of injustice are addressed by the resources available to government, violence in Nigeria shall only grow by degrees.
President Jonathan, who had scampered out of Nigeria immediately after the Kaduna bombings and reprisal attacks of Sunday, June 17, 2012, came back after his avoidable trip to Brazil to announce that 'Boko Haram is faceless'. He had claimed that Boko Haram was in his government, and yet, he now declares Boko Haram to be faceless. He knows the camps of the group that were destroyed by the might of federal troops in 2009. The first step toward a show of goodwill is to order the re-building of the homes of members of the group, which were destroyed in the raid by federal forces. The original Boko Haram has a face; and government knows their ancestral homes. In the raid, women and children (Nigerian citizens) were also killed. A compensation package should be worked out and paid to the original Boko Haram. In this regard, the talks between government and the Ahmed Datti-led team should be revived.
The new appointments in Nigeria's security team announced recently by President Jonathan are only symbolic but not significant. What is significant is re-building of lost confidence in government and governance in Nigeria (governors also have a role to play here), re-building of bridges of communication that government agents have bombed, and justice. The crisis of bombings in Nigeria is not caused by Christo-Islamic tensions in Nigeria; it is caused by injustice and failure of government. From available reports, there are some government officials who are benefitting from the crisis, not least through the almost one trillion naira security vote in the 2012 budget, which vote was because of the 'Boko Haram threat'. Accordingly, they would stir up and try to sustain any amount of dissensions and bad blood in the shark-infested waters of religion.
During the fuel subsidy protests in January this year, were there cases of bombing in Nigeria? Have you pondered and asked why not? During those protests, was there not camaraderie between Muslim and Christian brethren across the land? Certainly, there was. Christians formed precautionary protection human shields or walls for their Muslim brethren when they prayed, and Muslims did the same for their Christian brethren. Those were moving sights. Some people behind the scenes are working hard to confuse both Christians and Muslims in Northern Nigeria to exploit the hate and divisions they hope to sow. Both Muslims and Christians have lost loved ones in the crisis that is now threatening the existence of Nigeria. Both are victims of collapse of governance in Nigeria, exacerbated by the generally visionless and unproductive northern governors. By the way, I am against the request by the Governors Forum for 'intervention fund' to fight insecurity ('Boko Haram' menace) in Nigeria. What have they been using their 'security votes' for? Those greedy fellas want to exploit the situation to make some more bucks for their bottomless pockets. Terrible group of people! If there should be any 'intervention fund' that should be directed at development projects to educate the people, provide them with shelter, water, health facilities, good roads and public transport system. This is the minimum the Nigerian people deserve for the billions of dollars their country earns every year.
Another theory is that the 'Yar'Adua group' that lost power to the 'Jonathan group' is working behind the scenes to sustain violence in Nigeria. Probably, President Jonathan feels he would have contained 'Boko Haram' if he brought in more of the elements of that group back into government. Nigerians have completely ignored or forgotten the bad blood that existed between the two political groups before the PDP primaries acrimony of 2010-2011. Where is the Kurfi group? Where is Turai Yar'Adua? What are they doing to make the Jonathan government succeed?
There is urgent need to build informal leadership across Nigeria. For instance, Muslim leaders and their Christian counterparts must discuss and form Inter-faith neighbourhood watches. Christian and Muslim youth must form vanguards for peace in their neighbourhoods in order to protect innocent worshippers and atheists in their neighbourhoods. On Fridays Christian members of those groups must provide security at mosques, while Muslim members of the groups shall do the same for the Christian brethren on Sundays in their neighbourhoods. This shall mark the beginning of the blunting of this sharp knife that Nigerian politicians have used every so often to decapitate innocent Nigerians in order to achieve their selfish political ambitions.
Universities in Nigeria should lead forums of understanding between Nigerians in the towns where they are located. The American University of Nigeria has provided this leadership since the attacks on Christian worshippers in Yola this year. Universities are meant to help provide solutions to society's problems. University scholars should be thinkers and innovators.
President Jonathan should not again use the excuse of poor state of airports for failure to visit troubled spots in Nigeria. He is our president for now; and the growing distance between him and many Nigerians is dangerous. He must make efforts to visit Borno state, Bauchi state, and other crisis points in Nigeria. He must first initiate reconstruction of the homes of the original 'Boko Haram' members, order compensation to those identified family members (They are not faceless) from the huge defence budget, and work through informal leaderships. I propose that the chairman of the House Internal Security committee, Hon. Aliyu Gebi, Comrade Shehu Sani, and Ahmed Datti should be brought on board. He should not rely on second-hand information in tackling the 'Boko Haram' crisis (The huge defence budget is too much an enticement for some government security chiefs to work and wish for a quick end to the crisis).
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and chair of the Middle Belt Alliance (www.middlebeltalliance.org)