A Massacre Forewarned

26 Jan 2012

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The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi. Email,

Whatever may be the real agenda of Boko Haram, one thing nobody can deny the group is that there is a method to their madness. Boko Haram men target three institutions: One, vulnerable banks whenever they need easy money to fund their operations. Two, barracks and prisons to free their men wherever they are detained and for revenge. Three, police and military formations to steal arms and uniforms. They have also in recent times attacked a United Nations building to attract international media attention aside other soft targets that represent state institutions. Lately they have attacked churches in the bid to instigate national crisis. While they have made song and dance about Islamising our country (which they know will never happen), some of their recent rhetoric has indeed given the group away as actually harbouring the sinister agenda to dismember Nigeria.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any display of competence on the part of our security agencies in the efforts to address this growing menace. First, a high profile terror suspect who allegedly masterminded the Christmas day bombing was allowed to escape in a seemingly contrived manner. Then in broad daylight last Friday, Boko Haram men invaded the city of Kano, leaving a trail of blood and death. Less than 24 hours later, they moved their theatre of operation to Bauchi with the security agencies now doing catch up.

The Kano tragedy is what indeed signposts our state of helplessness. Not only because of the scale and the sheer audacity of the operation but rather because Boko Haram sent an advance notice that they were coming. On December 18 last year, just about five weeks ago, Boko Haram's spiritual head, Muhammad Abubakar Shekau, sent an email to the media, threatening that Kano was the next target of their attack  because of “arbitrary arrest and persecution” of the group's members there.  Said Shekau: “The message here is that everybody knows that a lot of our people were killed in Kano State, especially in Wudil town. We had perfected plans to take revenge but some notable scholars intervened by pleading with us. They also assured that our members would never be persecuted again and we took them by their words. Unfortunately however, about five months ago, security agencies began trailing and arresting our members who are carrying out their legitimate businesses, alleging that they were thieves and armed robbers."

According to Shekau when they were about to attack the city, the scholars pleaded with them, advising that they should write a formal letter of complaints to some notable people. “We agreed and sent letters to the emir of Kano, Wamban Kano, Dan Masanin Kano and the governor of Kano State. We also posted the open letter on the internet but nothing was done to stop persecution of our members. Recently, security agencies launched a fresh onslaught on some of our members in Kano city in which even women and children were not spared. Many houses were raided and a pregnant woman was manhandled. Some of our members were tortured with electric shock. All these things happened in Kano, a city that we hold with high esteem. We have varied opinions about Kano, including the option of launching endless campaign of violence but the scholars that have been talking to us over and over are still persuading us to tarry a while. We are compelled to write this open letter so that the world will know what is happening."

There are many things we can take away from Shekau's threat which was not heeded. One, it is obvious that Boko Haram wanted some sort of intervention that would lead to the release of their men being detained. I don't know what the disposition of the relevant security authorities was to this open request but I believe that government option ought to have taken into account their capacity either for dialogue or for a fight. Two, the Boko Haram leadership have people they listen to, scholars whose opinions they respect, people they meet from time to time for advice, as stated publicly by Shekau himself. Have those in authority been able to identify these people and if yes, has their intervention been sought? Three, Boko Haram leadership must have assessed the strength of our security apparatus in Kano and come to the conclusion that they (Boko Haram) held the ace in the event of a confrontation hence the open warning of an imminent attack by Shekau.

Now that Boko Haram has carried out its threat and has left us with a national calamity in Kano, we must look at the way forward: Silence by those who are in a position to meaningfully intervene to resolve this crisis has become dangerous for our corporate existence as a nation. President Goodluck Jonathan said at the weekend in Kano that Boko Haram members are not spirit, they are human beings who live among us and so it should not be difficult to identify them. In fact, recent comments by prominent people from the North testify to the fact that Boko Haram people can easily be identified.

Senator Kabiru Gaya, a former Governor of Kano State, said during the week that "in order to bring the crises to an end, the federal government should sit with these people and find a lasting solution." Gaya's words were more or less echoed by elder statesman, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, on behalf of Borno Elders and Leaders of Thoughts (BELT) who also called on the federal government to take urgent steps to commence genuine dialogue with Boko Haram. What the two statements suggest is that there are respected people in the society from the North who know Boko Haram leaders and can drag them to the negotiating table.

That is a good sign because the killing fields that cities in the North have become in recent times should worry everyone, especially given our security vulnerability as a nation. The emir of Kano disclosed last week that the city with a population of over nine millions has about 8,000 policemen. Against the backdrop that half of that negligible police population would be in the service of political office holders and sundry 'big men' and their spouses, with most of the others on road checkpoint duties, it is easy to understand how Kano could be easily overwhelmed by Boko Haram. This is therefore the time for men and women of goodwill from the North who know the Boko Haram leaders to come out and broker a truce in the interest of our nation.

The onus is, however, on government to seek out these influential people. However, like it was done with the Niger Delta, genuine commitment to dialogue must go with enforcement of law and order. Unfortunately, there are people who will discourage dialogue with Boko Haram but what better option do we have to stop the killings and maiming of innocent people? But beyond all these short term approaches, we need a robust strategy on fighting terrorism. At the moment, there seems to be none. And if there is one, it is not working.

S/South and S/West Leaders' Meeting

Last Saturday in Ikenne, Ogun State, Chief Edwin Clark led some eminent citizens of South-south for a meeting with respected elders from the South-west led by the revered Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi. To the extent that it is always good to build bridges across ethnic and geo-political divides, the idea is commendable. But it will only make meaning if such effort is carried forward to include leaders from the South-east and the three geo-political zones in the North. Put simply, it has to be all-inclusive and pan-Nigeria.

I also believe in the power of dialogue and we really need to talk about our challenges and how to overcome them. But at a time of grave national security situation, what President Goodluck Jonathan needs today is a unity of purpose that will enable him rally the whole country against a common enemy. The idea of "we versus them" is therefore counter-productive just as it is provocative for any ethnic group whose "son" is in power to create an unnecessary siege mentality over public policy. That was the message I was trying to send last week in my piece, "Their Son, Our President", which unfortunately some people did not get. I have many Ijaw friends so there was no way I could have written against a whole ethnic group and I did not. My piece was directed at a few leaders from that area of the country whose utterances, I believed, were helping only to reduce the stature of the president.
In his letter published inside, Mr. Victor Burufo, National Publicity Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC) made allusion to the fact that the 'triumphalism' I wrote about did not begin with the Ijaws and that Yoruba people also did the same when President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power. While I do not dispute his claim that some politicians within other ethnic groups (including the Yorubas) had done similar things in the past, that does not make it right. In any case, given the challenge President Jonathan faces today, recourse to such primordial sentiment can only work against him at a time he ought to be seen as a national figure. That was the message embedded in my piece of last week and that is the way I have always felt about such issue. For instance, two months after Obasanjo came to power in 1999, I had cause to write a similar piece titled "Kogbodoku President" in response to what I considered the provocative pronouncements of some Yoruba leaders. It was published on this page, precisely on July 16, 1999. Below are excerpts from the piece:

'Kogbodoku' is a Yoruba word, which literally translates into 'he must not die.' That, I understand, is the new name for our darling President Olusegun Obasanjo. The 'christening' must have been done by the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) with Dr. Frederick Fasheun and Justice Adewale Thompson presiding. The OPC leader, Dr. Fasehun had last Wednesday in Lagos said the Yoruba people would no longer allow any of their leaders to be sacrificed for the nation hence if anything happened to Obasanjo OPC would react violently. "Any problem for Obasanjo would bring unmitigated chaos for Nigeria, so all those annoyed with him should go and purge themselves of their annoyance and join us to rally round him. The OPC is not a crazy organisation causing trouble but we will protect our own with every ounce of our strength. Obasanjo is our own any day. They tried to gauge our commitment by spreading the rumour that Obasanjo was dead the other time," he said.

Incidentally, Fasehun was only echoing the words of Justice Adewale Thompson who had earlier threatened that Yorubas would not take it lightly if anything happened to Obasanjo. What they would do if such happened, (God forbid) nobody knows but it is becoming a fad now for any attention–seeking Yoruba leader to make a threat on Obasanjo’s behalf.
The hypocrisy of it all is that these threats are coming from the same forces that fought Obasanjo dirty before other sections of the country elected him and now he has become their own. Of course we all know all these threats represent mere 'Shakara' because these same people made the same threat while Chief MKO Abiola was in military confinement and when he died what happened? Miscreants used the opportunity to loot, rape and maim.

My concern is that by the conduct and utterances of some otherwise respected Yoruba leaders they have been alienating other nationalities. If our leaders don’t know it those of us who have friends across ethnic lines hear all kinds of things that tend to denigrate the four decade struggle of the Yoruba people as merely self serving. That we are insensitive to the feeling of other Nigerians once our man can dance to our tune even if the drum was, in the first place, purchased by others. Now that Obasanjo is in Aso Rock, we have Adewale Thompson and Fredrick Fasehun to tell us 'it is our time'. Obasanjo’s mandate is national, at least it would have been if the Yorubas had voted for him, but it is sad that these same people would offend the sensibilities of other Nigerians with reckless statements that stand logic on its head...

I wrote those words almost 13 years ago and Obasanjo has since spent eight years in office and left. How those eight years changed anything for the average Yoruba man in Abeokuta who has no relation in Abuja I am yet to see. In years to come, the ordinary man on the streets of Otuoke would also ask himself how having his "son" in Aso Rock impacted on his material condition beyond the emotional satisfaction that his kinsman once ruled Nigeria. The fact is that only very few people profit from where the president comes from or which language he speaks. And it is not right for such people to display an arrogance of power that does not help the man whose cause they pretend to advance.

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