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Police and SSS officers ambushed and massacred in Nasarawa. Bama and Baga overrun by insurgents. Kidnappings continue in the South-east. Fulani herdsmen in bloody battle with Benue villagers. Scores killed at Wukari funeral clash. Massive oil theft in the Niger Delta. Silent killings in Southern Kaduna villages. Bomb attack on passenger bus in Kano. Body bags are now as common as sachets of “pure water”. Pray, is the end nigh for Nigeria? Any unbiased observer is bound to conclude that things are getting out of control, and even the finest of optimists will readily admit doubts about the future of Nigeria. It seems there is a fierce competition for horror and violence across the nation. And, most disturbingly, it appears the state is too overwhelmed to arrest the torrent of tragedy.
How did we get here? There are various explanations. One of the most plausible was provided by Professor Wole Soyinka some 13 years ago when large-scale violence broke out in unprecedented scale – with the advent of democratic rule in the country. He said grievances bottled up under military rule were suddenly finding expression with the newfound freedom under civil rule. I tend to agree with him. The military had forced us to behave, to live together without complaints, to pocket our pain and bury our bile. Any dissent was crushed with maximum force. So things were simply bottled up most of the time. Conflicts and tensions remained latent but potent. The exit of the military – and the subsequent decentralisation of political power – provided the elixir, as it were.
Indeed, it has to be noted that the Maitatsine uprising happened under a civilian government in 1980, barely a year after the military handed over power. Boko Haram insurgency is also happening in a civil dispensation. Actually, in the infant years of this democracy, we began to experience a systematic and sustained burst of violence. Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) started unleashing violence on the police in what they said was an attempt to liberate the Yoruba “race” from Nigeria. Interethnic clashes between OPC and Hausa communities hit the South-west, with immediate reprisals in Kano. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) also began operations to liberate the Igbo “race” from Nigeria.
Along the line, we started hearing of Egbesu Boys (I suspect they were the ones that metamorphosed into Niger Delta militants) and Bakassi Boys. These groups were most probably propped up by politicians as militias to secure their hold on petrodollar-fuelled power. The Sharia’h riots also broke out in the North as the state governments introduced Islamic rule. It was said then that the violence was targeted at truncating democracy and inviting the military to take back power. It was being whispered that the North, having lost hold on power, was out to frustrate President Olusegun Obasanjo. Interestingly, the same opinion is prevalent in some parts of the South and the Middle Belt, where it is believed this spate of violence is orchestrated to undermine President Goodluck Jonathan.
I do not wish to dwell on that sentiment today. Rather, I want us to discuss what I think is undermining the ability of the state to prevent or curtail the cocktail of violence in the land. The primary reason we have a government is to prevent anarchy. Insecurity is the biggest component of anarchy. The average Nigerian wants to be sure his or her life and property are secure under the watchful eyes of the state. But the spate of killings suggests otherwise. If it is only ordinary Nigerians that are being killed, we can accuse the state of neglect. But the security agents and government property too are not safe. So if the agents of the state cannot protect themselves, how can they protect us?
Why is the state appearing to be so weak and powerless? You may not agree with me, but it boils down to the same issue we have been discussing for ages – corruption. Somehow, we have come to see corruption mainly in terms of looting of public treasury. But we also have to look at it from how it ultimately weakens state institutions and opens us up to violence. It has made Nigeria vulnerable to kidnappings, insurgency, organised violent crimes and even, you may not believe this, road accidents. To start with, only God knows how much we have spent on “security vote” in this country in the last 14 years – and yet we are not secure.
Look at it this way: security budgets are meant to improve the capacity of the government to maintain law and order as well as protect our territorial integrity. If these budgets were judiciously expended on strengthening the security agencies, they would not be this vulnerable. We would have well-motivated and well-equipped security agencies today. Every village and every council in Nigeria would come under competent security coverage. When insurgency is budding in some border towns or forest, the security system will pick it up. When arms are being moved into the country illegally, the system will pick it up. When tension is brewing between communities, the system will pick it up.
So when the generals and the NSAs and the IGs and the CGs become billionaires overnight at our expense, this is result: an insecure state where citizens and security agents are killed at will. Arms are shipped in without trace as customs and police officers that should monitor have compromised. Illegal immigrants move into the country freely, having “settled” the border officials. The soldiers are making money colluding with oil thieves to break the pipelines. Kidnapping, which was made popular by Niger Delta militants, became very profitable as state officials conspired to milk the treasury through dubious ransom payments.
What about road accidents that are killing people in their dozens all over the country? Fake tyres, certified by government agencies, enter into our country; rickety vehicles are certified roadworthy by state institutions; hopeless drivers secure driving licences from state institutions; bad roads are certified “rehabilitated” by state institutions; budgets for provision and maintenance of street lights are embezzled. Fellow Nigerians, we are in trouble. We are in a state of emergency. I’m sorry to say, but we are going to be in this state for a long time because the root diseases remain untouched. We are not even treating the symptoms, much less trying to cure the ailments and the infirmities.
And Four Other Things...
In my reckoning, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan finally became President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces last Tuesday when he declared state of emergency in Boko Haram-infested states. For too long, he allowed political considerations and blackmail to cage him in taking this critical step to restore our territorial integrity. The insurgents have reduced the use of suicide-bombing and have now launched full ground assault. Gentlemen, this is war. Make no mistakes about it. It will be foolhardy for any government to take this lightly in the name of politics. However, I should quickly warn that the military must act within the acceptable rules of engagement.
I have often advocated a multi-dimensional approach to this Boko Haram thing. One, military operations should continue because the state must not wave a flag of surrender as we did in the Niger Delta. That is why Asari Dokubo thinks he is bigger than Nigeria now. Two, Boko Haram militants who are willing to embrace amnesty should come forward. Three, the youths must be reclaimed from the streets through a well thought-out programme so that we can cut off the supply chain of foot soldiers to Boko Haram. Finally, we must devise a long-term strategy to dilute religious extremism – the real reason behind Boko Haram, in my opinion.
I am patiently waiting for the day Nigerian politicians will stop playing politics with everything. This Boko Haram menace is a threat to all of us, whether we realise it or not. No rational being should politicise bloodshed and destruction in any part of Nigeria. It is amazing that many politicians cannot just rise above politics in the face of a common threat to the peace and stability of Nigeria. Some are confusing Jonathan with Nigeria. Jonathan will leave office one day and Nigeria will remain. If husband and wife are quarrelling and their child is ill, commonsense dictates they take care of the child first. They can continue their fight later.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Badamosi Ayuba Damabatta (Kano ANPP), has said he is against the declaration of state of emergency in three states in the face of the Boko Haram insurgency. It shows the Federal Government is not sincere about the amnesty option, he said, declaring: “I advocate dialogue between Boko Haram and the government.” Does Damabatta know that he is part of government? If he can dialogue with Boko Haram to lay down their arms, why doesn’t he go ahead and do it? The Niger Delta amnesty was negotiated by Niger Delta leaders. Why can’t Damabatta be a problem solver instead of moaning?