Kerry Has Spoken, But is Anyone Listening?

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Tobi Soniyi, in Abuja, writes on US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s visit and his message to Nigerian leaders

Those wondering why the United States’ Secretary of State, Mr John Kerry flew to Sokoto to meet with the Sultan, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, only need to refresh their memory and recall several incidences of extra judicial killings in the name of religion.

While the American official appear to have read the signal correctly and saw a time bomb that could explode any time, Nigerians are still playing the ostrich and have yet to realize that intolerance in the name of religion is capable of setting the country ablaze. That was why the US government sent a high-ranking officer to Nigeria to talk to a highly influential religious leader who can help douse the tension.

Kerry’s visit could not have come at a better time, hours before he was due to meet with religious leaders in Sokoto, eight people were killed in Talata-Marafa, Zamfara just some kilometres away from Sokoto. The incident in Zamfara took religious extremism to another level because as the governor, Abdulazeez Yari, explained, the killings were prompted by a false allegation. Nobody insulted the prophet. Someone made it up so as to win sympathy and support. As a result of this misinformation, eight people, many of them Muslims were killed and properties destroyed.

While in Sokoto, Kerry described the city as ‘the place with an extraordinary history of faith, of tolerance, and of scholarship in all of its forms.”
After condemning the activities of Boko Haram, Kerry said: “So make no mistake: We do not have to be the prisoners of this violent extremism. It can be eliminated. No one anywhere has to live, or should have to live, among this evil.

And it is evil. But it isn’t going to disappear on its own, and that is something that his Eminence the Sultan understands better than anybody as he preaches tolerance and brings interfaith groups together in order to do the hard work of pushing back against extremism. It takes work and it takes leadership. And it will require sustained effort from all of us – from regional, national, and sub-national leaders, from the United Nations and other multinational institutions.

“It’ll take great efforts by law enforcement and civil society. And I want you to know today that the United States is deeply committed to this effort, including by helping our partners to be able to build counterterrorism capacity. That is why at the State Department we introduced a countering violent extremism strategy earlier this year, and it is why we are working so hard to implement it – though I might add you all are already, under the leadership of the governor and the sultan, are already engaged in your own countering violent extremism efforts.”

Noting that defeating Boko Haram on the battlefield was just the beginning, Kerry said attacking the root causes of violent extremism should also be given high level consideration.
According to him, to win the struggle for the future, Nigeria must do more than just denounce bankrupt, dead-end ideologies that the terrorists support.

Governments, he suggested, would have to deliver on their promises to make life better for their citizens.
He captured it thus: “People join violent extremist groups for a number of different reasons – and some, obviously, do so against their will.

But there are far too many who join the ranks of these organizations because they have trouble finding meaning or opportunity in their daily lives – because they are deeply frustrated and alienated – and because they hope groups like Boko Haram will somehow give them a sense of identity, or purpose, or power.”

He pointed out that when people – and particularly young people – had no hope for the future and no faith in legitimate authority – when there were no outlets for people to express their concerns – then aggravation festered and those people become vulnerable to outside influence.

In Abuja, Kerry met with President Muhammadu Buhari and commended him for prioritising corruption as ‎a major hurdle to Nigeria’s development. He latter met with some selected governors from the north.
Apart from the looted billions which he said the president was making commendable efforts to recover, Kerry drew attention to the impact of corruption on the governed and their perception of political leaders. He said: “Corruption is not just a disgrace and a crime.

It is also dangerous. There is nothing more demoralizing, more destructive, more disempowering to a citizen than the belief that the system is rigged against them, the belief that the system is designed to fail them, and that people in positions of power, to use a diplomatic term, are “crooks” – crooks who are embezzling the future of their own people.”

However, the downside to the meeting was the decision of the Presidency to bar reporters from covering the visit.

Only photographers and videographers were allowed to cover Kerry’s arrival as well as the bilateral meeting between him and Buhari.
The media advisory specifically stated: “The Secretary of State will not grant any press interview after the meeting.”