By Ochereome Nnanna
LIBYA does not have a common boundary with Nigeria. But it has boundaries with countries like Niger Republic and Chad, which in turn, have boundaries with Mali , Burkina Faso , Northern Sudan and Nigeria, all of which are weak states that have little or no control of their international boundaries.
According to the Director General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, Dr.Joseph Odumodu, Nigeria has over 1,000 border entry points out of which only 25 are manned! So, when I talk about Libya and Nigeria after Muamar Gaddafi, you will see where I am coming from.
The fall of Gaddafi on Thursday October 20, 2011 may be the beginning of brand new nightmares for people of both countries. Years down the line, we may all rue the day we rushed to the side of the West in our support for the forceful ouster of the tyrant by pro-democracy forces.
We may regret not thinking through the problem in the overall interest of the Libyan and Nigerian people. I hope this will not happen, but the auguries do not seem to support the unbridled sense of euphoria sweeping Libya and even Nigeria at the fall of a man who dominated his country – and to some extent, the continent – for 42 years.
Let’s start with Libya. We cannot deny that Gaddafi was a brutal dictator and megalomaniac. It is not easy to build a regime in modern times that lasts 40 years under one man. We cannot deny his frequent rants against the West and even his involvement in sponsorship of terrorism, even though he quickly back-tracked just when the US and allies contemplated an invasion in the manner that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was dealt with. Also undeniable was the fact that he looted his country’s treasury and was estimated to be worth about US$150 billion. These were on the reverse side of the regime.
The obverse side was that he overthrew a post-colonial monarchy of King Idris and established his Arab socialist Jamahiriya that gave the people economic and social fulfilment but denied them the right to democratic change of governance. Under Gaddafi, Libya was one of the most effectively governed countries in the world. It was a rare example of how the oil money was deployed for the benefit of the people. Libyans lived like princes and princesses. Menial workers from sub-Saharan Africa (including Nigeria ) braved the hellish conditions of the Sahara Desert to work there under situations of virtual voluntary (but lucrative) slavery.
The social conditions that obtained in Gaddafi’s Libya were such that Libyan citizens who engaged in lives of crime deserved, under the Islamic Sharia Law, to be given the severe punishments attached. The educational level among Libyans (83 percent, spread evenly among the genders and social classes) was among the highest in Africa and the Arab world. Incidentally, it was this high literacy rate that aided the pro-democracy revolution that took off in Tunisia, spread to Egypt and was copied by Libyans now yearning for democracy.
The sudden onset of the Arab Spring at the end of 2010 caught everyone unawares. Certainly, Gaddafi was psychologically unprepared and unwilling to adjust to the demand for democratic change. He was not like that great Ghanaian leader, Flt Lt Jerry Rawlings, who staged two revolutions, cleaned his country free of political and economic vermin, conducted a decade of dictatorship and personally ushered Ghana into a genuine democratic dispensation that has survived for two decades and growing stronger. Gaddafi only saw “dogs” that he benefitted with his rule. He refused to adjust or even run away to safety when he had the Republic of South Africa , Venezuela and other countries begging him to come for asylum. He held on till he was killed, his family ruined, his town and tribe dismantled and everything lost.
Now that Gaddafi is gone the hard part of the challenge stares everybody in the face. The Libyan National Transitional Council, NTC, is a coalition of strange bedfellows united by the urge to oust Gaddafi. Now that the mission has been accomplished, we wait to see what other factors still unite them. This is the usual point where former comrade-at-arms begin bloody rivalries.
In Libya’s case, there are ethnic, religious, ideological and oil-related reasons for factional fights for control. There are guns everywhere and in every hand. In terms of control, Libya today is comparable only to Somalia. It is usually in this state of flux that Al Qaeda and related Islamist organisations come fishing.
The road ahead of Libya is, indeed, rough, long and winding. For a country and an Arab culture that is used to only dictatorship, the yearning for democracy may be a mere chimera, as feasible as the mirages that are usually commonplace in desert climes. Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia where the military establishments survived the fall of the regimes and have since taken charge of the transition to democracy, the Libyan military under Gaddafi was defeated by the citizen revolutionary fighters. This is the most complete revolution ever witnessed in the Arab Spring.
With only a provisional Executive Council led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, it will be interesting to see how the country will be brought under control and the transition to democracy initiated. If it works, it will be a major and uncommon sociological miracle of our time.
But if it is mismanaged, the reverberations will transcend Libya. The country might disintegrate, as tribes and factions might engage in wars of supremacy and control over the nation’s oil resources. When such conflicts explode, the West will take sides, and so will Islamists and Libya might turn into another Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia for years to come. If this happens, both Libyans and Nigerians and countries within reach might look back with nostalgia at the period that Gaddafi was able to run his country peacefully and prosperously. Today’s jubilant victors may never live to see the peaceful, prosperous and democratic Libya they fought for.
For us in Nigeria , the North might become an even hotter bed than Boko Haram has turned it into. With a lot of displaced gunmen and former Gaddafi fighters, many of whom belong to nomadic cultures now roaming the open Sahel, the territorial integrity of our country may take a bad hit. We now have no choice but to press ahead with President Jonathan’s new idea for a national identity card system. We may also have no alternative than to be more serious with manning our borders, especially our Northern borders.
When there was a serious drought in the Sahel and Sahara Desert countries in the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of strange-looking, like-skinned refugees thronged towns and cities of Nigeria, living exclusively as beggars and refusing to do any work. If the Libyan civil war and subsequent possible instability triggers another wave of migrations, it may bring a large number of armed and war-hardened refugees.
We can only guess at the consequences for our fragile polity.
Sambo’s ‘presidential campaign’
THE September 8, 2011 meeting of the North West Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, attracted a lot of interest. A routine executive council meeting was turned into a forum to push the perceived presidential ambition of Vice President Namadi Sambo. Sambo branded vehicles, T-shirts and the usual campaign memorabilia featured prominently, with: “The Promise, Namadi Project” boldly inscribed.
While this was interpreted to mean that the Vice President was announcing his readiness to contest the 2015 presidential election in the event that his boss would keep his word and do only one term, Sambo’s spokesman, Umar Sani, said it was the handiwork of mischief makers.
Over the past week, there have been media reports of renewed efforts by some Northern politicians, including Sambo, the Governor of Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, to initiate the race for the 2015 presidency.
Coming only four months after President Jonathan was sworn-in, with his government’s transformational agenda yet to be launched through the 2012 budget, it is becoming more obvious by the day that some Northern elements will do everything in their power to distract President Jonathan and ensure (as some of them threatened earlier when they failed to beat him to the PDP presidential ticket) the system is not condusive for him to govern.
Even if Atiku, the perpetual but serially failed presidential aspirant and Aliyu (in whose state the Boko Haram bomb factory was found and who pushed for a Northern consensus candidate against Jonathan in 2010) want to engage in this political mischief, what about Sambo, who is part of the regime? Sambo’s impulsive tendency to jump into premature campaigns is a well known trait, following his scandalous Daram dam dam 2011 declaration less than one year after being sworn in as the Governor of Kaduna State. His posters appeared all over the state to announce his second term bid. This was not to be, as he was picked up for the Vice Presidency by GEJ.
Sambo needs to learn from the experiences of rebellious former Vice President Atiku that when you show your ambition too early and too rudely your chances of succeeding your boss peters down to nil. His vaulting ambition will only set him against his boss, with GEJ’s supporters soon beginning to tackle him even where he has done nothing wrong.
Those who are jumping into the fray had better be warned: they are only slamming the door in their own faces come 2015!