By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN I lived in the North (NigerState to be precise) I got to know the importance of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, (JNI).
A grassroots-based organisation, it had (probably still has) a volunteer youth group akin to the Boy Scouts, who wore white paramilitary uniforms with blue berets and trimmings. They were often seen during public events helping maintain crowd order.
I came out of the North with an impression of the JNI as a very peaceful and organised group (though it translates: Society for the Victory of Islam) dedicated to promoting missionary work and education of the Muslim community without posing any problem to others. That the Sultan of Sokoto is its national president suggests very much that it is loyal to the ruling traditional establishment inNorthern Nigeria.
Therefore, when the JNI expresses an opinion on any national issue it means the establishment of the Muslim North with the Sultan of Sokoto as the Head is speaking. The reigning Sultan, Alhaji Sa’adu Abubakar III, is easily the most modernised and urbane leader ofNigeria’s Muslim community; a distinguished retired military officer whose bridge-building efforts across our cultural and religious divides is unrivalled among his colleagues. No other ruler or religious leader has visited and been visited by their peers across the lines as this Sultan.
I went into this preamble in order to situate the recent intervention the JNI made in the wake of the “removal” of some commanding officers in the Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, after terrorist suicide bombings that claimed between ten and twenty lives in a military church within the institution’s hallowed, otherwise fortified grounds on November 27th 2012. Since terrorists started targeting churches across the North, their ability to successfully gain entry into this fortress and citadel of military learning, as well as their gun attack on the headquarters of the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) headquarters in Abuja, showed just how closer these Al Qaeda-linked anarchists are getting towards severing the frail bond that still ties our nation together – the military and security services.
Every Nigerian genuinely concerned for the continued existence of the nation and the peaceful co-existence of its religious, regional and ethnic components should have been deeply frightened – in fact, alarmed – at the Jaji andAbujainroads of Boko Haram. Admittedly, the JNI was one of the stakeholders which openly condemned the attacks. But it was a major surprise that JNI also criticised the removal of the two commanding officers of the relevant units pending investigation.
According to the statement issued by JNI’s Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Aliyu in Kaduna: “While reiterating our condemnation of the blasts and emphasising the need for the immediate and thorough investigations into the matter, we want to state that the immediate removal of the two officers does not speak well of the military, which was hitherto known to be careful and objective in dealing with sensitive issues of national interest …
“Nigerians may not understand why the two Jaji officers would be removed in connection to the blasts even before any proper investigation, while no immediate posting-out followed the bombings at the First Mechanised Division (of the Nigerian Army) and the Police Headquarters, which preceded it.
“The fact that the two officers, who were swiftly removed, were Muslims, and were replaced by two officers who are non-Muslims makes any discerning observer to be suspicious of the motives behind the whole exercise”.
What happened in Jaji andAbujawere grievous system failures that threatened the security of the nation so much that members of the House of Representatives panicked and feared that even the National Assembly complex was no longer safe. In each case, particularly the Jaji episode, many commentators have been of the view that some insiders might have facilitated access to the terrorists. The first instinct of any genuine patriot should be to sue for “the immediate, thorough investigation into the matter” as JNI put it.
How can a “careful and objective” investigation be conducted with the officials suspected to have failed in their duties (or even complicit) being allowed to stay put on the job? When the Dana Airline plane crashed in June this year, one of the steps taken was to suspend Dr. Harold Demuren, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from office until a panel cleared and restored him to office.
I expected JNI to applaud the temporary removal of these officers irrespective of their religious backgrounds until investigations cleared them of complicity or failure to do their jobs. If after such clearance they are not restored then not only JNI but also all well-meaning Nigerians must condemn their victimisation.
The atrocities of terrorists who are pushing for the unconstitutional imposition of Islamic agenda on Nigerians who do not share their faith and Muslims who do not share their alien and unacceptable agenda impose a great moral burden on genuine Islamic platforms such as JNI. They must keep reassuring their targeted Christians neighbours (who are often caught in the act of worship and have largely refrained from reprisal attacks on Muslim targets) that these terrorists and their apologists are not enjoying their tacit support or approval.
Innocent Nigerians targeted, principally Christians and southerners, have endured untold emotional strain, with hardly a week passing without tearful burials of victims of Boko Haram attacks and hundreds lying critically ill with broken limbs. We don’t want to worsen the situation by meddling in the affairs of the military.
We should know the danger of unguarded opinions on military matters. Our history tells us that once upon a time, we used regional politics to break the ranks of the military and the nation paid for it with a civil war. We must refrain from allowing religious dichotomies to infiltrate our security services.
If these officers are found clean they must be reinstated. If otherwise they must pay according to the law.
Meddlers keep off!