National Conference, 2014: The politics of national security

on   /   in Is'haq Modibbo Kawu 9:12 am   /   Comments

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

IN the best case scenario,countries rally together in moments of national crisis. They put aside superficial divisions; suspend deep-seated hostilities to create the necessary national accord to defeat a nation-threatening crisis. Many examples abound in history.

The British  allied faced with the danger of the Third Reich; the Soviet Union made the greatest sacrifice in the Second World War, losing about 25million people, rallying in the face of Nazi aggression even Nigeria found common purpose to end the secessionist project of the 1960s. When nations rally in the face of crisis, they collectively work to ward off danger. Nigeria is in crisis today; big time! But politics can hinder the ability to come together. Nigerian politics is characterised  by unhealthy suspicions between its  elite groups; the entrenched rivalries across region and religion; between North and South. Even the mutually destructive anti-state insurgency; kidnappings and killings in our country today, can’t reduce these suspicions; they threaten our ability to rally.

On Monday morning, I sponsored a motion at the National Conference. But it was not straight forward; because as the day’s session opened, and against the backdrop of the early morning bombing in Abuja, Dan Nwanyanwu of the Nigeria Labour Party moved a motion that was seconded by Mike Ozekhome (SAN).

The motion threatened what we had submitted to the Conference Leadership to concentrate minds about the killings in several parts of Northern Nigeria. I had argued prior to sponsoring the motion, that we should use the crisis situation to build bridges to other Nigerians and use it to deepen unity within the National Conference and Nigeria in general.  My position was canvassed because rumour was rife that Northern Delegates planned to boycott sittings for two days, to protest the security situation in the North. Frankly, I thought it was wrong strategy. I reminded the Northern Delegates’ Forum, that when students of the FGC in Yobe state were murdered in cold blood, parents in Southern Nigeria demonstrated against the killings. They were not obliged to do so, but they made  a powerful statement for our collective humanity and helped to bring  us together as Nigerians.

Joint statement against insurgency

I argued further that we should rally other delegates to jointly make a statement of unity against the insurgency in the North; the killings of  innocent, poor  people and the wanton destruction of infrastructure in the most underdeveloped regions of Nigeria.

By winning the buy-in of our colleagues into our concern, we would emphasise the pan-Nigerian nature of the problem; bring ourselves together and help to reduce the mutual suspicions that the Boko Haram insurgency engendered in the country. The narrative for many in Southern Nigeria, was that the insurgency was sponsored by the Northern political elite, against the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. In recent months, there is a shift of grounds; the indiscriminate ferocity of recent killings have made many people to reconsider their perception. And by winning the empathy of all delegates, I strongly argued, that we would have done more for national unity.

But old prejudices and suspicions resemble Pavlov’s dog in the old scientific experiment; they have become conditioned reflexes amongst the Nigerian political elite. By Monday morning, BLUEPRINT newspaper, which is well circulated at the National Conference, led with the story that Northern Delegates had a plan to boycott the conference. That must have conditioned attitudes on the “other” side of the Nigerian political divide. The Nyaya bombing seemed to then lend some incendiary residuals to the charged atmosphere against which plenary held on Monday. The rival motions which ought to have brought us together, just opened a bit more the chasm of suspicion located in the Nigerian political arena. So from trying to use the crises situation to rally ourselves, we ended up becoming even more suspicious of each other and the bitterness that people were barely suppressing like an active volcano released some hot political lava by Tuesday’s meeting, when a choreographed response was let out again, by those who felt the Conference Leadership had shown bias towards my motion, in refusing to record Dan Nwayanwu’s first motion from Monday morning. Even when an emendation was cobbled together by the leadership, a retired military administrator from AkwaIbom, objected to the third item of my motion, which had asked for reconstruction and rehabilitation of crises affected areas of Northern Nigeria! Whatever was applicable to those areas in the North must equally be done in the South.

I have never underrated the depth of the divides in Nigeria. There is incredible suspicion bordering on near-hatred in some circles. Much of these negative feelings built up over the decades as rivalry within the political elite deepened in the desperacy to control power and the accruing  riches. The National Conference accentuates these hostilities; suspicions and mutually reinforcing prejudices. But what is clear to me too, is that there is no way a nation can be successfully constructed where the elites deeply distrust themselves as those in Nigeria. The fact that we could not rally ourselves with the crises situation that threaten all of us, just underscores the danger which Nigeria faces into the future.

Borno’s baggage of despair and hope

I MADE up my mind to write about political developments in Borno state, in the wake of the reported rapproachment between Governor Kashim Shettima and former Governor Ali Modu Sherriff. It was clear that all was not well between the two, and in the build up to the 2015 election, the struggle to control the ruling APC and who would be the party’s gubernatorial candidate, would be the central issues. The portents were frightening; and Borno could not afford the looming political crisis, especially with the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.

Tremendous efforts had been invested into the development process by Governor Kashim Shettima, as I have written on this page in the past: agricultural projects; developments in education; empowerment processes for youth and women; renewal of the urban areas; infrastructural development, and so on. These developments will take a backburner once the negative elements of the politics of 2015 preoccupy all sides. Just when the worst seemed inevitable, it was announced that hatchets had been buried in Borno, following clear-the-air meetings between Governor Shettima and former governor Sherriff. And the process was facilitated by Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim Imam.

Incidentally, Imam is a delegate at the on-going National Conference. On Monday this week, I discussed the Borno scenario with him. He gave me a detailed analysis and why it became imperative to work for peace, because in the long run, it was about Borno’s future! Kashim Imam said there was no way that the war of attrition would not further the suffering of the people. A people that have been visited by the depredations of Boko Haram must not suffer the double jeopardy of political warfare within and amongst members of the elite. That all sides of the feud chose to bury the hatchet was a major statement of leadership responsibility, the kind that this moment in Borno demands of all its elites.

Abducted female students

But we were talking effusively about political reconciliation, when the story broke of the abduction of over 100 female students from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno state. Armed groups around Africa in recent years have targeted young school girls, as booties of war. The Ugandan Lord Resistance Army; the RUF in Sierra Leone and now Boko Haram in Nigeria, have abducted young girls.

These young girls, according to the experience, were turned into sex slaves! As a parent of daughters myself, I feel the pains of the parents and relations of the abducted young girls. These are communities with some of the lowest enrolment figures in schools in Nigeria (especially those of the girl child), and to lose over 100 girls to abductors is the worst form of trauma for the children and their families. But above all else, it can set back every effort to improve education in these communities. It is therefore important that every effort be made to rescue the children but we must also offer counseling opportunities to them, their parents and communities.

Re: Fulbe Nomads: From negative profiling to ethnic cleansing

LAST week on this page, I wrote about the unending negative profiling of the Fulbe nomads and the new and dangerous effort at ethnically cleansing Fulbe people in different parts of Nigeria. The most recent was the killings perpetrated by the Nigerian Army in Keana, Nasarawa state. I also noted the role of the Nigerian media in that dangerous trend, making a particular note of THE NATION newspapers titles in the profiling of the Fulbe nomad.

The reader will recall  that I mentioned my discussion with Sam Omatseye, Chairman of the Editorial Board of THE NATION newspapers. Last Friday, he called me and angrily objected to my mentioning his name in the piece, because it linked him directly with the issues I had raised. Sam Omatseye reminded me that we did not conclude our discussion three weeks ago, because we were about to commence plenary at the National Conference.

He was right! We did not conclude our discussion and I should not have brought him into my narrative. I assured Sam that I did not intend to impugn his person whatsoever, and as a sign of my goodwill, I have decided to make this full disclosure this week.

What I said about the general pattern of media coverage and profiling of the Fulbe retains its poignancy. In a moment like we have in Nigeria today, especially in Northern Nigeria, with the tragic killings, wanton destruction of properties and the unconscionable kidnap of young women, it has become even more imperative for the media to be more professional in its fidelity to the facts. These are times of very deep wounds and emotions in our country, and people can easily lose their heads and precipitate even worse crises than we are grappling with at the moment.

We must do everything to assist the growth of tendencies of peaceful co-existence amongst our peoples; the profiling of the Fulbe or any other communities will not assist such a process.

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