By Pini Jason
RECENTLY, a national newspaper quoted Raph Uwazurike as threatening that the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, may join forces with Boko Haram! And I say why not? Better still, why not Biko Haram which in Igbo could be translated to mean “Please Leave Me”? Biko Haram could insist that they do not want English or Christian names! If the Federal Government negotiates with Boko Haram, it could also negotiate with Biko Haram! If amnesty, monetary compensations and overseas trainings eventually come to Boko Haram, Uwazurike’s Biko Haram could also fall in line for same.
Didn’t we know that when we let it seem like violence is the surest means to get the attention of the Federal Government we were ordaining what former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, after the July 7, 2005 bombings in London Underground and buses, called “the glorification of terrorism”? Speaking to Daily Independent newspaper of Monday June 27, 2011, human rights activist, Shehu Sani blamed the rise of regional insurgency on Federal Government’s policy of trying to please every group that takes up arms against the government.
In the heat of the Niger Delta violence, Governor Ikedi Ohakim understood the security needs of Imo as a state with common borders with the Niger Delta, apart from politically-motivated violent crimes and kidnappings in the state. He set up the highly successful “Operation Festival”, an anti-crime outfit which became a template for other states. He deployed extra effort and resources into calming the restive Niger Delta youths in Imo’s Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta local governments.
National assets in Imo State were thus safeguarded. But when it was time to grant amnesty and compensate the Niger Delta youths, Imo youths were left out simply because they were not blowing up oil installations in the state as others did! Governor Ohakim drew the attention of the nation to this mistake at a lecture titled, “Amnesty: Quick Fix or Silver Bullet?” at Sheraton Hotel Lagos on Friday November 20, 2009. Prof Jide Osuntokun, one of the discussants, peremptorily dismissed the idea of rewarding peace. But fortunately the Federal Government appreciated Ohakim’s argument that you don’t make it look like violence pays and accommodated Imo youths in its amnesty programme.
Today, amnesty has become a “quick fix” and convenient substitute for diligent governance, the primary purpose of which is to guarantee the security of life and property! When robbers and kidnappers took over Abia State, what was the solution?
Governor T.A Orji offered amnesty! Now many commentators are recommending amnesty as the solution to Boko Haram insurgency. When Boko Haram exploded on the national scene, their grievance, we were told, is that they do not want Western education! We are aware that many Northern governments are using a lot of carrots to cajole children into largely empty classrooms, but we are not aware that people are being arrested and forcefully taken to schools.
Often we throw solutions at problems we hardly understand and end up treating the symptom. We may find out eventually that rejection of Western education may not be the real grievance of Boko Haram and its sponsors. If you are wondering why key government institutions like the Police, Customs, Army and mass killing are their targets, it seems to me that it is simply because these are targets that can make maximum impact on, and arrest the attention of the nation just as attacks on oil installations did in the Niger Delta! Maybe soon, Boko Haram militants will join their Niger Delta counterparts in the United States, Canada and South Africa. That will leave MASSOB green with envy!
Two problems have accounted for the Federal Government’s inability to secure Nigeria. The first is that Nigeria is very SOFT on crime! We are not a law-and-order society! Once a crime is committed, the motive, whether political or religious, should not distract us from punishing the crime! Taking up arms against the state, kidnapping, killing, arson, bombing, etc, are all acts of crime that cannot be rationalized by politics.
Since the commercialisation of kidnapping and increase in violent robbery and bombings, the Federal Government has not shown any demonstrable outrage. All we get is: “We shall fish out the culprits”! Why not a proactive programme of intercepting the culprits and their weapons before they strike? The guns and explosives they use are transported from one point to another, either on the persons of the culprits or in vehicles.
Why not a six-month programme of thorough search and decommissioning of all illegal armaments nationwide? Nigerians will be inconvenienced, but we shall all be safer and happier for it! But as I write, police men and soldiers deployed on the nation’s highways are still searching for “particulars” and “proof of ownership” at this critical time! Squeeze N20 into their palms, you could run all the gauntlets of checkpoints with the Inspector General of Police in your booth! And the superior officers are aware of this irresponsibility!
After September 11, 2001 dastardly bombings in the United States by Al Qaeda, America showed outrage! It altered the way we all live and travel. If you don’t like it, stay in your corner of the world. But Americans are safer! If America were Nigeria, Al Qaeda would still be having a field day and probably would have realised their failed objective of bombing the White House!
The second problem is that we perceive our national problems as a slide movie. We view them frame by frame, never getting the big picture. OPC frame comes into view, we hee and haw about it. Then MOSOP frame; MEND; MASSOB; Boko Haram; what next? This tunnel view of our problems is because, as my late friend, Salihijo Ahmad, used to insist, our leaders do not read matters related to their responsibilities! In this country today, there is hardly any problem the solution of which is not lying between file covers, gathering dust.
From June 1999 to 2001, the Sweden based inter-governmental organization, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, I-IDEA, at the request of President Obasanjo, carried out a democracy assessment nationwide. This field work was carried out by 53 international resource persons, including some of the best scholars in this country. The report is titled, Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation Building. In that report you hear the voices of Nigerians. Three regions of Nigeria likely to threaten our democracy, were highlighted and given special focus. These are the Niger Delta, North Central (or Middle Belt) and the North East! These areas have since witnessed violence foretold!
Sir Shridath (Sonny) Ramphal, former Secretary General of Commonwealth who was Chairman of Board of I-IDEA, led us to present the report to President Obasanjo. Apart from flipping through the book as we made presentation, I seriously doubt if he ever read the book! I say so because all the problems we are wrestling with today were highlighted there and solutions proffered. The North Central problem is not simply religious as people glibly conclude, but scarcity of grazing land and the preponderance of retired military and paramilitary elements who easily resort to arms to settle the slightest disagreement. In the North East where Boko Haram operates today, the report highlighted a high incidence of cross-border invasion by terrorists. I was not surprised by a recent report that some Somalis, Nigeriens and Chadians were arrested in Borno.
We held dissemination workshops in the six geopolitical zones in 2001 to plug the report into the Nigerian society. In each of the zones the choice of the people was “review the constitution” or “convoke a national conference” as either the first or second choice. These choices were expected to deepen democracy. We gave the report to all the leaders in the country then.
The only person I know who read it page by page is my friend Chimaraoke Nnamani, former Governor of Enugu. Notwithstanding that we were in Enugu at the time he lost his father, he invited Nomboniso Gasa, the South African Country officer of I-IDEA, Barr Joy Ezeilo and myself to discuss the report further.
I beg President Jonathan to take a day off to read that report, it will help him transform Nigeria. It was deliberately titled Continuing Dialogue(s) because democracy is a process, not an event. There are many dialogues the Nigerian state must have with different peoples of Nigeria. We have been talking at one another but not with one another! Frame by frame approach will not solve the problems associated with nation building! And we must stop thinking that once our own problem is solved, Nigeria’s problem is solved.