By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
OVER the weekend, Nigerian newspapers reproduced the interview given to the Financial Times (FT) of London, by Andrew Owoye Azazi, President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA).
In that interview, Azazi re-iterated a position he has long canvassed about the Boko Haram insurgency; that the group has received professional training and it has links with militant organizations abroad.
Azazi told his interviewers that Nigerian security forces recovered training manuals “written in Arabic,” training videos and “martyr videos recorded by Boko Haram bombers (assertions obviously made to resonate with the experiences of British and Western readers!)” Azazi added that: “I watched videos of their weapons training, which is very professional. They are also innovative in making IEDS (improvised explosive devises)”.
Furthermore, the NSA pursued the line that runs through practically all his recent statements about the insurgency; that of an international link: “I want to believe very strongly that there is outside assistance. We are thinking of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.” Azazi gave as reason for the so far, incompetent handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, the fact that “crimes we were used to are armed robbery and car snatching (obviously various acts of banditry by criminal gangs in the Niger Delta do not approximate to ‘crimes we are used to’!)
But Boko Haram has suicide bombers with explosives”. Andrew Azazi’s real intention for the interview was clear: there was not going to be any dialogue with Boko Haram. As he told FT, he forecloses any dialogue with Boko Haram, because the group ‘is still faceless’. Azazi gave his FT interview on February 10, 2012, much after PresidentGoodluck Jonathan’s interview with Reuters, on January 26, 2012.
President Jonathan had unambiguously stated, that his administration was willing to dialogue with Boko Haram: “If they clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why we are resisting, this is the reason why we are confronting government or this is the reason why we are destroying some innocent people and their properties…then there will be a basis for a dialogue…
We will dialogue, let us know your problems and we will solve your problem but if they don’t identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?” President Jonathan also saw the need to go beyond the strong-armed tactics of the military in the bid to resolve the crisis: “military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks;” an “enabling environment for young people to find jobs”, is also needed. The president added that: “our commitment is to make sure our irrigation programmes are all revitalised so most of these young people are engaged in productive agriculture and…will not be free for them to recruit.”
These are the words of an elected president, attempting to appreciate the deeper issues latent to the rebellion. A Reuters’ report on Monday, February 13, 2012, corroborated Jonathan’s more nuanced position. It said poverty in Nigeria is rising with almost 100 million people living on less than $1 a day; in 2010 60.9 per cent of Nigerians live in absolute poverty, compared with 54.7 percent in 2004, quoting the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. The NBS estimates the trend may have increased further, in 2011. The Report added that the North is poorest, feeding the Boko Haram insurgency.
What is frightening is the fact that an unelected National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, seemed to be countermanding the Commander-in-Chief! The president stretches a hand of dialogue in an interview with Reuters on January 26, while Azazi in FT on February 10 forecloses dialogue. Now who is the boss here, Jonathan or Azazi?
This question is not altogether a flight of fancy, because it follows a pattern of behaviour by the NSA. On January 2nd, 2011, the long-time Nigeria watcher, American Professor Jean Heskovits, wrote an article for the famous New York Times newspaper, warning the United States government against getting sucked into a Nigerian variant of the controversial “War on Terror”, for a host of reasons; chiefly, the professor had argued that “the root cause of violence and anger in both the north and south of Nigeria is endemic poverty and hopelessness”.
Two days later, on January 4, Andrew Azazi, chose the rightwing rag, Washington Times, to stoke hysteria in America, arguing that “terrorists from Nigeria have again turned the joyful celebrations of Christmas into a D-Day for premeditated mass murder…America is at risk from this type of violence”. He subsequently sought for a “strategic security relationship” with the Americans; a euphemism for AFRICOM, which is essentially an American imperialist platform to secure oil and fight Islam!
What might explain Azazi’s tendency to push a security doomsday scenario in almost frontal opposition to President Jonathan’s desire for dialogue? What is the basis of his temerity to countermand the president of our country as he has clearly done, with the FT interview? In the first place, as I have argued in an earlier piece on this page (“Between Herskovits, Azazi and Jonathan” on January 12, 2012), Azazi as NSA must continuously justify the near-trillion Naira that the regime in power allocated for security in the 2012 budget.
He sits atop the security apparatus that is set to consume that huge pile of money! Therefore, it is not in his interest for the dialogue, which the president seems to increasingly prefer, to get started or succeed. There is a lot of money for international security contractors and their Nigerian collaborators to cream off, so the party of war and security will not be happy with a movement for dialogue and reconciliation. Andrew Azazi is the head of this unelected clan of securicratsand his position has been influenced within this general context.
There is also the fear, especially in many circles in Northern Nigeria, that Andrew Azazi has a strong anti-North and anti-Islam bias. That explains why conspiracy theories have emerged, that there is a Fifth Column, with links to the security apparatus, which is responsible for a number of the bombings; especially those that appear to target non-Muslim communities, because of a hidden agenda to set the nation’s different groups against each other.
The gung-ho position the NSA has consistently taken against dialogue, merely deepens suspicions about what his exact intentions are. But it must be made clear that the final authority in these matters must be the president and commander-in-chief! If President Goodluck Jonathan has clearly stated preference for dialogue, then it becomes unacceptable for an unelected Andrew Azazi to give another interview “foreclosing” dialogue with Boko Haram. He is not our president and cannot be the final word in such matters.
The Sovereign National Conference (SNC) Tower of Babel
LAST week, we caught a whiff of the deep-seated delusion embedded in the unceasing call by a section of the elite, mainly from Southern Nigeria, for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) of the “tribes” making up Nigeria. The Tower of Babel of SNC, well almost, finally hit the ground in Lagos, rather like a distressed ship arriving at the Apapa port.
A two-day conference organised by the National Summit Group, which carried its own contradictions about sponsorship, offered the opportunity for the “believers” in SNC to make a show of their conviction at the banquet hall of the Sheraton Hotel and Towers.
Some of the earliest ‘converts’ to the ‘new creed’ (Fela might call it follow-follow), of SNC, can ‘proudly’ date their conversion to the year 1990, when SNCs were held in the small Francophone West African nations like Mali and Benin.
It was appropriated by the Nigerian ‘converted’ and turned, appropriately enough, into the bludgeon to threaten secession, if the ‘tribes’ of Nigeria did not gather, screaming and kicking, to agree to the demand of the handful lot, but without doubt, loudest shouting (with a remarkable media presence!) for a ‘restructuring’ of Nigeria and the enthronement of ‘True Federalism’!
Abolition of states
Some others want ‘Fiscal Federalism’ and yet others want the abolition of states and creation of regions, a relapse to the 1960s! Even some of the clowns wanted a clause in their “People’s Constitution” to allow any ‘tribe’ so willing to freely secede, because according to the comedian in question, the Ethiopian Constitution guarantees Ethiopian ‘tribes’ such a right. Never for them an original thought or idea, which takes into cognizance the complex realities of our own country!
It followed that the first sod of the Tower of Babel of SNC or a clone of it, was finally turned last week. From what transpired, the foundation being laid isn’t likely to be better than the historical one! I am very curious just which “tribes” individuals like Frederick Faseun, Ndubuisi Kanu, Ayo Opadokun or Wole Soyinka will represent at their SNC. And given just how lightweight these gentlemen and others of their clan are politically, I have also been wondering how they will achieve such representation.
It certainly cannot be by election, since they are unlikely to get a look in. And just as day follows night, if such a Conference ever holds, without the presence of the noise-makers-in-chief or there is a defeat for ‘restructuring’ and ‘true federalism’, then the nation can be sure of new rounds of agitation. For many of these individuals, agitation has taken a life of its own and they live on and by it!