By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
I HAVE been holed up in Kaduna since Saturday afternoon; my family is based here, so I travel between Abuja and Kaduna almost every week, when I am not visiting Ilorin or other destinations within and outside Nigeria. I was servicing my vehicle on Sunday morning, when news broke of the bombings in the churches in Zaria and Kaduna.
I didn’t need a soothsayer to tell me that we were in a lot of trouble. First there was the unending flow of SMS messages from everywhere, giving hints; offering advice; passing on the latest gossip and sending gory pictures from the scenes of the bombings. In a lot of ways, these messages are very useful and can often be the difference between staying alive and being caught up in the wrong places.
But they can also be wildly off the mark, helping to deepen fear or even adding potentially combustible material to a raging inferno! The Nigerian proclivity for rumour and unsubstantiated allegations has found a natural space in the ever-widening world of BB messaging and the internet.
Attack the attacker theory: As it was, the Kaduna State government imposed a 24-hour curfew on the city following the reprisal killings which happened in Gonin Gora (now the most notorious and most dangerous place for a travelling Muslim); Sabon Tashar and Trikania. I was checking with colleagues in the media as well as a couple of friends in government to put flesh to the skeleton of stories we have picked from the media and the grapevines.
Until the claim of responsibility for the attack from Boko Haram, there were stories emerging from Zaria, that 24 hours before the explosions, security personnel had been withdrawn from many parts of Zaria; and that sounded very curious indeed.
There was also the message which went viral that a certain John Odia who was suspected to be mastermind of the Zaria bombing had been apprehended by the police and the related story about a certain Dr. John Danfulani, who was asking Christians to go on the offensive, on the basis of what he allegedly called the “attack the attacker theory…an all-out war against murderers”.
That incredible provocation to “counter murder” must be placed against the message which also emanated from the ABU Teaching Hospital branch of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which reported how doctors of the hospital “trooped to the hospital in (sic) short notice when they received text messages calling them out”.
The NARD message said “irrespective of religions people came together to save lives….above all…a special gratitude should go to Malam Ibrahim Al-Zazzaky and his followers who donated blood for the victims irrespective of their religions. Wallahi they donated more than 100 pints of blood two days ago which makes our work a bit easier”.
This was the situation against which we were in lock down for 24 hours, as usual without regular supply of electricity; with the regular drone above of security helicopters and the internet and telephone calls and messages lighting the burden of the curfew.
There was some respite on Monday and a few people were able to take advantage of the relaxation of the curfew hours to make a dash for Abuja; I was not that lucky. I have stayed an extra day and was preparing to return this afternoon (Tuesday), when the city of Kaduna entered a panic and hysteria mode!
People started running helter-skelter and the story was that killings have started in different parts of the city. They mentioned Independence Way, which was farther from Sunday’s flashpoints and more central and closer to the elite settlements of the city.
Cars were turning and going in different directions; Yan Achaba were speeding with careless abandon and whoever you asked did not know much, except that the best thing to do was to run for dear life! Again, the journalist in me decided to ask questions and the Bureau Chief of BLUEPRINT newspaper, Ibrahim Musa, assured me that there was nothing more than hysteria following unfounded rumour. Someone had sent a text message about some killings and that was followed by another which talked of reprisal killings and all hell broke lose! By the time I got to my children’s school, there was bedlam everywhere!
From normal to hysteria atmosphere: There is just no way that normal existence can be lived in the hysterical atmosphere which has gripped Kaduna and much of Northern Nigeria. Socio-economic life is collapsing all around us and the family structure is straining.
When I read that President Goodluck Jonathan was asking God to help us out, in response to the bombings on Sunday, I knew that we are in deeper trouble than we have ever fathomed. I think the President is genuinely exasperated about the problem and he is not helped by the prevailing mindset at the highest levels of the security apparatus. Let me try and deconstruct the issues as best I can.
Last week, saw the launch of a propaganda offensive in the media against faceless, Northern elements, that are allegedly against the NSA, Owoye Azazi. These forces are said to be trying to oust the man from his place atop the apparently, very lucrative security apparatus. I cannot comment about the rivalries within the smoke-filled recesses of security politicking; but it is important to think outside the box, in respect of the security challenge which Boko Haram poses to Nigeria.
Those who think it is a political conspiracy by Northerners have been informed by the role the political and security elite from the South-South played in nurturing and financing militancy in the Niger Delta. These elements are now in power in Nigeria, and faced with the Boko Haram problem and the political crisis associated with the PDP’s zoning policy in the lead to President Jonathan’s emergence as PDP candidate in the 2011 election, they assume that the Northern political elite is similarly manipulating Boko Haram to achieve political ends. Honestly, I don’t think so.
In truth, I think the Northern political, traditional and religious establishments are as confused and paralysed about Boko Haram. I had very illuminating discussions last weekend with people who know, and I think that in truth, there are difficulties about Boko Haram, which nevertheless can be simplified, if the regime in power learns to think and behave differently.
I will come back to the confusion within the Northern establishment later. But why won’t the government make very radical gestures to show that it wants an end to this crisis? The security apparatus as it is presently constituted has too much money to play around with (and possibly steal!); it is, therefore, not interested in an end to the crisis, in my humble opinion.
But if the government would release the women and children of members of Boko Haram; release the lowly foot soldiers of the organisation and stop the demolition of their homes and mosques (rather like what Israel does in occupied Palestine), it might be a good step forward.
I also think that a spirited effort should be made to convince Dr. Datti Ahmed to re-commence a secret process of negotiation again with the Boko Haram people, at least for the sake of the mass of the Nigerian people resident in the North, who have to go through the suffering, humiliation, killing and counter-killing, that has become the way of life here!
I think this is the way to go. I know there are cynical elements within the Jonathan entourage who say it is okay that Northerners are killing themselves. But surely, the President of Nigeria must not share such a cynical perspective, except, as he once said, he is prepared to sink the Nigerian boat. If this boat sinks, far too many lives will be lost at sea!
Finally, I think there are deep-seated problems within the Northern establishment at the moment. These range from the petty rivalries between groups of the elite; the incredible greed which has led to the erosion of a sense of history and consequently the loss of legitimacy for various sections of our establishment. This is within a context of seismic shifts in the demography of Northern Nigeria.
It is a predominantly young population, cut adrift by the alienation and anger which follows lack of education; bad education; lack of skills and no prospects for jobs.
The gloomy situation must also be set against the backdrop of a serious ecological crisis and the effect that is having on nomadic patterns of existence amongst my own Fulbe people; the deepening clashes with settled agricultural peoples; the struggle for political and economic advantages which groups of the elite manipulate in their struggle for advantage and position and political economy choices made by the Nigerian bourgeoisie, in the form of neo-liberal capitalism.
Resources which hitherto would have been used to solve basic problems of the people, are simply stolen by the ruling class, and in the North, given a thousand-year history of Islam, resistance to the prevailing hopelessness has been framed in the radical Islam of Boko Haram and groups like that.
There is a counter-radicalism of evangelical Christianity, which has become increasingly popular, again because of the various aspects of the history of Northern Nigeria. This is also becoming a locus of reprisal killings as we saw at the weekend, in certain neighbourhoods of Kaduna.
Collapse of the ruling class: As I am concluding this piece, the Kaduna State government has re-imposed a 24 hour curfew on the state, in response to the hysteria I have tried to describe today. It means I cannot return to Abuja and I am forced to spend the next 24 hours in Kaduna and like other residents of this city, contemplate the unknown; share the stories and rumours which the internet and BB messaging allow us to and it offers the opportunity to reflect upon the serious crisis we face as a country.
The ruling class project is failing big time and in Northern Nigeria, that failure confronts all of us in the insecurity of daily existence; the destruction of inter-faith and inter-community relationships.
I think we are arriving at the point of no return, unless those who rule can reign-in their greed and learn to become a consciously responsible nation-building elite. I am an incurable optimist by nature, but I feel absolutely pessimistic about the ability of the Nigerian ruling class to re-invent itself positively. And as that song said: “WAHALA DEY O”!