Hakeem Baba-Ahmad

September 17, 2014

A tale of two nations

A tale of two nations

File Photo: President Jonathan shaking hands with northern leaders

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
What is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees
—African proverb.
IN an interview with Daily Trust newspaper last week, spokesman of Borno Elders Forum, Dr Bulama Gubio lamented that the people of the north east feel as if they are not Nigerians.

That plaintively revealing statement captures a lot more than what appears to be a successful takeover of the towns and villages they live in by an insurgency that has now declared many of them captive subjects of a separate caliphate.

The complaints over being neglected, ignored or abandoned have been heard countless times from Borno Elders, and from a thousand other sources since the murder of Muhammad Yusuf triggered the growth of a vicious group motivated by bitterness, fuelled by the zeal to fight the Nigerian state’s entire ideological and structural underpinnings, and emboldened by successes in that direction.

File Photo: President Jonathan shaking hands with northern leaders

File Photo: President Jonathan shaking hands with northern leaders

Dr. Gubio is one of the very few members of the elite who have chosen to remain behind, or who are unable to leave. The region has bled away most of its affluent and influential citizens. Those like him who stayed behind have seen an already backward economy destroyed; a community traumatized beyond words; social structures crumble and land and populations brought under occupation of terror.

Crashed spirits and morale

Borno State governor’s recent broadcast to the people, in which he attempted to shore up crashed spirits and morale while commending efforts to make this living nightmare of the people all go away woyld have sounded surreal to most of the people who had electricity, tv set, radio, the time or the peace of mind to listen to him. Dignity of elders and leaders is be difficult to preserve in the face of traumatized populations streaming into towns as refugees, adding to the fear and desperation of those already resigned to being taken over any day now.

The enemy crawls nearer with certainty and confidence by the day, while those who can afford contact with the rest of Nigeria hear of another country where life is normal; economies grow, children go to school, and young people look towards a bright future.

A few weeks ago, people in the north east would have heard that over N58b was pledged as Terror Victims Fund. If they expected that they would receive immediate relief from those pledged amounts, all of them being victims, their expectations would have taken a further dip, and their feelings of alienation from a nation they used to feel proud to be a part of would have been heightened.

This is a part of Nigeria where refugees flee along with the military when towns or villages are lost. The refugees stop briefly to count their losses in young men conscripted on pain of death or slaughtered to serve as incentives to the conscripts, or as suspected volunteers in Civilian JTF, or in young girls and women selected for abduction.

They squeeze into schools and government offices, at the mercy of all the elements and the stretched resources of state governments and relief agencies. Nigeria now has well over  one million internally displaced persons (IDPs). These are people who, a few weeks ago, were farmers, workers, housewives or school children in towns and villages only a few kilometres away. No one is sure how long they will stay in camps, but they are grateful that they are not in those towns and villages where terrorists have total control over who lives or dies the next minute.

A few months ago, most of these refugees shared the outrage of the nation and the world over the abduction of the Chibok girls. Now many of them have lost many more daughters and wives, while hope dims by the day that the Chibok girls will be found and freed.

In another part of the same nation, life goes on normally. The main preoccupation is for current leaders to get re-elected. Once in a while, leaders and citizens get all worked up over events such as the importation of a   disease such as Ebola, but federal government doles out N1.9b to fight it, and state governments take extraordinary measures to forestall an epidemic.Nigeria’s rich and priveleged are saved from being temporarily prevented from flying around the world, spending their wealth.

Sometimes quarrels break out between politicians over who to blame over the plight of citizens in the north-east, or when the president hobnobs with   politicians from the region accused of being pillars of support for the terrorists, but they are soon forgotten, until the next one breaks out. Soldiers and policemen find comfort in creating the facade of normalcy around places where the powerful and the wealthy live. The most impressive outings of the Nigerian state are seen when elections are being organized. On these occasions, thousands of soldiers and security personnel are sent to keep voters in queues, and to remind the citizenry that Nigerian democracy flows from the barrel of the gun.

Voices of people like Dr Gubio and Borno Elders are becoming fainter. In the same week they wrote their open letter to President Jonathan,Northern Elders Forum and the more circumspect Arewa Consultative Forum also released strongly worded statements lampooning the President for turning his back on the people of the North.These groups must be wondering what else to say, and who to say it to, going by their   widely-publicised tearful lamentations. Perhaps they count on the fact that the Vice President, Minister of Defence, NSA, Inspector-General of Police and a few other influential political office holders are northerners, and they may feel their pain.

Or they remember that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are both northerners,and they could leverage on the superiority in numbers of northern legislators to engineer a more robust response from the federal government.

They could be hoping that the intimate relationship which our president enjoys with some northerners will make him more amenable to showing a firmer resolve and stronger political will to fight the insurgency eating up their lives, or showing more compassion towards victims.Even more improbable,they could be desperate enough to think northern governors will   spare five minutes to read their pleas for attention and action.

The two parts of the Nigerian nation will drift further apart as our leaders fail to accord the defeat of this insurgency the highest priority.

The enemy will win the next elections because the government will predicate its campaign strategy on the need for four more years to defeat it, and the opposition will insist that only its government will defeat it. While they argue and campaign, the government will not fight it because that will deprive it of a major campaign asset, and the opposition’s criticism of government’s response to terror will be a double-edged sword, at best.

The people of the north east, or even much of the North will be further exposed to a war against them; a war which is neither declared or acknowledged as one. By the time some Nigerians go to the polls, if indeed there are elections early next year, many of their fellow citizens would have been under effective occupation by terrorists for months. There will be many Nigerians who will wonder if they will ever be Nigerians again.