By Olu Fasan
- Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, recently stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told a radio station that “one of the northern governors is the commander of Boko Haram”.
- As quick as a flash, the Department of State Services, DSS, invited him for “questioning”, and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, slammed a N5m fine on the radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, for giving Dr. Mailafia a platform “to promote unverifiable and inciting views”.
Defending the DSS’s action, President Buhari’s senior media assistant, Garba Shehu, said: “When somebody claiming to be a responsible citizen makes such a claim as Obadiah Mailafia did … and he shouldn’t be asked questions, so what kind of society do we want?”
My immediate reaction was: What an utter distraction! The Yoruba would say A kii fi ete sile pa lapalapa, meaning: “One does not ignore leprosy to treat a rash.” But that’s what the Buhari government is doing.
It is ignoring the leprosy of terrorism that is devastating lives and communities across Nigeria and focusing on the rash of so-called hate speech!
The truth is that all major terrorist organisations have financial backers and political patrons who fund and arm them; otherwise, they would easily be crushed by the state’s firepower.
So, given the seeming indestructibility of Boko Haram and the killer herdsmen, whose attacks are well-planned, organised and systematic, with sophisticated weaponry, such as machine guns, AK47s, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades, according to an Amnesty International report, Nigerians are entitled to ask: Who are behind them?
Dr. Mailafia is not the first to say that powerful political forces are behind the terrorist groups. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once described Boko Haram’s agenda as the “Fulanisation” and “Islamisation” of Nigeria, and, in March 2018, General Theophilus Danjuma, former chief of army staff and defence minister, told the Middle-Belt people to “protect” themselves, saying: “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits. They facilitate their movements, they cover them”!
Crucially, those views are shared internationally. Indeed, while some of us, including me, are being politically correct by using the term “killer-herdsmen” instead of “Fulani herdsmen”, international observers are not that circumspect. For instance, in several recent debates on Nigeria in the UK House of Lords, most speakers referred to “Fulani militia” or “Fulani insurgents”. Nigerians may be sugar-coating the facts; the world is not!
Furthermore, few around the world believe that the so-called herder-farmer clashes are driven only by desertification and competition for resources. As Baroness Cox, a regular visitor to Nigeria, put it, “there is a strong ideological dimension to the Fulani attacks”.
And Lord Alton posited that “given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of the Fulani attacks”, the references to “farmer-herder clashes” no longer sufficed.
In other words, the insurgencies have ethnic, religious and ideological drivers, and, inevitably, financial backers and political patrons, who align with and fuel those motivations.
Strange, then, that some commentators pooh-poohed Mailafia’s comment as a “conspiracy theory”. But if Mailafia’s theory of political leadership of Boko Haram is flawed, if Obasanjo’s thesis of Fulanisation and Islamisation is wrong and if Danjuma’s postulation about the military’s collusion in ethnic cleansing is outlandish, so what exactly is the correct theory?
Why is the military offensively and defensively too weak to confront Boko Haram’s spread and daringness? How could the insurgents, supposedly “technically defeated” since 2015, overrun an army base in 2018, “leaving hundreds of soldiers unaccounted for”?
Where are the Islamist Fulani herdsmen getting their highly sophisticated weaponry from? Allow me one more question: Buhari vowed during the 2015 election campaign to bring Boko Haram insurgency to a rapid end, so why, five years later, has he raised the white flag, saying rather blithely recently: “I am surprised Boko Haram still exists”?
Of course, there is another theory: Nigeria is a failed state! After all, a state’s basic claim to legitimacy is that it has a monopoly on the use of organised violence within its territory. But when a ‘state’ lacks the capacity to respond effectively to organised non-state violence, well, it has become a failed or fragile state.
Sadly, Nigeria is too ill-equipped to tackle the widespread security threats from organised non-state violence. When terrorists are overrunning army bases and overpowering soldiers, as Boko Haram often does, we are in a failed or fragile state territory, aren’t we?
Even if, as some might argue, the problem is the trafficking of weapons and migration of terrorists from neighbouring states, well, it’s only failed or fragile states that can’t secure their borders
But valid as the failed or fragile state theory might be, it cannot explain or excuse the serious ethno-religious dimensions of the Boko Haram and herdsmen’s attacks. Nor can it disguise what seems like the state’s passive support – government sometimes turns a blind eye to the atrocities of the armed bandits – and the political patronage that embolden the insurgents.
Truth is, the Buhari government has done little to protect Christians and minorities in Nigeria. In 2018, the House of Representatives declared the killings in Plateau State to be a genocide. But how do you treat genocide? What did government do about it?
The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed deep concern about “violent attacks on Christians”. Earlier this year, about 300 were killed in Kaduna. According to Open Doors, an international NGO, Nigeria is among the 50 worst countries in the world in which to be a Christian. In its report titled Nigeria: The Harvest of Death, Amnesty International paints a Hobbesian picture of terrorist-induced carnage in Nigeria.
Surely, exposing those behind the insurgencies, ending the genocidal attacks and finding a lasting solution to Nigeria’s ethno-religious tensions through political restructuring should preoccupy the Buhari administration. It’s a distraction to harass prominent Nigerians whose communities are under siege and who speak out like Dr. Mailafia, a brilliant intellectual, public policy analyst and patriot!