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No Honor Amongst Thieves

It has come to light that two former presidents of Nigeria are having a feisty and open verbal clash. They are presidents IBB and OBJ. This public spat on the pages of national dailies would have been comical and highly entertaining were it not for the lamentable reality that one is forced to contemplate.

Former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came into power on the back of a coup against the Buhari government in 1985. He then ruled Nigeria with despotic tightfistedness for 8 years. Indeed, he would very much have wanted to continue his maladministration were it not for a widespread and seemingly national outcry against his continued reign. He finally surrendered power after having looted the country to her knees. In 1999, President Matthew Okikiola Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo took office; like IBB he ruled for 8 years as well. And much like IBB, his government was characterized by misappropriation, mishandling and wholesale plundering of the national coffers.  Guess who bore the brunt of their administrative incompetence and malfeasance? Yes, you are right—the impoverished, desperate and struggling masses.

How lamentable it must be for these unvarnished brigands to strut around insulting the sensibilities of the long-suffering Nigerian by unashamedly claiming to have respectively governed Nigeria well! It is one thing for a pair of feuding septuagenarian erstwhile generalissimos of the Nigerian armed forces to rubbish their respective governments for their glaring incompetence. In that, I wish them well and I encourage them to highlight all their sordid past records for all to see and remember. If anything, it shows that these godfathers of Nigerian politics are altogether not oblivious of the pervasive rot and decay that has characterized their respective administrations—no matter how much they pretend to be disconnected from the cries and plight of the suffering masses. They know too well how they have pilfered to the tune of billions of dollars, and how that has manifested in the shambolic infrastructure, a culture of looting, and the incompetent institutions they bequeathed to successive administrations.

Nevertheless, it is an entirely different matter to brazenly claim their respective governments to have been beacons of progress, stability and excellence. It requires an amazing dedication to duplicity for them to present their myopic and niggardly records as though they were architects of massive economic boons. The unfortunate thing is that there are many downtrodden Nigerians who would undoubtedly find themselves unwittingly drawn into one of the two camps: cheering loudly for their perceived hero and lobbing vicious accusations at their perceived villain. The truth however is that these two feuding former Aso rock occupants are really two sides of the same ugly coin. While some are cheering on the national show of shame, there are already concerned former stakeholders and generals convening meetings to get these ugly fiends to sheath their swords so as not to unwittingly upset their stringent hold on power. As far as I am concerned, they could call themselves FOOLS till they literally turn blue in the face; they could expostulate against the perceived mischaracterizations of their respective tenures in office till the cows come home, alert Nigerians will always refused to be suckered in. How true it is that there is indeed no honor amongst thieves.

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Contra Boko Haram!

It may come as no surprise to any Nigerian following the political winds that the country has been seized by increasing panic and fear over the general security of lives and property ever since Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was declared the winner in this year’s election. At first, people were content to dismiss the mass killings in the North as a temporary but fixable orgy of violence designed to let off collective steam over the North’s failure to produce the president. But it is becoming increasingly clear now that what was once thought to be a momentary but manageable spike in violence in many parts of the North has indeed metamorphosed into a full-blown and persistent scourge of terrorism.

Yes, Nigeria is now a hotbed of terrorism; marinate on that for a minute.

There appears to be many groups that could at a moment’s notice visit unspeakable cruelty to the minority in the north. By minority, I mean Christians, Southerners or perhaps members of the National Youth Service Corps that hail from southern states. Of the lot, one has managed to come to the fore by the sheer ‘success’ of their frontal assault on not just the minorities in the North, but also visible symbols of state or federal administrative power. This group is known as Boko Haram.

First of all, it would be necessary at this point to remind non-Nigerians about the tenuous nature of Nigeria’s constitution. Nigeria is roughly divided along religious lines into 2—the predominantly Christian South and the predominantly Muslim North. This does not to suggest however that there are no Muslims in the South or Christians in the North; indeed as the case may be, there is a healthy 10% of Nigerians who are adherents of indigenous pagan religions. To effectively govern a country like Nigeria, it made a lot of sense that the highest law of the land, the Nigerian Constitution, should in fact be secular in nature and tone; pandering neither to Christian or Muslim sensibilities, but nonetheless cognizant of the fact that people might on occasion allow cases to be settled in customary, less secular, or even religious courts.

As the case may be, the North decided that it was not going to recognize the secular Nigerian constitution as the final arbiter on matters of justice. As if to give weight to that general sentiment, as far back as the first term of President Olusegun Obasanjo, 13 core Northern states in the Nigerian Federation unilaterally chose Sharia law as the preeminent law in these states. Such bold and reckless decision by these Northern states should have been grounds for concerted Federal action, if for nothing else, to demonstrate how seriously the Obasanjo administration takes any affront to the [fictional] unity of the federation. Suffice it to say that the Obasanjo administration did nothing to rein in these excesses with catastrophic consequences to the religious and cultural minorities in Northern Sharia states.

What followed was a season of anomie as people genuinely wrestled with Sharia’s prescribed punitive measures for crimes like petty theft and adultery. The world watched in horror as the predominantly Christian south railed at Sharia’s requirement of amputations for petty theft and stoning for adultery. This only consolidated the xenophobic attitudes of many extremist Northerners who chose to see the outrage as a direct attack on Islam and their religious identity. This gave rise to many resistance groups like Boko Haram, who swore to remove or kill the pesky Christians and Southerners and vestiges of Western education and civilization from core Northern states. That struggle, to sanitize the North as it were, and rid it of the non-Muslims opposed to the dictates of the Quran, goes on to this day. It is against this backdrop that one has to now weigh the escalating terrorist activity of Boko Haram at this time. One thing is undeniable though: they have managed to grab not only the attention of the present occupant of Aso Rock but former occupants as well. As a matter of fact, people who were formerly complacent about the ugly menace of terrorism are beginning to wake up to the fact that Boko Haram really means its sinister business.

So, we are no longer just talking of routine massacres of innocent North-bound southern travelers who are waylaid, ordered off their luxurious buses, robbed at gun or machete point and then eventually slaughtered or set ablaze. No, our homegrown terrorists are now going after big game. If you were unmoved when ordinary civilians were butchered for no crime other than they were minorities, – if you maintained your peace when patriotic NYSC corpers in many parts of the North were beheaded and mutilated during the past election, – perhaps you would sit up and whistle now that Boko Haram has proven that they could recruit more foot soldiers from places like Chad, Somalia, Niger and Sudan to commit even more daring atrocities. In recent times, they’ve threatened politicians and murdered some (as a matter of fact the current Vice President Sambo is on their target list), they have targeted the IG of police and came close to killing him when they detonated a crude bomb at the Abuja Police Headquarters. Boko Haram has put great fear into youth corpers when they bombed an NYSC Orientation camp in Maiduguri. The feeling of insecurity in Borno state was so pervasive that the University of Maiduguri, Borno’s state university, was forced to close and dismiss students indefinitely—presumably until the Nigerian state finds a way to arrest this terrorism issue.  They have also attacked and bombed Businesses and Banks with crippling effect to the local communities.

The time has come for all peace-loving Nigerians to wake up and smell the coffee and denounce Boko Haram and all her sister terrorist outfits. If Nigerians do not want the country to become another Pakistan or Afghanistan, paralyzed and ruled by discrepant extremist guerilla groups, the time for concerted and brave action is now.

I do not want to place all blame squarely at the door of the various security agencies in the country like the very incompetent Nigerian Police Force simply because one needs no crystal ball to see that they are simply ill-equipped to handle this menace. Many policemen do not have the requisite training nor the motivation required for the task of uprooting terrorists. In like manner, I do not want to simply blame President Jonathan for not taking a bold and decisive action earlier. He is still settling into his job and at any rate, the task of providing local security should be under the purview of state governors and local police. But we cannot afford to be lethargic now because Nigerians are paying the price of administrative ineptitude with a senseless and a needless loss of innocent lives.

We are talking about a well-funded terrorist network in Boko Haram. I am not normally in favor of governments turning their country’s military loose upon the local population, but Nigeria presents a unique case. The Nigerian military is perhaps the only organized force with the adequate firepower and training required to stake out Boko Haram hideouts and defeat them in any ensuing firefight. It is precisely because the local police and other security personnel have shown themselves severely overmatched by Boko Haram that I welcome any future move to send soldiers into any suspected Boko Haram enclaves to tackle this incipient menace fully and frontally.

Down with Boko Haram and all their diabolical, murderous accomplices! The sooner this is nipped in the bud, the better for everyone. It is regrettable to read or listen to commentary which amount to nothing more that cuddling and pacifying brazen killers. If Nigerians perceive that to get the attention of the president and others straddling the corridors of power, all one need do is become part of a heartless murderous extremist group, I’ll predict that we shall see rival, ethnic-based, armed bandits spring up in other geopolitical zones to compete for government attention and largess. I do not need to point out that what will ensue is a furious race to the bottom; a horrific dance of death played out in a ghastly theater of innocent blood.

Counting Down to 2011 Elections

 

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

Politics, we have often been cynically reminded, is a dirty game. It is a game that participants have to employ whatever means necessary to win; sometimes politicians have to do incredible somersaults or reverse their principles for short term electoral gains. However, politics can also be an interesting game. When one dispassionately analyzes the actions taken by the key figures especially towards an election, one can’t help but smile at the intricate maneuverings going on. Yes, I am talking about the backroom deals; the bonds forged in secret places; a ‘convenient’ marriage of self-interests by sometimes radically different people for the purpose of securing a victory at the polls. Such scheming, wheeling and dealing is certainly familiar to Nigerian politicians—at least one expects such rather than the all-too-familiar bloodletting that happens whenever there are elections in Nigeria.

It is that time again in Nigeria: 2011 is a presidential election year.

For the uninitiated, elections are a particularly difficult enterprise in this 150 million-strong nation of disparate faiths, political views and ethnic nationalities. Routinely marred by violence and gross electoral misconduct, many Nigerians have gradually grown cynical and distrustful of the whole process. And they are not to blame—several times, the clear mandate and choice of the people are scuttled by dirty and compromised election officials, choosing instead to impose on the people a pre-selected favorite of the hegemon in Aso Rock.

There is also the issue of the superabundance of political party platforms, each one seemingly regional in design. For the country to make any meaningful progress past the familiar tribal or ethnic politics which has retarded the country’s expected exponential development, it is necessary to have stable political institutions and parties which are not only national in scope but truly perceived to be so. That has not been the case in Nigeria. Thus, what one observes is a hodgepodge of small and unviable political arrangements, usually on a regional or geographical scale, vying to win local elections, but at the same time pretending to have the capacity to compete on a national scale. On the national scale it would appear, there is only one party that truly exists and that is the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Having no credible or evenly matched opposition, the PDP has evolved into a vicious monster with ever-increasing taste for unchecked power. This, unsurprisingly, came with disastrous consequences.

After 16 years of military rule, President Obasanjo was sworn into power in 1999. When he left in 2007, he masterminded the ascension to office of one Alhaji Umaru Yaradua, then governor of Katsina state. I do not want to bother you at this point with the intricate political maneuverings that occurred when Obasanjo decided that he wanted to amend the constitution to allow him to run for the third time. He almost won that exercise were it not for principled opposition. Ironically, his own vice-president was counted amongst the ranks of a massive public outcry against Obasanjo’s self-succession plans. I suppose that ‘betrayal’ was never forgiven by Obasanjo; we can see from his actions that he swore that since his own VP was bold enough to kick against his political machinations, he would also go out of his way to prevent erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar from ever becoming the president of Nigeria.

Fast forward to 2010…

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