A conspiracy of silence among northern political and religious leaders is pushing the country towards the brink as Boko Haram continues to bomb churches and government institutions
Kaduna, the once bubbling city in northern Nigeria is fast losing its status as a symbol of ethnic and religious unity in the North. Up till Friday last week, the city has lost its glamour as many people remained indoors following a 24-hour curfew imposed on it by the state government. Unable to carry out their day-to-day activities including making a living, the people have resorted to begging for survival as hunger took its toll on them.
It was a pitiable sight when out of desperation to survive, some people pawned telephone recharge cards for the few food items available. Those who could not bear the unpleasant situation moved out of the town in droves under the watch of gun-wielding soldiers and men of other security outfits. The Kaduna situation is a child’s play when compared to the condition in places like Maiduguri in Borno State and Damaturu in Yobe State where governments appear to have been incapacitated. Similarly, in cities like Jos, Bauchi and Kano, people are living in fear as the Boko Haram religious extremists continue unabated their massacre and cause mayhem mainly in the northern part of the country. What is riling the people is the fact that the sect appears unstoppable even under the superior firepower of security agencies.
Yet, in far away South Korea last March, President Goodluck Jonathan had promised the world that his administration was on top of the security situation in the country, and that the Boko Haram insurgency would come under “full control” by June, this year. But the sect, in snubbing the President, chose the month of June to intensify its attacks on churches and government institutions in the northern parts of the country.
Last week’s suicide attacks on three churches in Kaduna State and five in Yobe State may have brought the number of churches attacked in the last three weeks by the sect to no fewer than13. Suicide bombers hit the Faith Tabanacle aka Winners’ Chapel in Yelwa, Bauchi State, 12 people were killed in the process and scores of others were injured. Three other churches were attacked in Plateau and Borno states killing not less than 10 people and injuring a lot.
Last week alone, three churches were hit in Kaduna State, with about 70 killed, mostly worshippers and hundreds of people injured. The Christ the King Catholic Church, Sabon Gari and the Evangelical Church Winning All, ECWA, located in Wusasa, all in Zaria were hit by suicide bombers during the Sunday morning service. At the time the churches in Zaria were being attacked, the Shalom Pentecostal Church located in Trikaniya area of Kaduna metropolis also came under the attack of a suicide bomber. More churches could have been hit if the security agencies had not been able to foil some of the attempts in different cities across the North.
A day after the attack on churches in Kaduna State, members of the violent sect stormed Damaturu, Yobe State capital, inspite of the heavy presence of the military, shooting and tossing hand held explosive devices into homes, schools and government establishments, more than 40 people were killed including security personnel. Residents reported that some of the security personnel manning checkpoints in the state capital took to their heels at the approach of the dreaded sect members said to be chanting “Allahu Akbar.”
Despite repeated assurances by the government, many are still wondering why Boko Haram is yet to be subdued, and why the group has continued to carry out its attacks with impunity. Many have opined that the objective of the attacks was to ignite a religious conflict and quicken the disintegration of the country. The attacks, apart from giving the country a bad name, are also capable of discouraging investments in the country the North in particular, said a Western diplomat who observed that the perception of the international community is that “Nigeria is burning”. When you kill 70 people in one day, it doesn’t get worse in a war situation.” He expressed concern at the raging crisis, which he noted had prevented diplomats like him from doing their jobs in some parts of the country. “Those of us who are diplomats are confined in Abuja. We can’t go to Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Maiduguri and Yobe to do our jobs,” he lamented.
Concerned about the situation, the federal government in January was forced to declare a state of emergency in 15 local government areas across five out of the 19 states of the North. The states, regarded as the hotbeds of extremists’ insurgency are Borno, Yobe, Plateau, Niger and Adamawa states. More military troops were deployed to those states to flush out the sect members and restore the peace. But since the declaration of emergency, the attacks have not abated, and the violent campaigns have been taken farther to other states in the region. The sect has launched bloody attacks on Kano, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba states, killing hundreds of people, including military officers and other federal government workers.
The only option left for the government, it now appears, is to either enter dialogue with the sect or declare full state of emergency in states where the sect operates. President Jonathan has repeatedly said that the government is open to dialogue but regrets that the group has remained faceless. But the government’s apparent unwillingness to declare full state of emergency in states prone to extremists’ insurgency, many believe, is due largely to political reasons. Apart from Borno State, which is ruled by the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, government, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, controls the other states.
This is why some people blame the federal government for the rise in the Boko Haram insurgency in more states across the North. Matthew Kukah, the Catholic archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Sokoto State, is one of those who think government was not going the whole hog in the fight against Boko Haram. Kukah said although the Jonathan administration was not responsible for the emergence of Boko Haram, the power to subdue it still resides with the federal government.
But there is a strong current of opinion that holds northern political and religious leaders as largely responsible for the upsurge in violent extremism in the region. Northern leaders, especially the governors, are believed to have the wherewithal to tackle the menace of Boko Haram if they had the will to do it. The leadership of the Boko Haram sect, as well as other sects in the North, is affirmed to be well known to northern leaders, and all it would take was to call them to order. Since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency started, many prominent Nigerians, including Christian and Muslim clerics, have repeatedly called on northern leaders to help tackle the challenge.
Last Tuesday in Abuja, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, publisher of the Champion newspaper, said northern leaders hold the key to resolving the Boko Haram insurgency.
Iwuanyanwu said the federal government could not solve the problem without the active support of leaders of the region, stressing that drafting soldiers to states where Boko Haram operates would only achieve little. He added that northern leaders should borrow a leaf from South-east leaders who intervened to stop the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, from continuing on the path of violence. “We told them that what they want can be achieved through other ways, and not violence,” he said, adding that northen leaders could do the same thing about Boko Haram.
Although many leaders of the North have spoken against Boko Haram, unfortunately, there has not been any concerted effort to end the violence. Governors, who were expected to take the lead, as was the case with the Niger Delta militancy, have shown preference for open conferences and meetings instead of concrete actions tailored at stopping the violence. No northern governor is on record as having made any attempts to reach members of the Boko Haram sect. During the youth militancy in the Niger Delta, many of the state governors then were actively involved in reaching out to the militants and were instrumental to the eventual resolution of the crisis. Many expect the same level of commitment from the northern governors who have so far shown more concern for their own survival.
The emirs, who are also highly respected in the region, have been unable to intervene positively because the governors have not shown interest in utilising all resources to tackle the menace of Boko Haram. Ibrahim Dasuki, former Sultan of Sokoto said this much when he spoke with the magazine recently. He said the emirs have been crippled by the governors, since they cannot do anything without the permission of the state government. He described northern governors as “disconnected from the people.” Many other leaders of the region also put a large chunk of the blame on the governors, who are seen as part of the problem. Jeremiah Useni, a retired army general and chairman, Board of Trustees, Arewa Consultative Forum, believed the governors have failed their people. He said the governors have the executive power and the resources to order action against Boko Haram, but chose to do otherwise. He alleged that the sect were armed by politicians, who used them to win elections.
On the apparent inability of northern leaders in the ACF to call the insurgents to order, Useni said the leaders could only advise the state governors on what to do, and the governors were at liberty to take or reject their advice. He said the ACF had made several submissions to the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, on how to end the Boko Haram menace, but nothing concrete was yet to be done.
But governors are not the only political leaders engaged in this apparent conspiracy of silence. Many also expect elder statesmen in the region to be more actively involved in efforts to find solutions to the security problems plaguing the North. Ironically the North has produced the highest number of former rulers of the country, some of who are still alive and active. They include Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abubakar Abdulsalami and Abubakar Atiku. These former leaders have spoken or issued public statements to condemn Boko Haram, but they are not known to have initiated any action on their own that could bring an immediate end to the spate of attacks. Since their gathering in Abuja over insecurity in the North early in the year, there has not been any public statement on further effort to contain Boko Haram.
Most guilty, in the view of many, is Buhari, former presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, who is believed to be popular among the northern youths. Public expectations that Buhari would use his influence among the teeming youth of the zone to stop Boko Haram from spreading its violence appear to have been dashed. Instead of warning the dreaded sect on the dangers of religious insurgency, Buhari is believed to have put politics and personal ambition before the survival of the country.
Recently, the former head of state shocked the nation again when he threatened that there would be bloodshed if PDP should rig the 2015 general election. For an elder statesman to threaten more bloodshed at a time the nation was passing through a serious security crisis was considered by many as an exhibition of blind ambition by the former military leader. Many are of the view that Buhari’s ambition to rule the country again may have blunted his sense of patriotism. Many Nigerians, who felt a statesman of Buhari’s stature should have been more circumspect in his utterances, roundly condemned his outburst.
It will be recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo on September 15, last year intervened in the crisis by visiting the family house of Mohammed Yusuf, the slain leader of the Boko Haram, urging the family and members of the sect to “forgive and forget the past.” Although what Obasanjo then described as his “personal initiative” yielded no fruits, it is believed that such intervention by Buhari, for instance could change things positively. This is because there are many who believe that the Boko Haram crisis is a political contraption of the northern elite who felt betrayed by the leadership of the PDP, which denied them the opportunity to inherit the presidency after the sudden demise of President Umaru Yar’Adua barely two and half years into his first term. This is the explanation that many, especially in the southern parts of the country, have given for the aloofness of northern leaders in the fight against Boko Haram.
The security agencies in the country also seem to share this view. Andrew Azazi, the national security adviser, NSA, while addressing a recent economic summit organised by the South-south states, said Boko Haram had political undertones. He said the PDP’s refusal to throw the race for presidency open in 2011 was a critical factor in the Boko Haram insurgency, stressing that the surge in the activities of the sect came after the last general election: “PDP got it wrong from the beginning by saying Mr. A can go and Mr. B cannot go and these decisions were made without looking at the constitution… Is it not amazing that after the elections the Boko Haram became better trained, better armed and better funded. But I can assure you that Boko Haram will not have that kind of sophistication without a backing.”
Azazi said no matter how hard the soldiers fight; the menace would not go away unless the sponsors have a change of hearts. He said poverty, as well as the ambition of some northern leaders to rule by all means was responsible for the crisis.
But some northern leaders have repeatedly denied sponsoring the sect, and have called on government to enter into dialogue with the sect as a way of ending the crisis. The issue of dialogue with Boko Haram has been a sore point in the relationship between the Jonathan administration and the northern elite. While northern leaders want the government to treat Boko Haram the way the Niger Delta militants were treated by the late Yar’Adua administration, the federal government says the group, unlike the Niger Delta militants, are faceless, leaving the government no other option than a military solution anchored on demolition of the terrorists’ infrastructure.
This is why some are of the view that the silence of northern political elite should be expected in a situation where the powers that be do not take their opinions seriously. Apart from allegedly snubbing their positions on many issues, the Jonathan administration has also been accused of not reaching out to northern leaders. They say inviting some leaders to the Presidential Villa when crisis erupts is not the way to engage with them positively. Some leaders of the zone who spoke off-the-record to the magazine said those in power are in a position to utilise past leaders by reaching out to them and other opinion leaders. “But those in power today are not reaching out to anybody and everybody is just watching them,” said a source.
But it is ironic that while the nation blames the governors and northern leaders for not doing much to bring Boko Haram to an end, the governors are blaming unseen forces for the violence and destruction in the region. While reacting to the latest bombings last week, Babangida Aliyu, governor of Niger State and chairman of the NGF, said “some oblique forces” were behind the spate of bombings, stressing that the North suspected a plot to destroy the region economically. He argued that the violence was too sophisticated for Boko Haram, and that targeting of churches was a tactic to divert attention away from the larger objective of crippling the region.
As controversial and probably escapist as the view is, many seem to share it across the North, where it is believed that someone is plotting the destruction of the area. Balarabe Musa, radical politician and Second Republic governor of Kaduna State, told the magazine last week that Boko Haram could not afford the sophistication that had been witnessed in bombings. “This is beyond Boko Haram. The sect cannot be beyond the control of the federal government. I think there are some people who want Nigeria to disintegrate or be in perpetual crisis for whatever reason,” he told the magazine.
But who wants to destroy the North and Nigeria? Many, especially Christians in the North, would readily agree that religious extremists’ groups like Boko Haram are the real threat to the peace and unity of the country. Daniel Babayi, a professor and executive secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Northern Nigeria chapter, said Christians in the North are conscious of the fact that the attacks on churches were carried out by Muslim fundamentalists who have never hidden their intention to establish an Islamic state in the North.
Babayi, who spoke to the magazine last week, argued that although the larger Muslim population in the North may not be at war with Christians, the few extremists among them were driving the region towards a religious conflagration. He said the only solution to the looming chaos was for Muslim leaders in the North to re-indoctrinate their youths who may have been taught to believe that there is a reward for them from God if they destroy Christians. He said no matter how hard Muslim leaders in the North try to reassure the Christians that there was no war against them, it would be difficult to believe otherwise.
This may explain the reprisal attacks against innocent Hausa Muslims in different parts of Southern Kaduna last week.
Muslims in the country also condemned the bombings and the reprisal attacks that followed, warning that Nigerians must be alert to evil men who are bent on dragging the country into war. In a statement signed by Aliyu Abubakar, secretary of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, the group exonerates Muslims in the North from the spate of bombings and warned that forces that want to see war in the country were behind the bombings.
CAN has also called the reprisal killings “jungle justice,” but stressed that the Christians may have resorted to that action out of frustration and the need for self preservation. A statement issued by Ayo Oritsejafor, CAN president, said the sequence of fatal attacks against churches showed “a grim picture of the trauma Christians in the North were going through,” and stressed that CAN had forewarned the government that such unchecked attacks were “an invitation to jungle justice and anarchy.” Shehu Sani, president of Civil Rights Congress, also described the reprisal attacks as a “transfer of anger” capable of igniting a religious conflict in the country. He warned that reprisal attacks against innocent people could bring moderate Muslims and Christians, who are in the majority, on the side of the extremists. He said the motive of Boko Haram was to push Christians to attack innocent Muslims so that a war could start.
He however expressed optimism that Boko Haram would not succeed in instigating a religious conflagration in the country. He said this is because majority of the Muslim population in the North is not happy with the ongoing conflict, and as long as the leaders of the two major religions in the North do not sponsor a conflict, it is not likely to happen.
But the frequency of the bombings and the mindless reprisal attacks that always followed have combined to put pressure on the federal government to use its full powers to bring the reign of terror to an immediate halt. Both Muslim and Christian groups in the country have continued to look up to the federal government for solution in order to save innocent lives and property that are obviously in jeopardy in the north. Labaran Maku, the minister of information, and Reuben Abati, President Jonathan’s spokesman, have warned against politicising the crisis, stressing that Jonathan was alive to his responsibilities as President of the country.
But while the federal government continues to contemplate what to do, Boko Haram has expressed its determination to unleash further mayhem on the people. A statement by ‘Abu Qaqa’, spokesman of the group, said Nigerians should expect more attacks as the group has recruited 300 more suicide bombers. Who will save Nigerians from the bombs of Boko Haram? Every one and every group now seem to believe that time was running out for political leaders to act to save the country from the impending danger.
The northern governors, who are a major stakeholder, say they are helpless without moral and financial support from the federal government. Zanna Mustapha, deputy governor of Borno State, told the magazine that the solution is to empower the teeming population of jobless youths in the region to stifle the appeal and activities of Boko Haram. He said: “The federal government should come to our aid and use the Niger Delta solution. Government should establish a committee and Boko Haram should be encouraged to disarm and granted amnesty while funds should also be provided for their immediate empowerment as was done for militants in the Niger Delta”. He said state governments in the zone do not have the resources to disarm and rehabilitate the group, stressing that the ANPP government in Borno State had tried all other options available to it without success.
“We have asked prominent clerics and elders in the state to intervene in the past. They cooperated and even gave names and location to security agents. But the informants ended up being killed by Boko Haram so nobody wants to be involved again. This is our dilemma, and that’s why we’re asking the federal government to help us,” he told the magazine.
While governors like Mustapha are awaiting the federal government’s largesse in the form of an upward review of the revenue allocation formula, the northern cities like Kaduna, Jos, and Bauchi. Damaturu, Maiduguri and Kano continue to remain under the fire of Boko Haram to the detriment of their inhabitants and the country at large.