Unhappy with the prevailing situation, many Nigerians insist that the Goodluck Jonathan administration must examine options required to shake off its lethargy and confront the problem of insecurity posed by the Boko Haram sect
It was a paradox of sorts. While students and guardians are celebrating a seemingly stable session in the public tertiary institutions in the country, the same beneficiaries of the stability are concerned about the continued stay in the institutions of members of the communities there. So by last week, students, particularly of tertiary institutions in the South, were either leaving the schools in droves or were on their own disrupting examination sessions there. Their reason was the lack of proper protection, following threats from Boko Haram, the Islamist sect that has several times claimed responsibility for sectarian violence in some parts of the North and bomb attacks in Abuja. As it was at the University of Ibadan, UI, last week, so it was at the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, Osun State, the University of Benin, UNIBEN, Benin, Edo State and University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT, Port Harcourt, Rivers State among others.
A message, allegedly sent via e-mail to the registrar of UNIBEN, and which created panic on the campuses, reads, ‘In regards to the ongoing eradication of Western universities education in Nigeria, this university has been shortlisted among the 19 universities that will experience series of bomb blasts. Please this is not a threat; it is a notification and should be adhered to. This exercise shall kick off from September 12th to 17th, 2011. Any of the days is important. May Allah bless us.’ The magazine gathered that a similar message was sent to other educational institutions. This has brought about some panicky security measures in many institutions, even where the threat message was not sent to. The fear is that the authors of the message may either be truly planning to strike in the affected institutions or they were using some kind of diversionary tactics, so they can effectively attack some institutions that may have a false sense of security, because they were not warned of danger. But the fact is that no institution is taking chances. The implication is that the little resources at the disposal of these institutions are now channelled on security. Osayuki Oshodin, vice chancellor, UNIBEN said, “We had to go and buy detectors to monitor human beings, cars and all that. And we’ve reported to all the security agencies”. The development also threatens to stretch the security apparatus in the country. The magazine learnt that plainclothes security men are also on surveillance at the campuses.
Last week, the security checks adopted by the institutions caused traffic snare at the entrances. In fact, there was a scene at the Ekenwan campus of UNIBEN when a graduate student was manhandled, because he failed to produce his student identity card, while also declining to be screened by the security operatives. So apart from the added security measures in the universities at Ibadan, Ife, Benin and Port Harcourt last week, the state security agencies were also placed on red alert. The authorities could not afford to treat with levity such threats coming from a sect, which abhors Western education. That is not the only reason the university communities are scared. They are also aware of the credentials of the sect, which include the near total shut-down of Borno State, disruption of lives and business in Bauchi State and creation of fear in Abuja and the North. For instance, as a result of the activities of groups like Boko Haram, diplomats and foreign nationals are afraid of visiting or doing business in Abuja the capital city of a country that is in dire need of foreign direct investment, FDI. Indeed the security challenge has put in jeopardy the programme of transformation by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. Recently, when David Cameron, the British prime minister, visited President Jonathan had to meet with him in Lagos. Though officials of government tried to explain it away, claiming that it was not because of security implication, sources say that the official statement was a deliberate attempt to ensure that the development does not create fear in the populace.
The threat to the universities complement the earlier bomb scare in some parts of Lagos and the explosions that compounded the long drawn sectarian violence in Jos, Plateau State. So educational institutions are not the only places where security is on red alert. Also, the police in Abuja beefed up security at the Federal Secretariat and the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the parastatal that oversees the oil sector, which is the cash cow for the country. It is said that closed circuit television, CCTV, cameras are already in place there to effectively monitor the premises. That was necessary for an office that had got a threat even ahead of the attack on the United Nations, UN House in Abuja. It is hoped that those charged with manning the equipment will do their job effectively, when electricity does not shut it down. But beyond those security measures, there are fears over the ability of the security agencies to adequately police the country. This is heightened by the bomb attacks on the police headquarters and the UN building in Abuja in August
This conundrum was the major item on the agenda of the recent meeting of the National Council of States in Abuja. Sources say that deliberations at the meeting were very frank. At the end of the meeting, participants, including former heads of state, governors and security chiefs agreed that there should be a national dialogue. Prior to that resolution, there were reported exchanges among participants about the identity of sponsors of sectarian crises and the inability of government to sanction them. Some of the contributors were reported to have warned against consequences of not tackling the issues now. The President has therefore been mandated to draw up modalities for the dialogue that is expected to provide an avenue for the different nationalities to discuss the thorny issues about the Nigerian state. That stand is endorsed by Tony Chigbata, a Benin-based lawyer. He told the magazine, “Let all the ethnic nationalities come to a round table and agree that we should live together or that we should disintegrate. And if there is going to be a form of disintegration, the modalities are going to be worked out and it is to be a gradual process. If we say we are going to live together as we have been living together, because the truth is that we have been living in pretence”. But disintegration was the last thing the leaders would think of. In his first media chat, President Jonathan said contrary to the predictions that the country would break up by the 2015, he would not preside over the breakup of the country.
However, most of the people who had campaigned for a national conference do not subscribe to the idea of breaking up the country. They, in fact, believe that failure to provide the opportunity for the nationalities to come together and discuss may bring to reality the prediction of the Western powers that the country may disintegrate by 2015. The call for national conference did not start today. It started during the military era. It, however, assumed a popular mention in the days of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, a body that gave the military some sleepless nights. However, with the return of civilian administration in 1999, some politicians believed that there was no need for a national conference. Some years into the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, there was an attempt to organise a national dialogue. That effort was allegedly frustrated by leaders from two geo-political zones of the country; the North-west and the North-east. Now that it was endorsed by a cross-section of leaders at the council of states meeting, may be regional leaders will have no reason to be suspicious of the motive behind the need for national dialogue. In the event that all the zones agree to have a national dialogue, will the approach achieve the needed result? People are also concerned as to whether certain issues will not be considered untouchable.
Now, were the idea of a national dialogue to get popular endorsement, the problem is that it is a long-term solution to the problem of nation building. What that means is that while the country is working on the long term, there is the need to address some issues, particularly that of security, in the short term. Here, Nigerians want the authorities to address the problem of the security setup, by providing facilities that will make crime detection easier and work towards establishing a national data base, which will assist the security to trail anybody suspected of breaking the laws of the land. They also want a reorganisation of the security agencies, some of which are engrossed in conflict when they are supposed to collaborate to fight crime. Though they laud the government on the decision to increase security at the border, they insist that in all its statements of intention the government should walk the walk.
Francis Njoku, a lawyer, said, “In the short term there should be increased security surveillance, and intelligence gathering. The security should be proactive and ahead of the group. That was how America was able to get Osama bin Laden. The security should be able to infiltrate this group so that they will be able to dismantle them from inside.” At the height of it all, Nigerians are interested in how the government will suppress the insurgency that has made the country almost inhabitable. In this case, opinions are divided on what approach to use, in order to achieve a quick fix. Joe Okei-Odumakin, president, Campaign for Democracy, CD, is of the opinion that “Government has been slow and indecisive on the issue of Boko Haram”. This view is corroborated by Archbishop Alaba Job, president, Catholic Bishops’ Conference who said at a recent conference in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, that “the blame…is with the government, because the SSS (State Security Service) in the past five years has been monitoring these people. If you go to Borno you will discover that their headquarters is at Central Railway quarters in Maiduguri.” Little wonder that Okei-Odumakin decried a situation whereby security agencies parade “some haggard looking persons” and then allow the case to fade off. In her opinion, the tenuous approach emboldens the militants to regroup and strike, thus causing crisis.
Okei-Odumakin hits a bull’s eye here. Some fundamentalists who were arrested for alleged nefarious activities, under the administration of Obasanjo in 2007, were later released by his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua. That decision was allegedly taken on the assumption that the suspects were actually victims of religious persecution. Ironically, one of them, Mohammed Yusuf, returned to the society to nurture the now dreaded Boko Haram sect, thus creating crisis for the Yar’Adua administration. In an attempt to clip the wings of the group, the late President decided to use the military option to suppress the insurgency. The military arrested Yusuf, but he was allegedly killed after the military task force handed him over to the police. Some police officers have since been charged to court over the matter. It is also alleged that some leaders give the insurgents support, by getting them out of detention so they would not have to answer for any wrongdoing.
That is why some people believe that the Boko Haram insurgence is more political than religious. A similar sentiment featured at the Council of States meeting. Some of the leaders in attendance were said to have alleged that political opponents were behind the political upheavals in different areas in the country. Job said, “Boko Haram is not totally religious, it is political and those behind them should be bold enough to talk to us, so that we can tell them where they belong.” It is the same political reading that some associates of the President apply to the Boko Haram insurgency. The suspicion is that some of those who are opposed to Jonathan becoming president are working to ensure that the man does not have enough comfort in office to be able to think of asking for a second term or attempt to choose a candidate for the North.
A source even said that some of the hawks are also not comfortable with a southerner as Chief of Army Staff, COAS or the National Security Adviser, NSA. While some people find General Andrew Azazi, NSA, incompetent for the job, there are those who say that the man is encumbered by the weak structure on the ground and the activities of fifth columnists in the system. So whatever he does, he is said to be a victim of the gang-up against his principal, the President. The same is said of Azubuike Ihejirika, COAS, who sources say are the subject of a campaign for some promotion said to be for the purpose of creating a space for a successor from the North. It is, therefore, being speculated that Sarkin Bello, a major-general, recently appointed as the special adviser to the President on counter-terrorism might be one of those now being put forward for the office of COAS. Bello who was at a time the commander of the Joint Task Force, JTF in the Niger Delta is expected to apply his magic wand to address the situation in the North.
The intelligence sector is also working on the theory that the brains behind Boko Haram appear to want to pitch the South against the North by hitting some areas in the South so that the activities of the group can be given a national face. This school of thought therefore believes that the best approach is not pacification. Okei-Odumakin said, “A drastic problem demands a drastic solution”. Does that require the use of force? While alleging “lack of political will and weakness on the part of government”, she said that the security agencies ought to have prepared a comprehensive proposal to the President on how to solve the problem. Instead of foot-dragging, John Nwoke, a lawyer, wants the government to use force. He said, “Boko Haram is political and I will advise that all necessary force should be used to eradicate them”.
It is not everybody who believes that force should be used. Njoku instead wants the authorities to adopt the system of community policing. “I support community policing, which could help against such threat, but I do not support state police”. His suggestion that government should invest in intelligence is also supported by Okei-Odumakin, who wants, “a thorough investigation into their activities and the unveiling of those behind them.” Once patrons are detected, however, she wants them prosecuted. Those who advised against the use of force may have been speaking the minds of members of the National Council of States, who appear to have cautioned the President against using force to solve the challenge of Boko Haram. The feeling is that the use of force may further harden the militiamen. Apart from that, some people believe that when force is used, innocent people fall victim. That is one reason Sagir Mohammed, a retired intelligence officer and currently the Waziri of Ringim in Jigawa State agrees that force should not be applied to the Boko Haram crisis. He particularly faults the idea of using the military to quell civil unrest. He said, “The problem is that we are using the military for a role it is not trained to play. When you invite the army, you don’t invite them to make peace; soldiers are trained to kill. That is why after a war, you withdraw the soldiers and let the police maintain the peace.’
Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, CRC, agrees with him. But while Mohammed is arguing from a professional point of view, Sani is looking at it from the perspective of giving to people from the North what those in the South had benefitted. He said, “Government should apply the same carrot as it applied in the Niger Delta. Violence and bombing, whether it is done by MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta) or Boko Haram is still violence. You cannot allocate hundreds of millions to train Niger Delta militants abroad so that they stop bombings and sabotage of oil pipelines, and you say you want to use force on the other people. It is not possible if peace is what we desire”. He should rather have reminded the government that it was because the military option did not work in the Niger Delta region that it resorted to the amnesty option.
That is not the only thing Sani faults in the administration’s approach to the Boko Haram issue. He also believes that in the attempt to explore the negotiation option, the government is not talking to the right people. He said, “They wasted time and resources inviting (the Sultan and emirs) to the villa. No emir in northern Nigeria can talk to Boko Haram. They don’t have links with them”. So why did the government, which should have known this from the security information, decide to resolve such a problem through people who are said to have no influence on the militants? A source said the government may have been encouraged to go through the leaders because of their closeness to the grassroots and because some community leaders have in the past stood surety for some militants. However, in an apparent reaction to claims like this, Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto told visiting Catholic bishops recently, “No one has told me up till now who the leaders of Boko Haram are. They cannot be faceless, but someone somewhere is sponsoring these people to do these evil things. We have to find out who are those behind them.” Perhaps this stance confirms the claim by Sani that “they (Boko Haram) see the Sultan and the emirs as part of the political establishment”. Which is why he said that rather than reach them by proxy, ‘The government must talk directly with the insurgents.’ The trouble-shooting mission of Obasanjo to Maiduguri and Jos last Thursday appears to be part of efforts to ensure that peace returns to the flashpoints.
Babakura Fuggu, brother-in-law to Yusuf, the slain leader of Boko Haram, received the former president in Maiduguri. Bakura told his guest, “Since 2009, this is the first time any high profile figure would be commiserating with the family. We are happy with this visit.” The visit coupled with the assignments given to Oluseyi Petirin, Chief of Defence Staff and Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation on how to resolve the crisis in Jos, the government appears to have risen to the challenge of achieving peace in the troubled areas.
In addition to that, Sani wants the federal government to design a political and economic programme, which should include working with state governments in the northern part of the country to set up an Almajiri Foundation, which he said should be used to document all Koranic schools in the area and take steps to incorporate them into the modern education system. His reason is that the current system gives room for abuse as the clerics in the loose Koranic schools have a hold on the thousands of the Almajiris. Hear him, “You can see one cleric in command of about 4,000 students, and if he tells them to move against the state, they simply move irrespective of the consequences”.
He, therefore, believes that the foundation will assist the government to bring about an organised system and harness the potential of the students for national development. He said this had been done successfully by the government of Turkey. The activist is perhaps oblivious of the failure of a similar attempt by states in the North to accommodate the Almajiris in the formal education system. That was despite the fact that some of the state governments paid salaries to clerics as part of efforts to ensure their cooperation.
So why would the children refuse to take advantage of formal training offered by government and listen to a cleric, who appears to be doing it more for personal reason? The suspicion is that aside from poverty, the government has been shirking its responsibility to the people. The result is that it has lost credibility, so the citizen would rather allow himself to be exploited by a fellow citizen than believe government. It is also that government in abdicating its responsibilities had created a vacuum for some other people to fill in the life of individual citizens. Part of it is that parents, most of them having no means of livelihood, are unable to train their children. This is why Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, said that the government must address the economic situation of Nigerians. He said the authorities should provide jobs, rather than equipping the security to put down unrest. Njoku said anyone who decides to partake in acts of terrorism must have assumed that life for him is worthless. He, therefore, canvasses for development efforts on the part of government.
What that means is that the administration of Jonathan should not allow itself to be distracted by the crisis of security; it should address the problem of infrastructure and other indices of development, even as it is working hard to bring back peace to the different communities under stress. As part of effort to achieve peace, the government has established a presidential committee on security challenges in the North-east headed by Usman Galtimati, with the mandate to “initiate negotiations.” The only panacea to the problem at hand is for the government to be willing to take hard decisions and leverage on the support by the Council of States to address the fundamental problems of the country. It should also buckle up on the execution of developmental projects including addressing the issue of unemployment particularly among youths. That way it will win back the confidence of the people.
Additional reports by
ADEKUNBI ERO, ANAYOCHUKWU AGBO,
TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN, JULIANA EZEOKE,
AYODEJI ADEYEMI and ARUKAINO UMUKORO