Month: August 2011

Are Bomb Attacks Here to Stay in Nigeria?

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When the first suicide bomb attack occurred in Nigeria at the Police Headquarters earlier in June this year, Nigerians hoped fervently that suicide bombing would be one phenomenon that would not catch-on as a trend or repeat itself. However on Friday 26th August 2011, Nigerians’ worst fears were confirmed as they received the shocking news of the bomb attack at the UN House at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. The blast has so far claimed between 19 and 25 victims, according to various reports, leaving Nigerians once again gripped by shocked, fear, helplessness and a blinding realization that bomb attacks are gradually becoming the norm, and that suicide bomb attacks could be gaining ground.

In the past one year alone, there have been a number of bomb attacks in Nigeria. The most dramatic ones that created nation-wide scare include the blast during the last Independence Day anniversary on Oct 1st 2010, the slew of bombs that were detonated during the April elections in various parts of the country such as Kaduna and Suleja; the recent attack on the Police Head Quarters and the blast at the UN House in Abuja. This is in addition to smaller bombs which have been going off in several parts of the North like Borno, Katsina, Gombe and Bauchi states. With each subsequent attack, the perpetrators have displayed an increasing level of daring, gusto, sophistication and brazenness. From using mainly locally made bombs and small explosives that result in very few casualties and injuries, it appears more sophisticated explosives were used in the attacks on Police Headquarters and the UN Headquarters.

For now, the main suspect is the Yusufiyya movement otherwise known as Boko Haram, the radical Islamic sect which has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.  Boko Haram whose activities came to the limelight a few years ago has still remained a faceless and highly decentralized group using guerrilla tactics in its offensive against government targets. What is mind-boggling is that so far, with the exception of the group’s extreme aversion to western education, its targetting of government officials and structures, the identity of its spokespersons like Abu Zaid and Abu Dardam and its proclivity for detonating bombs, next to nothing seems to be known about the group’s core activities, it’s structure, it’s hierarchy and modus operandi. That opportunity presented its self in 2010 when the top leaders and financiers of the group were captured, but their  summary extra-judicial execution by the police deprived the authorities the chance of getting crucial information on the group’s activities.

Many Nigerians were initially dumb-founded as to why the UN House — which houses 26 UN departments in the country — was targeted by Boko Haram given that their traditional targets have been local politicians, the police, churches, mainstream Islamic clerics who have condemned them, security agencies and other government symbols and just about anyone else who stands in their way. This attack on UN Headquarters in Nigeria has firmly consolidated Nigeria’s spot on the map of international terrorism, and could be the motivation behind the attack in the first place –  to attract international attention. The target also hints at the links and collaboration with international terrorist networks in Somalia and Afghanistan  which have similarly attacked foreign structures such as the recent attack on the British Council in Afghanistan on 19th August 2011. Boko Haram itself has claimed it has been receiving training in Somalia.

What is most disturbing and gravely worrying is that of all these attacks since last year, save for a few arrests here and there which most often end in a cold trail, no “… culprit has been fished out” and “no perpetrator has been brought to book” as the government usually promises.  Rather in some cases, the attacks have even been politicized depending on which political rival poses the greatest threat and challenge. Nigerians and all aspects of national life are held hostage to criminal elements yet the Nigerian State and the various security apparatuses: the Police, the SSS, the NIA and the NSA have proved grossly incapable of, and unable to protect lives and property, to make use of intelligence to find out about the perpetrators of such acts, their activities and to prevent attacks from happening. In many cases, including the recent UN attack prior information is received on impending attacks by perpetrators who in most cases are more interested in making political statements, yet the security agencies fail to take precautionary measures.  A UN official told reporters that the UN received intelligence last month that it could be targeted by the sect.

The many approaches adopted by the government to contain this calamity that has befallen Nigerians have all come to naught. The initial carrot-and-stick-approach  to reason and negotiate with Boko Haram failed, when the group vehemently rejected any form of dialogue. Similarly, the blitzkrieg approach adopted by the government in sending the Nigerian Army’s Joint Military Task Force (JTF) to the group’s home base in Borno state to contain it hasn’t yielded positive results. Without vital intel information on the group’s activities, leadership and operation, what the JTF incursion has succeeded in doing is ensuring the arrest and possible killing of several Boko Haram group members with many innocent Borno state residents caught in the line of fire and in some cases serving as collateral damage. The alleged killing of innocent citizens by JTF has fuelled resentment amongst many residents who refuse to even help security forces with relevant information on Boko Haram’s activities.

The question remains, what can be done about this quagmire Nigeria has found itself in? Numerous calls have been made for a complete overhaul of the nation’s security apparatuses which are severely ill-equipped; the staff and officers not adequately trained in security challenges of the 21st century; they are characterized by a dearth of intel gathering and a general loss of confidence and lack of trust in these agencies by Nigerians. Obviously, the gross deficiencies of the nation’s security agencies did not start or occur under the present administration, but are a product of systemic decay over several decades, necessitating a whole-scale reform. However, if such reform were to be embarked-upon immediately, in the best-case scenario, the fruits of this overhaul would only become manifest in the medium to long-term of at least 3-5 years and even up to 10 years. Plus, this has to go hand-in-hand with reform in areas such as infrastructure provision and renewed fight against corruption to ensure whatever funds are ear-marked for such overhaul do not end-up misappropriated in the typical Nigerian fashion.

A similar argument is also articulated on the need to provide job opportunities to the teeming unemployed youth who are increasingly becoming angry, disillusioned and susceptible to manipulation and radicalization by different interests. That also falls within the ambit of medium to long-term strategy to deal with the situation. Besides, the new Super Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala whom everyone has high-hopes of literally turning the economic fortunes of Nigeria has warned that she is no magician, who with the wave of her wand can immediately solve the country’s economic woes and create employment opportunities.

What is critically needed is a short-term approach to the situation. To that effect, the government has stated it would review its strategy and change it’s approach in dealing with Boko Haram based on fresh intelligence which links the group’s activities with powerful influential forces for political reasons. How this will be achieved and what precisely will be done remains unclear at this moment, because as the BBC reports: “when asked by the BBC what he would do about Boko Haram, he (President Goodluck Jonathan) gave no direct answer but acknowledged it posed a threat”. So far, agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have arrived Nigeria at the request of the Nigerian government to help with investigations. While that is commendable, it should be noted that critical information can only be provided by local sources who have a knowledge of the terrain and Nigerian environment.

In the face of all these challenges, an urgent and sincere appeal should be made by governments at all levels, involving religious and community leaders for people to cooperate, provide information and report any suspicious activity to the authorities. Information is critically needed at this stage to even understand the group’s operations. The JTF should engage meaningfully and constructively with ordinary citizens whose lives it is meant to protect, so that it can regain their trust.  In addition, intelligence agencies should use such information to infiltrate the ranks of these groups and sabotage them from within.

We need drastic, realistic and concrete measures to combat and halt this disturbing phenomenon. Nigerians hope that very much unlike the Blackberry trend which has spread like wild fire across the country, this is one trend that would be nipped in the bud by the government and security agencies.

Single Term Tenure: Testing the Waters

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The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation” were some of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s historic words as he unveiled his transformation agenda in his inaugural speech on 29th May 2011.  In this “journey of transforming Nigeria”, Jonathan made a litany of promises which include fighting for improved medical care, “first class education”, electricity, affordable public transport system, provision of jobs , fighting the scourge of corruption, reforming the industrial sector and many other mouth-watering promises. As Nigerians and the international community eagerly look forward to the new administration tackling head on, the myriad developmental challenges bedevilling the giant of Africa and fulfilment of some of these promises, such optimism has been tainted with disappointment not only from a largely uninspiring Cabinet comprising of the old guard, but the recent preoccupation of the administration with a constitutional amendment bill proposing single-term tenure for the president and state governors. The proposed bill according to the Presidency would reduce “…the acrimony which the issue of re-election every four years generates”, the money wasted on elections and the unrest and violence that trails elections in Nigeria. Given that this is one of the last policy options Nigerians and even the keen observers from the international community expect, Jonathan is certainly testing the waters of his popularity and of his good luck.

The wide opprobrium and opposition this proposal has met is hinged on what Nigerians perceive to be a misplacement of priority. With the onerous task ahead of the new administration in addressing Nigeria’s many, many problems which Mr. President has made many, many promises to address, Nigerians are astounded that of all these, it is the term limit of elected officials which incidentally neither featured in that lengthy, Obama-esque inaugural speech nor the pre and post elections campaign rallies, that is his administration’s immediate priority, while burning issues like insecurity and tackling the radical Boko Haram sect or even settling the minimum wage issue with the Civil Servants apparently take a backseat. It is no wonder that the proposed bill has met with angry responses from individuals, groups and the civil society. As the presidential spokesperson even said, some responses were downright abusive. While many have called it an unnecessary distraction and a sinister plot, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) calls it “divisive and self serving”, the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) calls it “patently fraudulent, deceptively self-serving and a terrible misadventure” and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) describes it as “diversionary”. These harsh phrases are euphemisms of what many Nigerians really feel about this issue.

With the exception of religion and ethnicity, one other thing that rouses intense emotion and passion in Nigerians having been long abused by decades of bad governance and bad leadership, is any issue that remotely smacks of an attempt by a leader to extend his stay in power. This is not something taken lightly as many previous Nigerian leaders from the military governments of Gowon, Babangida and Abacha to the civilian administration of Shagari and Obasanjo, have tried to use fair, not-so-fair and foul means to perpetuate themselves in power, it is no surprise that many Nigerians are vehemently kicking against this. On the African continent as well, the very uninspiring sit-tight record of other African leaders such as Cameroun’s Paul Biya who has been in power since 1982, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in power since 1980 and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni since 1986; others like Bongo of Gabon and Eyadema of Togo who died in office after decades in power; recent attempts by Mammadou Tandja of Niger and most recently, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade’s attempt at constitutional amendment for a third term does not help matters either. Despite assurances from the Presidency that the President would not be a direct beneficiary if the bill gets passed into law as it would become effective from 2015 after his current term, and that it is yet to be sent to the National Assembly as “consultations” are still being made to work-out the details, Nigerians are very sceptical nevertheless. So far nothing stops the President from contesting for a fresh term of 6 years from 2015, just as Senegal’s Wade and his supporters are now arguing that he can run for a third term because he was elected before the constitution amendment on term limits was effected.

In addition, Jonathan is reported to have said that the 4-year mandate is insufficient to make meaningful developmental progress and is also reported to have expressed his admiration for “Saudi Arabian and old Soviet practice where some ministers were in office for 30 to 40 years”.  The truth is even if there is no sinister or covert motive behind this proposal, the President’s unguarded utterances are not helping matters either. The Soviet Union collapsed under its unsustainable communist-authoritarian model over 20 years ago and no country in the world today has that model of a political system with the rare exception of North Korea which is a pariah state anyways. Even Cuba is opening up its economy. While Saudi-Arabia is an absolute monarchy which narrowly escaped the current tide of Arab spring through an adroit mixture of suppression and social reforms to calm the tide of protests. Even if such a system works for Saudi Arabia, the socio-economic and political milieu is very different from Nigeria’s.

While certain regimes in some developing countries who provided transformative leadership and were responsible for the most dramatic changes were in power for decades, more than 4-5 years of the typical democratic tenure such as Lee Kuan Yew who, during his three-decade rule saw Singapore’s transition from a developing nation to one of the most developed countries in Asia with a steady growth rate of 6.7% . Similarly, Indonesia’s General Suharto’s 32-year rule between 1967 and 1998 oversaw the economic growth and industrialization of Indonesia with improved health, education and living standards of its peoples. These leaders were benevolent dictators, as they implemented progressive social policies which lifted millions of their people out of poverty and that is where they derived their legitimacy from. As their legitimacy and popularity inevitably declined, they had to cave in to popular demands and step down. That is exactly what is now happening in the Middle East. However, with the dominance of democracy in the 21st century, this form of government  is no longer in vogue. With democracy, legitimacy is not only tied to performance, but to accountability whose abuse can be checkmated by the electorate during elections period with the threat of withdrawal of mandate. Eliminating that vital check-point will give Nigerian politicians notorious for their corruption, impunity and non-accountability  until elections come around the corner, a leeway to act as they please.

Now that the President has tested the waters and rather than finding it warm, has found it chillingly cold, it is hoped that he will shelve this proposal aside and eventually dump it in the dustbin of history while he actually hits the ground of transformative leadership, sprinting. For the enormous challenges ahead of his administration require all the speed he can muster. And while he’s at it, it would pay to consider some words he himself uttered in his inaugural speech: “…Nigeria can only be transformed if we all play our parts with commitment and sincerity”.

Oslo Terror Attacks: Whither Globalization?

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…Cruelty is necessary…you should kill too many, not too few…” are some of Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous recommendations for a European cultural renaissance of sorts that would prevent the “Islamic colonization” of Europe, listed in his manifesto: “The European Declaration of Independence”. In said manifesto, Breivik – the ultra right-wing, white supremacist cum terrorist – detailed the meticulous preparation for his murderous carnage on July 22nd in Norway which left over 70 people- mostly teenagers – dead. Such far-right terrorism, along with the global economic crisis the world is still “recovering” from, is another blow to globalization and its core neo-liberal values and a crude wake-up call for developing countries especially in Africa.

Globalization generally refers to increased interconnectedness of economies, societies, people, culture and ideas across borders and boundaries through communication, transportation, trade and migration. The term came into popular usage in 1970s and 1980s with the breakthrough or revolution in Information, Communications and Transport Technologies (ICT) making the world a “global village”. This was spurred by the general economic boom in the post World War II era, especially in the 1960s, known as the development decade not only in the developed world – North America, Western Europe and Japan – but also in many parts of the developing world, including the newly decolonized African countries, the East Asian Tigers and other places.

At the heart of globalization is the free market approach to economic management, the core of neo-liberal values. This approach forms the basis of the economic model of the industrialized world characterized by limited government intervention in the economy; the liberalization and deregulation of trade, finance and capital and privatization of public enterprises. These, according to the argument, would enable market competition and innovation, would spur economic growth, lead to greater integration of economies around the world and usher in unprecedented prosperity for countries interconnected in the global economy. For instance competition and innovation ushered in the information age with advances in transport and communications technology mobile telephony and the Internet; faster and more efficient means of transportation and breakthroughs in medical and bio-science technology. Most importantly, such economic prosperity is believed to have aided has aided in the universalization of liberal democratic ideas and values as the most prevalent and pervasive system of government. Democracy and representative government are favoured against autocratic governments, dictatorships and military rule.

In the socio-cultural realm, a more diverse world is bound together by common values and respect for fundamental human rights for all and equality, tolerance and respect for all peoples of the world. To an extent we have seen this happening not only in the unprecedented economic growth and development of some developing countries like the East Asian Tigers such as Taiwan and South Korean; the assortment of new communications technology like mobile phones and the Internet; but also the near-global spread and persistence of the values of democracy and representative government. The interface between new means of communication and democratic values is embodied in the ongoing ‘Arab Spring’ where citizens of Middle-Eastern countries, after being subjected to decades of authoritarian rule, are now demanding representative government through mass protests facilitated by Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools, and have succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt.

In my opinion, this is about where the benefits of globalization end as the global financial crisis of 2008 and the global recession it has spawned has plunged many countries of the world into near-bankruptcy. This crisis in many respects can be attributed to the interconnectedness and integration not just between different parts of the world, but between the volatile financial sector and other parts of the economy.  As mentioned earlier, from the near collapse of the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Greek economies and the large financial bailouts negotiated with more European countries possibly in tow; the future of the EU, the monetary zone and even the existence of the Euro is hotly debated. Bigger countries like the UK which are not on the verge of collapse are growing at a snail pace of just 0.25% in the second quarter of 2011. Elsewhere, the US is racked by its growing debt, financed mainly by Chinese investments in US Treasury securities and bonds. The global financial crisis and its aftermath have exposed the fundamental weakness of the core neoliberal values of globalization which have played a large part in bringing about the crisis in the first place.

More importantly, with economies continuing to shrink, politicians have responded accordingly with austerity policies. With the global recession, governments in Europe and other parts of the developed world have been made to cut-back on public spending in such areas as education and healthcare, they have increased taxes and are now increasingly reducing net immigration and inflow of foreigners. In the UK, the Coalition government recently said it would reduce migration to the UK from 200,000 per annum to “tens of thousands” because of increased pressure to the “society, economy and public services”. At the individual, group and societal level are some nationales of European countries who are of the view that it is those “bloody foreigners” who, with their hordes of dependents are not only: out-breeding their hosts, taking up all the jobs and claiming benefits but are also disturbing the delicate demographic balance in Europe. For instance, in Norway, a recent poll conducted showed that half of all Norwegians favour restricting immigration, or that immigration “had gone too far”.

It is from this perspective that there has been a resurgence and growing popularity of not only (moderate) right-wing politics but even extremist, ultra-right and far-right ideas which blame all economic woes on foreigners and immigrants. Thus, far-right movements in places like Italy; Switzerland, and Sweden;  parties like the National Front Party in France and the Dutch Freedom Party headed by the fiercely anti-Muslim Geert Wilders are gaining momentum and sympathy from ordinary people. These parties and movements “blame multiculturalism for the destruction of Western culture”and very much like Breivik, they blame previous left-wing governments such as the UK Labour Party and the Norwegian Labour Party for allowing such multiculturalism by enabling the influx of foreigners.

These parties have capitalized on a growing uncertainty brought about by recession and the economic difficulties people are going through, and have used a convoluted mixture of populism, thinly veiled racism and neo-fascist tendencies to resuscitate a feeling of nationalism or as The Guardian aptly captures the situation, a “nostalgia for a conservative, traditionalist, whites-only Europe of a bygone age combined with blind fury at its dissolution in a globalised world”. Logically and understandably, some of the citizens are transferring and directing their pent-up anger at the “foreigners” or the “immigrants” with whom they are competing for scarce economic opportunities which could explain the growing sympathy for right-wing policies and ideas in the industrialized world. Furthermore, foreigners and immigrants are increasingly equated with non-Europeans particularly with Muslims from the Middle-East and Pakistan and as well as African immigrants.

Most Africans would readily understand this situation, for the struggle for economic resources and opportunities is the bane of most inter-ethnic conflict and crisis in many sub Saharan African countries. From the indigene-settler issue which periodically erupts in Plateau state Nigeria between the Hausa-Fulani “settlers” and the Berom indigenes to inter-ethnic conflict in regions in Kenya like Western, Rift Valley, Nyanza, Coast and Nairobi. Unlike Breivik, it is hoped that few far-right zealots would go so far as to kill innocent teenagers in a bid to protect and maintain the racial purity of Europe from “Islamic colonization” or “Muslim takeover”, but as Nobel Peace Prize chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland rightly noted, extremists like Breivik are exploiting rhetoric used by European politicians to propagate their neo-fascist views. His comment was in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement in February 2011 on the failure of integration and multiculturalism in Britain which he said is “fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism”.

As Europe tightens its borders to non-Europeans, the implication for poor countries particularly African countries is that even brain-drain –a major developmental challenge where skilled Africans emigrate en-masse to developed countries in search of greener pastures – will be greatly reduced for the pasture is not-so-green these days. For instance, some European countries like the UK have revised their   immigration policies such that from 2012, the UK will close its  borders to long-term settlement by foreigners, except for those of “exceptional talent” , the well-to-do who can go afford to go for holidays or give assurances that their stay will not be permanent.  The difficulties faced by poor people from developing countries to migrate, live-in, work or settle-in developed countries questions the unrestricted movement of people and goods across boundaries which globalization proponents had assured. On the one hand, it could be a blessing in disguise, for those who earned their qualifications in developed countries could go back home and utilize those skills in developing their respective economies. Of course this depends on political and economic stability, job opportunities in African countries and most importantly when African leaders decide they are ready to provide desperately needed transformative leadership.

As the industrialized world struggles towards a painful recovery from the global financial crisis further exposing the flaws and weaknesses of the core neoliberalism and free-market system, it shouldn’t be surprising if more aspects of globalization unravel. Therefore, as more jobs are cut, taxes increased and the cost of living becomes higher, people are naturally bound to retreat to a comfort zone and heap blame on the foreigner. As competition for scarce opportunities intensify, extremists like Breivik are lurking, waiting to exploit fear and uncertainty. It is hoped that African leaders will take this cue and provide more opportunities for citizens at home in the wake of a shrinking global space.