Paperback and kindle editions available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Publication Date: February 2013
“…to put on record my version of events…” is one of the reasons Nasir El-Rufai puts forward for writing his provocative autobiography, The Accidental Public Servant. It’s a book which could easily tie with Chinua Achebe’s memoirs, as the most debated in Nigeria’s recent history. Flipping through the pages, it was apparent that readers could choose to either verify or refute El-Rufai’s version of events in government, or appreciate its rare insight into the intricacies of Nigeria’s fourth democratic experience. I opted for the latter.
As the title suggests, the overall theme of the book revolves around the intriguing journey of an individual from very humble beginnings in an idyllic post-independence era, in a rural part of Katsina, northern Nigeria, to occupying one of the highest public offices in 21st century Nigeria. The reader glimpses into how El-Rufai’s fiercely independent, resolute, feisty and cerebral personality evolves from the tragedy of his father’s passing, the calculated attrition against Sunday, the primary school bully, the role-model influence of his brother in his early years and becoming a self-made private sector millionaire by his mid-twenties (p.36).
The “accidental” part of El-Rufai’s journey begins, from the age of 38 with his reluctant entry in government in 1998 as an adviser for the military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar. It continues through to his appointment as the Director-General of the main privatisation agency, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and his membership of the elite corps of economic reformers between 2003 and 2007.
Along the way, lifelong friendships are built and broken, alliances are forged and betrayed and the gruelling challenge of public service and reform in the midst of entrenched practices and powerful vested interests takes its toll. He strives to balance public and personal interests with loyalties as he gets caught in the middle of altercations between a strong-willed President Olusegun Obasanjo and his equally powerful Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. At the height of these disagreements, El-Rufai inadvertently rises to a defacto Vice-President, a position which would ironically lead to his persecution and exile less than a year after leaving public office.
A refreshing aspect of the book is the revelation and demystification of the inner-workings of the highest levels of governance in Africa’s most populous country. For instance, El-Rufai stresses how appointments for the highest public offices, are mostly fortuitous, having little to do with meritocratic or rigorous processes. His narration of events during his first few days as FCT minister (p.199), what to expect after a ministerial nomination, the obstructive tactics of entrenched civil servants opposed to reform are insightful and invaluable details that offer a useful departure from textbook political theory or international ‘best practice.’
In particular, the author’s revelation that without a coherent plan, a new and mostly unprepared government minister could easily drown in administrative routine attending to “more than 100 visitors and 200 phone calls” daily for the duration of their tenure, is instructive (p.201). He discusses the immense influence such appointees wield and how they become devastated when they leave office, once the lucrative perks of office are withdrawn and the “hundreds of phone calls a day… drop to near zero” the very next day (p.393)! These are valuable disclosures for the younger generation planning to go into public service.
El-Rufai also underscores the absolute importance of political will by a president in effecting key reforms. With Obasanjo’s backing, the residence of the powerful chairman of the ruling party was demolished as part of the restoration of the FCT master plan (p.296) and a number of seemingly impossible tasks are implemented seamlessly. The reader thus gets a glimpse into Obasanjo’s ambivalent approach to governance: a wilful, ex-military leader, with an eye for good people, an ear for good advice and a vision for Nigeria despite his links with vested interests and rentier elite, but who was unfortunately consumed by his vindictiveness and narrow ambitions to run for a third term in office. The reader is likely to come off with a better informed and more respectable view of The Obasanjo personality.
El-Rufai also rightly reflects on a fundamental yet overlooked implication of the decline of Nigerian public education and constituent alumni networks which are critical to leadership and elite incubation (p.42-43). He stresses how friendship and alumni networks in Barewa College and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria proved useful in several instances in his life and in public service. He laments that the decline of hitherto elitist public institutions mean that their local and important alumni networks such as the Barewa Old Boys Association are now unavailable to foreign-educated Nigerians, his own children inclusive.
However, the scant mention of the highly controversial NITEL-Pentascope privatisation controversy is quite conspicuous. This is especially since El-Rufai studiously accounts for the key hallmarks and controversies of his stewardship of the BPE and the FCT Ministry. While the author does state that a full account of the NITEL saga would come in a BPE monograph (p.128), most readers would have appreciated at least a few paragraphs devoted to this contentious issue.
The author’s approach of divulging the inner workings of governance at the highest levels, and naming and shaming the key players irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation is truly refreshing. Yet in a few instances, there’s a nagging feeling that he probably divulged too much. This ranges from revealing verbatim, some conversations which held in strict confidence to the extremely personal details about meeting and marrying his subsequent wives.
Notwithstanding, the rare insight El-Rufai provides into the highest echelons of power, politics and decision-making in Nigeria is unprecedented. The heated debate sparked by the book should prompt other key actors to document their own version of events, ultimately to the betterment of Nigerians outside the tight power circle. For Nasir El-Rufai the successful entrepreneur, technocrat, exiled student and now leading opposition politician, one can only wonder what the future holds.
“Some mosques in particular consistently condemned me and prayed for my downfall. One or two declared me an apostate for daring to demolish a mosque, conveniently forgetting that Prophet Muhammad ordered the demolition of an illegal mosque in Madina Al-Munawwarah, some 1,400 years earlier. Many of the affected ‘churches’ prayed that “by God’s grace, El-Rufai will go down, El-Rufai will lose his job, El-Rufai will die in Jesus’ name.” I was there for nearly four years and we removed all of them.” (p.212)
Culled from Aljazeera:
“She is called the Burka Avenger and is like no other superhero before her.
By day she is a Pakistani school teacher, but by night the secret martial arts expert dresses in a veil while fighting bad guys (who want to shut down schools).
The animated children’s series is about to hit TV screens across Pakistan.”
This is a potentially effective form of positive indoctrination and soft approach to fighting terrorism and extremism in a society. Given the numerous similarities between northern Nigeria and Pakistan in this regard, perhaps northern Nigeria also needs its own version of the Burka/Hijab Avenger to fight the Boko Haram baddies.
This is a video of the courageous Malala Yousafzai delivering a phenomenal speech at the UN Youth Assembly earlier today. Malala is the teenage education activist in Pakistan who recently survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.
I was moved by her strength and passion, especially when I recalled how dozens of innocent school children were viciously murdered by terrorists in northern Nigeria recently.
For added symbolic effect, Malala delivered the powerful speech whilst wearing a shawl that belonged to the late Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.
“The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead, they shot my friends too… They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born”
“Let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism”
“The masses of our people are chained down in dehumanizing and grinding poverty while we continue to maintain few islands of false prosperity in a turbulent ocean of penury and squalor… There cannot be peace and harmony where there is wide disparity between the few rich and a multitude of the poor”
This is an excerpt from a former Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma’s (rtd) speech, at a traditional turbaning ceremony. His statement, which was in reference to Nigeria in general and northern Nigeria in particular, could easily apply to a number of African countries.
On Saturday 15 June, the Al-Jazeera West Africa correspondent Yvonne Ndege, and her 3-man crew were arrested in Niger. According to information posted on the Al-Jazeera website:
The team was initially detained at around 9.00 (GMT) on Saturday, questioned, and asked to hand over the material from a story they were filming about refugees.
The four were then interrogated for about ten hours before being officially arrested and charged with espionage, with no evidence being presented to support the charges.
…the authorities confiscated the team’s passports, filming equipment and personal belongings before putting them in a shared cell without food or water.
On Sunday, the Attorney General said that there was no evidence against them and the team was free to go, while the police headquarters said the filmed footage was cleared for release.
Within an hour of this order being given, the team was detained again without charge and the filming equipment was once again confiscated.
The team was eventually released, according to Premium Times:
“The four-person team was released late on Monday evening without charge to make way back to the border into Nigeria,” Kevin Kriedmann, a spokesperson of Aljazeera disclosed in a press release early Tuesday.
As for the reason behind their arrest, The Washington Post reports the team was arrested on charges by the Nigerien government that they failed to get proper accreditation:
Niger’s government spokesman said the group was filming illegally, having entered the country with only a visa. Journalists in Niger are required to also apply for an authorization from the ministry of communication, said spokesman Marou Amadou, who is also the country’s justice minister. He denied that the team had been held, saying only that their material was seized and inspected.
However, the reason for the detention may not be unconnected with the story the Al-Jazeera team was covering, about thousands of refugees fleeing across the border into Niger, from neighbouring Nigeria. The Nigerian government declared a State of Emergency on 14 May and launched a military operation to flush out the Boko Haram insurgents in their stronghold states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Borno state in particular shares a border with Niger.
Here is the first footage of the reportage by Al-Jazeera on the refugees in Niger:
So far, Al-Jazeera is one of the few media agencies (among both local and international media) that has covered the plight of refugees fleeing these areas. Mobile communication networks have been switched off in these states since the military operation started, and thus, there’s little information coming out, and the little that does, is heavily controlled and determined by the Nigerian Army.
What I find more disturbing is the Nigerian government’s hasty dismissal of these refugees as citizens of Niger “fleeing” back to their country, and not Nigerians, even though it is common knowledge that when conflict erupts in an area, the residents tend to leave for somewhere safer until the conflict abates. Agence France Presse (AFP) has also reported on the plight of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, fleeing the military offensive in the North-East.
This hasty dismissal by the Nigerian government, along with the knee-jerk response by the Nigerien authorities confounds the situation further.
“Mr Shekau said his group had done no wrong and so an amnesty would not be applicable to them.
It was the Nigerian government that was committing atrocities against Muslims, he said.
“Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you [a] pardon,” AFP news agency quotes him as saying in the Hausa language audio recording.”
Of course, this was to be expected and sadly, many of us “observers” were just waiting for this. Boko Haram NEVER requested or plead for amnesty, it has no use for it whatsoever. You don’t need a sophisticated anti-terrorism profiler from Mossad to tell you that Boko Haram thrives on and draws its strength from the fear it inflicts on those commanding the machinery of government and the people, in seeking its “vengeance” (however warped that quest for vengeance is). Amnesty as it stands, would rob it of its lifeblood (its ability to inflict fear and terror). By default, Boko Haram is wired to reject this offer, as it has. Now what?
This phase of the Boko Haram insurgency against the Nigerian state and the offer of amnesty by the government is analagous to two people, Mr. A. and Mr. B., engaged in bloody physical combat with Mr. A gaining the upper hand against Mr. B. Upon realising how imminent his defeat is, Mr. B., proclaims in between steely punches smashing his face “I forgive you Mr. A., I grant you amnesty”. Of course at this point, Mr. A will realise how powerful he has become, and simply finish off Mr. B.
I have keenly followed the pro- and anti- amnesty debate over the past two weeks or so in Nigeria. I found it all rather confounding, disturbing, distracting and absolutely pathetic! The debate got so heated and was as usual, unnecessarily politicised by both sides. I actually supported the President’s initial position of “not granting amnesty to faceless ghosts” because Boko Haram did not request for it, has insisted that it doesn’t recognise the authority of the Nigerian state (not to mention its feeble amnesty offer) and has continued butchering innocent Nigerians. However, President Jonathan was cajoled and bullied by SOME northern leaders into offering the amnesty.
On the other side of the divide, even those who genuinely and naïvely assumed that an amnesty offer would be the magical elixir to solve this bloody insurgency quagmire, were viciously painted by vociferous anti-amnesty voices as Boko Haram “sympathisers”. Now Boko Haram has flipped the bird or as we Nigerians call it, did the “uwaka” sign to us all, by rejecting it!
Personally, I am more incensed at the folly of SOME of the proponents of amnesty and their gross inability to see how this would play out. I say a big Thank You for giving the world the opportunity once again, to laugh at your sheer recklessness. So, what next then? Start begging Boko Haram or bribe them with Hajj pilgrimage or Dubai trip offers?
The baby steps towards a sustainable solution should be clear and visible. In my opinion — based on my humble observations and from general discussions — I believe they include:
- Implementation of recommendations of several reports by various commissions and committees set up, on this insurgency. Most of these reports have concrete recommendations proposed by committee members who are in the know, yet they have been dumped somewhere. Go back, pick them up, and start working from the recommendations, if they haven’t been eaten by dust mite that is. If the Federal Government seems unwilling or keeps dragging its foot, our “esteemed” and opinionated northern elders clearly have their advocacy work cut out for them;
- The JTF needs to stop killing innocent people and thereby providing a ready supply of recruits and suicide bombers to Boko Haram from a pool of angry, spiteful, vengeful and disillusioned orphans. The logic here is so ridiculously simple and apparent: the more you kill fathers in the presence of their impressionable teenagers and brutalise innocent young men, the more likely the victims are to fall into the willing embrace of Boko Haram or just refuse to help the government. Government needs to realise the pivotal role of winning the hearts and minds of people caught in the midst of all this, and denying Boko Haram any sort of popular support;
- In addition to spreading fear through its carnage, Boko Haram primarily thrives on spreading its warped and twisted ideology to angry, frustrated and hungry Nigerians. Its ideology needs to be countered by Muslim clerics all over the country, especially in northern Nigeria. Already, we have people like Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who, despite his sometimes controversial statements, has come down hard on the sect, and because of that, he has been the target of several bomb-assassination attempts. Importantly this de-radicalisation needs to filter down to the grassroots, and shouldn’t be restricted to the elitist spheres such as the Sultan Bello mosque in Kaduna or the Indimi mosque in Maiduguri. The real recruitment takes place in inner-city districts, slums, suburbs and rural areas. This is where some of our noisy northern leaders could be helpful, rather than bullying the President to offer a hollow and meaningless amnesty, they should (if they are doing so already) continue convincing local imams in every street mosque and district, to preach fearlessly against this radical ideology, with credible evidence from the Holy Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), to expose the flaws in the ideological basis of Boko Haram and hopefully turn some of its members against it;
- There might still be a chance for amnesty… but there has to be a different approach. Again related to (1) above, the government (Federal and States) should go back to those reports and their recommendations, importantly, to start prosecuting perpetrators especially those in the security agencies responsible for extra-judicial killings of innocent citizens. This might be a highly contested approach but yes, start by prosecuting the killers of Mohammed Yusuf and others, which Boko Haram has frequently cited as the reason for its war against the Nigerian state. Prosecution of these erring officers might draw whatever humanity is left in some of the sect members to the negotiating table.
Lastly, the main problem with Nigeria, as is evident from this insurgency is that of sheer and criminal impunity. People steal, plunder, rape, murder and do everything under the sun, yet they are allowed to get away with it. This not only sets a precedent for other members of society to do same or worse, but it leaves victims with malicious grievances and a thirst for vengeance. Mohammed Yusuf, the sect’s alleged founder was brutally murdered (captured by the lens of Aljazeera’s cameras), the perpetrators are still walking about freely. The various suspects of church, market, mosque and school bombings are still walking about freely. Soldiers who have snuffed the life out of innocent citizens are still walking about freely. This breeds nothing but hateful grievances while the cycle of bloodletting continues. In the case of the sect, Jama’atul ahlul Sunna Wal-Liddawati wal Jihad, or Boko Haram, it is quenching its thirst for vengeance with the blood of innocents and this is what needs to stop.
It is becoming a tired cliché to note that Nigeria is a country with vast potentials which have remained unrealized due to socio-political and economic challenges of which dearth of transformational leadership is at the heart of all. Again, it is common knowledge that this leadership deficit is more severe in northern Nigeria relative to other parts of the country. A disturbing yet overlooked dimension of this leadership conundrum however, is that leaders who ought to be responsible for identifying the problems and finding solutions seem to have little understanding of what these problems are, they prefer to ignore them or both, and hence have little or no solutions to them. The leaders are also becoming progressively disconnected from the ordinary people and their concerns.
The summaries of various communiqués of meetings and fora involving northern political leaders (mainly the Northern Governors Forum) and most northern elders (mostly former public office holders) of recent, on the North’s numerous problems are baffling and frustrating as it is apparent the agenda of these meetings typically have little to do with the region’s gargantuan economic, socio-political and security challenges. Neither do the final recommendations.
The themes of these meetings usually revolve around increased revenue allocation to northern states from the Federal Government, lamentations over existing conspiracies to “marginalize” and “destroy” the North; emphasis on the North’s “turn” to produce the next President in 2015; hollow, rhetorical lamentations on the decline of the northern economy and the need to revive agriculture, countering the Boko Haram insurgency and occasionally, a passing reference is made on the need for good governance, and in the end, these ills are ascribed to bad leadership and that’s about it. These meetings typically produce virtually no solid, detailed, implementable blue prints on how to methodically, systematically and effectively address the North’s well-documented problems.
As the communiqués and press briefings for these meetings become public, one’s hopes of tangible solutions are further dashed by the crushing realization that our leaders are running round in vicious circles. At best, they gloss over the most critical problems, and at worst, their recommendations have practically no bearing on these problems. While the last meeting of the Northern Governor’s Forum belatedly established a committee to propose ways of addressing the insecurity in the North, it is an open secret that many of the governors have their eyes set on and are working towards contesting the 2015 presidential elections. Recently, at least two prominent northern leaders have made the case for revisiting the Federal Government’s revenue allocation formula, while at least three northern elders have variously “advised” that President Jonathan “renounces” any intention of contesting in the 2015 elections to “defuse political tension”.
While I am not disregarding the importance of these issues, there are more critical issues requiring the immediate attention of our leaders on which the fate of ordinary people and the region as a whole hang. The problems bedeviling northern Nigeria can be broadly classified into four distinct but interrelated categories: the steady economic decline of the region over several decades, the breakdown of social cohesion, the insecurity especially the Boko Haram insurgency and the gradual decline of the North’s political influence at the centre. The disturbing fact though is that the priorities of our northern Governors and many of our northern elders, are skewed towards the North’s access to political power and how to bring back the Presidency to the North come 2015 while the more important economic, social and security challenges are of secondary importance to them.
CRITICAL PROBLEMS REQUIRING URGENT SOLUTIONS
As our leaders and elders focus on these non-issues, one wonders how these would actually translate to a better life for the ordinary northerner when 8 out of 10 people in most northern states live in abject poverty, how President Jonathan’s shelving of his 2015 ambition would translate to better equipped schools and medical centres, or how abrogating the Onshore-Offshore Dichotomy Bill and revising the “unfair” distribution of Federal revenues will attract needed investments to a region where in many state capitals it’s a herculean task to find one large departmental store (an indicator of modernization), when the current revenues are clearly being mismanaged. These are the leaders and the “voices” of the North and from what they talk about, one can reasonably conclude that these are their main priorities.
The tragedy here is that not only is there an acute misdiagnosis of the numerous problems bedeviling the North and its people by our leaders and elders, those ideally best placed to know the problems and formulate solutions, but that even their proposed solutions to the misdiagnosed problems are deficient, while the region continues to decay, collapse and burn, literally. Few of our “leaders” and “elders” have for instance, actually proposed realistic and pragmatic steps in containing the Boko Haram insurgency, the most glaring manifestation of this decay and impending collapse.
Beyond the usual mantra on the need “to engage in dialogue” with the sect, is there any concrete plan on the sequence of events that would follow in the event that the sect does agree to negotiate and is somehow convinced to lay down its arms whether by an amnesty-type cooption into the system or via another means? Is there a blueprint on integrating the brainwashed flock back into society, to guarantee the safety and security of those who agree to cease fire or for massive disarmament of arms now overflowing the North? Is there any incentive (or protection) to encourage those who genuinely want to renounce violence or to convince the militants that it’s in their best interests to lay down their arms in an environment where upward social mobility for the unprivileged is almost non-existent even to the educated ones? Are there plans for engaging these youth and other legions of unemployed, disillusioned and frustrated young men and women in our northern cities to prevent their co-option by other such anarchist groups? If any of such plans or proposals exist, they surely haven’t been regularly featuring in the communiqués of these fora involving our northern leaders and elders.
Consequently, as our leaders and elders focus on issues which seem to have little bearing on the lives of the rest of us, we the rest are increasingly dissociating ourselves from what they have chosen to prioritize, while the rest of the country is moving ahead and increasingly dissociating itself from the North as a whole. Some of our leaders speak on behalf of the North and we wonder whether they are really speaking on our behalf. They speak of the North but we wonder if these are really the aspirations of the ordinary people.
While our leaders and many of our elders attribute the North’s underdevelopment to a lower share of federal revenues, many of us see how some non-oil producing states south of the Niger, some of which receive comparatively less revenues from the federal purse are embarking on relatively more transformational policies: free health-care scheme for pregnant women, children, the physically challenged and senior citizens in Ekiti state; free education policy from primary to university level in Imo state; the rail transit system and other transport infrastructure in Lagos etc. At the same time, we see our own state executives, spending N2.7 bn ($17 m) on Ramadhan gifts, more than that state’s entirely monthly revenue allocation or jetting-off to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj in August as Boko Haram and Joint Military Task Force (JTF) slugged it out, further traumatizing the already battered residents.
Caring Heart Primary School is one of the “five star” public mega primary schools being built by the Ondo state government all across the state. This ambitious project aims to ensure such public schools “compete favourably” with the best private schools and that the underprivileged have access to quality education.
We wonder when the communiqués of these meetings by our northern leaders and elders would shift focus from their obsession with the 2015 elections which is still 3 years away or revisiting a controversial revenue allocation formula laid to rest or from endlessly whingeing about a conspiracy to “cripple” the North by others or the over-flogged flashback to a glorious era of Northern agricultural buoyancy of decades past, and when the agenda of these meetings would actually table viable blue prints for economic rejuvenation of the region — viable proposals for mechanizing the largely subsistence agriculture, making grants and credit available to farmers and SMEs, subsidies and assistance to the comatose industries, attracting investors and development partners with business friendly policies, tax breaks and land leases; exploiting the abundant mineral resources in the North such as gold in Zamfara which dubious (local and foreign) businessmen and impoverished villagers are already mining illegally anyways; employment generation schemes; road-maps for investments in health-care, education and transport infrastructure; engaging in massive enlightenment campaigns for the masses on their civic rights and duties, the list is endless. We wonder when these communiqués would demonstrate seriousness on the part of our leaders and elders to start looking inwards for home-grown solutions which are all around us.
GENERATIONAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL DIMENSIONS OF NORTHERN LEADERSHIP DEFICIT
It is worth noting that leadership deficit is not unique to the North as it is a general Nigerian problem, and arguably a global phenomenon. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, writing in June 2012 identifies two components of the global leadership deficit prevalent in many countries — generational and technological. When this is applied to the situation in northern Nigeria, it becomes apparent that the disconnect between our leaders and the rest of us has much to do with the little generational change amongst those responsible for aggregating and articulating the North’s aspirations, with mostly the same people who have been in the thick of things since some of us were in diapers, whom we’ve read about in social studies textbooks in primary and secondary school, still dexterously recycling themselves continuously back in power – as governors, ministers, legislators, permanent secretaries, board members of parastatals – still calling the shots today.
The incredibly persistent longevity of many die-hard power-brokers in northern Nigeria has ensured that few neophytes have been genuinely groomed as successors. This situation of course is connected to the technological dimension of this leadership deficit which beyond the use of modern technology in governance, refers to the stale, archaic and retrogressive approach to leadership as a consequence of this generational gap, with little input of fresh ideas and approaches to governance. Therefore, the same top-down, gerontocratic and quasi-feudal approaches to leadership of decades past is very much the norm in the North today, increasingly incapable of addressing present-day 21st century challenges. In fact, a former Head of State of northern extraction (in)famously remarked that Nigerian youths are not ready for leadership.
Looking at northern Nigeria through the prism of generational and technological dimensions of leadership deficit put forward by Friedman enables us to understand the disconnect between what our leaders and elders regard as the North’s aspirations and what the rest of us really think are our aspirations, that they seem not to realize this gap exists, that the communication gap is widening and that it potentially has grave implications.
Now the danger is that as the North’s problems and aspirations keep being misdiagnosed, ignored and misunderstood by our leaders, with wrong solutions prescribed to non-issues, our problems continue intensifying rapidly, entrapping us further into the cavernous stranglehold of poverty, underdevelopment, political instability and conflict while other parts of the country forge ahead. According to a May 2012 report (PDF) by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), 7 out of 10 young women aged 20-29 in North-West Nigeria are unable to read or write, compared to just about 1 out of 10 young women in the South-East; while maternal mortality rate in the North-East is 1,549 deaths per 100,000 women, three times above the national average of 549 deaths.
As stale and musty ideas that pervade the northern atmosphere continue choking the very life out of a long comatose region with approaches that reinforce rather than address the glaring contradictions and atrocious inequality in the North, it is no wonder the incident of violent crime – something alien to the North jut a decade ago – is now a daily occurrence as the spate of drive-by shootings and assassinations have increased exponentially.
As our leaders and elders have chosen to focus on non-issues, pointing the blame outwards rather than looking inwards, conducting sincere assessments and proposing solutions, even the narrative about northern Nigeria outside the country is changing. I have come across many references to northern Nigeria on international websites and blogs as the “poor” “backward” or “violent Islamist North”, while Google image searches of our major northern cities such as Kaduna or Kano routinely produce stomach-churning images of mangled corpses of bomb blast victims, burnt vehicles, or arrested suspects of one vicious crime or the other.
We need new approaches to our multifaceted economic, social and political problems as the current stale and archaic ways of thinking are grossly inadequate and incapable of addressing our numerous 21st century challenges. In order to do this, we ought to realize that leaders like all human beings are driven by self-interest, and as such they are not by default prone to accountability or altruism. It is pressure from citizens that forces leaders to act in the collective interest. It is agitation by ordinary citizens especially labour and trade unions in post-war Western Europe that was instrumental in pressuring the political elite to make inclusive social reforms of hitherto exclusive and aristocratic political systems and implementation of welfare policies (such as health care, housing and employment benefits which exist to this day) to cater for the less privileged.
Thus, a huge responsibility lies with northern academics, intellectuals, commentators, analysts, professionals and just about anyone concerned about their own future (or lack of it) and that of their children to continuously and consistently speak up on these burning issues that affect us all and ensure they are brought back onto the agenda of our leaders and elders. It is just not enough to assume our characteristically fatalistic position of “Allah Ya isa” or “God dey” and then resign ourselves to this sordid fate that certainly awaits us!
The intellectuals and columnists of northern extraction should beam the spotlight more on what state and local governments are doing with the same vigorous consistency that the activities of the Federal Government are scrutinized – how revenues and resources are managed, how investment decisions and contract awards are made, etc. because our governance challenges are mainly under the constitutional purview of states and local governments, and for the most part, information on the activities of these sub-national governments is a black hole of sorts.
Public opinion moulders should provide information to ordinary citizens on what these governments are doing, whether they are living up to their responsibilities, highlighting and applauding the efforts of political leaders who are performing well so that a performance benchmark would be set for others and proposing concrete recommendations no matter how idealistic they might seem. Public debate and public opinion moulding are enabled when conversations are started on important issues that others can relate with, build on and carry along and thereby creating mechanisms for vigorous discussions, actions and demand for accountability.
For our leaders, they ought to realize that the situation in the North today is completely unsustainable and it doesn’t require the clairvoyance of a seer to foresee the imminent disaster of chaotic proportions that awaits the North as a whole. Thus it is in their own self-interest that the North is brought back from this dangerous precipice, by providing good governance we tirelessly complain about and being true representatives of the people and their aspirations at best to ensure the region does not tear itself apart and at worst maintaining the grossly unequal, predatory and destructive status quo.
For some of our “elders”, who have had rewarding careers in public service, they could use their good names and influence in proposing concrete steps towards containing the Boko Haram insurgency and plans for reviving a post-Boko Haram North. They could also take their campaign abroad to counter and disprove some destructive narratives emerging in some Western publications (at the prodding of some Diaspora based Nigerian lobby groups) that Boko Haram is a religious war against a certain religious group in northern Nigeria.
With their influence, some of our elders could also play instrumental roles in enlightening the masses on their civic rights and duties, what to expect from the government, being more proactive to demand accountability from their representatives at the grassroots level, resisting electoral fraud and selling their votes for peanuts and so on. Importantly for other “elders”, it is just time to BOW OUT, as the standing ovation has long died down, RETIRE for good and allow others to take the stage. Overall, more links between the citizens and the state need to be established with more communication channels between the leaders and the led.
Really it is time we woke up from our deep complacent slumber and started playing our roles in rescuing not just our future but our present from this steady free-fall into the dark pit of misery and underdevelopment. For in the end, what will probably kill the North faster than any insurgency’s bullets and bombs is our own silence, complacency and lack of pro-activeness in demanding accountability from our leaders and representation of our interests in their actions.
A few weeks ago, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report, written by Aaron Sayne, looking at indigene-settler conflicts in Nigeria, the basis of deadly communal violence notably in Jos and Kaduna, but also Warri, Wukari in Taraba, parts of Benue and other parts of the country. The report, based on thorough analysis delves into many issues surrounding these conflicts, but importantly locates such violence within the context of constitutional provisions (indigenization clause) and identity politics that enable such indigene-settler clashes. You can read the full report HERE (PDF).
Here is a summary:
- Many of Nigeria’s worst conflicts pit the recognized original inhabitants, or indigenes, of a particular place against supposedly later settlers. These conflicts may be growing deadlier and more numerous with time.
- State and local governments have free rein to pick who is an indigene. Abuse of the label can foster deep socio-economic inequalities, given that indigenes enjoy preferential access to land, schools, development spending, and public jobs. These inequalities feed into violence, although righting inequality may not be sufficient to end violence in every case.
- The indigene-settler distinction is also explosive because it reinforces and is reinforced by other identity-based divides (ethnicity, religion) in Nigeria. These differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and culture can be longstanding and deeply felt, but how they factor into violence is again not well understood.
- Poor law enforcement responses also help entrench violence between indigenes and settlers. Official complicity and indifference make prosecutions rare. Destructive conduct by the Nigerian security forces itself often becomes a structural cause of violence.
- Serious thought about how to prevent or resolve indigene-settler violence has barely started in Nigeria. Addressing inequality between indigenes and settlers calls for serious, microlevel analysis of local economic dysfunctions and opportunities, along with real official commitment to make and enforce better policies.
- More holistic understandings of justice are also needed. The worst hot spots will need a wide menu of well-planned interventions. Options include securitization, criminal prosecution, mediation and dialogue, truth commissions, victim compensation programs, public health and trauma assistance, public institutional reforms, education, and communications work. In some cases, building sustainable peace could take a generation or more.
I find the report rich in detail, yet concise enough — at less than 20 pages — not to be boring, but readable in one sitting. It balances theoretical arguments with factual analysis derived from interviews and discussions with key stakeholders. Some points I found to be highly significant and worth highlighting include:
The report underscores the role of identity in indigene-settler violence which tends to be downplayed especially by foreign analysts who prefer instead to focus on structural factors such as economic inequality and poverty as drivers of conflict. Though the study acknowledges the link between inequality and violence, I find it quite dismissive of the major role played by these socio-economic factors of poverty, inequality and access to economic opportunities and resources, as drivers of indigene-settler violence, especially as more prosperous and urbanized people in bigger cities are less likely to engage in identity-based communal conflict.
The report reflects on the need to devise concrete measures and policies to engage Nigeria’s massive, fast-growing, young population, with measures such as attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), ensuring ordinary Nigerians have access to loans and credit financing and overdue federalist reforms that would push “more resources away from Abuja and down to the states”. Importantly, it highlights the major retrogressive role of discriminatory attitudes and practices of socio-economic exclusion based on indigene-settler dichotomy on economic growth and development, and how this needs to be addressed if parts of the country where this discrimination is prevalent are to reap socio-economic dividends.
It notes government’s (at different levels) tendency to respond to outbreaks of serious violence with ad-hoc measures rather than long-term and sustainable ones, such as launching numerous ad hoc judicial commissions of inquiry with no enforcement powers and with their findings seldom published, adopted, or acted on. For instance at least sixteen commissions have examined violence in Jos alone. Similarly, the ad-hoc security-based approaches to violence such as presidential declarations of emergency, augmenting local police presence with military task forces or ad hoc disarmament exercises which lead to few results, sometimes further entrench conflict and add to the human toll.
Some pragmatic recommendations listed include: “…overlooked change agents, such as local peace and security committees or female religious groups, should be engaged more creatively”; community policing which has been relatively successful in Lagos; establishing truth commissions which have been successful in Rwanda, can heal the psychological trauma and scarring of communities which have experienced such violence, and institutional reforms of the security forces. Though the study also recommends civil society engagement in involving grassroots stakeholders’ participation to make peace settlement negotiations more sustainable, it doesn’t actually state how such grassroots involvement is to be attained especially as it further (dis)regards such CSOs as donor driven and lacking genuine constituencies.
Importantly, the report underscores the need for “serious thinking about how to prevent or resolve Nigeria’s indigene-settler violence…” which “…has barely started.” It adds “…as often in the country, existing analyses are stronger on problems than on solutions.” Clearly, this critical point provides an insight into our approach to other pressing national issues as well; there is a tendency to (over) analyse problems, with exceptional clarity but with little solutions proferred in the public sphere.
We need to “re-think” , re-evaluate and re-assess how we approach our numerous challenges in Nigeria, from new perspectives. In many cases, this would entail engaging in micro-analyses at sub-national levels and proffering solutions no matter how ambitious, idealistic or quixotic they might initially appear. We need to get conversations started on possible solutions so that they would be discussed, debated, fine-tuned and ultimately accepted and implemented.
Effective and sustainable solutions to Nigeria’s numerous problems, especially the recurring and tragic outbreaks of violence, can only come from Nigerians themselves. Much as such fine reports by USIP or other think-tanks conduct excellent analyses and recommend pragmatic solutions, it is when we Nigerians profer, discuss and debate solutions that we can accept them and work with them.
“Cannibalization of Muslims in Jos, Where is our Humanity” February 4, 2012
On 16 July 2012 Honourable Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar was sworn in as Nigeria’s very first female head of the judiciary, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). She became Nigeria’s 13th indigenous CJN after her confirmation by the Senate, replacing her predecessor, Honourable Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who retired on 14 July. Justice Mukhtar has had a distinguished and impeccable career as a jurist and in many ways has been a pace setter for Nigerian women in general and women on the bench in particular.
Justice Mukhtar was described as a “trailblazer in her judicial journey” by President Goodluck Jonathan during her swearing in ceremony. Below is an excerpt from the President’s speech during the ceremony:
“Today, we are witness to history with the swearing in of Justice Aloma Mukhtar as the first female CJN. I join millions of our country men, women and youths in congratulating the Nigerian judiciary and Your Lordship as we record this important milestone in the annals of our nation’s judicial history.
“She was the first female lawyer of the northern extraction, the first female High Court Judge from the north, first female second in command, Kano State judiciary, the first Nigerian female jury (sic) to be elevated to the Court of Appeal, where she served for over 17 years.
“Today, she has risen to the pinnacle of her judicial career as the first female CJN in further service of our great country. My Lord, I congratulate you. Her Lordship’s achievement is an inspiration to all citizens, especially womanhood, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa and the rest of the world.
“The honourable CJN now joins an eminent and exclusive list of achievers recognized throughout the world as beacons of hope in this century. She will after leaving office become a member of our nation’s highest advisory council, the Council of State. Here again she will make history as the first female permanent member of that council…”
Education and Career Trajectory
Justice Mukhtar, 68, had her primary education at the St. George’s School, Zaria and also at St. Bartholomews’s school, Wusasa, also in Zaria from 1950 to 1957. She furthered her education at Rossholme School for Girls in East Brent, Somerset, England for her GCE O’ Levels in 1962 and went for further education at the Technical College, Berkshire England.
Justice Aloma-Mukhtar, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1967, a year after she was called to the English Bar. She began her legal career as a pupil counsel in the Ministry of Justice of the defunct Northern Nigeria in 1967. She was later appointed Magistrate Grade I, North Eastern Government (1969 – 1973), as the first female Magistrate in the defunct Northern region. She made another history with her appointment as the Chief Registrar, Kano State Government Judiciary (1973 – 1977) and Judge, High Court of Kano State in 1977 and Justice, Court of Appeal in 1987. At the time of her nomination by President Jonathan as CJN, she was the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court.
Justice Mukhtar has been a life Bencher since 1993 and a life member of the Federation of Women Lawyers. She was also the Vice President of the National Association of Women Judges of Nigeria. In 1989, Mukhtar was honoured by the Federation of Women Lawyers and in 1991; she was decorated with a Gold Merit Award by the Kano State Government.
In 2003 she was again honored by the International Association of Women Lawyers, and in 2004, the Fellowship of the Nigerian Law School was conferred on her.
Justice Mukhtar was on Monday 16 July 2012 conferred the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), by President Goodluck Jonathan, during the swearing in ceremony.
After leaving office, she will become the first female permanent member of the country’s highest advisory council, the Council of State
Legal practitioners and colleagues described her as “independent minded”.
Justice Mukhtar was one of the justices who gave a dissenting judgment that is widely acclaimed in legal circles and the academia in the Yar’Adua/Buhari election result dispute in 2007. The new CJN alongside Justices George Oguntade (rtd) and Walter Onnoghen, held that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 which vitiated the election of the late President.
She takes the mantle at a time when the judiciary is in critical need of reform. Cases of corrupt judges, frivolous court injunctions, delays in trials and dispensation of justice, particularly in cases of corruption and terrorism are rife in the judiciary. Justice Aloma Mukhtar has vowed to “embark on an internal cleansing” of the judiciary. And indeed, many do not doubt her ability to do so, as she has been described as ”a disciplinarian”, “motherly” and “a jurist per excellence”. Others still believe she might lead the most rigid administration in the history of the apex court, which would be greatly welcomed.
Despite her achievements and impeccable career trajectory, it was gathered that there were subterranean attempts to prevent her nomination and ascension to the number 3 position in the country by several groups, especially conservative groups from her home base in Kano.
That notwithstanding, Justice Mukhtar’s impeccable track record and achievements are definitely a milestone for women in Nigeria.
New Dawn for African Women?
Justice Aloma-Mukhtar’s ascension to the judiciary’s number one position comes at a time when all over the continent, African women are attaining enviable heights. Here is a brief list of some powerful and accomplished African women in public service:
Mame Madior Boye served as Prime Minister of Senegal from 2001 to 2002.
In 2004, the late Kenyan activist and women’s rights advocate, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Liberia’s President and Nobel Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President in 2005 and assumed office in January 2006, becoming the first elected female head of state in Africa. She was re-elected in 2011.
In 2011, two African women — the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the women’s rights and peace advocate, Leymah Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In April 2012, Joyce Hilda Banda the then estranged Vice President to the late Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika, became President after he passed away.
In April 2012, the Nigerian Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala became the first African woman to contest for the position of World Bank President. Though she ran amidst mixed reactions back home and lost to the current President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, her running for the position remains very symbolic.
On Sunday 15 July 2012, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa became the first woman to hold the position of African Union Chair, after she beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, in a closely-fought election over several rounds of voting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
These women are just some of the many others who are blazing the trail in the public, private and third sectors, for Sub Saharan African women, arguably some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged women in the world. The paths tread by these women have set the pace for numerous young women to follow and to aspire to greater heights.