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.
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.
This piece below was written for Democracy in Africa. Find the original HERE.
‘…These actions amount to a declaration of war and a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the Nigerian state… As a responsible government, we will not tolerate this’, declared Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. This was during his recent imposition of a State of Emergency to mark the onset of army raids in parts of Nigeria’s North-East, the strong hold of the Jama’atul Ahlus Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, which has waged a deadly insurgency war against the Nigerian state since 2009.
While Boko Haram is apparently the biggest security headache for Africa’s most populous country, it certainly isn’t its only security challenge. Pockets of violence in the oil-rich Niger-Delta, the rise of other militias in the South-West and the Middle-Belt, alarming incidents of kidnapping in the South-East, frequent eruptions of communal violence in Jos, and other forms of violent crime abound. Crucially, the increase in militant activity should be situated within the larger context of Nigeria’s political economy and the 2015 general elections, on which most of the political elite and their networks are now fixated.
Since the transition to democracy in 1999, Nigeria has experienced a period of sustained economic growth averaging 7.4%, driven partly by the rise in global oil prices. Lucrative oil revenues, accounting for 80% of government revenues, have heightened intensely competitive contestations for political office, to do-or-die proportions. Politicians frequently ratchet up identity-based rhetoric along North-South, Christian-Muslim, and other fault lines in the run up to elections. Predictably, with such fierce competition for public offices, election season is punctuated with violence. Events in the Western Region in 1964 and in parts of the North in 2011 serve as particularly notorious examples of the devastation such violence can cause.
Given the enormous (oil) revenues accruing to the government, political posturing towards 2015 elections seems to have started much earlier than usual. Presently, political discourse in Nigeria is feverishly centred on the potential candidates for president and the state governors. Heated political commentaries focus on what region’s “turn” it is to produce the president. The threats and counter-threats being made by various groups are indicative of the acrimony that followed the collapse in 2011 of the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) 12-year power-sharing formula between the North and the South. Steps towards a coalition by the main opposition parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), add fuel to an already raging debate. Nigeria’s growing number of militant groups can only be understood within this context of fierce rhetoric and political re-alignments.
One thread that runs through the militias – Boko Haram, Niger-Delta militants, the Odudua People’s Congress (OPC) and others – is that despite their varied approaches, they provide platforms for those disillusioned with Nigeria’s narrow political system to express their grievances, albeit violently. For example, people in the Niger-Delta have long demanded that underdevelopment in the region be addressed by the government. However, it was only after young men from the area engaged in a sustained insurgency, which crippled oil production, that a government-backed Amnesty Programme was initiated in 2009 to address some of their grievances.
A similar pattern is observable with Boko Haram, where radicalised young men up North have now attained local and international infamy. Their goal is not just to secure the release of detained members but also to reach the unfeasible goal of usurping Nigeria’s secular constitution with Islamic law. Alongside ongoing military action, the government is also considering an amnesty proposal for Boko Haram.
Consequently, these groups cannot just be understood in terms of the security risk they pose or the criminal elements they harbour. They must also be read in political terms, and seen as platforms for the assertion of authority by sections of Nigerians. The country has an exclusionary political system dominated by ‘big men’ or ’godfathers’, and their associates and networks. Barring familial link or other ‘connections’ to these networks, direct participation in Nigeria’s political system depends on luck, or as these groups have discovered, by causing enough mayhem to get the attention of those who matter.
Without such violent mobilisation, members of these militia groups would, politically, be in the same boat as any of the 61% of Nigerians living below the poverty line, or the rest of the rising middle class, who are yet to constitute a critical mass that can effectively demand representation or accountability in decision-making. The power, ‘fame’ and lucrative payoffs that insurgents have gained by carrying arms against the state undermines the sustainability of state interventions and begs the question: what can they realistically offer these groups, and those that will follow them, to pacify their actions in the long term?
Returning to the run-up to Nigeria’s elections in 2015, there are several ways in which militia groups might exercise their new-found power. Some may rally around a particular candidate, allowing them to benefit from the mix of legitimacy and fear that such groups bring. In Nigeria, where there is a long trend of political thugs being recruited by desperate politicians, this would not be an unexpected development. Conversely, Boko Haram, in particular, may try and prevent elections in the North East happening at all. Finally, should these groups be co-opted or crushed, we may see the rise of counter-militias to fill the vacuum that they leave. The massive funds allocated to national security at just under N1 trillion ($4.5 billion) may well give the government the firepower it needs to temporarily destroy or buy-off these groups, but such large funding flows could, just as easily, create sectors of the government who have a vested interest in maintaining an atmosphere of insecurity.
Whatever course these government and militia groups take, the results of the election in 2015 will undoubtedly have immense implications for political stability and security in the country. Boko Haram, for example, is understood by many Southerners in Nigera in terms of the country’s North-South divide. Currently, the group is split into three factions. The main group’s ‘war’ against the Nigerian state started in 2009, before Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner from the Niger-Delta, became President. However, the narrative that has gained currency in the South, is that Boko Haram is a tool used by disgruntled northern politicians, in the fall-out of the PDP’s power-sharing agreement, to destabilise Jonathan’s government. In the unlikely event that the APC fields a northern-Muslim candidate who defeats Jonathan at the polls, the knock-on effects for Boko Haram will be huge.
Regardless of whether Jonathan is unseated, 2015 will also be an important moment for the oil-rich Niger-Delta. Ex-militants have been pacified by an expensive amnesty programme which coincidentally expires in 2015. They have also benefitted immensely from government pay-outs and lucrative security contracts, in one instance worth $103 million. Whether these conciliatory measures continue will depend on who the incoming President needed to appease to secure their electoral victory.
As tremendous political and financial resources continue to pour into Nigeria’s security challenges and its upcoming elections, it is unclear who the winners will be. However, it is unlikely that they will include most ordinary Nigerians in the sun-scorched arid areas of the North-East or those in the oily creeks of the Niger-Delta.
“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.
March 28th 2012 is one of those memorable days many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. This was the day when reports filtered out that President Goodluck Jonathan had in an interview in far away South Korea, the previous day, confidently assured the international community that Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad commonly referred to as Boko Haram would be contained by June 2012. Of course Boko Haram, not one to let such an opportunity to display its peculiar propensity for viciousness and violence against its perceived “enemies” to pass by, shortly after, did what it does best — carried out deadly attacks at select targets such as Universities and Media Houses along with its usual offensive against churches, police stations, security posts and installations. These attacks so far have persisted and become more fierce and bloody, and the rest as they say is history…
I can vividly remember that afternoon in late March, what I was wearing, and what I was doing when I learnt about President Jonathan’s enthusiastic and optimistic assurance. I cannot recall though, the precise flurry of emotions that coursed through my very being in reaction — amusement, incredulity, perplexity, exasperation or a mish-mash of all these. I wondered why the President couldn’t have been more tactful in his choice of words knowing well that Boko Haram generally relishes the slightest opportunity to flex its ferocious muscles and it would interpret his statement as some sort of dare. I also dreaded what Boko Haram would do to disprove the President’s statement.
And indeed, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad retorted, first, with a very menacing video clip, vowing to “bring down” and “consume” President Jonathan’s administration and then unleashed a string of attacks against several targets with such astonishing levels of aggression and ferocity, dashing the faintest hopes of anyone who thought the group would be contained within this period. The most recent violent campaign within this month, being the mayhem in Kaduna state – attacks on churches in Wusasa, Sabon Gari and Tirkanniya, the reprisals and the counter reprisals – and the bomb blasts, gun battle and prison break in Damaturu, Yobe state have left hundreds dead in a bloody trail of death and terror. Residents of these cities have been subjected to 24 hour government imposed curfews for the better part of last week, paralyzed in fear and uncertainty. Though the curfews have been somewhat relaxed, the sudden clampdown on movement has had traumatizing effects on residents, has done little to calm frayed nerves in a very tense atmosphere and crippled economic activity in the interim.
As June fast approaches to an end, leaving in its wake, an atmosphere of uncertainty and gloom, it is pertinent to reflect on the President’s statement and consider whether Boko Haram is really being contained, controlled or crushed as the international community was assured way back in March or whether it is Boko Haram which is containing and crushing Nigerians. If the reality on ground is skewed towards the latter scenario, one has to wonder then, why Mr. President made that statement. Was it because he felt that such an assurance was necessary to restore the confidence of (potential) investors in Nigeria’s political and economic viability to absorb their crisp emerging market Dollars, Yuan and Won?
Of course as Commander-in-Chief, President Jonathan is privy to classified reports from intelligence agencies and his security advisers. Based on such intelligence reports, he probably felt confident that the noose was tightening fast around Boko Haram and thought it timely to enthusiastically inform the world of such impending victory, at Seoul. Quite possibly, the President felt sufficient information to close in on Boko Haram had been garnered from the scores of suspects apprehended in the past few months, such that security forces were just on the verge of moving in for the kill. Or perhaps President Jonathan’s premature enthusiasm was just one of those one-off statements leaders make, on the prodding of their advisers, as a gamble, with their fingers crossed under the table and toes crossed in their presidential shoes, hoping against all odds that such a statement turns out to be true.
Whatever the reason behind this rather impulsive and premature assurance, it is now evident that the exact opposite came to pass. One could speculate thus, that it is owing to this realization by the President, that he fired his erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Owoye Azazi and the erstwhile Defence Minister Alhaji Haliru Mohammed Bello. This much can be inferred from the reason given by President Jonathan for sacking them in order to “conform to the changing tactics of the Boko Haram insurgency”.
Considering how dark and bloody June 2012 has turned out to be contrary to earlier assurances, one truly hopes that the President would be more tactful and selective in his choice of words on such combustible issues, in the near future. This would perhaps depend on the outlook and the new security strategy that would be adopted by the newly appointed NSA and yet to be appointed defence minister. Hopefully again, this bitter and dark lesson learnt would spawn a culture of having regular press conferences which would avail Nigerians of real and actual progress made by security agencies in tackling insecurity in Nigeria at all tiers of government, especially the Federal Government. This should particularly apply to progress made in the arraignment, trial and conviction of key suspects who have so far been apprehended. This is just so that ordinary Nigerians’ fears are allayed and people are more informed about what is quite frankly, a life or death situation for many.
Several weeks ago, in an NGO where I was working then, one of the Executive Directors of the organization came to my department, to say hello to everyone. We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked of my nationality, to which I replied “Nigeria“. He then asked what part of Nigeria and I said ”…from the North…”. He then exclaimed: “Oh! Boko Haram boom! boom! boom!!!” Everyone laughed, I laughed, but deep down I didn’t find it funny. I wasn’t offended at all but I was sad that Boko Haram was the first thing that came to his mind when Northern Nigeria was mentioned.
This anecdote shows how these days, Nigeria, or Northern Nigeria in particular is being increasingly identified with the insurgency group, Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad (popularly referred to as Boko Haram). I have written severally about the group’s activities notably its deadly onslaught against its perceived enemies: the institutions of the Nigerian state, churches and Christians, Politicians, Muslims and Imams who dare question them, media houses, universities, primary schools and so on; I have written about the pattern of its attacks; the conflicting and sometimes misleading narratives about the group’s activity and the overall implications for Nigeria’s stability and unity.
What Boko Haram stands for and the consequences of its activities touch me personally and deeply, as the group operates chiefly within Northern Nigeria. The group’s activities — and that of its numerous factions, splinter groups and copy cats — are wreaking tremendous havoc on the political-economy, the social cohesion and stability of my home basically: the various bomb blasts, gun fights, targetted assasinations, government curfews restricting movement and police and military check points are having a devastating impact on economic activity, scaring away investors, tempers and tensions are high between Christians in the region who feel most vulnerable and Muslims who feel they are equally victims. My “home” is crumbling and falling apart, and the situation is hardly improving.
There is a general sense of confusion, fear and paranoia in the North in particular and Nigeria in general over Boko Haram and the general state of insecurity. Since the escalation of the group’s insurgency in 2011, it seems there’s little new information available (to the public) as it is becoming more of a the-more-you-see-the-less-you-understand phenomenon. Therefore, I strongly advocate any research, any report or any useful information that would shed more light on the Boko Haram insurgency, suggest ways of effectively addressing it and restoring some sanity to the North and to Nigeria in general. One of such reports is: “What is Boko Haram?” by Andrew Walker – a BBC journalist – written for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) based on extensive field research and key interviews . The following is the summary and key highlights of the report (you can access the full report in PDF HERE):
- Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law.
- Since August 2011 Boko Haram has planted bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in Nigeria’s northeast. The group has also broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, some twelve public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night, and as many as 10,000 pupils were forced out of education.
- Boko Haram is not in the same global jihadist bracket as Algeria’s al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or Somalia’s al Shabab. Despite its successful attack on the UN compound in Abuja in August 2011, Boko Haram is not bent on attacking Western interests. There have been no further attacks on international interests since that time.
- Following the failed rescue of hostages Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara in northeastern Nigeria in March 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan played up the connections between the group and international terrorism. However, links between Boko Haram and the kidnappers are questionable.
- It is difficult to see how there can be meaningful dialogue between the government and the group. The group’s cell-like structure is open for factions and splits, and there would be no guarantee that someone speaking for the group is speaking for all of the members.
- Tactics employed by government security agencies against Boko Haram have been consistently brutal and counterproductive. Their reliance on extrajudicial execution as a tactic in “dealing” with any problem in Nigeria not only created Boko Haram as it is known today, but also sustains it and gives it fuel to expand.
- The group will continue to attack softer targets in the northeast rather than international targets inside or outside Nigeria. It is also likely to become increasingly involved in the Jos crisis, where it will attack Christian indigenes of the north and try to push them out. Such a move would further threaten to destabilize the country’s stability and unity.
- Now that the group has expanded beyond a small number of mosques, radical reforms in policing strategy are necessary if there is to be any progress in countering the group. Widespread radical reform of the police is also long overdue throughout Nigeria. As a first step, jailing a number of police officers responsible for ordering human rights abuses might go some way to removing a key objection of the group
Without intending to sound overly pessimistic, my mouth went dry literally and I struggled to swallow hard at various times whilst reading the report. Nevertheless, in my frank assessment, the report is rich in information and detail, seems quite balanced, very nuanced and accurately captures the dynamics of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Hopefully, Nigerians in general and our policy makers in particular would put this information to good use. Afterall, according to British scientist and historian Joseph Needham (1900-1995):
“no knowledge is ever wasted or to be despised”
I have always heard that Nigeria’s borders are porous, I never quite grasped the magnitude of the “porousness” until I received these pictures below of the Nigeria-Niger border at Birnin Kuka. I kept thinking afterwards, of a word synonymous with, yet which would signify an extreme form of “porousness”, combined with the words ”Useless” “farce” “joke” and “ridiculous” to capture this incredible scene, but I couldn’t quite come up with any.
Just in case you still aren’t sure whether you saw the word “border” or not, or you think this is some rather early April Fool’s prank or that perhaps your eyes are playing tricks on you, its none of those things. This is actually Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic, at a small border town called Birnin Kuka in the North-Western state of Katsina. The person on the left wearing red and white trousers is an officer of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) while the one on the right is a “Camp boy”, a term describing locals of any border post or out station recruited by officers of NCS. And what you’re thinking at this moment is right on point: the tree logs in the pictures literally demarcate Nigeria from Niger Republic; crossing the logs means you’ve crossed over to the other country!
These pictures were sent by a source at the NCS and are very much authentic. The source confirmed that apparently, with as little as N100 (less than $1), anyone can conveniently and comfortably cross the border to the other side.
So if like me, you’ve been wondering how the North African affiliate of Al-Qaeda, the “Al-Qaeda in the land beyond the Sahel” (AQIM) wormed its way into Nigeria especially in light of the recent abduction and murder of the British and Italian hostages and the recent capture of a German hostage in Kano, then this is your answer right here. A large white mammoth from the prehistoric era could traverse this boundary without anyone raising an eye brow. So, for a highly sophisticated and secretive terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda, it would literally be a walk in the park, or in this case, a stroll in the desert!
Let me state categorically that not all of Nigeria’s border towns or entry points are this disorganized, poorly managed, poorly manned, insecure, and a throw-back to the medieval era. For instance the more well-known entry and exit points like the Seme border in Lagos, the Jibiya border station in the same Katsina state and a number of others are far more organized and relatively more secure than the Birnin-Kuka border in terms of having a proper border station, guards, sentries and immigration/customs/border officials and all the works. However, many of the less-known boundaries are like the Birnin-Kuka border post: poorly manned or in some cases just wide open, probably due to the lack of sufficient and trained officers, paucity of funds (But the government earmarked N922 billion or $6 billion for security in this year’s budget!) and just nonchalance and lack of foresight on the part of the authorities, that is the Nigeria Customs and Immigration Services respectively.
My source confirmed that even the relatively more organized border posts like the Jibiya station below “are OPEN” but in this case not to everyday individuals who can pay N100 but especially to “big men” and ”smugglers”. The source made particular reference to a renown, wealthy and influential smuggler whose trade is now flourishing more than ever as scores of his trucks laden with smuggled goods pass through weekly without being inspected.
The source further confirmed that “Big Men are dreaded by officer(s)” who “earn little” and as for the renown smugglers, if an officer insists on searching their trucks, you “search and you risk getting sacked”.
The perviousness and porousness of Nigeria’s borders are an addition to the litany of shortcomings the Nigerian state is facing towards addressing security challenges. Already there’s the incapacity and mediocrity of the police and security agencies, dearth of intelligence gathering, politicization of insecurity by politicians, pervasive corruption and mismanagement of funds, widespread public paranoia and now to crown all these are our very porous borders.
These depressing facts further reveal the government’s weak position in combating the growing terrorist insurgency in Nigeria. For that, I’ve let my imagination become very active envisioning (nay hoping) a scenario unfolds where the various terrorist groups — the main Boko Haram, its various factions and AQIM — clash over turf and territory, and such turf war becomes very bloody where they mutually annihilate each other. This is a bit of a stretch I know, but you know how the saying goes: desperate times…!!
At around 01.30 am in the wee hours of Tuesday 13th March, while checking local Nigerian and global news as I usually do before heading to bed, I came across an article on the British daily’s website The Independent, titled “On the Trail of Boko Haram” by Andrew Stroehlein, the Communications Director of the International Crisis Group. Thinking it was one of those typically reductionist articles written by one of those foreign “experts” or “keen observers” of Nigeria, I initially dismissed it. However, my curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to skim through thinking that if I found it to repeat the same trite assertion of an impending apocalyptic implosion of a “Muslim-North and Christian-South” I would silently curse the author and go to bed.
As I read the article though, I had the exact opposite reaction, I felt it was brilliant and captured the situation in Nigeria accurately, objectively and succinctly. I had wanted to share it immediately on Facebook, Twitter and on several Nigerian online discussion boards, but my eyes were heavy, so I put it off for when I woke up in the morning. Not surprisingly, by the time I woke up, the article had gone viral, at least in Nigeria. Amidst glowing commendations, one interesting description of the article was thus: “one of the most accurate summary of the Boko Haram group in Nigeria, sadly by a foreigner”. What then is so spectacular about this piece when so much has already been written and said about Boko Haram and insecurity in Nigeria?
The insecurity in Nigeria especially with the orgy of violence unleashed by the group Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad popularly known as Boko Haram, or what I prefer to call the Boko Haram plague has been escalating as the group’s tactics have similarly evolved. Local and international media agencies have been falling over themselves to report (accurately and inaccurately) the group’s deadliest and bloodiest attacks. Journalists, columnists, pundits, analysts, experts, and bloggers all claiming some knowledge and expertise over the group’s activities, it can be argued, have covered all possible angles of the Boko Haram insurgency. However, what Andrew Stroehlein seems to have done differently is to go straight to the heart of the issue without looking at any angle per se. He focuses on the cold hard facts and that is why his sounds like the gospel truth to many. The four salient points which I believe the author strongly makes are:
First of all, he desists from treading the simplistic path taken by many foreign “analysts” and “experts” of depicting Nigeria as hopelessly polarized along a “predominantly Muslim North and Christian South” fault line, subtly implying the two parts are irreconcilable and probably better off apart than together. Consequently, Stroehlein does not succumb to the tendency to portray Boko Haram as a manifestation of a disgruntled and increasingly alienated “Muslim-North” unhappy with and trying to undermine the Federal government largely under the control of the “Christian-South”. He says: “Like other political and armed movements that have sprung up in this country, including the recent fuel subsidy protests that brought the country to a standstill, Boko Haram is just a symptom of the crumbling Nigerian state.” He does admit that: “…the vast majority of Nigerians do not turn to armed militancy, of the Islamist variety or any other…”
By so doing, Stroehlein depicts Boko Haram rightly, as a bye product of state failure, bad governance and especially rampant corruption which he argues needs to be addressed by pouring “the oil wealth into government services rather than officials’ overseas bank accounts”. This is one point many analysts have alluded to, but perhaps because of the high level of tension and paranoia in the Nigerian public sphere, those who have made this argument have been rashly labelled as Boko Haram supporters or “sympathisers”. This fierce rejection of alternative narratives reminds me of journalist Richard Hall’s op-ed on the UK riots last year, where he makes a clear distinction between attempting to understand something and condoning it. In particular, Hall says:
“The impression appears to be that the crimes committed were so great and so senseless that to try and understand them is to condone them… Any discussion about the potential causes of the riots become indistinguishable from excusing those who carried them out, and those who attempt to analyse become apologists.”
In Nigeria, sadly this seems to be the case.
Secondly, the author points out that Boko Haram should be dealt with as criminals and also harps on an urgent need for reform of the Police, the intelligence agencies and strengthening the Judiciary’s independence to deal with such criminal challenges. Even though, Stroehlein links Boko Haram to the wider problems of poverty, corruption, bad governance and predatory management of state funds, he avoids the pitfall many foreign analysts fall into of advocating for an “appeasement” of the “marginalized” Northern-Muslim establishment (purportedly the sponsors of Boko Haram) who lost out in the current political dispensation as a way of mitigating and addressing the Boko Haram plague.
Thirdly, the author corroborates what many have said before, especially those with first-hand knowledge of the North, that there are splinter groups of Boko Haram and that “Boko Haram” is now a cover for criminal activity across a wide spectrum. Stroehlein notes: “anything that turns violent can be blamed on the Islamist movement, whether it has a link to it or not. It is a perfect alibi, one that prevents further questioning. Bank robbery? Boko Haram. Attack on political opponents? Boko Haram.” This became more evident in the recent high-profile abduction and murder of the British and Italian hostages, the group’s denial of its culpability given that it wastes no time in bragging about its violent attacks and the emergence of a new player, Al Qaeda in the land beyond the Sahel (AQIM) claiming responsibility for the abduction and murder. The argument about the existence of Boko Haram copycats is also given more credence especially when one considers that many of those caught-in-the-act whilst trying to burn churches in Bauchi in August 2011 and again in February 2012 and Bayelsa for instance are aggrieved church members or those who do not fit the typical Boko Haram profile.
Fourthly, Stroehlein makes a damning indictment of the media — both local and international — as concerned with being very sensationalist by misinformation and spreading fear and paranoia in covering the insurgency in Nigeria, typically spreading the now trite narrative that Boko Haram is a manifestation of the promise made by prominent “disgruntled Northern politicians who have vowed to make the country ungovernable for Goodluck Jonathan”. Stroehlein says: “the hype in much of the Nigerian media also contributes to the problem, as many media outlets chasing sales seem all too willing to fall for unsubstantiated rumour and outright lies proffered by political trouble-makers — or by nobody at all”. Of international media, he asserts their reports have: “also been more scare-mongering than substance, presenting this as a new terrorist threat to the West, when it is fundamentally a Nigerian issue.”
From these thrusts of Andrew Stroehlein’s piece and the reactions the article has elicited, it can be inferred that there is a deep-seated lack of trust in Nigeria between ordinary Nigerians of each other and of the government, fanned, aggravated and enabled by the local media feeding fat on public paranoia. The mutual distrust is symptomatic of the deep cleavages in Nigeria which have extended to the public sphere such that any attempt by traditional or religious leaders especially from the North where Boko Haram is most active to explain the context of group’s activity is misconstrued by a militant and sectional press, members of the public and even some politicians as trying to rationalise, sympathise or justify Boko Haram’s activities. Those who been persistently calling for dialogue with the group have been labelled Boko Haram “apologists“, even though the Federal Government has recently began talks with the group ostensibly out of realization that the purely militarized approach has done little if anything to contain the insurgency. Conversely, the general perception in the North, is that Boko Haram’s activities are a deliberate and calculated attempt at sabotage and destruction of the economy and social cohesion of the region from elsewhere.
The danger here is that this distrust is increasingly preventing sincere, meaningful, fruitful national discourse in the Nigerian public sphere on Boko Haram and insecurity in Nigeria. Consequently, analysts like Stroehlein who sum the facts we are all aware of and state the obvious are seen to have said something spectacular (and it is in many respects) precisely because in our national subconscious Stroehlein falls outside the categories and labels we are increasingly allowing ourselves to be boxed into — “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Northerner”, “Southerner” “Core North”, “Middle Belt”, “Minority” etc — he is regarded as a neutral party more capable of stating the unbiased facts apparent to everyone better than Nigerians themselves.
Effectively tackling Boko Haram requires a strategic, concerted, collective and coordinated action by all and sundry: not just the government and security agencies, but traditional and religious leaders, the media and members of the public. This would entail an adept combination of the military approach, dialogue and any other effective tactic as is required and is deemed fit. Unless Nigerians come to the realization that everyone is a stakeholder when it comes to Boko Haram and appreciate the need to engage in meaningful discourse on what Boko Haram stands for, the threats it poses to national security and social cohesion and ways of halting the orgy of violence, Boko Haram will continue “winning” against Nigerians.
Now What Podcasts : The NOW WHAT podcasts Series are initiated by a desire to chart a way forward for Nigeria following the January occupy protests, Boko Haram and other security challenges and the seeming slide to anarchy in Nigeria. Each week, members of the NVS forum will exchange ideas in a round-table and will also invite high profile guests to offer ideas
On Saturday February 25, 2012, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was our guest. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai spoke on Boko Haram, Sovereign National Conference, Security, and so much more in a very frank manner.
The following is transcript of the first part of the interview, with focus on Transformational Leadership, his support for Buhari and How to deal with the Boko Haram menace.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (Part 1)
THE NASIR EL-RUFAI INTERVIEW
Introduction: Good-day everyone. My name is Anwuli Emenanjo in Toronto, Canada and I’ll like to welcome you to another episode of the Nigerian Village Square podcast series entitled ‘’Now What’’.
This week, we are pleased to have Mallam Nasir El Rufai as our special guest . Many of us are familiar with Mallam Rufai following his articles, facebook comments and tweets so no formal introduction is really required but for the benefit of those that don’t know him, Mallam Rufai was a former Director General of The Bureau of Public Enterprises, the head privatisation agency in Nigeria and also the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja from 2003 to 2007. He also served as an adviser in the transition government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Our co-hosts for today’s show are Zainab Usman from the UK and Ajibola Robinson from West Virgina U.S.A.
We also have some of our forum members also known as villagers that have called in. we would be taking questions from them in the course of the show and also at the end in the Q&A segments with the audience.
Without further ado, I will hand over the Baton to Zainab to begin with the series of questions we have for you today…Zainab….
NEED FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP
NVS: Hello everyone, its our pleasure to have you here with us today. I will be handling questions on transformational leadership and on Boko Haram. My first question is on transformational leadership.
In a recent article, I stated that the core north is in terminal decline due to lack of transformational leadership, economic decline and retardation of the region due to dependence on oil revenues, and a cultural mindset that is contributing to our retrogression in many aspects. What’s your take on these?
El-Rufai: Zainab I found your article very inspiring and interesting. I agree with views you expressed in the article. I think the north has not beendoing very well in many ways, and the key issue, like most of Nigeria is the challenge of transformational leadership. I agree with you, I think I went out of my way to share your article because I think every Nigerian, indeed every northerner needs to read it. So I agree with you 100%.
The question is what do we do about it? How do we create a system that throws up new generation of leaders that are transformational rather than transactional? This is the challenge.
Do I have any answer? I don’t, but I think that those of us that care about Nigeria and the north ought to put our heads together to continue that search, and I am in opposition to do more in that search. But there are no silver bullets, no quick answers. I agree with everything you wrote in your article.
NVS: thank you for your answer to that question, and this actually leads to my second question – As a speaker at a TEDx event in December 2009, you also stated there is a failure of leadership in Africa. SO it appears its across the continebt. Could you please elaborate on that?
El-Rufai: Yes yes, you know your article focused on the North and it’s good, but I think the leadership deficit is throughout the country and the continent. Some countries are better than the others — Bostwana, Mauritius are better, some parts of Southern Africa, but generally we have problem of leadership in Africa and it’s something that we all must put our heads together and try to find solutions to. In Nigeria’s case, its very evident where we are now and where we are going. It clearly shows that we need transformational leadership. Clearly!
NVS: You just stated that you don’t really have any answers to the leadership issue, but is there anything you think ………………………..
El-Rufai: In Nigeria, the country I’m most familiar with, I think the key to getting the right leaders in Nigeria is to have elections that matter. Now, part of the reason we have the type of leaders we have and the way they behave is because they know that we do not need to elect them, they will elect themselves, they will rig elections, they will bribe judges to remain in power. So they don’t care what you think, they don’t care what I think, they don’t care to deliver on any promise or to perform. At every election cycle all they need to have is a load of money with which to bribe officials, bribe results and challenge you to go to the tribunal.
So the real thing that we should focus on in Nigeria, I think, is to get accountable elections. We must get elections that matters. Once we have elections that matters, it will take time, but over a few election cycles we would throw out the bad leaders and hopefully elect the good ones. That is what I think is the long term solution. Do we have any short term solutions? I don’t think so. We have these people, they are entrenched and they will do everything to protect their system of governance, and unless we all stand up and ensure that we have better elections, I think we are on our way to perdition.
NVS: This also leads to my next question. You talk about elections as the key to solving our leadership problem. In the last election you had the opportunity to support either Nuhu Ribadu or Muhammadu Buhari and you supported the latter. A lot of peiople will like to know ..given that you have been an advocate of transformational leadership, some would argue that supporting a man who has been in various forms of power for over 30 year contradicts this stance. Could you shed more light on this?
El-Rufai: I decided to support General Muhammadu Buhari because I think that even though he has been around for the past 30 years, in the times he had to lead he was transformational … when he was Head of State between 1984 and 85, he moved Nigeria in the direction that I think if it has not been terminated we would have been a different country. So he was transformational as head of state, and in his other assignments as minister of petroleum under Obasanjo, and head of the Petroleum Trust Fund his leadership style was transformational rather than transactional. This is part of the reasons why I supported him, but on the whole, I looked at all the candidates out there, including my brother Nuhu Ribadu and I felt that Buhari was just more qualified to change the direction of the country at that point in time, and that’s what I did. I don’t think being around makes one less transformational, or being new makes one more transformational than others. I think you have to look at the track record of performance, and that’s what I did.
HOW TO SOLVE THE BOKO HARAM PROBLEM
NVS: Thank you. Now I’m moving on to the next section which is on Boko Haram. Obviously a lot has been happening in Nigeria. What is your take on the current state of insecurity in Nigeria, especially in the North?
El-Rufai: Well, it is very sad. I think the situation and the general security situation in Nigeria is terrible. And it all has to do in the short term, with the incompetence of the government to deliver on security. But I think the problem is something that has been in the North for a while: joblessness, poverty and the fact that the 19 northern governors have not been investing enough in human development.
This has built up for a long time, but in the last 12 years I think we have had the most clear case of lost opportunity. Because the Northern state governors have received a lot of money but they have not invested enough in education, health care, and the environment that will create opportunity and work for our people, and I think that some of these outbursts of violence are related to this lack of opportunity.The problem is more pronounced in the North obviously, but it’s all over the country. You have area boys in the South West; you have kidnappers and militants in the South East and the South South respectively. All these arise due to deficit of opportunities and hope, and I think that unless as a country and as a region in the North we address this issue, they are going to manifest in many ways. You cannot have security when you have hopelessness in the society, and this is the challenge that we face as a country and in the Northern region.
NVS: Alright, thank you. My next question is that there are lots of concerns in the South that Northern Hausa/Fulani leaders are not doing enough to speak out and condemn the activities of Boko Haram, what would you say to that?
El-Rufai: I think that is an unfair assessment. I don’t think people in the South are listening. I think every notable leader in the North, from the Sultan of Sokoto, the governors to many leading politicians, have condemned the activity of Boko Haram and have shown that what they are doing has nothing to do with Islam. But beyond that what is anyone expected to do? It is not the condemnation of Boko Haram that will solve the problem. It is government using it’s resources and intelligence to solve the problem.
Part of the reason you have all these issues is because we have a government that chooses to blame rather than solve problems. I think it is unfair to say that Northern leaders have not condemned Boko Haram, they have, but they didn’t get the media attention, it is only when Boko Haram strikes that get media attention. And in that way I think some of the distorted media attention is actually encouraging the activities of Boko Haram, rather than the other way round. I think it’s unfair, which Northern leader has not condemn Boko Haram? I don’t know, they should name names, but that is not the main issue.
The main issue for the government to solve the problem, because security is in the hands of the government, it’s not in the hands of Northern political leaders or traditional rulers or anyone.
NVS: Thank you for that very interesting point. What short and long-term solutions do you think can be implemented to solve the security question in Nigeria?
El-Rufai: Well, you know, I think in the short term government should do what it should do in the area of security, get better intelligence, be more proactive to prevent attacks rather than issue dry statements after the deed has happened. Intelligence is the key. How do you get good intelligence? By ensuring that you win the hearts and minds of the communities in which this terrorists and other criminals operate, there’s no other way of getting intelligence.
You do not get intelligence by asking Soldiers to go and kill everyone in the community. You get the intelligence by winning the hearts and minds of people in the community and I think in that regard, the Nigerian military has messed up and its the reason why we are where we are, the government has messed up by unleashing the military on communities that are innocent, and killing more people than even Boko Haram has been killing. But they are using Boko Haram here as an example, but it’s the problem all over the country, whether it’s the kidnappers, the militants and so on and so forth.
So that is why in the short term I think we need better intelligence. The government needs to re-think it’s strategy because the strategy of over militarization has not worked. That is one.
Secondly, the government must work with community leaders to try to get to the root of this problem, and the government should not think it has all the answers, it should be willing to listen to the communities to try to solve this problem. In June last year the Borno elders came and saw president Jonathan and advised him to withdraw the military and work with them to try to get to the root of the Boko Haram problem. He didn’t even consider the advise, he rejected it outright and said he prefers the military option. Well, we are now in February, within last year, 9 months have passed, things have gone from bad to worse because the government has not listened to the community leaders. The community leaders have some solution, they have some answers and they should be listened to.
That’s in the short term, now in the medium term and long term, the root of the terrorism; the root of hopelessness must be addressed. So the government should create the opportunity for restoring hope in people by more investments in education, in health care and employment opportunities. That will definitely solve the problem in the long term. The current level of poverty and inequality in our society are the roots of these problems and unless they are attacked in a sustained long term manner we will continue to have this kind of outbreak of violence in many different ways. These I think are the short and medium term approaches to the problem.
NVS: You have actually answered the next question I was going to ask you, about the recent meeting of the Vice President and the 19 northern governors where they agree or resolved to go back to the “old traditional ways of gathering information and intelligence” in orther to defeat Boko Haram. I guess you have already answered that. It’s something you actually recommended right now.
El-Rufai: When you’re trying to gather intelligence, you have to rely on traditional institutions, formal institutions, beer parlours etc and this is the way it should be done. And thats what security agencies should be used for and not for …..
But having said that, I think the 19 northern governors ought to understand that in many ways they are the root of this problem. Because they are not investing in education and health care and employment opportunities for the people that’s why some of these problems are breaking out and thinking they could use the traditional rulers to get intelligence is scratching the surface, they should do the right thing. They should deliver good governance, that is the way some of these problems could be solved, just as an addition.
NVS: Ok, thank you for that. So with the growing tensions in the North between Muslims and non-Muslims, what is your take on the perception that some sections of the core North, have refused to allow non-Muslims and non-Northerners to exist in peace? How can this issue be resolved?
El-Rufai: I think that the contention that there is tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in the North, I think is exaggerated. Yes there are tensions in some states of the North, but during the fuel subsidy protest, we saw videos of Muslims protecting Christians in their churches and Christians protecting Muslims as they were praying. So I think that to some extent the fuel subsidy protest has bridged the gap between Islam and Christianity in many parts of the North particularly in Kano, Kaduna and some of the hot spots. So I’m not sure that is the big issue on the table right now.
But having said that, even assuming that there are tensions, I do not agree that non-Muslims are not being allowed to live in peace. You know in every society you have deviance, you have strange groups that do all kinds of things that are wrong, but that does not mean that the majority of the people share that view. Book Haram is a deviant group, they are doing things that most Muslims do not agree with.
Northerners, whether Muslims, do not agree with their doctrine, but they are doing it anyway. But to take the conduct of Boko Haram and label all Northerners, all Muslims as Boko Haram I think is unfortunate which we must stop as a country. I do not think that this issues are beyond resolution, and I think that Muslims and Christians, especially in the North and in fact all over Nigeria are living in peace. But you have a few cases of deviance and those that want to cause division., and it is up to all of us as Christians and Msulims, as enjoined by the Bible and the Qur’an, to come together and say no to all of these..
NVS: So, how do you react to the news that CBN donated N100 million to the Kano State Government for onward delivery to victims of the recent Boko-Haram bomb attacks in the state? A lot of people want to know why he chose Kano and not other states where there have been victims of Boko Haram as well. Who is the money meant for and why the lopsided donation? What’s your own opinion?
El-Rufai: Well, do you know I don’t have a clear opinion on this because I have not spoken to the governor of the Central Bank to know the rationale for their decision. But I know that the Central Bank does many such donations as part of their corporate social responsibility.
They have donated hundreds of millions to universities to set up doctoral chairs and they do not explain why they choose one university over another. They have not donated to Ahmadu Bello which is the university I and Sanusi Lamido attended, but they have donated to University of Nigeria Nnsuka, for instance.
So the motive behind their decision to donate to Kano instead of another, I’m sure, Sanusi will be able to explain because I know he is one of the most logical human beings I have come upon, and I’ve known him since we were both 15 years of age. So I think Sanusi will have a rational explanation for it, and if you look at the Central Bank website and see the partern of their social responsibilities and donations, perhaps something will strike you as they pick and choose where they donate. But I have not spoken to Lamido Sanusi tio understand the reason behind it.
NVS: Thank you. The next question is that Some of your tweets seem to suggest that govt should dialogue with Boko Haram despite its belligerent stance towards non-Muslims and its increasingly deadly attacks. How would you respond to suggestions from some quarters for government not to engage in any form of dialogue with Boko Haram?”
El-Rufai: I think that those that are saying that you should not dialogue with Boko Haram are not being rational, honestly because today, America has been in Afghanistan for 11 years. They haven’t kicked out the Taliban, they are still fighting the Taliban, but they are willing to discuss with the Taliban.
America went to Iraq, spent 1 trillion dollars, left without solving all the problems. You cannot defeat an insurgency with military force alone. You should combine military force with political discussion. Those that are saying we should not dialogue with Boko Haram don’t get it. Look around you, you will see that the countries that say you should not negotiate with terrorists are also talking to what they called terrorists.
The British fought with the IRA for many many years, but they opened channels of communication to talk to them. This is the only way to defeat insurgency.
So I think, based on the situation that we are as a country, the government should find channels to communicate and talk to Boko Haram and try to find out what is their real grudge, why are they doing what they are doing, and see which of their demands can be accommodated, because we all know what happened.
The police killed their leader extra-judicially, so they have a foundation for them to feel aggrieved. And since those that killed their leader have not been brought to justice, Boko Haram has a reason to feel aggrieved against the government. So the government should talk to them and find out if there’s away this issue can be settled without further loss of lives and property.
I support the need to discuss with them, I do not think those that are saying don’t discuss with Boko Haram, crush them, know what they are talking about because they have not looked around the world to see how similar situations are being handled. And I refer them to Afghanistan, to the UK as well as Iraq.
NVS: My last question on this section is that Lamido Sanusi recently linked Boko Haram activities with revenue allocation and derivation, that is the ‘’inequitable’’ distribution of revenue with the oil producing states in the Niger Delta getting 13 percent was responsible for Boko Haram activites. Do you agree with this view?
El-Rufai: That is not what Sanusi said exactly. I tried to follow up this story very carefully because I sit on the Thisday editorial board. It was Thisday that first published the story that Sanusi linked derivation to Boko Haram and they took the story from the Financial Times and when I read the original story in the Financial Times, I didn’t find Sanusi saying that. What Lamido Sanusi said which is from an economics prism- anyone that studies political economy know its true that inequality and poverty lead to violence in any society and the reason why societies have social safety nets is because they want to avoid that. It is an established fact in political economy all over the world. When you have inequality of income and poverty, you have violence. This is what Sanusi said to the Financial Times but many Nigerian newspapers took this and recast this to say that he has linked Boko Haram to derivation.
Having said that, I believe as I indicated that when you have serious income inequality you have all these problems. So they should be addressed. I don’t think that derivation alone is the problem. I think the problem of Nigeria is bad governance. Because even though the Niger delta states are getting 3, 4 times the average Nigerian…..per capita in income, I think apart from a couple of them, they are not using their resources well. So you have the same kind of hopelessness that led to militancy, and the kind of hopelessness that may have encouraged Boko Haram and other insurgents all over the country, also in the Niger delta.
My concern really, when the money being given out under the amnesty program gets finished, these ex-militants will become new militants because they are used to getting free cash and where would they find jobs that would give them as much money? So it’s something that is quite tricky, it’s something that we need to think through how to manage. But I believe that a fairer more equitable distribution of income in any society, addressing the poverty issue and giving people hope is the solution to the problem of violence and terrorism and so no and so forth, in the long term.
NVS: We are now mid-way in the podcast and we will be taking some audience questions but before I move on to that, I would like for you to go back to talk more or elaborate more about dialogue with Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan has already reached out and tried to talk to Boko Haram when he appeared on BBC and Al-Jazeera and their answer to his request for dialogue was that they are not interested in anything; that that they want him to become a Muslim, you know…actually dialogue was not a success. Boko Haram was already violent and the Government has tried to talk to them. So, when you talk in terms of Dialogue. What would you like to see happen that is not happening?
El-Rufai - Look. First, I think you are wrong. Boko Haram did not become violent until the June 2009 operations. The truth of that matter was that it was the Borno State Government that killed their followers when they went to bury them after being involved in a motorcycle accident and that’s a fact. That was the beginning of Boko Haram going violent. They were not violent before, they were a fringe group, they were doing their own thing, everyone ignored them until the Government attacked them and then unleashed the military on them in June 2009 when their leaders were extra-judicially killed. So it is not true that they were violent to start with – as far as I know.
Secondly, I feel that at this point in time there’s complete breakdown of trust between the communities in which Boko Haram operates, the Boko Haram leadership and the government, and for any meaningful dialogue to begin, I think you need to get community leaders that Boko Haram will trust to act as interlocutors and intermediaries between the Government and them. I think if they see people, if they see credible leaders that can assure them that the Government will fulfil its own promises to them. I think dialogue is possible. I honestly think so.
I do not think that the stories about Boko Haram saying that they want everyone to become a Muslim are completely true. They know that in the North, there’s nothing like 100% sharia in every state of the North. Even in the States where Sharia was applied, it was not applied to non-Muslim. This is how we have always lived and they know that.
They may make that as a demand just by way of brinkmanship, but I believe we are at point where if you get credible leaders, and I can mention some names – if you can get people like Gene Yakubu Gowon, Shettimu Ali Monguno, Gen Mohammadu Shuwa, General Muhammadu Buhari – people like that that everyone respects and they know they are not on the payroll of any government to lead any effort to negotiate with BH and the government, I think it is possible to open a channel and that’s what I recommend very strongly.
END OF PART 1 – TO BE CONTINUED
END OF PART 1 – TO BE CONTINUED