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Premature Election Fever and Security Challenges in Nigeria

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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.

A Message for General Buhari

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Photo credit: New Nigerian Newspapers

A concerned reader of this blog recently sent me an article which he requested that I reproduce with an urgent message for three-time Nigerian presidential aspirant and former head of state Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). This message was meant to coincide with the General’s 70th birthday in December 2012. The person pleaded anonymity emphasising he only wants his important message to reach the General.

Although the importance of his message is immediately discernible, I was initially reluctant to reproduce it for two reasons. One, I am wary of Nigerian PARTY politics which many have good reason to regard as truly decadent and ruthless — get involved and drag your name into the depths of its treacherous murkiness. Second, being quite skeptical of the emphasis of many progressive Nigerians on the next round of elections cycle, the 2015 elections, as the magical elixir to present ills, I wasn’t sure if this write up fell into that category. This is because I always wonder what we are supposed to do according to this line of reasoning, in the interim: are we to hibernate until the 2015 elections two years from now and then proceed to “elect” new leaders who will automatically resolve all ills? Or should we be engaging with the present (s)elected leaders and the institutions they represent, scrutinsing their activities and demanding efficient service delivery, transparency and accountability in governance, as democracy entails?

Clearly the foundations of the political process through which leaders emerge in Nigeria is still weak and the process of democratic consolidation is still in a nascent and turbulent stage. A situation where votes of large swathes of the electorate can be bought for as little as N1000 ($6.3) per head, as was the case in many rural parts of Nigeria during the 2011 elections, is utterly absurd! There is a lot of work that needs to be done to (re)build that foundation and this is what in my understanding, this person’s message aims to capture: working to build the foundation of the political process not just with the aim of replacing the ruling party, the PDP, but at the very least, to make the ruling party “sit up”. Let me add a caveat though, the views here do not necessarily reflect my own views. Otherwise, here it is, enjoy:

Along with so many other Nigerians, I would like to wish General Buhari happy 70th birthday. No doubt the General has left a legacy as one of the few incorruptible individuals who have ever walked our corridors of power. Upon attaining the biblical age of three score and ten, my wish is for him to temporarily set aside his presidential ambition, and instead focus on leaving an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system in the form of a credible political party.

Like a lot of other African countries, we are currently stuck with a one party system in an ostensibly multi-party system, and that is never good for democracy. Party platforms that the General had adopted in the past, struggled to transform into credible national political parties – both ANPP and CPC – grappled with an image of being either regional parties or parties marred by internal wrangling.

Nigerians yearn for a viable alternative in the form of a political party with clear principles, formed by credible people who are capable of winning elections and providing some semblance of good governance. At the very least, they would want an opposition party that is credible enough to make the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) sit up. One way to setup such a party is to focus on getting three things right: core leadership, solid manifesto/constitution, and committed membership.

For the core leadership, the General should try and convene a group of like-minded individuals from each geo-political zone to constitute the trustees of a new party. These individuals should be clean enough but most importantly influential enough to attract followership from their constituencies. The General should identify potential candidates across the country and personally woo them into joining his cause. To do this successfully, he must develop a more accommodating attitude and be ready to work with different types of people.

Once the core leadership of the party has been successfully formed, they should work with a group of advisers to develop an exciting manifesto and a robust constitution for the party. The manifesto should clearly explain to the public what the party stands for and what policies and programs they intend to bring once they’re in power and how they’ll go about executing them. The constitution should be robust enough to withstand potential challenges that the party will face in the future, e.g. resolution of conflicts in candidate selection, disciplinary measures for those who flout party principles, checks against saboteurs etc. The schisms that ripped the CPC should never be allowed to occur in this party.

After finalising the manifesto and constitution, the leadership should initiate a membership drive to build a solid national support base for the party. This should be done one state at a time to ensure that proper structures are in place at every state and committed membership is secured.

In all the steps above, the goal should be to build a party for the long term, not just for the 2015 elections. This should be a party capable of providing a credible opposition to the PDP and stemming the steady slide to the bottom. To achieve this, it might be necessary for the General to sacrifice his presidential ambition, and be resolute on building a party that will outlive him. I sincerely hope the General will take up this challenge to use his massive goodwill, towering incorrigible image and appeal with masses to leave an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system.

Bankole: Culprit, Pawn or Scapegoat?

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It an almost widely acknowledged fact that any situation involving huge sums of money and wealth, its allocation and distribution has political dynamics surrounding it. The precise nature or dimension these politics take is something that has locked economists and political scientists over a turf-war of sorts over who is encroaching on whose territory and political economists in-between. Consequently, corruption – embezzlement and mismanagement of public funds are very much political just as the antithesis, anti-corruption is every bit political as well.

The recent corruption scandal which the immediate former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole is embroiled in, along with the speed and fervour with which the government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have pursued his arrest and indictment takes a particularly interesting dimension given all the political dynamics and intrigues surrounding it. One is left to wonder whether Bankole really is a culprit and is as guilty as they come, is a pawn in a larger political chessboard of “zoning” and power-sharing scheming or is a scapegoat in a ruse towards the international community.

BANKOLE THE CULPRIT

The former Speaker, Bankole is no stranger to allegations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds which have trailed him for a number of years now – from the N2.3 billion scam over the procurement of official Peugeot vehicles for House Members to the allegations made by House members like Hon. Dino Melaye, Hon. Independence Ogunewe and others which as we all remember resulted in the embarrassing free-for-all fisticuff in the hallowed green chambers last year.

This time around, what got Bankole into trouble was the loan of N10 billion he obtained using the National Assembly accounts as collateral right after he lost his re-election bid. While the initial assumption was that the loan was a personal one, in a supposed desperate last attempt at primitive accumulation to cushion the sudden loss of official privilege and its perks, it became increasingly clear that the loan was secured to foot increases in quarterly allowances for House members. Days later, other shady deals were unearthed as $1 billion was allegedly found in one of Bankole’s domiciliary bank accounts operated by proxy. In addition, Bankole was said to have refused to appear before the EFCC for questioning and earlier attempts to arrest him were foiled by no other than the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Understandably, Nigerians are and should be justifiably and sufficiently outraged at such stupendous amount of money being misappropriated and laundered, abuse of office privilege and brazen disregard for and perversion of the rule of law at the expense of the impoverished masses. Thus, Bankole’s arrest by the EFCC now that he is no longer covered by constitutional immunity should be a welcome relief to everyone, symbolic of the “breath of fresh air” we have been promised from the stench of corruption all around the country and a pointer to the President’s “transformation” agenda and commitment to anti-corruption or is it?

BANKOLE THE PAWN

While most Nigerians are eager to welcome any sincere effort at tackling corruption, many are sceptical about this particular case and the way it is being pursued. Many inconsistencies abound raising pertinent questions such as: how come it took so long to unearth these sordid, corrupt dealings by Bankole? If earlier attempts on Friday June 03rd by the EFCC to arrest him were thwarted by the IGP (presumably on orders from above), then what made the IGP and the powers that be have a change of heart not to intervene in Bankole’s arrest on Sunday? On whose orders was the IGP acting on in the first place? If Bankole was able to embezzle so much, then what about other principal officers of not just the House of Representatives, but the Senate as well? How come the spotlight and intense scrutiny is not on them? How come the EFCC is now in such a hurry to nab Bankole when there are cases of 31 ex-governors pending since 2007? Come to think of it, didn’t the EFCC Chair in 2008 state that evidence was still being gathered against them because their files were missing while they have been squandering and enjoying their ill-gotten loot? Or is there a scope and time-frame for the EFCC and by implication, the government’s anti-corruption crusade – say, from 2010 when Jonathan assumed the mantle of leadership onwards?

With all these inconsistencies therefore, the main question is that: is Bankole simply a pawn in a larger political chessboard of politricks and balance of power scheming the ruling party is famous for?

It is no hidden fact that the Presidency and top hierarchy of the PDP spared no effort to prevent the emergence of the widely favoured Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal on Monday as Speaker of the House of Representatives in favour of their anointed candidate, Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande which they unsuccessfully tried to impose on the House. The gist is that Tambuwal and other officers were to be implicated in this N10 billion naira loan scandal along with Bankole to prevent his emergence as Speaker, so that the House would be under the firm grip of the Presidency and the PDP National Working Committee (NWC). Thus, Tambuwal had to disguise himself on Monday to gain access into the House chamber undetected, to avoid being arrested and thereby have his chances of becoming speaker jeopardized. This sounds like the plot of a Robert Ludlum novel!

The Presidency and PDP bigwigs preferred the candidacy of Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande because not only was she the First Lady’s anointed candidate (ah! ah!? First Lady again!?), but also because the party zoned the position to the South West where Mulikat hails from. Never mind that PDP topshots some months ago declared zoning to be “undemocratic”, “unconstitutional” and “dead” to pave way for the emergence of Jonathan as president against that principle, they now seem to be eating their own words and vomit.

BANKOLE THE SCAPE-GOAT

Or it could be that Bankole is simply a scapegoat, and this over-zealous commitment to his arrest and prosecution by the EFCC and the government is a ruse meant to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community especially as President Jonathan is now in the US attending a UN Security Council Summit on HIV/AIDS and would subsequently meet with US President Barack Obama. Given the lacklustre performance of the EFCC over the past one year, the calibre of people around Mr. Jonathan who have a litany of fraud allegations against them such as ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo prominent role in the mismanagement of $16 billion for power sector reform and Chief Anthony Anenih’s Houdini tactics that made N300bn allocated to his ministry disappear into thin air amongst others, it could be argued that President Jonathan is desperate to show the US in particular a (faux) commitment to tackling the menace of corruption and given that the US had issued a scathing criticism of the EFCC under Farida Waziri’s leadership.

Thus despite the EFCC’s claims that it had received numerous petitions to investigate fraud allegations against the ex-speaker, this N10 billion loan taken by Bankole at the twilight of his tenure, the removal of the toga of immunity against prosecution, plus the intense attention the case has received all couldn’t have happened at a more appropriate time for a new administration boggled by dismal record in effectively tackling corruption to cash in on, eager to prove a point.

From whatever angle one looks at the situation, there are serious political dynamics at play in the ex-Speaker Bankole fraud saga and the decision of the government and the EFCC to pursue his prosecution at this stage. The hope of most Nigerians however is that political intrigues notwithstanding, Bankole if found guilty would be made to face the full wrath of the law, and that he would not end up with a slap on the wrist or an ultra-short jail term as Tafa Balogun’s or Bode George’s. This is a new administration, if President Jonathan wants to be taken seriously in this purported zealous attempt at tackling corruption, then justice should be allowed to prevail and the numerous pending cases of many other former public office holders especially ex-governors should be dusted, re-opened, resumed and prosecuted with as much zeal, fervour, commitment and speed as Bankole’s is being pursued now. This hope and optimism notwithstanding, I for one am not holding my breath.

Naija On My Mind…

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Source: http://www.groups.yahoo.com

I am simply at a loss of words or the appropriate adjectives to describe my state of my mind over the past few days, or to be more candid since the Nigerian Presidential elections on the 16th of April. I was massively disappointed at the outcome and its aftermath that for the whole of last week I was in a near state of depression. It was even difficult to focus on my course work or essays, I was just thinking of Nigeria. At a point I started wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I was over-reacting or if I should simply stop following the news coverage about Nigeria – which of course is not possible. Being the typical female, I thought of getting in touch with my feminine side and doing something that lifts the spirits of most women – going on a therapeutic shopping trip to Birmingham city center, but not even that made me feel better. Then I spoke with several friends here in the UK and back home and I found out that indeed I wasn’t the only one feeling that overwhelming sense of frustration and helplessness which I can sufficiently summarize as an admixture of gross disappointment; shock and anger; despair and hopelessness as I shall explain briefly.

It should be pretty obvious where my disappointment stems from. As a supporter of the main opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), his loss shattered the dreams and vision many of us envisaged for a new Nigeria. For in General Buhari who had a fervent, populous and massive grassroots support probably comparable to that of Brazil’s former President Lula Da Silva of Brazil; some of us saw in him a man who would combat the cankerworm of corruption, an obstacle to any meaningful development; would free Nigeria from the shackles of the few elite/cabal that have held it to ransom for the past few decades; would restore discipline, law and order to a very disorganized and increasingly undisciplined Nigerian society and would provide the critically needed infrastructure but alas that is not the case. Notwithstanding the allegations of vote rigging, result manipulation, money inducement to vote for the ruling party, it is absolutely incredulous that some people actually voted not for change that Nigerians are in desperate need of, but voted to maintain and perpetuate the status-quo. While it is almost a generally accepted fact that the ruling PDP-led government in the last 12 years of democratic rule has recorded abysmal performance at virtually all tiers of governance such that the Nigerian state is now bedeviled by decaying infrastructure – electricity supply has actually worsened in the past 12 years; rising insecurity – prior to 1999, many Nigerians save those who watch blockbuster American movies were not familiar with the terms kidnapping or bomb attacks but these are now almost regular features of Nigerian life; soaring unemployment levels – any recruitment exercise attracts hundreds of thousands of applicants – in this case, I can vividly recall sometime last year, 68 vacancies were posted for the Federal Capital Territory Administration, yet more than one million people applied for these 68 vacancies!!! It is simply incredible that people decided to forfeit this momentous opportunity for change from the status-quo based on the naïve assumption that they “voted for individuals and not parties”. Ha! Pray, did any of the candidates run as an independent or on the platform of a political party? As the latter is the case, how do you divorce an individual from the people and whatever his party stands for?

From this, the feeling of shock and anger took over – I still cannot distinguish one from the other at this point because they seem intertwined. As the results of the Presidential elections were announced state by state, it became increasingly clear that where people voted and the votes actually counted, people did so for the most part based on religious, regional and ethnic sentiments. The incumbent President Jonathan was overwhelmingly voted in the mainly Christian-South while his main rival Buhari was overwhelmingly voted in the mainly Muslim-North. Once more, all allegations of rigging and manipulation set aside, in the end Jonathan polled in more votes. However the shock/anger stems from not just the realization that people had retreated into their ethno-religious cum regional enclaves but that the elections had decisively split Nigerians into a North/South divide, what many had feared for years. The elections just laid bare the deep-seated cleavages and divisions between Nigerians and this is everywhere – from cyberspace – online news and social media – Facebook and Twitter to normal face to face interactions; the print media and even government offices. All of a sudden it has become an Us vs. Them scenario with one side jubilating over and celebrating its “triumph” over the other and so many cyber warriors on both sides attacking one another. Infact, in various online Nigerian forums, you have to take a side and to be very candid, the Goodluck Jonathan army is more vociferous, vocal and aggressive because– if you criticize or express any form of displeasure against President Goodluck, you are regarded as an enemy, forgetting that we CONSTITUTIONALLY operate a MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY where such dissent whether from individuals, groups or media is actually healthy for the whole system otherwise the steady descent towards fascism becomes inevitable.

The second part of my shock/anger was that as if all these things were not bad, depressing or infuriating enough came the eruption of unrest in various parts of the North – Buhari’s “stronghold”. What started off as a “protest” quickly became violent and took a deadly religious dimension with innocent lives tragically wasted away particularly of Youth Corps members dutifully serving the Nigerian state. So far there are 3 schools of thought explaining the outbreak of violence: (i) the protests started off peacefully against perceived “betrayal” by the Northern elite and eventually became hijacked by miscreants who unleashed attacks on innocent people; (ii) The protesters were all along blood-thirsty criminals with no regard for human life who were just out to spill blood of the innocents, and (iii) The protests were neither religious nor ethnic but were purely political covertly instigated by the ruling PDP to cause mayhem and unrest in the North and provide a distraction. Well, you can choose which school of thought you want to believe but the loss of lives and property is most unfortunate. All these have together made people spew all sorts of unbelievably hateful, vile comments most unbefitting of nationales of a country that is supposedly the most “religious” nation on earth. As Nigeria increasingly becomes dangerously divided, so has the mudslinging with hateful ammo intensified with such vigour all over cyberspace. I know the number of people on my Facebook friends list that I have fought with or argued with because I told them to tone-down their offensive language.

With all this is a feeling of pure hopelessness and despair over the bleak future that lies ahead. I believe even the cyber warriors on both sides, if only they would take a step-back from all the mudslinging and ponder over the tumultuous and uncertain future that lies ahead would feel a sense of dread. The same set of people within the same party that has brought Nigeria practically to its knees has been recycled back in power, yet we somehow expect different results. To be very frank, I am scared –  in all of my 20something years on earth I have never been filled with so much dread such as I am at this point. As the elections have exposed the deep and possibly irreconcilable cleavages and fracture within the Nigerian populace, I have found myself pondering over the future of the Nigerian state with my mind recalling the US National Intelligence Council report in March 2005 that Nigeria could collapse in a few years. The  persistent call for division of Nigeria by the separatists and irredentists particularly on the internet is not helping matters either. The whole atmosphere is tense, charged and thick with flammable haze of anger, suspicion, fear, uncertainty and distrust that one spark will set of an explosion of such magnitude never seen before. John Campbell warned in his book Dancing on the Brink that these elections could make or mar Nigeria’s future as a nation-state or whether it would collapse but he was dismissed by the Media and policy-makers as a harbinger of bad news or even the grim-reaper of whatever fractious peace we have.

At this point, it has reached such a stage that practically everyone in Nigeria is waiting for a miracle – from the teeming, almost fanatic legion of President Goodluck’s most ardent supporters who expect him to miraculously divorce himself from the PDP cabal, capones and godfathers and perform well; the disillusioned opposition who with their lack of an organized party structure are still relying on a miracle to sweep the just concluded gubernatorial polls or the Nigerian masses having for long been disillusioned with the Nigerian state and despite selling their franchise in some cases for as little as N500 (about $3) are as always hoping and praying for a miracle out of misery and destitution. Well, coming from this “religiously” charged environment myself, at this point I will also assume the same fatalistic position, pray for a miracle and hope that President Goodluck Jonathan performs beyond expectations and by so doing, his good luck would spread around and heal this deep fracture within the Nigerian polity and society, otherwise it will be bad luck to Nigeria in all ramifications.

In the meantime, I hope Nigerians; particularly the cyber warriors will bear these wise and timeless words in mind:

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth”

 – Baha’u’llah 1817 – 1892

“Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy”

- JohnTrapp 1601-1669