By Nkem Ekeopara, Syndicated Columnist
The Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka towards the end of March this year warned that Nigeria is on the brink of another civil war and blamed the current Nigerian ruler Dr. Jonathan for the growing insecurity in the country. And Prince Bola Ajibola, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Federation, said mid April that the collapse of amnesty plan for Boko Haram may lead to another civil war. There had been other people voicing the same concern. Well, that’s an affirmation of what the American intelligence community foresaw a decade ago and were abused by those who insist that ‘One-Nigeria’ is not negotiable.
Where I differ from the likes of Prince Ajibola is when they say that the civil war can only be averted if amnesty is granted to avowed terrorists. It amounts to absolute lack of understanding of the nature of terrorism or feigning so, to insist that it (terrorism) will be curtailed if the Federal Government of Nigeria treats the Islamic North differently from other parts of Nigeria or other sections of Nigerian society. I have stated it before and I will restate it here, that Islamic Northern Nigeria remains poorer than others in Nigeria because they are impervious to modernity and change, which come from education. Although their leaders literally asked others to wait for them to catch-up, many Islamic Northern youths did not give a damn about getting educated. Many still do not give a damn.
Sure, their leaders invested in their education and provided amenities that were denied other parts of Nigeria, especially Igbo land. They have Nomadic Education fund, they have special cut-off marks for federal high schools, the so-called unity schools, and universities and they do not use West African Examination Council (WAEC) issued certificates as standard for admission; in fact, the National Examination Council (NECO) with a standard not comparable to WAEC certificates was created largely for them. Many of them are not required to present either of the certificates issued by these bodies as they go through basic studies and are given automatic admission irrespective of their performance at the end of the basic studies programme. They have bursary from the Nigerian government that is channelled through their respective states, they have educationally disadvantaged states slot in Nigeria’s yearly budget and they have scholarships from their states to any level, if they want to study.
Furthermore, universities and other higher institutions sited in their part of the country have always been the best equipped. But many of them refuse to study. As if all these are not enough, the Jonathan administration is currently investing billions of naira in a new scheme, the Almajeri Education Scheme, an opportunity one is sure many of them will not take. While not demeaning any discipline, the percentage of them who study science, engineering and technology (SET) disciplines from those who bother to go to school at all, is scandalously low, compared to the population of the region.
No nation or society advances without education. Sometimes, one is left to wonder: How many more disenchanted Southern Nigerian youths does the Nigerian government want to create through all these lopsided policies? This sort of question is necessary, especially for many Igbo youths, who can’t be admitted to the so-called unity schools or federal universities because their cut-off marks are very high while fellow youths from say Sokoto or Zamfara State have to be admitted with ridiculously low scores because of where they come from? Such question becomes even more relevant when you consider that a generation of the Igbo youths lost three years of education during the Nigeria-Biafra War. Government must rethink some of these policies because wrapped therein are explosive mixes of anger on the part of the disenchanted and the indirect inferiorization of those that did not get admitted meritoriously. Regrettably, that’s what happens in employment into key sectors of the Nigerian economy too.
Many people in Africa believe President Obama as an African American with a Kenyan root knows Africa more than his predecessors; he knows countries like Nigeria, which has the largest population of his kind more than any other country in the world, and from where as at the time he took power, America was still importing 10% of its oil needs. It is such belief that filled many Africans with the expectation that he would get more involved in African Affairs more than any of his predecessors. In many people’s assessment this has not been the case. Although the US and Nigeria did set up the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission in April 2010, to ‘work together on issues of common and shared responsibility and to ‘support the aspiration of the Nigerian people for peaceful, prosperous, stable democratic future’ as the former US Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton put it at the inception of the commission, there had been obvious missteps by the Obama administration with regards to the US perspective on the ongoing jihadists onslaught in Nigeria.
One did expect that after Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, son of a Northern Nigerian aristocrat, exported terror to the United States on no other day than the Christmas Day in 2009, and the re-emergence of the erstwhile ‘Taliban’ now notoriously known as Boko Haram that year, that President Obama should have looked beyond poverty as the motivator for terrorism ravaging Northern Nigeria now. That expectation heightened after the setting up of the commission with one of its four working groups being on ‘regional cooperation and collaboration on security, terrorism, and the Niger Delta’. This expectation was completely dashed when the Obama administration through the former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Jonnie Carson stoked fire in Nigeria by calling for the creation of a Ministry of Northern Nigeria Affairs by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a magic bullet for containing the jihadists seeking to Islamize Nigeria. To make a call for such a ministry using the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs targeted at oil producing communities who can no longer farm or fish on their ancestral lands as a result of the devastation of their environment and plundering of their God-given oil and gas resources to justify the call is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable.
It is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable for several reasons. It is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable because the poverty in Islamic Northern Nigeria is self-inflicted. President Obama should know who has been in charge of Nigeria for the greater part of the country’s ‘independence’ from Britain in 1960. Northerners, especially Islamic Northerners, have! Between 1966 and 1999, they ruled as dictators, absolutes, for 27 years. Within this period, they promulgated decrees that dispossessed the former Eastern Region, today’s South East and South South geo-political zones, of those regions’ God-given oil wealth. During that period, they put all manner of measures to benefit their people to the disadvantage of other sections of Nigeria, especially the Niger Delta region and Igbo land.
They governments they headed by Northerners colluded with the international oil companies (IOCs) and flagrantly destroyed the environment of oil producing communities. One of them, late Gen. Sani Abacha, even murdered Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental rights activist and his 8 colleagues, for protesting against the destruction of their environment and plunder of their resources by Shell BP. The Northerners, who ruled Nigeria for most part of Nigeria’s years since flag freedom, used the oil money to invest massively not just in the educational sector in Northern Nigeria, but also made sure that more than 80% of the irrigation infrastructure in the country went to the North. These investments run into billions of dollars, not naira. Yet their people are poor. Yet, their people are now in Southern Nigeria, seeking grazing land and constantly destroying crops, raping women, and murdering farmers in the latter’s farms.
Aside from the irrigation infrastructure, the World Bank gives their farmers grants for seedlings and fertilizers. So, why should people from that part of Nigeria be going about destroying people’s farmlands, killing them and raping their wives and daughters? But more than what the Northern rulers did for their people in the educational and agricultural sectors; they arbitrarily created more states and local government areas for their region to the disadvantage of other regions, especially the South East zone, thus, taking more revenues from accruals from oil revenues. They invented all manners of corruption, ranging from import licensing fraud, briefcase contracting to ‘settlement,’ etc. They are the ones majorly responsible for the fallen house that Nigeria has become (apologies to Karl Maier). So, why in the face of these incontrovertible evidences, indeed, injustices, should the Obama administration be calling for the creation of a Ministry of Northern Nigeria Affairs for them? Why should anyone, much more any government, be advancing poverty arising from discontent as a reason for terrorism?
It is unimaginable that the US government should exhibit that level of ignorance of these truths or was it feigned ignorance? If any region should be considered for the creation of such a ministry, outside the Niger Delta region, it should be the South East zone with less number of states and local government areas, and the main theatre of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Let us not forget that at the ‘end’ of that war Gowon declared to the world that there was ‘No victor, No vanquished,’ and proclaimed that ‘Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation,’ the so-called 3Rs, would begin in earnest to restore the former Eastern Region, completely stripped of its infrastructure by the Nigerian military, back to where it was before the war. Gowon’s pronouncement was the greatest act of deception, because as everyone now knows, rather than these being implemented, Gowon and those that came after him continued the war through infamous policies that challenged the resilience of the Igbo people.
Today, the present South East zone, home to Igbo people, remains the zone without any remarkable federal presence, and no industries that could absorb its numerous graduates even when it produces the highest number of graduates in Nigeria every year. The South East zone has the most decrepit infrastructure in the fraudulent Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Northerners majorly, and the policies they evolved, made it impossible for any steel or steel-related industry to be sited in the zone even when a pre-war study favoured the development of such industries in the region. Their policies frustrated even Igbo people who tried to invest in that sector in the region. Anyone who cares to know the truth in this regard should go and interview Okpuzu Abiriba, Chief Onwuka Kalu, who tried to finance a nail industry in Aba in the 80s, but was deliberately frustrated. Among their reasons for that sort of policy, was that the Northerners were afraid of the resurgence of Biafra if heavy industries were allowed to thrive in the South East zone. So, the US call for a Ministry of Northern Affairs is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable.
I know my people. If we have had the kind of opportunities that the North or even the West had, the incidence of kidnapping, which started in the Niger Delta and is now ravaging the entire country, would have been the last option the South East youths would have taken to. Anyone who disputes this assertion should visit Nnewi and Aba to see how in the face of the aforementioned lopsidedness, Igbo youths are making the most of their brains and time. It is unfortunate these enterprising young Igbo men and women are hardly in the news.
It is even absolutely nonsensical for any government or person to aver that terrorism by Boko Haram and its splinter groups in the North could be solved by such unreasoned and completely undeserving rewards or with the implementation of an amnesty scheme for murderers. And this is not complicated. Nigeria is a place that jihad had been waged against ‘infidels’ before. It is on record that the first generation political leaders of the North did threaten their counterparts in Southern Nigeria that they were waiting for the departure of the colonialists, the British, to continue their march to the sea to ‘dip the Koran into the Atlantic Ocean’. This is a historical fact. Boko Haram and its splinter groups like Ansaru - Jamāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān (Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa) have just allied themselves with the global jihad movement to accomplish the dream of their forebears.
The situation is not complicated because as we saw in the infamous underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s case, someone with aristocratic root, and now, the alleged Boston bombers, terrorism is not fed by hopelessness and poverty. It is fed by something deeper. And as we are learning from the case of the two brothers that allegedly bombed Boston, soon jihadists will seek to gradually phase out suicide bombing. They would want to bomb, stay alive and party, and perhaps, go on to become ‘self-actualized’. Or how does one explain the fact that someone with the ambition of becoming a neurosurgeon, like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers that allegedly bombed Boston, could commit such atrocious act and without any intent of dying in the process or fear of being found out and brought to face justice? Every human being should be concerned, especially with the increasing and ongoing trend of radicalization of people through the Internet and the social media.
Furthermore, the fact that Boko Haram can afford sophisticated guns and mass destructive explosive devices clearly shows that they are not poor but rather well-funded religious ideologues ready to shed the blood of innocent citizens to promote their beliefs. That Boko Haram is ideologically driven is well known. Severally, they have clearly stated the objective of their campaign. They want a government based on the Koran in Nigeria and they forbid Western education, the very thing that liberates an individual or a society from poverty. They want the Shariarization of the entire Nigeria and they do not give a damn how many lakes of blood and mass graves they create in the process. Only a government that does not understand its responsibility to its citizen can be talking about granting amnesty to such a group of people. Only people who are inhuman could be calling for amnesty for these mass murderers.
There is no doubt the United States government under President Obama has taken note of what is going on in Northern Nigeria. On June 21, 2012, the US included the leader of Boko Haram, Sheik Abubakar Shekau, and two of his lieutenants, Khalid el Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar, on the ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) List’, a list that came to be after 9/11 as one of the measures to hunt down terrorists anywhere on the globe.
Also, recently, the government of the United States located a drone station in the Republic of Niger, Nigeria’s northern neighbour. Although said to be for gathering intelligence for the French intervention in Mali, the strategic location could serve the US interest in Nigeria, and indeed, in West Africa. The strident inhuman calls for amnesty to be granted to Boko Haram, especially by the Northern Nigeria religious and political leaders are not unconnected with the decision by the US to locate a drone base in Niger.
And last week, it was reported in the media that a US delegation led by Counter Terrorism Deputy Secretary, Ms. Anne Witkowsky, was in Nigeria to meet with Nigerian officials and offer them modern technology, which they can deploy to effectively secure their porous borders.
These are important steps for the war on terrorism in Nigeria. However, many Nigerians, especially the Igbo and Christian Northerners, are worried and regard as unfortunate and insensitive the call by the US government under Obama for the creation of a Ministry of Northern Nigeria Affairs as a key step for curtailing the terrorism in that part of Nigeria. The evidences related above make this not only unjustifiable and insensitive, but portraying the US as hell-bent on favouring one section of Nigeria to the disadvantage of other sections.
Also, the deliberate insistence on the falsity that more Muslims have been killed since the Boko Haram attacks re-started in 2009 is quite repulsive and seems to be shrouded with dubious intent. Christians, preponderantly the Igbo people resident in the North, are the ones who have been bombed in churches, including on Christmas and on Easter Day every year. More than 400 churches in the North have been destroyed or closed, making it impossible for Christians to exercise their right of freedom of worship anywhere they are in the so-called One-Nigeria. There is no record of the bombing of any Mosque by these wilful murderers to date. Igbo people have been marked out and murdered en mass at a luxury bus station in Sabon Gari, the segregated part of Kano, where they live and conduct their businesses. They have been targeted and murdered at meeting place in Mubi, where they had gathered to conclude arrangement on how to bring home for proper burial some of their kind murdered earlier in their business locations. They are the ones whose blood constitutes the lakes of blood being created by Boko Haram. They are the ones whose skulls lie beneath those unmarked mass graves that litter Northern Nigerian cities as Muslims are said not to bury their members in mass graves. They are facing the same fate they faced when Sharia, the forerunner to Boko Haram, was introduced in 12 Northern states at the onset of Nigeria’s current democratic experiment. It is the same fate the faced in the post-election crisis in 2011.
Yet, this falsity is still emanating from some bodies in the US, that more Moslems have been killed. Most Igbo people based in the North have had their businesses destroyed. Many of them have been forced to leave the North empty-handed and relocate to the East, where they now live like refugees in their supposed country. No one takes account of these people. No one talks about them. There are no discussions on how these internally displaced people (IDPs) are to be helped. Those who are conversant with what preceded the Nigeria-Biafra War are seeing the ominous signs.
The warning by Professor Soyinka that Nigeria is on the verge of another civil war is real. But the US can do something. It should strengthen its capability to deal decisively with terrorism in Nigeria, since terrorism poses a serious threat to America’s interests too, by designating Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The level Boko Haram is at present, in particular, the link it has with al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab in Somalia, and its techniques of operation, deserve that it be so designated. An organization currently led by a man, Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, who proudly says, “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams” and had been seen doing that deserves no less. This is not different from the motto of Ansaru- “Jihad Fi Sabilillah”, meaning "struggle for the cause of Allah". Such is the mindset of the Boko Haram that the Northern political and religious leaders are saying should be granted amnesty.
As a friend based in the States observed last year, Nigerians either in or out of government who oppose the idea that Boko Haram be designated FTO are those Nigerians who are afraid that the eagle eyes of the US intelligence officers might detect the funds the former have looted from Nigeria’s treasury. Certainly, it is a plausible reason. If it is, then, that is a more compelling reason why the Obama administration should expedite action in designating Boko Haram FTO.
The US, besides adding this to the steps she has already taken to combat terrorism in Nigeria and West Africa, should take a deeper and comprehensive look at the situation in Nigeria. That deeper and comprehensive look at the Nigerian situation if done in good faith ought to lead the Obama administration to the conclusion that Nigeria can no longer be sustained as one country. This is the hard and bitter truth. There is so much blood being spilled because of the ultra contestation for power and control of its resources concentrated at the centre in Nigeria. It is a time bomb that would still have gone off with time, anyway. Boko Haram has only shortened the explosion time.
Reflectively, I think this was what led the US intelligence community a decade ago, like I mentioned earlier, to predict that Nigeria might not endure beyond 2015. And those who think that Nigeria should be preserved at all costs so that they will continue to steal and squander the resources of others abused the agencies involved. Today, the reality is staring all of us in the face. The US and the international community should ask themselves this critical question: ‘Should we wait for new and perhaps, bigger Balkan Wars to happen in Africa?” Presently, Nigeria looks uglier than the picture Yugoslavia presented before Yugoslavia’s descent into the abyss of wars and genocide.
It is about time the US acted in concert with the international community to de-activate that time bomb ticking away in Nigeria peacefully. Delay could be dangerous.
Contact Nkem Ekeopara: firstname.lastname@example.org