Bin Laden’s Message to Our Militants By Garba Shehu

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The recent spate of attacks on the media and telecommunications infrastructure in the Northern states is both tragic and unwarranted and should be avoided by all. The Ahlus Sunnah Bid Da’awati Wal Jihad, mostly called the Boko Haram has claimed responsibility on the basis that the telecommunication companies were supplying information on their members leading to police arrests.

Where are we heading to from here? This country is perhaps the only one you know that has a telecommunication strategy that is one-legged. We have abandoned the land lines which are the vehicle for bulk communications in normal countries. The vulnerability of the nation has sufficiently been exposed by these attacks. But it is a mistake for the militants to think that they are hurting only the government and the service providers by their acts. All members of the society including the Ahlus Sunnah group need these facilities for their day-to-day communications. The late leader of the Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden came to this realization early in his insurgency as told by John Simpson of the BBC. Simpson was the producer of the weekly documentary series “Simpson’s World” before he changed to Al-Jazeerah.

In 1996, he said, he had an appointment to interview the late Osama Bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda terror chief.

On arrival at an obscure spot on what he described as the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan, he and his crew members were met by a team of bearded fighters who would take them to Bin Laden.

They were asked to surrender their cameras and other equipment, hooded and then put into a van that took them to an eerie-looking cave where Bin Laden was hiding.

As soon as they were ushered into Bin Laden’s presence, he said, the terror chief was worked up, reaching for his AK-47 and openly expressing a wish to all kill the “infidels” ushered into his presence. His aides reminded him that they were his guests who came at his invitation, at which point he said, Bin Laden calmed down and got set for the interview.

The strict condition of the interview was that Bin Laden’s aides would do the recording of the interview. After the interview, Simpson was given the copies of the recorded interview and driven back to the same spot they were picked and released. They were thoroughly searched from the beginning for hidden bugging devices.

Summarizing their ordeal at the hands of Bin Laden who theatrically threatened to kill them, Simpson said the irony of the drama was that Bin Laden needed the same “infidels” he had wanted to kill to tell his story to the world. He said even terror groups recognized the power and indispensability of the mass media – a necessary evil of some sort.

The attacks on media houses and telecommunication facilities are counter-productive to whatever may be the underlying objectives of the Ahlus Sunnah or Boko Haram. The Al-Qaeda members use the media – CNN, Al-Jazeera and the internet to transmit their messages. How then can Boko Haram advance their cause (whatever it is) if they destroy telecommunication and media facilities?

By denying the communities in which they live the right to communicate by targeting telecom facilities, aren’t the Boko Haram leaders antagonizing the people even further, which would now give them a good reason to volunteer information about their activities and hideouts? Already, Boko Haram has effectively disrupted economic and social life in states such as Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano and Kaduna states. With many people thrown out of livelihood, thanks to the ban on Okada operations in these North-Eastern States, isn’t it time the Boko Haram leaders reviewed their strategy and embraced dialogue and disarmament?

People have suffered enough. Targeting the media, telecom facilities and innocent ordinary people is not a good strategy for Boko Haram to make its case. No organization or movement can afford to lose public sympathy because of excesses. Without newspapers, radio, television and telecommunication in place, how would the Boko Haram leaders transmit their messages? You cannot achieve effective propaganda by targeting the mass media, the telecom companies and innocent ordinary people.

Islam as a religion  is itself founded on justice and, therefore, punishing the innocent is unjustifiable.

This Country is For Both the Rich and the Poor

Former U.S President, John F. Kennedy once said that “if you cannot be your brother’s keeper, don’t at least, be his destroyer.”

The story of the arrest and prosecution of an unemployed theatre arts graduate for the “offense ” of begging in Lagos is a tragic irony especially that it is the police that is behind the case. What do they do at check points? Police will raise rifles or aim at your driver to stop. When you show evidence that you have all your vehicle papers complete, they beg you for money. “Oga your children have not eaten,” is a constant refrain at checkpoints.

The story of the University of Calabar graduate as published by The Nation was that the unemployed young man was arrested at the Shoprite Mall in Eti-Osa local government area of Lagos State. He approached a prosperous looking man and begged for financial help. It turned out that the elderly man was a police Area Commander. The Commander took him to a security post and ordered him detained. The offence committed, according to a police prosecutor, was a contravention of Section 166 of the criminal laws of Lagos State. In addition to this, the police asserted that the young man had nothing on him that would identify him and in any case, the mobile phone of the Area Commander’s wife was stolen from her in that vicinity the week before. It  is significant that the Magistrate dismissed the case, saying begging was not an offence.

There was a similar incident at the Abuja Hilton Hotel where a man approached a Nigerian Senator exiting the hotel. He introduced himself as an Engineer from one of the states in the South, that he had come to watch an international football match in Abuja and in the course of this, he lost his funds. The Senator asked the police to take away the man for being a beggar. That incident reminded me of the gaffe from the mouth of a British Prime Minister, John Major who, while in office, said the sight of beggars on the streets of London was “offensive” to him. This riled the public and media so much that  the Prime-minister was force to tender an apology.

This law, making it an offence to have no visible means of income is a repressive colonial legacy that continues to be used against a variety of causes including dissent. This particular arrest and arraignment contradicts a Nigerian citizen’s right to freedom of expression, free speech and freedom of movement. It deserves a swift elimination from our statute books.

The Area Commander is himself a misfit to democracy who basks under a discredited colonial legacy.

This country is for both the rich and the poor and under our constitution, the rich enjoy no upper level than the rest of us citizens. That we have beggars in the country in the midst of all the money hovering around is itself an indictment of those who are rich and those of them in authority.

As famously and profoundly argued by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, “In a nation well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of; in a nation badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

Poverty is a reality of even advanced societies. It is ridiculous, therefore, to criminalize those pushed by desperation to approach better off members of the society for succor. Those who approach others for succor sacrifice their pride and dignity in doing so. According to the great Indian author, Dada J.P. Vaswani, “he who gives is richer that he who hoards his wealth. The hoarder is under psychological pressure, worried about losing what he has. Such a man is poor and impoverished, regardless of how much he has.”

While there are no attempts to launch into a homily or justify begging, as a chosen way of life regardless of the ability to work, the arrest of anybody for seeking succor from those who are better off is not defensible either. We have ghettoes and inner cities in Western societies which are populated by the poor and the unemployed. One is not aware of any legislation there that targets or aims to arrest and prosecute law-abiding people merely because of their distressed economic and social circumstances. The worst the Nigerian Senator and the police officer should have done was to dismiss those who approached them for succor rather than ordering their arrest merely because they have the power to do so.

In fact, there are circumstances in which hard-working men and women may find themselves stranded on certain occasions, which compel them to approach others for assistance. Even when you are convinced that these guys are “lazy” by choice, ignoring the reality of involuntary unemployment, it is utterly indefensible to order someone else’s arrest who approaches you for help. It is oppressive and it should never be tolerated in a democratic society where leaders seek people’s votes to govern. Compassion defines our humanity. If you cannot intervene practically to help your fellow man in distress, don’t humiliate him by ordering his arrest and detention. Such abuse of power has no place in humane democratic societies. Can the rich and powerful feel more secure by stamping their feet on those who are socially and economically down at heels?

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