Three years ago this month, November 23, to be precise, I expressed fears on these pages that the country was waging a war against the insurrectionist Boko Haram that seemed to have no end in sight. The war, I said, seemed to be turning our politicians, soldiers, security agents and their contractor friends into agents of war rather than of peace.
The title of the piece was “Boko Haram: ‘War’ with no end?’ It was a title, I pointed out, I’d borrowed from that of a 2007 collection of essays by left-wing writers of various nationalities, including Naomi Klein, whose common cause was an abhorrence of the way the West had imposed itself on the rest of the world as a violent global police.
Klein was a journalist, writer, film maker and author. In her 2007 best seller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, she argued that the neo-conservative forces that had taken over America and much of the West have used, in the words of the book’s blurb, “public disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters – to push through highly unpopular economic shock therapy.”
In her own contribution in the collection in question entitled “Building a Booming Economy Based on War with No End; The Lessons of Israel”, Klein provided what she believed was the answer to the puzzle of a booming Israeli economy in the midst of the chaos and carnage in its region.
Israel’s economy, she argued, boomed because “perhaps more than any other country, (it) has learnt to build an economy based on never ending war”. That is, a war that fed on constant fear which, unlike oil, the main resource of its hostile Arab neighbours, was “the ultimate renewable source” because it created “a bottomless demand for devices that watch, listen, contain and target suspects.”
I am tempted to reproduce the article in the light of the recent resurgence of Boko Haram’s insurgency which is clearly a direct consequence of President Goodluck Jonathan’s apparent much greater concern with plotting his return to power in next year’s presidential elections unopposed – at least within his party – than with securing the lives, limbs and property of his compatriots.
Space, more than anything else, however, makes it impossible for me to succumb to the temptation. Suffice it to say the sentiments I expressed in that article – sentiments which, I believe, is shared by millions of Nigerians – seem, alas, to have been borne out by recent events running up to the president’s declaration yesterday that he would, after all, run for re-election next year, thus ending the make-belief that he had remained undecided all this while which hardly anyone, possibly even himself, ever believed.
If the Israelis, as Klein argued in her essay in question, have learnt to use the global war on terror as a strategy for building a thriving domestic economy in the midst of the chaos in its region, it seems our president has learnt to wink at his men and women as they used Boko Haram insurgency to divide Nigerians and whip up support for him in his bid to get re-elected next year. He seems to have even learnt to use the insurgency to get the National Assembly to do some of his biddings – witness, for example, the speed with which the federal legislators approved his dubious request for a $1 billion loan from abroad, ostensibly to fight the insurgency. Dubious, because this country never borrowed one kobo to fight its more devastating three-year civil war between 1967 and 1970.
This divide and rule strategy, using mainly Boko Haram, has manifested in many forms, notably as claims by some of his spokesmen and those of his Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) that the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is an Islamic party and a vote for one of the leading contenders for its presidential ticket, General Muhammadu Buhari, is a vote against Christianity. For those who make these claims, it obviously does not matter that, as the president himself has said occasionally in what were perhaps Freudian slips, more Muslims than Christians have been killed and attacked and their livelihoods destroyed by Boko Haram since 2009 when it insurrection took its present deadly turn.
Of all such claims, however, the one that takes the prize for outrage and bigotry must be the most recent one by the controversial President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and a member of President Jonathan’s innermost kitchen cabinet, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. Only last week he claimed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been scheming to disenfranchise Christians for next year’s elections. As he is wont to, the man did not offer one single shred of evidence to support his claim.
Recently two other leading clerics, one Muslim, the other Christian, called on the president to sacrifice his presidential ambitions in what they said was in the interest of the country’s security, peace and unity. The first, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, the well-known Kaduna based Islamic preacher, said in an exclusive interview with Sunday Trust last month (October 19) that both the president and Buhari should sacrifice their ambitions because they have become highly divisive and a win by anyone of them next year will only lead to bloodshed worse than we saw following the 2011 presidential election.
Last Monday Reverend Chris Okotie, a leading Nigerian televangelist and pastor of the chic Household of God Church in Lagos, published what looked like an open letter to the president pleading with him to a Lyndon B. Johnson. Jonathan, he said, like Johnson, became president after his principal died in office. Like Johnson, Okotie said, Jonathan also inherited a war. The two, he also said, mismanaged their wars. Jonathan, he argued, should therefore emulate Johnson by honourably declining to contest for his party’s presidential ticket, just like Johnson did in 1968 as a result of his mismanagement of the Vietnam War.
After he declared yesterday in Eagle Square that he had sought God’s face and consulted with his family and had therefore decided to seek for re-election, it is obvious that the calls by the two clerics had fallen on Jonathan’s deaf ears.
I have some reservations about calls on both Jonathan and Buhari, but even more so in Buhari’s case, not to contest next year’s presidential elections. Both may have become divisive but the divisions in this country will not end simply because they decide to sacrifice their ambitions. Buhari, I believe, is even less of a divisive figure than Jonathan because the negative emotions he triggers in people is more by default, thanks to the country’s generally anti-Islam media, than by choice as, I believe, is the case with the president.
And now that it is, in any case, obviously too late to ask the president not to contest, one can only hope and pray that he will spend the rest of his current term focusing on bringing an end to the Boko Haram insurgency rather than playing politics with it, even if only by proxy.
Monday’s suicide bombing of a secondary school in Potiskum, Yobe State, in which no less than 47 young men lost their lives – this was just a day before his declaration jamboree – only underscores the need for the president to demonstrate that his heart and mind are in the fight against terrorism and insecurity in the country.
The president should know that his vow on Monday to deal decisively with the insurgents can only ring hollow in the ears of most Nigerians, given his many previous broken vows, and given also the fact that he seemed so eager to convince the world he was winning the war against terror as he prepared to end his pretence at not making up his mind to get re-elected next year, that he allowed himself, as commander-in-chief, to be suckered into a false ceasefire.
If the president sincerely wants to end the insurgency the things he should do have always been obvious. First and foremost, he must end the long-running neglect of arming, training and providing for the care of our troops. He never needed the Americans to tell him, as they did recently, that all the billions that had been pumped into fighting the war since 2009 had ended largely in the pockets of the senior hierarchy of our military and he needed therefore to audit those expenditures in order to identify and bring the culprits to book.
Last Monday, Nigeria’s ambassador in the US, Professor Ade Adefuye, ticked off the Americans while receiving a delegation of the U. S. Council on Foreign Relations, for refusing to sell arms to Nigeria in its fight against terror. Nigeria is right to express its disappointment at America’s holier than thou attitude on the abuse of human rights by our soldiers. But then it’s not as if the Americans have a monopoly of the arms we need to fight terrorism. When the West, including America, initially denied Nigeria arms during our civil war we turned elsewhere. We can do the same today if we manage our economy well and stop trying to buy arms under the table using dubious proxies.
Second, the president needs to reign in those key elements of his kitchen cabinet whose favourite pastime is to abuse and threaten anyone or any group that disagrees with him, no matter how slightly or genuinely.
Not least of all, his next budget should demonstrate that he is ready to address the huge gap that exists between the socio-economies of the country’s geo-political zones. And it’s no use talking about such things as building schools for almajirai. Such talks only insult the intelligence of Northerners because those schools have made little or no impact, and are unlikely to ever do so, on the region’s poverty.
As the president prepares to campaign for next year’s presidential election he should know that nothing he does would earn him votes like bringing an end to the insecurity that has pervaded the country. The first step in achieving this is to end the politicisation – and commoditization – of Boko Haram, something that has been the stock-in-trade of many of his closest friends and aides – with, of course, more than a wink from the man himself.
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