by Akin Osuntokun
Were the country not acutely divided over the 2011 and the fraught 2015 elections, the Boko Haram insurgency would have been readily containable.
Contemporary Nigeria is caught in the web of a cyclical crisis characterised by the interchangeability of cause and effect. The cause evolves to become the effect and vice versa. The argument that the Boko-Haram insurgency crisis predated the advent of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration begs the issue. The Boko Haram of today bears little semblance to whatever existed by that identity prior to 2011. If the presidential election of that year had not polarised the country on the basis of competing regional claims to the presidency, there would have been no gap for the insurgency crisis to fester and snowball into its current monstrous dimensions.
It is possible that the inflammatory and divisive rhetoric that were being ratcheted up in the home run to the 2011 elections had no more sinister intention than political grandstanding. By the same token, conspiracy theories discerning a linkage between these prior threats of ungovernability and the skyrocketing manifestation of same are no less valid. In establishing culpability, threats are admissible as statements of intent.
Beyond the physical exactions of terrorism, this is the political dimension of the insurgency crisis and it is no less real as the physical war being levied against the Nigerian state. In politics, perception can be more important than factuality and there is an undying strong perception of this crisis as a sub-regional instrument of continuation of politics by other means. This clarification is intended to establish the point that the post 2011 manifestation of the insurgency crisis is a product of the political polarisation that resulted from the outcome of the last presidential election.
Were the country not acutely divided over the 2011 and the fraught 2015 elections, the Boko Haram insurgency would have been readily containable. This appreciation is well reflected in the new affectation of bipartisan statesmanship; in the pan Nigerian nationalist exhortation of leading political actors calling for the unity of purpose approach as the only workable antidote to the challenge of the nation rending crisis. Between Frederick Lugard and Boko Haram, Nigeria’s fate hangs in the balance.
The cyclical nature of the crisis — in which the Boko Haram effect (product) of political polarisation has in turn become the cause of further malignant political division — has rendered it increasingly intractable. Resolution of the crisis has also suffered from ownership denial; from abdication of responsibility by critical stakeholders. Until now, ownership of the crisis has been solely attributed to the federal government and its seeming intractability serves the political purpose of feeding the narrative of the Jonathan (PDP) government as ‘clueless ’and incompetent.
The dilemma Nigeria faces going into the sequence of the 2015 elections and the allied renewed supremacist struggle between Jonathan and the northern regional claimants to the presidency devolves on the consideration that you cannot take politics out of politics; you cannot take political division out of multi-party democracy; you cannot expect political opponents not to seek partisan gains at the expense of one another in election season.
There is a conflict here between the bipartisanship required to tame a divisive national crisis and the legitimate partisan contest to win the forthcoming elections.
The scenario is exacerbated by the fact that the stakes in this election have assumed the prohibitive dimensions of a zero sum totalitarian struggle. How do you persuade contenders of this nature to compromise, seek the middle ground and cooperate to confront a presumed common adversary? How does the designation of the commander-in-chief of the Nigerian armed forces as an object of hate and ridicule advance the cause of prosecuting a war of national survival?
I had made the observation that negative political obsession with the office and person of the president is a crucial explanation of the failure that attends the effort to surmount the insurgency crisis inclusive of the mutual war of attrition that has come to define Jos metropolis and sister villages. If Jonathan is ‘clueless’, should this allegation preclude concerned Nigerians of high public status from making individual and collegiate contribution towards resolving the problem? As a matter of fact, the more convinced the opponents are of the incapacity of the president the more should be the urgency and resolve to seek extra-governmental avenues in addressing a crisis that is specifically suited to the non-governmental approach.
In this regard, I mentioned the utility of the exclusive club of former Nigerian presidents especially those of northern Muslim origins as of essence. Of the latter, I singled out General Mohammadu Buhari in his recognition as the most influential political leader from the sub-region. I urge on them the statesmanlike precedent of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who dared the Boko Haram bombs to visit Maiduguri in search of peace. His mission did not succeed but it is not for want of trying; of not showing leadership initiative and concern. And it is a moot point whether the missing piece in the failed mission is the lack of complementary efforts by equally well-placed public figures especially, as in Nigerian parlance, the sons of the soil.
Further back in time, I recalled the analogy of the state paralysing Agbekoya crisis of the Western Region in 1968; and how in his capacity as the foremost Yoruba political leader of the time, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo braved the odds to go to the Akanran jungle sanctuary of the militia to engage with them and ultimately brokered peace.
I see Buhari as of comparable political stature and relevance in the Muslim north and expected him to have similarly lent the weight of his personality in helping to rein in the reign of the Boko Haram terror. On the contrary it is on public record that he adamantly foreclosed any such mediatory role for himself even as the insurgents were deferring to him as an acceptable mediator.
All I have said is without prejudice to the recent paradigm shift in his position towards the acceptance of bipartisan ownership of the problem. I align myself with other Nigerian stakeholders in commending his nationalist attitudinal reorientation.
There are three crucial complementary dimensions to the insurgency crisis that should be deemed of overarching importance namely regional, national and international. Until the contemporary escalation, the problem has solely been assigned as a national liability attributing exclusive ownership to the federal government. This attribution is partly a reflection of the legacy of the progressive deformity and reduction of Nigeria’s federalism to a unitary state. It also reveals how Nigeria is ill served by the quasi-unitary contraption that the country operates.
The governance muddle and incoherence that characterised the interaction between the Borno State government and the federal government in addressing themselves to the problem is particularly illustrative. In the state governor you have a constitutionally designated chief security officer who is in no position to guarantee security and a federal government in whom all security power is vested but is in no position to ensure the compliance of Borno State with its apprehension of the security situation.
The international dimension is the geopolitical implication of the West Africa regional border locations of the affected states and the attendant trans-territorial security challenge it poses for Nigeria and the corresponding border countries. In the post 9\11 era of globalisation and global terrorism enfranchisement this challenge has become far flung and trans-continental.
The regional dimension is evident in two mutually reinforcing elements of the crisis. They are the far north location and the reinforcement of a predominantly Muslim population. Beyond their Nigerian citizenship, the militants share this identity with the populace and leaders of the Muslim north sub-region. On the basis of this shared identity, it is logical to assume that a bridge of understanding and mediation can be extended from the mainstream end of the Umaa (Islamic community) to the insurrection brigade at the marginal end; it is equally rational to expect the leaders to lead the way in bearing this emissary. And if the will is there, the probability is high that a way will be found.
It is costly for Nigeria that it took the tragedy of the Chibok crisis to get significant converts to this point of view within the regional community of the first area of impact of the crisis. I’m nonetheless gratified to share the company of eminent Nigerians of northern origin including Malam Shehu Sani and Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu in calling on leaders from the north to complement national ownership of the crisis by the federal government with their regional ownership.
According to media reports, “A northern-based human rights activist and President of Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, Mallam Shehu Sani, on Tuesday asked the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, to spearhead the search for the release of the abducted schoolgirls of Government Secondary School, Borno State by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect. According to him, the abduction is not a matter for the federal government or President Goodluck Jonathan or the security forces alone to resolve but a national emergency which will affect the future of the country.
“You (Sultan) have a moral duty and a spiritual responsibility to be visibly and actively involved in seeking the resolution of this impasse happening within areas you have religious influence.”
Sani said as long as the Chibok girls continue to remain in captivity, it was not only the credibility of the federal government that was at stake but the moral perception of the nation and the relevance of the Sultanate and the overall image of Nigerian Muslims.
In a similar development, Governor Aliyu was reported as “urging General Abdulsalami Abubakar to prevail on past leaders of the country to help curb insurgency rocking the northern region. Aliyu, who is the Chairman, Northern States Governor’s Forum (NSGF), made the call at the maiden convocation of the Ibrahim Babangida Badamosi University, Lapai, Niger State. He expressed the hope that security challenges in the northern states could be surmounted in the next three months. Aliyu insisted that with concerted efforts from prominent Nigerians, the unbearable situation in the north would soon be a thing of the past.
“I call on Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to invite Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Gen. Ibarahim Babangida to come together and help the north end the scourge of Boko Haram in the next three months.”
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.