Atom Lim: The presidential politics of terrorism (Y! Politico)

by Atom Lim

Atom Lim

But what the Presidency officials forget is that while Okah might have singularly plotted and funded the attacks, it is the President’s campaign that gained more from the event.

“President Goodluck Jonathan is a terrorist”

These are the only words Henry Okah didn’t utter to the South African court that found him guilty of terrorism. Everything else in his testimony suggested that Nigeria’s Presidency is occupied by terrorists or sponsors of terrorism.

Of particular weight was Okah’s allegation that President Jonathan was so desperate to win the 2011 Presidential election that he plotted the 2010 Independence Day twin-bomb attacks and attempted to pin it on his northern opponents in the race.

To be fair to Okah, key officials in the Presidency including President Jonathan made some rather curious remarks about the event and those they suspected to be behind it. It was Jonathan who immediately told the world that his “people” were not behind the attacks despite initial claims of responsibility by the militant group, MEND. Days later, one of MEND’s fiercest commanders, Okah, was dragged before a South African court.

During his trial, Okah capitalized on the President’s swift turn-around and accused Jonathan of initiating what he considered a witch-hunt saying it was because he refused to be party to the President’s grand conspiracy to frame political opponents.

Okah could have been lying against the President to save his skin. His trial has come and gone. The court has found him guilty of acts of terrorism. Yet, two things remain unresolved.

First, what was Okah’s motive for attacking Abuja in 2010, the first time since MEND’s campaign began years earlier? Second, did Presidency officials capitalize on the attacks for political gain? If they did, how does this tie to Okah’s testimony that the grand objective of the attacks was to criminalise Jonathan’s political opponents?

Throughout Okah’s trial, one got a sense that a game of wit was in play. To those in the Presidency, Okah was a drowning man seeking to drag the President with him. This might even be true.

But what the Presidency officials forget is that while Okah might have singularly plotted and funded the attacks, it is the President’s campaign that gained more from the event.

For instance, shortly after the attacks, Director of the Ibrahim Babangida Campaign Organisation, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, was first to be invited for questioning in connection to the event. He was later detained. Although Dopkesi was eventually released, Babangida’s campaign had, by his arrest, been tied to the act of terror. The damage was done.

Several other events gave clear indication that security agencies were looking to tie the attacks to political differences. Yet, if there was any political connection to Okah’s action, prosecutors were reasonably quiet about it by the time the case got to trial in 2011. The elections had been conducted and won.

Now the Okah trial is over, Nigerians ought to learn a thing or two about the politics of terrorism in our country today. Any keen observer would notice that this has become a fashionable weapon against opponents.

Those of us who watch these events know that if you want to thoroughly rubbish Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the best strategy is to label him a blood-thirsty northern fanatic even if you know nothing about his religious life. Jeez, you can even suggest he is a major sponsor of Boko Haram.

In our politics, no one holds the government officials who make these insinuations to account. In our politics, all is fair.


Atom Lim is a Nigerian media and communications practitioner. He worked at NEXT publications as a sub-editor before joining the Africa Leadership Forum as web and publications editor. Lim is a regular social commentator, and a registered member of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and he tweets from @atomlim


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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