Sovereign National Conference: Panacea to Political Terrorism

Initially, the song in the mouth of an average Nigerian was “O God, give us our daily bread and a place to lay our head”. But now, the song has changed to “O God, give us a safehaven. This change of song is not unconnected to the current rate of insecurity in every nook and cranny of the country: the Boko Haram face-off has turned everybody into watchers and fait-hearted simultaneously.

When the Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody in 31 July, 2009, it was greeted with several reprisals in strategic and targeted places of the country. Some government’s properties and institutions were destroyed. Security agents were revengefully killed. Not only that, the aggression subsequently resulted in the gruesome killings of innocent people. The violence has since become frequently and intensively in the land. No one ever thought that was the emergence of terror in the country. Alas, political terrorism at the expense of the innocent and the weak is here in the land.

Although it is popularly believed that the Boko Haram Sect is faceless and does not have any ideological framework, its incessant attacks in strategic places and on targeted helpless individuals suggest the contrary. Although their modus operandi may be different from other militant aggressiveness which Nigeria has witnessed in the past, there is almost no contrast in the message they are sending to Nigerians and the world at large. Frankly, militant attacks can never be justified on any basis and, thus should be condemned in its totality. But the occurrences in Nigeria suggest political undertone that is fueled by the powers that be in low and high places.

Going down memory line, one could recall that when the South-South began agitation for political attention as a result of the obvious marginalization and negligence on the side of the government in that region, the government did not give satisfactory attention until they resulted in militancy. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) went on rampage, in the name of marginalization, destroying major oil and gas pipe lines and kidnapping foreign oil workers and government figures. Yes, there is no justification for violence. Yet, it took the incessant bombings of oil pipe lines and kidnapping to get government’s attention which resulted to amnesty programme by the late president Yar ‘Adua to arrest the situation. Amazingly, the violence died down naturally shortly after the implementation of the amnesty gesture and the nomination of a South-South candidate as a running mate of late president Yar ‘Adua under the platform of PDP. No one would have thought the situation could be curbed just by a presidential acquittal. Ironically, the region still remains undeveloped in comparison to other surrounding regions, despite the presidential reprieve of the militants. It, then, begs the question: was it the amnesty programme that took arms and ammunition from the MEND or the presence of their man in the Aro Rock? That is a food for thought. Probably the belief was that once they have their own representative at the hem of affairs of the country, then adequate and justly distribution of the nation’s national cake would become a reality. That is just a school of thought, anyway. But, one thing that is clear to Nigerians and the international community is that Niger Delta’s agitation for economic and social development still remains a dream. Although Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was inaugurated with a view to ameliorating the abject condition of the region, several alleged misappropriation of funds meant for the programme rendered the project inconsistently. Nonetheless, MEND suspended militancy.

Anyone that has been following the trend of various despicable happenings in this country would probably have noticed that the Boko Haram incessant attacks on innocent people came to full-blown assault shortly after the 2011 presidential election. Prior before the election, several threats and countered threats on zonal presidency permeated the political landscape of this country. The northerners considered it a daylight political robbery if any attempt is made by any region, especially the South-South, to rob them off of the president’s seat which death suddenly took away from the late president Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua. On the other hand, the South-South perceived the situation as a political game play to deprive them of their “divine” presidential seat at the Aso Villa. In the long run, the South-South have it! Then, here comes the full-scale emergence of terror perpetrated by the Boko Haram.

It is very unfortunate that the so-called anonymous sect have killed several anonymous people. In other words, it is sad that the supposed faceless organisation have removed many people’s faces from the earth. Ironically the same presidency that declares these people to be faceless also admits the existence of the sect in question in its administration. What signal is the presidency trying to project! I leave that as a food for thought.

Now, in the bid to gain the confidence of Nigerians and the international community, several heads have rolled in the security sector with a view to curbing the situation. When Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo assumed office as the Inspector General of police in July 2009 on the retirement of Mike Okiro, the police boss made profound promises and marked out strategies to tackle the insurgence of the Boko Haram. Sadly, all strategies and tactics deployed towards this course yielded little or no effect, as the sect’s attacks became frequently and intensively during this period. Onovo’s successor, Hafiz Ringim was virtually kept on his toes through out his tenure in office as IG. This was not unconnected to the dreaded persistent assails of the so-called faceless militants, not only on his constituency but also innocent lives were murdered in cold blood. Of course, the presidency relieved the police chief of his post. Subsequently, he was replaced by Mohammed Abubakar, who is currently the IG. Moreover, not only in the police force did heads rolled, but also in the military. Chiefs were relieved; others were redeployed in quest of curtailing the terrors in the land. It begs the question again: has the police boss be able to curb the insurgence of Boko Haram since he assumed office? It is a food for thought!

Besides, the recent bombings in churches and other strategic places in the northern region of the country have caused two security officers their job. The sacking of the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Owoye Azazi and the Defense Minister, Hilaru Mahammed Bello was justified by the president on the basis of security innovation with a view to cracking down on the Boko Haram assault in the country. Speaking during the third Presidential Chat aired on national television, the president said Dr Mahammed and Gen. Azazi were not sacked because they were not hard-working. Rather, they were relieved of their duties because he wanted people who could do things differently. “Boko Haram changes their tactics everyday. So we brought in people who can do things different, not that those who were there did not work hard”, he said.

Now having seen the government to have explored every tactic and strategy within its disposal, people are not suggesting dialogue. Dialogue, the last thing the government ever thought of doing. The presidency has emphatically made known its stance on this suggestion: “no dialogue with terrorists”. “Boko Haram has no face. Government will not dialogue with a faceless group. I don’t know what they want except to destabilise the country by attacking churches. They try to instigate Christians against Moslems”, the president stated during the recently aired Presidential Chart. On the contrary, the presidency is ready to encourage those who have access to the sect to dialogue with them while the government maintains its stance of “no dialogue with faceless group”. “We will encourage those with access to them to dialogue with them. Even Islamic leader, Dr Datti Ahmed has access to them; we will encourage him”, the president stated. That also begs the question: on whose behalf would Dr Ahmed dialogue with the Boko Haram? On behalf of himself or the one who encourages him to go for the mission? Or better still, why would the presidency encourage someone else to dialogue with a faceless group? That is also a food for thought.

Still on the issue of dialogue, prior to the removal of Gen. Azazi as (NSA), the retired General suggested “economic empowerment of the North remains a viable solution to Boko Haram insurgency. This could be done by dialogue. Without such empowerment, President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda would remain a dream”, he said. In the same vein, Ambassador Sule also asserted “The problem of the North is that we are living in poverty in the midst of plenty”. If you recall, that was the song in the mouth of the Niger Delta that necessitated the amnesty programme and NDDC project. The Niger Delta people are living in abject poverty in the midst of plenty. The money the government gets from the oil in that region is being used to develop other parts of the country at the expense of the survival of the oil rich region. That was obvious to every concerned Nigerian.

Within the first week of his assumption of office as the new National Security Adviser, Col. Dasuki’s visit to the war zone of the insurgence in Borno state was greeted with accolades by religious, traditional and political leaders in the north. And as a member of the staff in the presidency, he made known to the world that the federal government is ready to dialogue with Boko Haram. That also begs the question: is the federal government truly ready to enter into dialogue with this people or they are just talking with both sides of the mouth with a view to pacifying the people affected? That is a food for thought.

By the way, does somebody not smell a rat? When a northern president was presiding over the nation, dialogued was embraced with the militants in the South-South. Hence the amnesty gesture. Consequently, the bombings of oil and gas pipe lines faced out almost immediately. It, therefore, implies that not many people would be taken aback if we have a northern president today and Boko Haram insurgency faces out almost immediately. Isn’t their song suggests “give us a north president and we will surrender our arms”. It is a food for thought.

But now we have a South-South president who is saying “Yes and No” to dialogue with the northern militants. Has all the tactics and strategies deployed arrest the situation? Is it true that the demand of the Boko Haram is to Islamite Nigeria or their agitation has political undertone? I leave that to your discretion. But the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are not ready to witness another civil war. If anybody could read between lines, regional militants are battle-ready. The Odua People Congress (OPC) in the South-West is sending unfriendly signals to the activities of the Boko Haram in the North. In the same vein, the MEND is threatening to resume hostility if the North militancy is not curbed. Also, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MASOP) is also sending a menace signals to whom it may concern as a result of the Boko Haram horrendous activities in the country. Recently, the comment of the senate president, David Mark, on the activities of the Boko Haram aroused the anger of imminent religious and political leaders in the North. “The way Boko Haram is going, if nothing drastic is done to halt it, God forbid, it may result in the break-up of the country”, the senate president said. Now why should Mark’s comment generate such criticisms? Was he talking from the angle of a concerned Nigerian or his critics perceived a tribally-motivated statement? Also, it is a food for thought.

The way things are going, it is becoming inevitably clear that peaceful resolution that is based on genuine dialogue is the way forward in the situation this country is in. The truth of the matter is that Boko Haram has been in this country before now. It is just sad that its full-blown emergence came to lime light shortly the failure of the zonal presidency which is supposed to go to the north if everything has been the same according to architectural political plan of the people in power. So, Boko Haram members are Nigerians, not alien entities. The president asserted to this during his presidential chart programme. “The Boko Haram members are Nigerians and I will rather not want to lose the life of any Nigerian”, he stated. If the president is really sincere that he doesn’t want to lose the life of any Nigerian, including the Boko Haram members, what signal is he sending to Nigerians and the world at large on the issue? I leave that to your discretion.

It is an indisputable fact that dialogue has the capacity to quench a little smoke that could generate to a conflagration. It is true that Nigeria is practising Federal system of government. Unfortunately, it is just on paper, not reality. Going by the trends of political killings and religious carnages in this country since independence, it is clear that Nigeria is far away from true federalism in deeds. Therefore, a platform whereby Nigerians will have the opportunity to shape and determine the progress of this nation in the fear of God is inevitable to its corporate existence. The truth is, every region in this country feels marginalised in one way or the other. Thus the emergence of regional militants with a view to fighting for survival just in case the centre could not hold any longer. God forbid! Even, the recent general discussion on 2015 election is beginning to generate contentious and enmity within regions. The north is bent to give its all, come 2015. In the same vein, the South-South is sending signals committed to complete a second term according to the drawn protocol in the corridor of power. On the other hand, the South-East is crying foul play if any attempt is made to thwart its journey to the Aso Villa, come 2015. Which way forward Nigerians? It is a food for thought.

The truth is, Nigerians cannot shy away from the problems of Nigeria. It is high time Nigerians sat at the round table with a view to fashioning corporate guidelines for corporate progress and development of this nation. Book Haram’s problem is fundamental. Therefore, it must be handled fundamentally with a keen sense of urgency, not scratching the surface. No one in its right senses would justify the killings the nation has witnessed recently. Time has come to give the urgent attention the situation needed. If the bombings in the Niger Delta could be arrested by the presidential amnesty, the Boko Haram insurgency can also be stilled if the presidency would be merciful enough on the weak and vulnerable.

Time has come for the real treatment of the malady; Nigerians have had enough of political diagnoses of apparent symptoms. The ailment must be treated according to the sever damage it has done to the body. The decay of a fish does not start from the tail; it starts from the head. Although the decadence has spread to all part of its body at present, it can still be healed if treated correctly with the right prescription. Think about it!

Olamide Bakare,
Faculty of Social Sciences,
Department of Mass Communication,
University of Lagos,

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