NIGERIA: North must look inward

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PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s take on terrorism in northern Nigeria in his recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was bound to elicit some verbal shoot-out. It did not take long in coming because the words he used were fraught with the germs of controversy. Hear him:

“The sect was not born out of misrule, definitely not; sometimes some people feel it is as a result of poverty, but no. Boko Haram is a local terror group and that is why we call on the rest of the world to help us”.

The North’s current most vocal advocate, Dr. Junaidu Mohammed, fired a repartee, challenging the president to name the cause of terror if not poverty, bad governance and misrule. Another northern voice, human rights campaigner and proponent of dialogue with terror groups in the north, Malam Shehu Sani, said Jonthan had demonstrated his ignorance of the cause of the problem, adding: “it is not possible to find people who are economically comfortable engaging in violence”.

Sani’s quoted statement is also fallacious. Wealthy people do sometimes engage in (political) violence. Fidel Castro, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Osama Bin Laden and even our own aborted aircraft bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab, to name just a few, came from very privileged, wealthy families but still embraced violent political activities to bring about the social orders they desired. These people were not content with merely funding revolutionary activities or spending money and letting others do the fighting. They took up arms and fought personally.

But this does not justify the President’s dismissal of poverty and misrule as the basic cause of Islamic terrorism in northern Nigeria , as well as the rising poverty and unemployment (also offshoots of misrule and corruption) as the trigger for violent crimes in Southern Nigeria

Bad leadership or misrule is the basic cause of poverty and violence in Nigeria . You can then proceed to ask: Which government? It varies from one part to the other.

For instance, the Federal government, through its informal policies of exclusion and denial, economically impoverished Igboland after the civil war. The zone has received the smallest amount of federal funds compared to five other zones on the one hand.

On the other hand, all three zones of the North (especially the North West ) have benefited from federal largesse more than the South East through several federal revenue drainpipes, such as the local councils, states and federal electoral constituencies unilaterally created by northern military leaders.

The north cannot successfully make a case of financial marginalisation by the federal government. The continued impoverishment of the North was not caused by the federal government. Rather, grinding poverty at the grassroots has continued in spite of the fact that North and northern leaders have benefited more than other parts of the country from the coffers of the federal government since the end of the civil war.

Seeds of poverty

Therefore, the misrule and corruption that sowed the seeds of poverty-induced violence in northern Nigeria was caused by northern leaders both at the federal, state and local levels. The aristocratic and prebendal structure of the northern oligarchy makes it difficult for good governance to thrive because government exists primarily for the benefit of the ruling class, while religion is used as the opium to keep the grassroots within their grip.

The ongoing campaign of terror in the north is basically a rebellion against the ruling class. Boko Haram and its affiliate Salafist fighters want to seize power in the North and establish the form of Islamic rule that, in their view, will result in a better deal for the Muslim grassroots. But some political forces in the region have cashed into it with a view to using it to wrest concessions from the federal government and President Jonathan personally. Such concessions include pushing for more federal funds to the northern elite (through the abrogation of the 13 per cent derivation from offshore oil of the Niger Delta) and arm-twisting President Jonathan out of his legitimate right to contest for a second term in 2015.

Those calling for dialogue with the terrorists merely want to table these two core demands of the out-of-power northern elite. This is why Jonathan’s supporters see the Boko Haram campaign as “political”, more so as it made an upsurge when Jonathan decided to run for president in 2010 rather than hand over power to the North after exhausting the four years of the late Umar Yar’ Adua presidency.

The fact is that even if we accede to the demands of the Boko Haram sponsors, it will not address the corruption and misrule of the ruling class, and therefore will not lead to an end of the Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism.

Man of truth and candour

The north caused the problems that led to terrorism. The revered Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’adu Abubakar III, ever  the man of truth and candour, admitted it openly recently at the Northern Nigerian Governors’ Peace and Reconciliation Committee meeting in Kaduna on January 14th, 2013.

If dialogue is one of the steps to be taken, it is the North that must take it. The core job of the federal government is to provide security and to root out the murderers and destroyers and bring them to book. The presidency can offer whatever assistance the northern leaders need to rein in anarchists in their midst. The north must look inwards first and foremost, rather than keep asking for more money and a return of power to them through undemocratic and effete acts of intimidation and contrived violence.

President Jonathan must also wake up to the pressing need for good governance as the primary cure for social upheavals in the country. His statements at the interview suggest he is  living is in denial of this fact. As the sitting president, he must lead the way for good governance. Unless he does something quickly, his regime will soon join those of discredited, bad leaders who have bedevilled this nation since 1960.

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