Today, 29 May 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria is sworn in for a second tenure of another four years. Already, his ruling APC government has continued to mouth what it calls “the next level” in presumably what it has mapped as its developmental programme for the country. It is difficult, though, to appropriately define what APC or indeed Nigerians have come to regard as “the current level”. If indeed there is any such thing as a current level (of development), it must differ from state to state. And so, to many observers, talking about a next level is rather ambiguous and they have willfully dismissed the idea as one of those political jargons state actors use to mesmerize the voting public.
As a matter of fact, in the last four years, President Buhari remained a controversial figure. His appointment of key security personnel was seen by many Nigerians as skewed in favour of the north. His soft glove approach to the atrocities of his fellow Fulani who continued to terrorize both the southern and the northern parts of the country continued to attract deep opprobrium from most quarters.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo may even have courted palaver when he recently decried the high level of insecurity in Nigeria. Obasanjo was quoted as saying that the federal government alone could not tackle the menace of insurgencies in the country. He regretted that both the Boko Haram and herdsmen acts of violence were not treated as they should have been at the beginning. He feared that they had both incubated and developed beyond what Nigeria could handle alone. They were now combined and internationalized, with ISIS in control. It was no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for youths in Nigeria which it began as. It was now West African Fulanization, African Islamisation and globally organized crimes of human, drug and gun trafficking, money laundering, illegal mining and regime change, Obasanjo said.
In reaction to the statement, the federal government asked Chief Obasanjo to withdraw his comment, and as well apologize to Nigerians. It said the comment imputed ethno-religious motif in Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorism in the country. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, clearly uneasy with Obasanjo’s observation, said such “indiscreet, deeply offensive and patently divisive comments” were far below the status of an elder statesman like Obasanjo. He said: “It is particularly tragic that a man who fought to keep Nigeria one is the same one seeking to exploit the country’s fault lines to divide it in the twilight of his life.” The minister said that Boko Haram and ISWAP were terrorist organizations pure and simple, and that they cared little about ethnicity or religion when perpetrating their senseless killings and destruction.
Since the Boko Haram crisis which had simmered under the Obasanjo watch boiled over in 2009, the terrorist organisation had killed more Muslims than adherents of any other religion. The terrorist group had blown up more mosques than any other houses of worship and was not known to have spared any victim on the basis of their ethnicity. It was therefore absurd to say that Boko Haram and its ISWAP variant had as their goal the ‘Fulanization and Islamisation’ of Nigeria, West Africa or Africa,” Mohammed contended.
He pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari put the mis-characterization of Boko Haram as an Islamic organisation to rest when he said in his inaugural speech in 2015 that Boko Haram was a mindless, godless group that was as far away from Islam as one could possibly think of. He said it was a sad commentary that Obasanjo’s observations were completely “as insensitive and mischievous as they were offensive and divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria”.
Suleiman Jamiu, a professor of Islamic Studies in Kwara State University said Obasanjo's comment was shocking. The Islamic cleric said such a statement coming from a man who was as highly respected as Chief Obasanjo was unfitting for his status because it was capable of inciting and encouraging violence. The don who doubled as the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of the Kwara State University said he respected former President Obasanjo because of how he helped a lot of Nigerians and that he did not expect him as a veteran statesman to make such a statement.
Jamiu said the real reason behind the insecurity in the country was the extreme love for material wealth. Materialism in the country turned herdsmen and others to criminality. Jamiu observed that there was a strong desire by most illiterates in the society to keep up with the Joneses. “Let us ask ourselves few questions on why Boko Haram insurgency as a major security challenge in the country has remained insurmountable up till now, despite all measures taken by the government including military might and strategies,” Jamiu suggested.
The reason is that the government approach to solving national security is materialistic provision, at the expense of spiritual care. They forget that the most difficult phenomenon to deal with is the influence of belief or ideology already sunk into the peoples’ minds.
According to the cleric, Boko Haram’s devilish teaching did not start in 2009. It was not even started by Muhammed Yusuf in Maiduguri as many writers believe. It was rather a reappearance of the supposed suppressed Maitatsine syndrome of 1980 in Kano by the federal military forces. As a matter of fact, Muhammad Yusuf’s father was an ardent follower of Maitatsine who was killed along with their leader Muhammad Marwa Maitatsine." In page 42 of my recent book: “The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari”, I touched on this, just as Professor Jamiu has alerted the country with the fact that failure to stop the Boko Haram insurgent group may continue for a very long time.
But one question remains nagging which the APC government needs to consider: why was the federal government so quick in proscribing a non-violent IPOB as a terrorist organization but found it difficult to do the same to an organization as dangerous as Boko Haram?
More recently, the Buhari government’s said decision to mount a radio station dedicated completely to the Fulani attracted much attention. But honestly, I didn’t see why. In the first place, no one had been told what the aim of the radio station was going to be. Was it going to educate the mostly illiterate Fulani about the rule of law, about the value and dignity of life, about peaceful neighbourliness and all that? Or was it going to educate them that the rest of Nigerians were their slaves who must be subjected and terrorized in order for them to own the land? Was it going to teach them that the blood of unbelievers must be shed to water the hot patches of the desert land? Was it going to prepare them for war against the ‘infidels’? No one knows yet. And no outsider is likely to know until the station begins to air. And I think it is only after this that the public can begin to comment and react to what it perceives as the APC government commitment or nonchalant attitude to national growth and peaceful coexistence. So, for now, Nigerians should stop blowing hot and cold about President Buhari’s agenda on this and watch out for “the next level” as it unfolds.
Also controversial is the purported offer of N100 billion by the federal government to the Miyetti Allah to stop their kidnapping mission. The gesture has been viewed with great suspicion by many Nigerians. They see the offer as a veiled encouragement to enable the Fulani buy more arms in readiness for a jihad on the country and the presumed dipping of the Koran in the sea. They argue that other agitating groups such as kidnappers in the south should also be visited with such magnanimity of N100 billion to stop kidnapping which everyone knows started from the south.
Yet, we need to be more proactive about the circumstances we either found ourselves in or the circumstances we inadvertently created in our imagination about President Buhari and his APC government.
For instance, it was an open secret that many Fulani cattle rearers carried guns (AK 47s) while herding their cattle, especially in the southern states. The public cried foul. Their bosses withdrew the privilege they gave them to tote the gun in the discharge of their pastoral duties. It was not only contrary to the Nigerian constitution to carry a gun around when not duly licensed, there were cases where the guns had actually been used to murder fellow Nigerians after an argument over grazing rights and cattle eating up farmers’ cash crops. So, the herdsmen “downgraded” from carrying the gun to carrying the knife. Some carried daggers. Many Nigerians still raised eye-brows, concerned about the safety of the inhabitants of the lands the Fulani passed through on their pastoral journey.
Now, we can take a look at the other side of the coin.
We know that many southern Nigerians live in the northern parts. They own shops, , pharmacies, commercial vehicles, computer schools and internet cafes and so on in northern Nigeria, especially the Igbo of eastern Nigeria. And suppose some of them carried a dagger or a sword to their shop or workshop purportedly in self defence should they be attacked for any reason, what would possibly be the reaction of the public on seeing them carry a knife or machete or even a sword along the street, on their way to the shop? I may be wrong but I presume that a lot more people would even pretend they saw nothing. Unless the machete was actually used in a fight, no one was likely to comment on seeing Mr. Okafor or Mrs. Taiwo carry a blade around in his or her shop. So, my question is: are the southerners being rational in their relationship with the Fulani herdsmen or are they simply being paranoid?
I ask this question because I have observed the hush-hush manner in which locals in the eastern states talk about the presence of Fulani herdsmen in parts of their land. They are never at ease in their presence. But they don’t feel that bad when they live in the north. Why? Could the fear be the unpredictable manner a Muslim is likely to react spasmodically to an issue or an argument like setting churches ablaze in Nigeria when a Dutch draws a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed in Holland? Right now, so much is happening in countries like Pakistan that makes a mockery of modern life and modern values so much so that many non-Muslims see these threats to human freedom and dignity as taking the world back to the primitive Stone Age.
For many educated Muslims such as the information minister in Nigeria, a lot needs to be done to talk convincingly to thinking men and women about the much orchestrated APC “next level”. There is indeed need to bridge the ethnic gap between the north, west and east. And I suggested so many times in the past for the National Assembly to enact a law which would make the study of the country’s three main tribal languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – compulsory at primary school levels across the country. In such a way, the tribal bridge would be built that would enhance Nigerian nationalism in about two generations. The failure or unwillingness of the government to do this is utterly suggestive. One Nigeria is a game played by state actors who have a different agenda than true Nigerian nationalism which respects the traditions and culture of the different ethnic groups in mind.
And so to forestall that school of thought, there is need to enhance understanding and respect for divergent customs and tradition among ethnicities. There is need to appreciate more on freedoms of association and religious tolerance. Developed democratic countries such as UK and USA, have developed the idea that unity in diversity is the only way forward. Why can it not work for Nigeria in the name of their “One Love” slogan and symbol? President Buhari should focus on building this bridge while we watch out for “the next level”.
Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
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