n the wake of the carnage initiated by the Boko Haram radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria, the umbrella body of the collective northern political leadership, the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF), called for an emergency meeting in Kaduna to discuss security matters among other things exposed by the crisis. Of the nineteen governors of northern Nigeria, three (Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Namadi Sambo and Ibrahim Geidam of Niger, Kaduna and Yobe states, respectively) were personally in attendance. We can excuse governor Ali Modu Sheriff’s absence since the brunt of the destruction was borne by his state and even a one-day absence at this crucial time would appear insensitive. Governors Muazu Babangida Aliyu and Namadi Sambo as the chairman of the forum and host governor, respectively, can be said to be under pressure to attend the meeting. Thus, (in my opinion, at least) the only governor deserving of credit for attendance is Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe state. All the remaining 16 governors sent representatives in their stead. At a time when the president is being criticized for insensitivity to have left the country to travel to Brazil when hundreds of lives were at stake the absence of the other 15 governors of the region can only be interpreted as a snub to the critics of the northern ruling class. They have dared men and women of conscience in the country who have vented their long-contained frustrations at the laxity of security responsibility of Nigeria’s leaders in print and telemedia to do their worst.
In another place and time I recall the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that flattened most of the city of Kobe, Japan in February 1995 leaving thousands of Japanese civilians homeless and in shelters provided by the government. The elderly prime minister of the day, Tomiichi Murayama, paid a personal visit to commiserate with the victims. Bowing his head with his hands clasped in front of him before each victim as they sat in a gymnasium, the prime minister was appreciated by some but many rained down hash words on him for their perceived slow response of the government to their plight. Remarkably, the Prime Minister patiently listened through the entire tirade of each person as if he had no other business to attend to. At the end of each round of criticism by his citizens he would bow even deeper and tendered apologies.
I am prepared to include in my honours lists any governor who can say that his absence from the emergency meeting of the NGF was on account of his being in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Wudil or Potiskum to comfort the victims of the one week of destruction. Did anybody sight any of the absentee governors in the aforementioned places on the day of the meeting in Kaduna? I will not ask if anyone sighted them in gulf courses, polo clubs, their rest houses, or even at airports on their way for a weekend in the French Riviera.
A matter of such eminent importance as the security of the region could not interest the northern governors. What on earth is their chief responsibility to their people if not security? Or did they fear to attend because they will be attacked by the angry mob long neglected and omitted in the scheme of things? Why were they absent? Was it out of fear or nonchalance? We may have borrowed a fanciful term called democracy but our leaders are not different from Nigerian leaders of a many generations ago that sold their subjects in exchange of bottles of rum and trinkets of ornaments to European and Arab slave traders.
At ground zero, governor Ali Modu Sheriff has made an initial step in the right direction but already one can discern the recipes for failure in that step without looking too hard. As a first step the government of Borno state has “suspended open preaching by Islamic scholars and clerics until a bill on the regulation of preaching was passed by the house of Assembly” according to one newspaper report. That is the very House that approved the appointment of the late Alhaji Buji Foi as commissioner for religious affairs. The double standard in religious matters that has characterized government policies in the past is seen in action all be it laterally inverted. Why ban only Islamic preachers and not Christian and animist preachers too? Or is the government tacitly acknowledging what everyone knew all along that the loyalty of Christians to their government even under Sharia law has never been in doubt? Has the government of Borno state finally seen where its troubles are coming from?
The ban on open air preaching should be applicable across the entire state whether by Muslims or Christians. And while trying to pass a bill to regulate preaching in the state, the government should know that in a democratic Nigeria freedom of religious observance which includes the right to preach in public is a right to every Muslim, Christian or believers in other religion and what is good for one should, in fairness, be good for the others. I personally feel that such a bill will not go far enough to ensure a return to the peaceful coexistence among adherents of different religions in the state that was in place in years past. With the ascendance of supremacy of the Sharia law in the state there is no way possible by which the state law-makers can pass any law that will not maintain the status of Sharia law as the law of the state which other religious adherents have to accede to. Will the bill define the role of the ministry of religious affairs? Will the bill enable a non-Muslim to be the commissioner for religious affairs in Borno state? Why on earth any state needs such a ministry beats my imagination. Frankly, if such a ministry is so important to the state, is it not conceivable for one to ask in the interest of balance and fairness that such a ministry should have a person with religious neutrality to head it?
As the dust is settling down a clearer perspective is beginning to emerge. Among the casualty are four Christian clergymen (whose only offense is that they are Christians) and 20 Christian churches in Maiduguri metropolis alone. A spokes person for the Christian Association of Nigeria in Borno state who provided these facts also lamented the inaction of the Borno state government to prosecute offenders or to adequately compensate Christians in the state for the burning down of more than 100 churches in the state in 2006 when the alleged financier of Boko Haram, the late Buji Foi, was the commissioner for religious affairs in the state and presumably the mastermind of that crisis too.
The message that religious intolerance in northern Nigeria has engraved on the stone of time is that Islam and Christianity should not coexist but that if they must, Christianity has to take a backstage role. This attitude has eroded from memory the formula by which Sir Ahmadu Bello amalgamated the North as a unified political entity. The most profound expression of this political strategy is that the bloodiest battle front in the history of our country was below the river Benue. I must quickly add here that this is in no way meant to imply any justification, whatsoever, for the casualty and the suffering the war brought on brothers and sisters in Biafra. These Islamic militants fail to note that but for one chip out of place Biafra would have won the war with outside help.
The most powerful weapon of war is propaganda. If propaganda was all that was there, the Biafrans actually won the war many times over. That they did not win was largely due to the fact that Ojukwu’s Biafra could not convince the international community that the civil war was in fact a war between Jihadists and Crusaders. It didn’t make sense that Jihadists would choose a Christian, General Yakubu Gowon, to lead their troops against his fellow Christians in Biafra. It made no sense to anyone and so Biafra could not with outside push the battle field to Sokoto, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kano and Maiduguri. The guns of battle have been silent for nearly four decades. But have the Biafrans really surrendered? Has the quest for Biafra been forgotten? The imbeciles who cannot differentiate democracy from a theocracy think that the country is theirs to do with as they please. Now these Islamic militants rather than force everyone in Nigeria to accept their warped vision of Islam have not only brought the battle field to their own homes but have provoked their own state governments to brutally crush them.
The lesson to learn from this and other crises in the past is that Nigeria’s problems are largely self-made. Like the homemade bombs that killed two would-be anarchists of Boko Haram prematurely in Maiduguri, our country is waiting to go up in a mush-room cloud of self-destruction due to the incompetence, indifference to responsibilities and a lack of capacity for vision on the part of our leaders. When the time comes Rwanda in 1994 will look like a dress rehearsal. Then we will no longer be selling oil, our economic life-line, instead we will be battering it for weapons and the longer we fought the better it will be for the global recession as the sponsors of our next war will be making brisk business helping each side to inflict the maximum damage it can on other side. Then our little ones would not need to read in their books how the European powers colonized us and took our youth as cheap labour for their farms in the Americas because they will be seeing it happening once again for their generation.
So what was the message of the absenteeism of the fifteen governors of the North? “The security of lives and property of the people is not our priority”. Period!
The governors are not stupid. They are counting on the collective amnesia of their people. In six months, Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram and the 700 dead in Maiduguri will be a faint recollection. Our people would have moved on to something new. With the next election nearly two years away they can sit back and enjoy the party for another year or more. Just before the campaign period is officially opened they will return to the people with the left-over of their loot in one hand and the aborted manifesto of Mohammed Yusuf in the other hand. They will win their way again with the help of dubious electoral officials into state treasuries. I submit that this is not a prophecy but what difference does it make?