NIGERIA’S PROBLEM: WHERE SENATE PRESIDENT DAVID MARK WENT WRONG

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By Dr. Sule Bello

Introduction

The senate President, David Mark, was said to have made some remarks on the state of the nation in relation to the activities of Boko Haram, at a 3 – day retreat for senators which opened on Monday, June, 25th 2012, at Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State. In these remarks, an abridged version of which was carried in the Peoples Daily of Tuesday June 26th, 2012, certain observations were made by the senate President. He was reported to have opined that Nigeria may break up unless its major problem, the activities of the Boko Haram, is somehow contained or brought to an end. He further identified the “northern elders” as the key group that need to speak up, and somehow act, if this potential calamity were to be averted.

Given the position of the senate President, and the occasion at which the speech was delivered as well as the extent to which it represents, or might influence, the direction of thought in the senate the speech demonstrates a significant problem bedeviling the nation at the level of policy formulation and oversight functions. This is because the speech is clearly not studied, evidence-based, objective, constitutional or national in outlook. In fact in a number of cases it seems clearly one-sided, unrepresentational and evasive of the available evidence, as well as inclined towards the further promotion of illegal and unconstitutional acts by government. The views he expressed do not seem to have been founded on the basis of some objective and factual studies of the politics of the 4th Republic, or violent conflicts, in Nigeria.

It is important to note that a good number of studies by many Nigerians, as well as foreigners, have been conducted for such purposes. On the contrary the views expressed by the senate President tend to only further politicize the problem by pandering to political constituencies, and patrons, on the basis of politically motivated sectionalist sentiments, and prejudices, rather than principled, constructive and rational arguments. It is precisely in order to overcome such problems that legislative assemblies are representational in character while their decisions, the world over, are expected to be sourced from studies conducted by employed, as well as commissioned, experts who can be relied upon to bring their training to bear in the course of such works, thereby paying due attention to the basic principles of objectivity in terms of methodology, evidence and conclusions conscious of the need to respect the centrality of constitutionalism, and national interests, in their work. It is hoped that the need for such an approach will be more profoundly expressed in the future presentations of the senate President, as well as the activities of the National Assembly.

The fact that the above stated approach was not adopted, and followed through, made it difficult for the senate President to truly identify the primary problem of Nigeria, its nature or its consequences. Similarly it became impossible for him to offer any definite policy position that is both national and constitutional on how the problem of Boko Haram could be solved beyond the clearly confused, and disturbingly naïve, appeals to the “northern elders” to speak up, or the Boko Haram activists to “come out of hiding”, in addition to some threats of a possible Christian “vengeance”. He also indicated that not only is the government not likely to heed the various appeals to it, to proceed on the basis of the constitution and the rule of law, he even stated that the government will not be restrained “by mere rule of law” in its violent, and repressive, campaigns in the areas concerned.

The Problem of Nigeria “The problem we have in this country today and we must say it loud and clear”, the senate President proclaimed, “is the Boko Haram”. In the first place the senate President made an error in logic that is simply unpardonable. Boko Haram, like many other crises in Nigeria, is itself a by-product of a more general and more primary problem which many have already characterised as the extent of corruption and general maladministration that has gripped the country since the inception of the 4th Republic in 1999. This problem is associated with the neo-military nature of the 4th Republic and its tendency to disregard the national constitution, and rule with impunity.

Further to this is the tendency of the 4th Republic regimes to surrender Nigeria’s sovereignty and control to the USA, and its allies, in various areas of our national life, with very serious consequences for our national interests, security and the character of national governance. In the second place the senate President failed to observe that Boko Haram is only one, and perhaps the latest, of the many cases of violent conflicts in the country that are all associated with the long-standing failure of the governments to discharge their responsibilities to the country. This led him to discuss the problem of Boko Haram outside its national, and socio-political, contexts resulting in a subjective stereotype which simply reduces the crisis to a confrontation between members of one faith and another, in the very manner those behind its incitement wanted it to be perceived, even though all the evidence indicate the involvement of members of all faiths as either organizers, facilitators, perpetrators or victims.

Appreciating this fact is essential to an objective, investigative and lawful solution to the problem in order to identify those who have conducted criminal activities as distinct from those who are innocent, in opposition to the blatant, jaundiced and unfounded generalization that seeks to prejudge people as either culprits, or victims, based on their religious faith only, as the senate President clearly did. The fact that he evaded mentioning the numerous cases of christians found involved in bombing various churches in all parts of the country does not only point to an uncritical tendency, on his part, to go along with a public incitement programme designed to achieve some nefarious purposes, but is also a sad reflection of his lack of concern for justice.

The least expected of him is to call on the government to come out and fully tell the public who the sponsors of these suspects, and what their real motives, are. His lack of interest in, or sympathy for, the many other Nigerian’s who are of different faith or social standing from him, especially muslims, that have either been killed, maimed or have had their fortunes destroyed in this conflict, as well as in many other related ones, is not a good reflection on the senate Presidents national, or indeed humane, leadership qualities. In the third place the senate President did not pay any attention to various other views, or perspectives, presented by many other Nigerians on Boko Haram or, indeed, the dominant viewpoint that corruption is Nigeria’s major problem.

Similarly the senate President paid no heed to the various calls by community organizations, political parties and civil society organizations to the effect that the extra-judicial conduct of the JTF in particular, and of the security forces in general, in Nigeria are increasingly bordering on repression and extortion and therefore moving more in the direction of criminality. On the contrary he only promised further extra-judicial activities for the nation. It is indeed curious that he called only on the “northern elders”, rather than the national leadership, to actually serve as the major agency for the solution of the problem.

What is particularly worrisome is the fact that the senate President does not seem to be aware of the fact that the same “northern elders” he is calling upon to speak have not only already, on the 30th of May 2012, spoken up to President Jonathan but had indeed even submitted a number of recommendations which they believe could help solve the various problems of the nation. They spoke at length not only about Boko Haram but also about the extra-judicial conduct of the Joint Task force (JTF) as well as the vindictive and discriminatory policies of the Federal Government against the northern states, which many believe is at the root of the so-called poverty of the north that is being referred to.

Paying attention to these various views and complaints, as well as addressing them, rather than neglecting them, is an important schedule of responsibility for the senate President. It does not augur well for Nigeria, or the National Assembly, where the senate President publicly advertises his ignorance of these various complaints, petitions and developments. Causes and Consequences of Nigerias Problem Rather than discussing what many Nigerians, and foreigners, advance as the major causes of the Boko Haram conflict the senate President only touched on those circumstantial issues which many believe, a better handling of, could help to defuse the difficulties, pressures and tensions that tend to only further aggravate the problem, thereby compounding it, and making it less amenable to a viable solution.

To assume that so-called “poverty”, “lack of education” “unemployment” and “lack of national values” are being claimed by anybody as initial, direct and actual causes of Boko Haram, as the senate President seems to suggest, is to mistake attendant, contingent and circumstantial factors for prime and actual causes. It is important to emphasise that the task of providing education, employment and national direction, in the form of “national values”, as well as combating poverty is the primary and constitutional responsibility of the government which it ought to, and need to, be seen to discharge in all parts of the country- including in the north with, or without, Boko Haram.

Those who have urged the Federal government to pay attention to issues of development in the north have only done so in order to alert it of its basic responsibility, one which it has derelicted upon since. Various people have advanced a number of causes as to why, and how, the Boko Haram crises had originated and grown as well as persisted. Most commentators believe that the almajiri followers of Mal. Mohammad Yusuf, who were agitating for justice after their teacher and associates were extra-judicially murdered by the nations security forces could not be seen as the prime moving force of this conflict. Attention has thus been drawn to criminal syndicates as well as agent provocateurs, mostly non-Muslim and of southern Nigerian origins, that are associated with such criminal acts, as was convincingly argued by Prof. Jean Herskovits and Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah.

Furthermore many people have highlighted how powerful, and national, political, bureaucratic and financial interests have come to have some stake in the continuation of this conflict. In this regard a number of critics, such as Prof. Ango Abdullahi, have classified Boko Haram into a number of groups while some others have even identified the Federal Government of Nigeria as the biggest Boko Haram. In the third place other schools, of thought represented by writers like Gordon Duff and national movements like GREENWHITE coalition, believe that the hands of the USA, and its allies, play the leading role in the orchestration of the Boko Haram affair. Finally the senate President also tended to forget the long-standing geo-ethnic politics of certain parts of Nigeria wherefrom certain political interests seek to muddle, divide and fish in the troubled waters of the north.

Those who seek to benefit from dividing the north, through fomenting ethno-religious crises, abound in the country and the very northern elders he is calling upon, when they had cause to address President Jonathan, considered this matter an important enough issue to bring to his attention. We advise the senate President to acquaint himself with these complaints and suggestions. In his statement on the consequences of Boko Haram the senate President made the erroneous over-generalisation that Boko Haram “is promoting ethnic and religious conflict and thinking and that is not good for this country”.

At this point we might ask: Is Boko Haram responsible for the so-called indigene-settler conflicts ravaging most of the middle-belt? Is Boko Haram responsible for the various conflicts between pastoralists and farmers all over the country? Is Boko Haram responsible for the violent conflicts, and ethnic cleansing exercises, being conducted in some parts of Plateau and Kaduna states? Is Boko Haram responsible for violent ethnic gangs like MASSOB, Bakassi Boys, OPC, MEND etc? Is Boko Haram responsible for the chronically ethnocentric Afenifere, or the disintegrative endeavours of CAN? Is Boko Haram responsible for the nefarious activities of secret cults, at all levels, in the country? We might indeed go further and ask the senate President, if his claim that Boko Haram is the major problem of Nigeria is to, in any way, be credible: Is Boko Haram responsible for the large scale theft of crude oil in the country? Is Boko Haram associated with the quest for the removal of oil subsidy in Nigeria? Is Boko Haram the cause of the massive, odious, disgusting and unprecented corruption associated with the governments of the Fourth Republic since 1999? Is Boko Haram responsible for the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen wealth overseas? Is Boko Haram responsible for the increasing surrender of Nigeria’s sovereignty to foreign powers? Or is it Boko Haram that has stopped the government taking serious and prohibitive action against corruption? We can go on ad infinitum.

It will be better for the senate President to look for Nigeria’s major problem in the very conduct of its rulers rather than make a scape-goat of a phenomena which is itself the outcome of the corruption, maladministration and increasing loss of national sovereignty which define the distinctive politics of the 4th Republic. The Search for Solutions The purpose of dissecting, or analyzing, any problem is to find a solution. The suggestions given by the senate President do not only seem incapable of solving the problem but will, rather, if allowed to stand, only further inflame it. Where the senate President should have called for justice, on the basis of the constitution and rule of law, as the key to the solution of the problem, he tended to only insinuate “vengeance” by christians clearly denying thereby that a number of muslims are not only innocent, but also victims of the crises. He similarly also thereby tend to imply that not only are all christians innocent but even those christians suspected of having a hand in the crisis should also be discounted.

As a result he did not call for justice for all victims of violent conflicts, every where, whether they happen to be christians or muslims or whatever else. Indeed where he even called for “speedy dispensations” of cases in court he limited them only to those “involving terrorists”. He thus paid no attention to the various calls on government not only to implement the various reports on violent conflicts but to also ensure that justice is done in favour of all the victims, irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliation, while all culprits need to be seen to be duly tried and convicted as a major deterrent to potential trouble makers. Rather what the senate President proposes promises not only to move in the direction of intensifying extra-judicial activities by government, contrary to all appeals, exhortations and the national constitution, but to also deny the right of freedom of speech to some arbitrarily selected preachers. In this regard we are warned that “Desperate times require desperate measures. At the moment we (the government) can not go by mere rule of law”.

Surely the constitution ought to define “desperate times” and “measures”, as well as responses to the problem rather than the premeditated, and arbitrary, acts of certain individuals. This is particularly important if we recognize that impunity is at the roots of the initiation of the Boko Haram crisis and further acts of impunity could, therefore, only lead to its wider and deeper escalation. When we thus look at the so-called solutions offered by the senate President they tend to only further confirm that the government is the major source of the problems of the country, rather than serving as the agency for solving them. There is clearly a need for government to base its actions on sound, and studied, policies which the executive should be-seen to execute in line only with the constitution of the country, and on the basis of its laws. Disrespect for the constitution as well as the rule of law, in the name of political expediency, is a military carry- over which the nation can well do without. Democracy cannot be built by way of negating the constitution and the rule of law. Only impunity could be promoted in this manner.

Conclusion

Clearly the perspective of the senate President is based on an ethno-religious stereotype which hardly appreciates the multidimensional, complex, pluralistic and intricate nature of the problem. Such a problem cannot be solely addressed through the use of force or the subversion of the constitution, and the promotion of a fundamental disregard for the rule of law but, rather, through respect for the latter as well as a transparent and democratic inclination to dialogue on the basis of the national interest. It makes no sense to say that the leaders of the movement are ‘not known’ or ‘have to come out’ when not only has the government been in touch, and dialogue with them before, but it has also been investigating same for close to a decade. It is important to emphasise that there can be no progress on dialogue where there is no common sincerity of purpose. Dialogue cannot also mean a ploy for the continuation of war.

The essence of dialogue must be founded on a commitment to the well-being of the generality of the population who are not only innocent but also victims of the violent conflict. It must also be based on a fundamental commitment to, and preference for, the peaceful resolution of conflicts to the perpetuation of violent and destructive activities, where this could be avoided. Whatever the contributions of other people might be, including that of the northern elders, the ultimate responsibility for the solution of this problem lies with the government. Similarly the responsibility for ensuring the peaceful, unified, democratic and integrated development, of both Nigeria and Africa, depend most profoundly on the government rather than anybody else. Responsibility comes along with burdens which cannot so easily be disclaimed, and abandoned, in favour only of the benefits – lawful as well as unlawful.

The senate President also raised the question of the fact that many people see the absence of national values as an important cause of Nigeria’s crises and, without any convincing argument, dismissed it as the simple responsibility of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). The task of articulating, promoting and defending Nigeria’s national values is more than a simple assignment for NOA. It is the combined and cumulative responsibility of the leaders of Nigeria in terms of the vision, honour, conduct and commitment they bring to the achievement, and defense, of Nigeria’s national goals. However these national values cannot be effectively articulated or promoted by way of undermining, or perverting, religious principles which stand for fear of God expressed through social morality, humanism and piety to serve their very opposite purposes towards sanctioning and promoting corruption, murder, arson, robbery and plunder.

Such perversion has taken on the pattern of promoting fake religious conflicts in order to subvert and corrupt the very principles of religious doctrines, morality and practices. Only such a perverted point of view, occasioned by rampant public and official corruption, could condone and even defend extortion, murder, arson, robbery, plunder and even cannibalism on account of one religious affiliation or another. Nigeria’s national values can only be truly defined and promoted on the basis of Nigeria’s sovereignty, genuine religious morality, human rights, democratic principles, constitutionalism and the rule of law. It is high time that the senate President realises that his major responsibility is one of ensuring good, rather than corrupt and corruptive, leadership in Nigeria. Nigeria’s leaders should learn to own up to their failures, and make amends, or give way to better people who can help towards the achievement of our national objectives.

Nigeria has suffered from something far worse than merely bad governance. It has suffered from ill-governance which is defined by a willful, and premeditated, design to control, plunder and subvert it as an independent and capable nation by its local, as well as foreign, rulers whose combined, common and private interests is to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation, and the well-being of its citizens. Ill-governance cannot lead to national cohesion. It can only generate, as well as also sanction, various separatist tendencies which it can thus hardly manage or contain. Nigeria’s leaders need to stop playing the ostrich and look around them in order to assess what their corruption and associated maladministration is doing to the country. They also need to raise their heads and look at what is happening to Africa, as a whole, resulting from ill-governance occasioned by inept leadership such as that in Nigeria. The whole question of whether or not Nigeria will break up is only, in itself, a reflection of the failed status of the present leadership. Those responsible should therefore own up, and face up, to the challenges – or resign honourably.

*** Dr Sule Bello Works with an NGO, African Research and Development Agency (ARADA) based in Kano and also lectures at the Dept. of History A.B.U, Samaru, Zaria

2nd July, 2012

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