Boko Haram: The Confessions of Ahmad Salkida

Let’s face it; Nigeria can’t, and is structurally unfit to, fight terrorism. A people who cannot run a democracy long thirsted for are only qualified to be the yes-men of colonial governments, which is what the so-called heroes of our past had done, for which they even earned their Queen’s medals, long before we realised that the foundations that hold our mud-built nationhood is badly done—bad is not irreparable. But how reparable are our security lapses, since the coming of the militants? Amnesty, yes amnesty I agree, is the easiest way to hamper our exploding mortality rate.

As I reflected on the state of our despair in the rough hands of Boko Haram insurgents, especially the killings in Baga town in northern Borno when two elephants, the task force and the terrorists, fought, I was attracted to the misadventures of the Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida. He remains the only Nigerian reporter, as far as I know, who has reported extensively on the psyche and ideology and militancy of the sect. In a sane country, with brains for security and intelligence, our bogus security votes may be invested in this journalist. Unfortunately, Nigeria couldn’t protect him, hence he fled the country. Just like that!

Of course, I too wouldn’t have given exile a second thought if I were in his dilemma. 185 citizens killed and our world is still the same. NTA is still airing pro-government propagandas only the imbecile watch. The Nasir El-Rufais are still tweeting some useless budget statistics to their ego-massaging crowds. And the Dino Melayes, drama queens, are still screaming that assassins had come for them and that everybody is just their antagonist. And the Femi Fani-Kayodes are still writing some poems of the semi-literate and bragging over these intellectual delusions. And the activists of past student unionism days are here boasting over who spent the most days in General Babangida’s prison. These are the activists who have chosen to fight for these people, yet all they could offer are tweets and status updates. None makes an attempt to ensure media coverage and exacting of the massacres; none bothers to really task the government with upholding the sanctity of our lives; and, perhaps, none bothers to call the attention of international human rights bodies, which is what we are good at, to Baga; just a few taps on keyboards and keypads from their air-conditioned rooms and offices… dazall! Their brand of activism is only to tweet an insult on the presidency and how their absence in this cabinet, whereas they were no better in their days, seems to be a loss. How we embrace their Out-of-Office syndrome as solidarity with our kind I don’t know!

Ahmad Salkida’s latest interview with blogger Abang Mercy takes us on a soul-depressing journey down the precipice of a misfortune initiated by an armed circus that calls itself Nigerian security organisation. The uncontrollable storm that is now Boko Haram militancy was, according to Salkida, born with the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the sect, alongside “hundreds of sect members and other innocent bystanders” under a seeming conspiracy championed by the then Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, and taken over by the Federal Government. “I guess that crisis in July 2009 was never meant to be prevented by the government of President Umar Yar’adua,” says Salkida, who also says he had unrestricted access to Mohammed Yusuf and was even to meet him on the day he was executed but for unjustified detention by agents of our security circus. That was the beginning of a war for which the sect reacted the wrong way, with reckless monstrosity; the killings of innocent Nigerians, churchgoers, social development workers, dissenting Muslims and other non-aligned citizens, all in retaliation of the extra-judicial killings of their leader and members. They have carried out evils which have outdone the jackboot attempts by the Federal Government to stamp them out. I think the Nigerian security circus must be regretting the unfortunate day they provoked a downpour whereas they had no umbrellas. The rain, however, has beaten us enough, and, yes, we need to find a way to resolve our differences and unscrew the lids off our egos. You can never fight a man who is ready to die! It is a good thing that the Federal Government hides its inability to crush who it earlier branded “ghosts” under a bogus amnesty. But is Boko Haram being approached the right way? Hear Abang Mercy and Ahmad Salkida:

Abang: Do you agree for Amnesty to Boko Haram as proposed by some politicians and religious leaders?

Salkida: If you read my last interviews with Abul Qaqa, he has always said that if amnesty means forgiveness then they are the ones that should forgive government for the wrong done to them in 2009. According to them many Nigerians don’t see what they undergo instead it is only what they do that is easily shown in the media. And I think issues as sensitive as amnesty suppose to have been tabled first through a trusted mediator who has access to the leadership of the sect before you take it to the media. The sect as I understand heard about the amnesty on the pages of newspapers. Abang, how would you feel if you heard about your marriage proposition with a man from a third party and not from the man? I think you will feel irritated at best. 

These past years I have been struggling to really understand the brand of marijuana smoked by the occupants of Aso Rock. Everything from them has been flawed and logically dumb, from their proposed (sorry, partial) removal of fuel subsidy to the imposition of Cassava Bread project on uninterested citizens. How can anyone organise a wedding fanfare without the consent of the groom—which in this scary case is Boko Haram?

While it’s morally impossible for me to sympathise with Boko Haram, counting the deaths it recorded in its rash of retaliation, we must remind the members of our security circus to be wary of the manner they kill innocent citizens. Extra-judicial killings, and the enjoyed impunity, are the reasons we are in this mess. This is not the time for expressive prose; this is the time to resist having our intelligences turned into volley balls. First, which Boko Haram is the government offering amnesty? Second, Ahmad Salkida has declared that any other, including the so-called Abdulaziz’s, aside from Mallam Shekau-led group is a fraud. Third, if the government proposes a genuine amnesty, what happened in Baga?  Fourth, if Boko Haram was in the know of amnesty, and has agreed to be part of it, we need an explanation for the Baga massacre!

I feel that Ahmad Salkida knows more than he can ever express in an interview. And being a victim of our police/military brutalities, it’s understandable that he does not trust our gun-toting men anymore. So long as the soldiers and the policemen treat every innocent citizen as suspects and those killed as collateral damages, for so long is our fight against terrorism lost. The boy who lost his mother is already an enemy of the state, and his aunties and sisters his supporters. That is what ill-planned counter-terrorism showoffs cause. Let whoever labels Ahmad Salkida a Boko Haram member do so, but this mess can only be redeemed by the Ahmad Salkidas, not by a Cabal tasked with doing what they are good at—arguing in air-conditioned conference rooms and hiring small boys like us to ghostwrite their exchanges of “exotic” grammars. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (26/04/2013)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

The Sanctity of an American Corpse

 500 killed in a fresh crisis in Jos on Monday. 20 shot dead by unknown gunmen in Postikum on Tuesday. 10 killed in a Boko Haram attack on Wednesday. 20 killed in a Boko Haram attack on Thursday.30 killed in a Boko Haram attack on Friday. 40 killed in a Boko Haram attack on Saturday.Bomb goes off in church during service, 50 reported killed, many injured on Sunday. As the more perceptive Nigerian journalists now know, these are the clichés that no longer attract readers no matter the best efforts of sensation-minded editors. These have been the headlines of Nigerian newspapers with which the psyches of thinking Nigerians are constantly harassed, so their empathies are bumbed and diminished, day in, day out.

Our silence over the killings across northern Nigeria is a defeat, not merely of our empathies, but of wisdom, and commonsense. Wisdom to intervene, wisdom to understand the forces that turn this region into an abattoir; also very correctly, it is the mask of our fear! Fear that activism, which has no financial rewards, will only put us on the way of danger. And the people who call themselves our elders, whereas all they do is misbehaving in the name of regional advocacy, seem more interested in self-serving campaigns for emergence of a northerner as president come 2015. These are the same elders who watched as the region, having lost its conscience to years of denied and misused privileges, collapsed into this inherited mess. Our silence is out of fear and defeat. Our misplaced empathy, however, is an anticipated outcome in psychology. This is a discovery that shocked me this week.

Our reactions to the explosions in Boston, far-far away America, are lessons not only in hypocrisy but wrong prioritisation of empathies. The Nigerians who claimed, or so I concluded, that their emotions have been emptied on the many deaths in the land were indeed just in agreement with a certain unwritten law that says  the value of a Nigerian’s life, because of its predictable end, is not any different from that of a cow in an abattoir. The world is still a plantation, where our minds and brains are still in chains of inferiority complex. This perhaps explains the mental slavery we unwittingly exhibit in our rush to glorify the West and identify with their miseries while our own entire lives are spent ignoring events that are equally grief-worthy. But, just when you challenge and remind fellow countrymen to respect our perpetually grieving selves, you hear: “I’m a full-blooded human being with feelings first before being a Nigerian; basic human feelings dictate empathy.” You’re at a loss. You do not really know how to spell, and be understood, that a corpse in Borno is just as one in Boston.

Fellow Nigerian, you are not a sympathiser, you are a statistic of the bereaved whose misery and hopelessness deserve a “take heart” from the Americans as well. I do not ask you not to exhibit the universality of your emotions—which I trust may earn you a relocation to America without a visa—I just want to remind you that you and the grieving Americans are in the same state and, deplorably, the Americans do not really give a hoot about your tragedies. That, however, does not ask for reciprocity. It just asks for sober reflections, for which you may reach a simple epiphany: Your silence over the deaths in your land means you have given up in its return to sanity, and do not forget the probability of your death in a bomber’s crafts is as high as any other Nigerians’.

We are just like the innocent prisoners in Condemned Prisoners section awaiting the hangman, while the Americans close down their borders for you, and your empathy. You see, I always love America. Its government knows the true definition of empathy—“Understanding and entering into citizens’ feelings”. Citizens! And that is the love that exalts its people and their interests. A genuine government ought to be operated thus, it ought to recognise and pacify the grief of its people and guarantee the security of their properties, home and overseas, before anything else. This love is the reason America protects its own even where it stands to damage others’ territory. This is the reason for the drones it sends to the Middle East, knowing well that machines have no sense and emotions and, yes, they kill many innocent people, because empathy is actually solidarity with your own first. Don’t get me wrong, fellow countryman, I’m only trying to show you that your country should come first in the geography of your emotions, and that is why your sympathy is needed here first. You’re the bereaved, dammit!

I always tell my friends that Nigeria is still a mess because its people are not angry enough. We accept every tragedy that befalls us as an act of God, and even try to acculturate the things that cause us pains; like the quest for secessions, when what we need is uniting against the political thieves who cut across every ethnic group and region. We are not angry until the day we divest ourselves of these sentiments that reduce a national calamity that occurs in a region to those of the people it happens to only, people who are themselves victims of our flawed social, religious and political structures. Boko Haram, which is the biggest monster that feeds on us now, is the evil that happens when the people tasked with leading do not pay mind to the curricula of our religious studies and to the sociology and welfare of the common man. This ideologically hollow insurgency gets out of hand because of our defeatist mentality; we watch as the society loses its pulse because it is, as we assume, none of our business. “What is good for the Hausa is not good for the Igbo!” That is not the American spirit, which is what, if I get you right, attracts your “universal” empathy. May God save us from us.

Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (19/04/2013)

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Boston, Massachusetts (Photo Credit: http://www.news.com.au)

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Kano, Nigeria (Photo credit: http://www.punchng.com)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

In Cyberia: the Memories of Margaret Thatcher

It was the America-based Nigerian academic and columnist, Dr. Farooq Kperogi, who, in a spark of his linguistic eruditions, coined “Cyberia” to portray the demographics of Nigerians, home and overseas, in cyberspace. This word deserves a place in our contemporary dictionaries. First, because these Nigerians are a peculiar specimen for anthropological study—they are so often so disconnected from the political and social reality of Nigeria yet parade themselves as an actual salvation army of its ongoing devolution. And, second, the evil creativities of our countrymen in internet scams, especially their fabled domination of credit cards and “business proposals” frauds, are enough reasons to be in the list of the most dreaded demographics in this classless cyber-world.

 My memories of Maggie, Margaret Thatcher, unlike some of my peers, were defined in my primary school days, where we referred to any aggressive girl in the classroom as “Margaret Thatcher”. How we knew that Margaret Thatcher was not a “nice” woman, I don’t know. In fact, even as we crossed into puberty and began making the “biological” moves to woo ladies, our term for the unfriendly ones was “Margaret Thatcher.” We would return from our nightly haunts and declare of a girl we had gone to visit, “Guys, that girl is a Margaret Thatcher o!” We all knew what that meant. Beyond being “aggressive”, it meant “an emotionally dead and self-serving person”. A bit chauvinistic, perhaps, but that was our perception of what the name of that British Prime Minister represented!

 Our delayed encounter with relevant histories was due to our skewed curricula. We never came across “Margaret Thatcher” in our textbooks, and thus there really was no basis to justify our hatred for her as school pupils. It was so with our elder brothers who were also too young to pay mind to international politics. The first push to understand Thatcherism was in a 1979 letter by the Nigerian novelist Mallam Abubakar Gimba, collected as “A Letter Margaret Thatcher Never Read” in his book Once Upon a Reed (p. 176, Caltop Books, 2006). In that prescient open letter he wrote to Baroness Thatcher on her assuming power as Prime Minister, he picked at her “abrasive style”, “combative speeches”, uncritical romance with apartheid Rhodesia’s government and racist perception of “Black and Asian immigrants”—counsels she, as time would prove, never heeded. I sought answers, and even studied her apologists’ idealisations, in history books, and the more I went on, the more I felt something tugging at the base of my heart. Pain. And that mental image of an imperial Thatcher was further demonised, through my own rigorous dialectics, to a racist who abetted the dehumanisation of my kind. And that was the simple truth I told my little sister who, unlike many in the cyberspace who had poured out their tributes on Thatcher’s passing, asked to know why I attacked a dead person. “Celebrating Margaret Thatcher,” I told her, “is agreeing that anti-apartheid activism was an act of terrorism!” 

Restore History in our curricula!!! It is wiser to be bred on unsavoury truths than discovering that we have lived on falsehoods all our lives! This was why the history of Nigeria’s Civil War is now recounted only through the Babel of ethnic advocates. The same Africans who censor the parts of “Margaret Thatchers” in our history books offer us the evils of the Idi Amins. And, today, we condemn the Robert Mugabes of this continent without acknowledging the noble struggles of their early years. We need to learn from their mistakes, especially now that we are in a pit of forestalled revolution. Much as we skirt the issues that bind us, so shall our striving for cultural, racial and political harmony lead to anarchy.

The Cyberians, I mean Nigerians, who dedicated status updates and tweets to Maggie did so just because the name rang a bell—like me, they had heard the name while growing up. A female lawyer, a truly brilliant person, in my Blackberry Messenger list, even wrote: “RIP Margaret Thatcher, you defined the place of women in the world. You were our heroine, Iron Lady!” Thatcherism, in her forgivable ignorance, is feminist heroism. She didn’t know that Thatcher was against even feminism, she didn’t know that Thatcher, as heir of our colonial masters, tangoed with the apartheid and racist lords and refused to sanction apartheid South Africa and, instead, labelled a leading rights group a “terrorist organisation”. Tyranny has neither race nor gender; abuse of power arises often and simply from the inability of a leader to check his/her large ego and psychological deficiencies.

The uncritical response to Thatcher’s death by young Nigerians, who are the dominant group in Cyberia, is not a new tradition. In fact, intellectual disability is the first noticeable characteristic of this group. This is the same group that would wallop President Goodluck Jonathan’s flawed policies only to read Reuben Abati’s defence and, embarrassingly, accept it as “Good literature!” Abati’s sophistries, which many of us lack the intellect to challenge, are not the only things that bamboozle my generation; having passed out of schools that turned us into everything but intellectuals, our repulsion towards books is understandable. That was how we failed to see the anti-people policies, the wrongly planned demolition exercises, of Lagos state’s Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola which were predicted, though in a fictional place that is unmistakably Lagos, in novelist Jude Dibia’s Blackbird. The novel is a realist’s gander of the gaps between “socio-political” poverty and affluence; Blackbird shows us the lack of empathy for the politically invented paupers and the deliberate apathy to welfarist policies by the political elite [and their allies—friends, families and expatriates], policies that are exactly what we need to redeem this Third World country of ours!

History sharpens our perception and interpretation of events. Awareness of history, which necessitated my psychological solidarity with the American blacks and my ancestral “uncles” and “aunts”, may be the reason why I wasn’t entertained watching D’Jango Unchained recently—a movie that seeks to show that the transatlantic slave trade was not a tragedy. The Quentin Tarantino’s movie is simply an art created to entertain, I know; my humanity, however, has not accepted that parody of a people’s reality. Many Cyberians and Netizens at large may infer, on watching D’Jango Unchained, that “niggers” actually held sway in pre-abolition America. Our disconnection with the past is that bad. I was sad because half a century after the end of most of the European colonies, Africa still hasn’t proven its worth and the reprehensible thieves who have led us have only entertained the racist colleagues and disciples of Pieter Willem Botha and James D. Watson, the politician and geneticist respectively, who mischievously regarded our backward state and atavistic political behaviours as natural and genetic rather than sociological and socialised on the defective educations these leader-thieves received from Oxford and Sandhurst and similar places in the 40’s and 50’s, which they perfected and then taught to their heirs-in-perdition. May God save us from us!

Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (12/04/2013)

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Photo Credit: Dylan Jeavons (http://www.photoshoppolitics.com)

@gimbakakanda (on Twitter)