Why I’m Afraid of Nigeria’s Break-up

Regions of Nigeria 1960–1963/ Wikipedia

A few days ago, a friend asked me to explain my aversion to the idea of secession as championed by the neo-Biafra advocates of Southeast Nigeria. He had assumed it was the fear, as simplified in a certain series of propaganda, of the North’s foreseen inability to sustain itself economically post-breakup.

Since it was a private conversation, I elected to present my actual reason bit by bit, some of them I can’t express in public, and offered him a mirror which, when we were done, reflected a possibility that scared him too.

He saw that I was afraid of the break-up for the very reason a part of Nigeria seeks to leave. For cultural hegemony. This calculated domination of our diverse society by the elite using ethnicity, religion and all the binary identities, sentiments, affiliations and values available, to hold on to power, and to forestall criticism of them and revolt of the masses.

Founding fathers of independent Nigeria (L — R): Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe (Eastern Region), Sir Ahmadu Bello (Northern Region) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Western Region)/ Tori.ng

How has cultural hegemony held Nigeria together? The reason Nigeria hasn’t degenerated into full-blown autocratic regime is because of these conflicting cultural hegemonies that exist like a tripartite coalition government – an ethnic arrangement that restricts the tyranny of the three parts, the “Hausa-Fulani,” the Igbo and Yoruba. And as a diarchy constituted by the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.”

So, yes, there’s a mechanism of checks and balances of cultural hegemony as Nigeria stands today, along the ethnic lines of these three dominating ethnic groups, as there is along the lines of Islam and Christianity. This multiculturalism is, in my estimation, our most undermined stabilising factor.

What happens after the breakup? I’ll address the question of struggle for power in the North instead, even though this danger of political monolithism applies to the other two ethnic nationalities and geography. The region’s cultural hegemony, which the federating South has tackled, albeit not successfully, levers around Islam and the so-called “Hausa-Fulani” super-group.

A dissolution of this religious diarchy or ethnic tripartite government means, in Northern Nigeria, an unrestricted evolution of this cultural hegemony. The masses left deprived for too long and denied privileges of quality education are ever around to serve as willing foot-soldiers of perpetual manipulations that only serve as conduits to political power and relevance.

This arrangement favours characters like Senator Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara state, who as Governor introduced a gimmick he called Sharia simply to protect his political capitals. His friends, realising the success of such arrangement in building and sustaining a political force and financial aid pouring in from oil-rich Arab nations, joined him in that smokescreen to enrich themselves. Some of them are parties to pending cases of corruption at the Court or still under the radar of our anti-corruption agencies.

What saved Nigeria then was the existence of a member of another cultural hegemony, a Christian and Yoruba from the political South, as head of the national government. He was not only opposed to the northern political chessboard that was alienating him, he was challenged to protect the interests of the Christian, the Yoruba, the Southern and, very importantly, the minorities, in the political “coalition.”

The Yerimas of Northern Nigeria may be local champions now, but the moment their allies from other cultural hegemonies withdraw, a new order of tyrannical rule, in connivance with religious clerics and socio-cultural “ambassadors,” will manifest. And there won’t be a balancing part to protect the minorities in this outright distortion and manipulation of Islamic jurisprudence, an Islamo-fascism, to institutionalise oppression and enable corruption. One can only imagine the extent of its devastations with personality cults forming around some ascetic criminals.

I think this fear explains the convergence of some self-elected leaders of northern “minorities” who, calling themselves “Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum,” met last week in Abuja to debate their place and prospects in Nigeria, now and later. It’s not a coincidence that the Professor Jerry Gana-led gathering was dominated by Christians (and “other minorities”) out of political offices, and gasping for attention.

As a Muslim, there’s nothing that scares me like an attempt to police my private moralities in a secular political arrangement, especially when it does not evaluate and redeem the pseudo-religious Police. It’s fascism manifesting, and I’ll rather die fighting it than be consumed in silence.

So, my dear friends from the South, it’s not untrue that I do not want you to leave. But it’s not for your resources. Having assessed the welfare of my people, it’s sad to declare that these natural resources are inessential to us. We, and I include you too, have neither access to decent hospitals nor schools, neither good network of roads nor security. I only want you to stay to sustain the checks and balances of this hegemonic order. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Misinterpretation of Muhammadu Sanusi II

 

Sarki3There is a reason the North of Nigeria is yet to be “on top of the situation”, as our policymakers tend to say even when a crisis is out of control, in the quest to redeem the escalating social problems that abound there. It is because we are in denial of the origins, starting from our manipulation and misapplication of religion in governance to the stark deficiencies of our ruling class, and its implications on the present.

The North is a generation or two behind the South. Critics of this underestimated tragedy have been quickly made persona-non-grata in their constituencies by a class of people one can only understand as the Conservatives. Some have been severely cited as bad examples for “speaking ill” of their people or region. One of the prominent characters in the Black Book of the Conservatives is Sarkin Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II. He wasn’t a recent entrant into that book though, having first become a recurring figure in “embarrassing the North” as a sharp-shooting, cerebral social commentator then known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

His emergence as Sarkin Kano, after a historic disapproval of the Jonathan-led government he once promoted, catalysing the nation’s rush to replace that infraction of an administration, was the advent of a revolution long overdue. Why? Because, whether as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi or as Sarkin Kano, he’s a vastly well-informed and cosmopolitan thinker in a society awaiting revolutionary overhaul of certain socio-cultural, political and pseudo-religious thinking and practices. The road to revolution is an uphill one because he’s bound to stir the rage of anti-intellectual and robotic characters programmed to reject even the rumour of changing an institutionalised cultural malpractice.

If nobody foresaw the ongoing rage from familiar quarters over Sarki’s method of addressing the region’s social problems, it only means he or she had been a truant in the study of an aspect of the region. Radical confrontation of defective norms in this region has always been interpreted as “girman kai” – arrogance – or an effort to impress “’yan kudu” – southerners. A radical critic is either portrayed as spoiling for a fight with the subjects of his or her frank observations or exhibiting “iyayi” – know-it-all disposition – instead of unsentimental rebuttals.  I should know. In my little corner of Minna and in my little sphere of Nigerian literature and political discourse, I have been confronted with this bewildering reality.

But Sarki’s problems didn’t even begin with the so-called Conservative elements who accuse him of desecrating the throne of the Kano Emirate for simply rousing the consciousness of the region. It was the pro-Buhari partisans who first launched a volley against him, for his critical remarks on the government’s mismanagement of the economy. And what these legions of critics expect or have proposed is, Sarki is intended to serve as unheard and rarely seen advisor, like the other hundreds of  “monarchs” playing the same role in the region and all over the country.

Before Sarki’s remark in Kaduna, at the summit hosted by the Kaduna state government between April 5 and 6, Zamfara state Governor Abdulazeez Yari attributed the meningitis outbreak in his state to the wrath of God, that the implication of his inability to provide primary healthcare facilities in his state was in fact due to divine punishment for the Zamfarawa’s deviation from the way of God. Sarki addressed this rather devastating clowning in Kaduna, offering that “we have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset that refuses to recognize that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.”

At the Mo Ibrahim Forum in Marrakesh, Morocco, a few days later, he shattered the glasshouse that is Zamfara state, faulting the gimmick the politicians impose on the people as sharia and that, despite which, “(Zamfara state) has the highest rate of poverty in the country today.” His diagnosis of sharia as a mere conduit for political power can be corroborated not only by the economic mess that is Zamfara state today but the legacy of corruption left behind by its past leaders, especially the primal Senator Ahmed Yerima, perhaps the most successful political scam artist amongst them.

This brutal honesty polarised public discourse, pushing the angry to resort to publishing false claims of Sarki’s private life, some already refuted, including a photograph of him and his wife presented as that of him and a mistress. This is the style of shallow intellectualism and incomprehension we are reduced to in northern Nigeria, amused by how even holders of postgraduate degrees interpreted his commentary absurdly differently, describing it as an affront to the region and to Islam, when it’s only an indictment of their literacy.

That the North builds its cultural and religious practices and formations with the thirteenth century mentality is an overrating of our culturally unadventurous spirits and rearward growth. The thirteenth century, noting its ideological conflicts, was actually the peak of the Golden Age of Islam, an era of ground-breaking scientific breakthroughs and intellectual pathfinding by Muslim scientists, philosophers, artists, scholars and clerics which began in the eight century. If Northern Nigeria had adopted that period as a model and its achievements as inspiration, we would have been somewhere around the front rows in this modern civilisation.

We are, as Sarki also said, in denial, and the whys are an everyday eyesore: “The north-west and the north-east, demographically, constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s population, but look at human development indices, look at the number of children out of school, look at adult literacy, look at maternal mortality, look at infant mortality, look at girl-child completion rate, look at income per capita… The north-east and the north-west Nigeria are among the poorest parts of the world.”

It’s heartwarming that someone who heads an agency of our traditional institutions has the courage to serve as mirror to the unsightly society we have built. What Sarki has been saying, again and again, isn’t strange to us. What we have had in short supply over the seasons past are leaders who combine knowledge and audacity as he does. And if I had not been a witness to his audacious confrontation of topical issues, I would have predicted his eventual taming by the conservative establishment.

The idea that a turban should serve as a rein is pre-medieval era mentality. To say a monarch must act like a deity, by avoiding or limiting interactions and associations with the public, only shows we are yet to erase our memory of the master – slave relationships our forefathers fought to abolish. It’s even more troubling when such position is being promoted by those who have previously ridiculed the redundancy of our traditional institutions as a waste of human capital and public funds.

The difference between Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Muhammadu Sanusi II is the latter had no effective platform to match his words. The similarity, however, is both are the subjects of scathing attacks and damaging labels, dismissed, at various points, as Shiite, westernized, apostate, ignorant, arrogant, Zionist mole and more—empty labels from those incapable of appealing to reason, only sentiments. It’s a pity to have one’s faith and personality questioned by a generation mis-educated by this anti-intellectual system of ours. There’s no challenger of a malpractice or flawed thinking based on a perception of religion or culture, who hasn’t been labelled. It was so with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as it is with Muhammadu Sanusi II.

Our delusional Conservatives are worried that the Sarki fraternizes with “peasants”, shaking hands and posing for selfies, destroying their pre-medieval era perceptions and portrayals of the monarch as a deity. What they highlight as a fault is, in actual sense, a praise. But that’s a mere telling of their ignorance of the happenings around the world, of humanising monarchs and the implications of such laudable fraternity. We must choose what we want, a redundant Sarki or one who rouses our consciousness. A few months ago, the visionary ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Muhammed Al-Rashid Ibn Maktoum and his son, Hamdan, were seen on a public train in London, interacting and posing for selfies. They were all in T-shirts. It didn’t make them small, it only made them human. Their idea of monarchy isn’t to pretend to be deities, as promoted by a people with slave mentality in my part of the world. Royalty shouldn’t be confused for divinity, but embraced as an opportunity, an opportunity to serve as the cultural visionaries and revolutionaries of one’s society. Even if without constitutional powers to execute one’s proposals, as is the case with ours.

Imagine the reaction of the so-called Conservatives here if constitutionally restricted Sarkin Kano or any monarch from the North of Nigeria is spotted in that way, in T-shirt and in public transport. Yet, the T-shirt-wearing monarch isn’t incapable of procuring the entire Northern Nigeria if the region, with its seventeenth century infrastructure, were a public enterprise. The world has evolved and so should our thinking – of solutions to tackle these fast-evolving problems that breed almajiranci, Boko Haram, poverty, illiteracy, and mentally unfit leaders of Yari’s class.

The way out of this cultural entrapment is a mental revolution. “We must wage an intellectual war,” the Sarki proposes. “Because Islam is not univocal; there are many voices, there are many interpretations, there are many viewpoints, and we have for too long allow the ascendancy of the most conservative viewpoints. The consequences of that is that there are certain social problems.”

By Gimba Kakanda 

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Boko Haram: the End of a Conspiracy?

image

If the past administration took the Boko Haram for granted, making the disaster a justification for grand treasury theft and even failing to correct perception of its key figures as sponsors of the the group in conspiracy theories promoted to gullible and polarised citizens, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, despite its controversial handling of the economy, clearly takes its predecessors as a bad model for conflict management.

A prominent politician once told me that the war on terror failed under former President Goodluck Jonathan because, aside from our popular ridiculing of the man as uncharismatic and clueless, he was “afraid of his service chiefs.” This is interesting considering the involvement of heads of our security institutions in one of the biggest heists in the history of Nigeria, diverting funds voted for counterterrorism to their private causes and personal accounts. The region was thus allowed to be destroyed by the Boko Haram because the evil benefits these morally irresponsible public officers.

Quite unfortunate was the politicisation of counterterrorism, with the President even seeking to make it a Muslim agenda against his Presidency while conspiracy theorists in the north, indoctrinated by former Governor Murtala Nyako and even Malam Nasir El-Rufai, portrayed the spate of killings as a covert operation of some Christian organisations or personalities eager to decimate the dominating north and its politically overpowered Muslims.

I have always seen the Boko Haram as a real conflict that emerged from our cultural flaws and thrived on our institutional lapses. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a reality to which many of us are firsthand witnesses.

I campaigned against Jonathan possessed by rage over his deliberate refusal to serve as a unifying figure at that critical point of our polarisation and distrust, for even making policy statements as he jumped from one pulpit to another, home and Israel.

I don’t think the past administration sponsored the Boko Haram, they just let it happen because of the billions allocated to our security agencies by the tricked and paranoid dispensation. Yet, the past few days, with the liberations of many towns previously sacked or occupied by the insurgents as announced by the Nigerian troops, internally displaced persons have been reunited with the only place they call homes, giving another chance for them to breathe freedom again, and rebuild their lives.

The recent images of happy “returnees” posing for selfies with their liberators, the soldiers, were the most beautiful symbols out of Nigeria since 2009, the year the terrorist cult became an uncomfortable menace from a carelessly managed face-off with the security operations in Maiduguri.

The liberators are the same soldiers we once derided for their “tactical manoeuvres”. What has changed? Leadership. Responsible and effective leadership, not one that diverted the resources meant for the welfare of these rank-and-file soldiers to causes other than counterterrorism.

May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Aisha Yesufu: Victim of Partisan Savagery

  Aisha Yesufu has been in the news for the right reasons. What got her in the line of partisan fire was her account of the meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and parents of the abducted girls of Chibok, which she witnessed and reported last week. She wasn’t impressed, and wasn’t also afraid to admit so. For this brave indiscretion, a tribe of partisans has risen and formed a counterforce against her activism. Their outrage was a betrayal of what she advocates as a strong pillar of the #BBOG campaign.

Aisha is a private citizen, businesswoman, wife and mother. She’s an advocate of good governance, she is not a member of the political establishment. I know her well enough to express that she has no political affiliation, nor ambition. Born and bred in Kano, she’s of Edo State descent. A sketch of her biography is all one needs to realise the extent of her sacrifice in a clime of “federal character principles”, where the cartographers of ethno-religious bigotries will never even let her aspire to a political office. One may thus see now why she’s misunderstood by the fire-spitting minions who always lurk around to pounce on any critic of Buhari.

Her account of the meeting portrayed the President as emotionally absent and his Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Aisha Jummai Alhassan, as contemptuous, insensitive and mischievous. Even Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, in challenging reports that the President left the meeting visibly angry, corroborated claims that parents of the missing girls present “didn’t feel him”. Both the President and his Minister, according to various accounts, were uninspiring. The summary of the meeting was: the group was mounting too much pressure on the government even though the abduction took place in the last administration.

On Twitter, Maureen, another extraordinarily resilient member of BBOG, reported a troubling exchange between Aisha Alhassan and Aisha Yesufu. The Minister, according to Maureen, asked grieving parents to leave everything to God. In their defence, Aisha Yefusu asked why she went to court and not God on losing the Governorship election in TarabaState. Poignant!

If there’s one voice I will always regard as unquestionably credible in this campaign, it has to be Aisha Yesufu’s. Unlike the others who’ve had a stint with a government or have been politicians, she IS neutral to partisan allegiances. She’s only pitched tent with the better alternative, and furiously supported Candidate Muhammadu Buhari in the period running up to the 2015 general elections.

Some of the cyber-thugs who have taken up a challenge to shame her, have never done in their entire life what she does in a single day, committing, for the about 750 days past, her hard-earned resources to advocating for the rescue of our Chibok girls. At the time many were reluctant to lending their voice to the story of the abduction, she emerged from absolute oblivion and challenged the Jonathan-led government to be honest in admitting its poor response to the condition of citizens abducted in northeast Nigeria.

Of Chibok girls, while some bigoted people attempted to deemphasize them for being mostly Christians, this Muslim woman defied the polarizing scheme of mediocrity in championing what has now become symbolic. She drew the attention of the world to the previously overlooked cases of abduction of our innocent citizens in that terrorist-infested region. She was so notorious in her confrontations with Jonathanians that when the veteran journalist, Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf, died in a stampede in Saudi Arabia, some, mistaking Bilkisu for Aisha, put up a picture of of the latter to celebrate the death. Because she was a bogey to those agents of darkness who promoted the tragedy that was Goodluck Jonathan.

Aisha’s only flaw, which her critics fail or refuse to recognise, is that she’s not politically correct. Unlike Dr. ObyEzekwesili, who’s friends with prominent people in our political establishment, she does not belong in the elite class, and doesn’t give a damn how she’s perceived by them.

A day to ministerial inauguration, Barr. Solomon Dalung, then a ministerial designate, was at the BBOG sit-out, and Aisha, being Aisha, looked him in the eyes and said, “You are one of us. Tomorrow you will be a part of them. We don’t know your portfolio yet, but we want you to represent our interests there. And if you don’t… ” And then she shook her head. Dalung got her message.

This is the Aisha these partisans who have never done anything different to promote justice in this country seek to shame. It doesn’t matter to them that her account of theBBOG group’s meeting with President Buhari was simply her honest perception of the man’s attitude towards them. She hadn’t come to look at a deity in reverance, but to meet ahuman elected to do better than a failed human before him.

Some of her traducers, in the last bid of their desperation to shame her, resorted to sharing a 5-minute video of Aisha Alhassan to present the events of a meeting that lasted for hours. I hope they see the cruelty of their mischief. And those who are asking the campaigners to “give up and face reality”, such damning absurdity is not a surprise coming from partisan savages. I just hope they know what it means to imagine their own biological daughter alive, and being abused, among a cult of their fellow savages who differ from them only in the style of their savagery

If the girls of Chibok were of famous surnames, children of the criminally wealthy somebodies of Maitama, Asokoro and Aso Drive districts of Abuja, and abducted at Loyola Jesuit, Whiteplains British School, El-Amin International School, International Community School or Nigerian Turkish International College, there would never have been a loss or lack of intelligence on their whereabouts, and no government would ever risk not making them its priority. That we have a kind-hearted woman such as Aisha Yesufu, who’s neither a politician nor political, losing her resources and health to amplify the voice and publicise the agonies of the nobodies whose children were abducted, is one heroism we ought to support. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Thoughts on the Presidential Media Chat

  President Muhammadu Buhari’s first interaction with the nation this Week highlighted the hope of a new Nigeria, as well as the potholes, speed bumps and roadblocks ahead. It’s perhaps the most honest ever revelation by a Nigerian president, even as such blunt and frank positions may undermine the efforts and popularity of the government he heads.

I’ll leave the praises of Buhari’s performance at the chat to his media handlers and their fire-spitting minions, and address a few issues not exactly impressive.

The revelation that our security agencies have no intelligence on the whereabouts of the girls of Chibok is saddening, and perhaps even worse is the statement that the government has no credible means of establishing contact with the leadership of Boko Haram. What have the intelligence units of our various security agencies been up to all these months? This, to say the obvious, is reckless and not something any leader should say without feeling a sense of guilt or embarrassment. So, who have we been fighting all along? Ghosts? We’ve people like Ahmad Salkida and Barrister Aisha Wakkil around to serve as consultants in contacting this terrorist group and Nigeria still confesses to cluelessness.

The president’s seeming disinterest in the Shiite—Army clash is only a leeway to an imaginable disaster. Despite claiming to have no conclusive report on the clash yet, he’s already judged the clash and couldn’t even mask his disgust at the activities of the sect. His reaction was more of old military elite losing his mind over the audacity of a gang of teenagers to dare confront members of the active military elite class.

The Shiites have already lost on moral grounds, and perhaps only need an unbiased foreign court, through interested human rights organizations, to file a case against the government of Nigeria for the unjustifiably brutal use of force to decimate their erring members. This court may interpret and exact the rule of engagements employed by the militaryand point out the moment their traffic offence degenerated into criminal offence, punishable by such horrible death.

The probability of banning the hijab, if the suicide bombings continue, is just a joke taken too serious. And if we apply a certain logic in understanding this, we may have to argue that perhaps cars used in bomb attacks should also be banned in public places. If hijab was marked a threat to national security for the fact that it’s easy to conceal an object inside it, how is Agbada or Babban Riga any less spacious for hiding explosives? We should ask everyone, including the President himself, to stop wearing Babban Riga to public events. The last I checked, suicide bombing wasn’t carried out by the female alone. What our security personnel need, instead, are effective bomb-detecting devices.

President Buhari dismissed the possibility of the Nigeria Police Force investigating a civil case involving members of the Nigeria Army as an abomination, that “it shouldn’t be the other way round.” That wasn’t a joke. He meant it. That was apparently a military officer yet to understand that the system has changed, and that the present arrangement is such that the police are to investigate the Shiite—Army clash.

One confusing puzzle from the chat is a rhetoricby the President. “How can (the Shiites) create a state inside a state?” The question is, at what point did they know that the Shiites had actually created a state inside a state, knowing that investigation into their clash with the Army is yet to be concluded? If the Shiites were actually running a parallel government long before December 12, why was the present Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, romancing with them, despite knowledge of them being enemy of the state, in the course of the campaign season? Or is it that Nasiru el Rufai is a cluless politician? If the Shiites had created a state inside a state, or are running a parallel government, why didn’t the President take the decision to declare them as criminal before the clash, and dismantle their organizational cohesion judiciously? This could’ve saved us the December 12 tragedy.

It’s obvious that the President wasn’t prepared to answer questions on forex restrictions. His honesty was a buzzkill. Rough roads ahead for Nigerians overseas or likely to have private interactions that involved forex. The president seems to have no clear idea of its impacts on both the economy and social life of Nigerians. He really has to confer with the CBN Governor on the way forward. The position on forex is also a bad news for those wishing to hoard dollars in anticipation of rumoured devaluation of Naira.

The trials of Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu, in court on charges of corruption and treason, respectively, may be one of the instances the President suspended his adopted political precepts as a reformed democrat. It’s clear that the President won’t adhere to the rule of law. Even though he claimed that he won’t interfere with the outcomes of the judiciary, the positions of the institutions trying Dasuki and Kanu, on bail applications, are already an interference with the judiciary.

Overall, the media chat is a commendable effort and, despite dampening the spirit of some Nigerians, it shows that we are finally free from a regime of mendacity, as witnessed in the years of the Hat-wearing zoologist who, without blinking eyes, and aware Nigerians were watching him, claimed the state of the nation was better; and that power supply had improved. We would be proud of a president who has not claimed to being a know-it-all, and moderate in his endorsement of lies as done on the question of N5000 stipend for the unemployed youth. To which he said, “When my VP was quoted, how can I come here and disown it?” This may be the most honest man we could have for this job. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Why “Zaria Massacre” is a Scary Deja Vu

Photo credit: News24ng.com

The cruellest analysts of the December 12 crackdown on Shiite mobs in Zaria are those who ignore the background of the sect’s past confrontations with both the authority and other parts of society not comfortable with their doctrinal alignments. The clash with Nigeria Army was a familiar experience, in the pattern of the July 26, 2014 unexplainably fatal “self-defence” by the same Army.

Shiism didn’t suddenly become what’s perceived by rival sects as a nuisance, with their members condemned as heretics, on December 12. It’s a practice that only followed the script and rule of this institutionally dysfunctional nation that has given religious bodies an unwritten permission to build an independent sub-system which, with many others similar, compete for the destruction of this country.

I don’t seek to justify the zealotry of Shiite youth who mounted roadblocks on a public road, denying even a military boss access to it. It’s not the first time a youth, either under the banner of a religion, political party or civil society organization adopted such method of civil disobedience to express a grievance, even if not perceived as legitimate in popular opinion.

No matter what, there’s always an alternative to a crackdown on a bunch of boys with sticks and knives. A rain of bullets on a ragtag group, in the season members of the group are yet to trust the authority for the killings of their members in a politicized incident of suicide bombing and state-authorized killing, isn’t a wise approach.

No matter what, the Nigeria Army could’ve handled the recalcitrant Shiites with a certain speck of intelligence, learning from their disastrous response to the dissents of similarly provocative isolates in Maiduguri. That the rate and way the crackdown on Boko Haram cult, which began on June 11, 2009, escalated didn’t even serve as a lesson to our security personnel and policymakers is a confusing tragedy.

This Commando-style approach is the reason we’ve too many widows in our Army Barracks today. Even the most technologically advanced countries who are quick to exhibit their military might haven’t succeeded in suppressing religious extremism through the use of force alone. We need force only when and where intelligence fails. We’re a country in the middle of a crisis and thus we must ally against all avoidable actions that may make more enemies for the state.

But I understand that, as votaries of the Maliki school of Sunni Islam that is the majority in this part of Africa, our abhorrence to perceived deviations of Shiism isn’t just political; it’s doctrinal. We abhor them because they misrepresent Islam, and thus deserve horrible deaths. But in spite of our perception of the Shiites as nuisance, no people destroyed the image of Islam as believers who subscribe to the precepts of Sunnism. Both Boko Haram and ISIS identified with Sunni Islam. So did Osama Ben Laden, and all these misrepresent the image of Islam in the name of jihad.

Shiism is a nuisance, a heresy. But have their members been indicted in any act of terror in Nigeria to earn them a graduation into terrorism? Shiism, like all religious or sectarian movements, is what it is in Nigeria because of this obvious dysfunction in our institutions. Such dysfunction we witnessed even recently in the government’s response to the confrontation between the Shiites and Nigerian soldiers, recording many casualties, including three sons of the national leader of the Shiites.

I’m not defending anyone, but if disorderly assemblies are what constitute nuisance in the practices of our religion, then we the self-righteous and blame-apportioning believers are all guilty. We must be honest in our attributions of wrongs that accumulate to this mountain of troubles we want to destroy.

This republic must step out to draw the lines between freedom and transgression, to highlight the extent to which a citizen is allowed to exhibit his religiosity or partake in a freedom of worship not specifically clarified in the Constitution. The truth is, various sects of both Islam and Christianity in Nigeria are notorious for contravening the laws of the land. All block public roads while marking certain religious functions. Many even have a paramilitary unit tasked with “defending” them from the rest of us. If the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff comes to pass through Kashim Ibrahim Way here in Wuse II, Abuja when the largely Sunni Muslims gather for a Jummah prayer at An-Nur Mosque, he will be asked to turn back no matter the emergency he points to as reason he wants to use that public road.

Similarly, every Sunday, churches in my neighborhood in Life Camp, Abuja, block public roads and nobody, even the FCT Minister whose official residence is just about three blocks away from one of the churches is allowed to negotiate that public road. It’s the same story on Mambolo Street, Wuse Zone 2, every Sunday. It’s also the same on Kur Mohammed Avenue in Central Area on Sunday when church service holds at Thisday Dome. A church mounts roadblocks to deny the residents of the district a right to use that road until the service is over, often with the connivance of our police force.

My point is, except we just developed brains overnight, Nigeria gave religious bodies these unrestrained powers to become “nuisance” wherever they function. What the Shiites do in their processions isn’t different from what our politicians do in their political rallies, where political thugs block roads, harass and hurt non-participating passers-by and motorists.

The first step we must take in demarcating the boundaries of religion is to know what “freedom of assembly” means. We must seek to understand, in our civics, why followers of Candidate Muhammadu Buhari would be allowed to shut down a city in the name of a political rally and Cleric Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is perceived as a nuisance for the activities of his own loyal followers. We need to clarify many things and define what is wrong and right according to our Constitution.

What frightens me even more is, If Nigeria Army had been what it’s designed to be, it would’ve gathered intelligence on, or foreseen, the happenings in Zaria before it allowed its boss, the Chief of Army Staff, to embark on that road trip. We have a military intelligence unit tasked with the responsibility of such secret operations. Why aren’t you thinking along that line and talking about it? The COAS is not god, and for making more enemies for the state when his people are still unable to wipe out the existing, when we’ve too many widows in the barracks, he showed a lack of wisdom in executing that promise of the government to terminate the existence of Boko Haram this December.

The fact that the military seem to have no idea what was happening before the tragic encounter with the mob should be the first institutional lapse to look into in our enquiries, and in the state’s investigation. This may explain many things, because, if Nigeria were a sane country, the confrontation could’ve been avoided. Making more enemies for the state in the month you promised to end the existence of their ilk is either a ploy to distract or manufacture an excuse for the failure to fulfill the promise. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda On Twitter

Audu: Death, History and Memory

  

I faulted the declaration that the yet-to-be concluded Governorship elections in Kogi State was “between the Devil and the Satan”. It was, I observed in an interaction elsewhere, between sentiments and ignorance. Sentimental because supporters of APC, rallying around the late Prince Abubakar Audu were partisans incurably loyal to the party. Ignorant because, despite the near unanimity of our portrayals of Audu and incumbent Governor Idris Wada as uninspiring, our seeming concurrence to our political system as two-party arrangement was disquieting.

Nigeria has 25 registered political parties, and if I were resident in Kogi, it won’t kill to ally with likeminded cynics to facilitate the emergence of a powerful Third Force. It may only seem impossible because we prefer agencies of indolent and navel-gazing political standpoints. And even if, at the end of the rain, our efforts amount to a loss, history would remember us as change agents who aspired to reform. In the north, Adamawa and Nasarawa States, rejecting the traditional domination of the two leading parties as the only viable, made SDP and APGA, respectively, top contenders.

As results of the November 21 elections filtered in, with Audu coasting to victory, some of us, convinced Audu was on the way to Lugard House again, resigned to a prayer. This we considered nobler than embarking on a lifelong antagonism of his principles and declaring as already wasteful his four-year mandate.

And then the man died. It started like a cruel rumour planted in the online media by anonymous hacks to consolidate on the heaps of controversy upon which the man played his politics. It was one of the most mismanaged media crises of the APC. What’s the purpose of the Information and Publicity unit of the APC if it couldn’t rush in to clarify on high-risk reports about the party and its candidates. It’s absolutely dispiriting for a rumour of a candidate’s death to hover that long without an official statement from his party; it portrayed the party as organizationally inept.

The confirmed news of his death suddenly polarized discourse of his politics and life. It has revealed the superficial spirituality for which Nigerians are known, and over which they venerate the dead.

But we must be careful in letting our emotions edge us to rewrite history and beatify the person who, just a few days ago, we categorized as a member of the agencies that that have forestalled the growth of this country.

If, for the virtues of death, we report as heroic all the people we once blamed for our woes as a nation, what sort of books do we intend to leave behind as documents of the history of our time for the generation coming after ours?

It’s understandable to feel for the passing of Prince Abubakar Audu; it’s human. We’re all going to die, one after the other and en masse, soon or later. What is hypocritical is to suddenly attempt to reverse all the things we’ve already expressed about him and his. We should respect the dead, because they are not here to defend themselves anymore. But we also owe the generation unborn a certain debt, the debt of honesty – an accurate history.

Audu was a public figure given a mandate to manage the resources of his people, and judging that history of his stewardship isn’t the sort of private existence that the most spiritual of us wish to censor. This was a politician who spent a season of his life after office in courtrooms proving that he did not mismanage resources under his watch. Whether he succeeded in proving himself innocent and convincing us that he’s innocent of all charges of corruption against him is a matter for our history, and a burden of our memories.

It’s not those who still discuss the politics of Audu that are spiteful. It’s those small minds that rush to say that his death is a divine intervention, that God saved Kogi from the return of a thieving man. We must de-indoctrinate ourselves of this perception of death as a punishment. Death is the final phase of every human being. It’s not an atonement for any sin. It’s both a biological and spiritual reality of our existence.

Longevity, also, isn’t a proof of any righteous life; it’s just a mystery too complex to grasp. Some of the most virtuous people in the eyes of the world died young, hence the flawed axiom, “The good die young!”

The bad too die young!

Our motivation, as we reflect on the elapsed time of both the known and the unknown should be a prayer that none of us departs this life smeared with unchallenged accusations of complicity in the ruins of the humanity we were created to redeem and preserve. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda On Twitter

Ado J. G. Muhammad: Man of the Moment

Dr Ado

On July 24, Nigeria found a reason to celebrate. It was a welcome break from the usual stream of negative reports over which the country has been portrayed as incapable of achieving a globally commendable cause. It was a triumph over the forces of superstitious, cultural and communal resistance to the foreign medical interventions designed to eradicate polio in Nigeria. The immunization campaigns, which have received overwhelming international support being part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiatives, marked that date as our dear country’s 365th day without a reported polio case.

The man at the centre of this achievement is the Executive Director and CEO of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Ado JG Muhammad, whose office has become the ammunition against the medical challenges of the common man. His office is one of the few that the Jonathan administration held out correctly as successes, in an otherwise failed Presidency.

Writing in Leadership newspaper to mark the first year anniversary of a polio-free Nigeria, the NPHCDA boss took us down memory lane. “Global efforts to eradicate the paralytic polio virus dates back to 1988, when the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate the polio virus worldwide by year 2000 and launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).” He added, “At this time, over 1000 children were paralyzed daily worldwide, with 350,000 children affected in 1988 alone.”

Although the campaign to eradicate polio in Nigeria began in 1979, it was the military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida that established Primary Healthcare Centres nationwide in 1986 to make access to polio vaccines easy in rural areas. In his op-ed, Dr. Muhammad recognised the 1996 “Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign” as the formal launch of Nigeria’s polio eradication campaign.

The first obstacle to fighting polio was the perception of it particularly in the states of northern Nigeria, where spiritual accidents are seen as its cause. In Hausa, Polio is called “Shan Inna”, attributing the cause of the disease to “Inna”, a female jinn in the region’s ethno-religious cosmology. “Sha” means “absorbs” or “paralyses”, and thus polio means paralysis caused by Inna—a principal spirit in the Bori cult system. How to convince our medically illiterate and superstitious people, that polio is indeed a clinically preventable disease, was an uphill task some of us have witnessed first-hand.

In the year the World Health Assembly passed its resolution, northern Nigeria, of which geo-polity Dr. Muhammad is a conscious member, was the hub of myth and ignorance fashioned against any foreign medical intervention—especially this one designed to disprove the existence of the dreaded Inna. Also, the presumably atheist West wasn’t expected to believe in the spiritual realm, reinforcing the aversion to even self-interest and logic. Immunization campaigns were thus avoided as being the West’s conspiracy to transmit new diseases to unsuspecting Muslims. Added to this, from “indigenous laboratories” with no known location, came reports that the vaccines carried sterilising agents and HIV virus. Needless to say, these “scientific reports” were cheerily quoted by religious and community leaders in order to institutionalise a massive paranoia on the subject of vaccines.

This fear of “the West” in northern Nigeria further reinforced by the medical effort to stem the outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM), in 1996, in Kano. This clinical trial was conducted by Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that would become a defendant in a litigation initiated by parents of the victims of that disastrous drug test. Eleven children, to whom the drugs were administered, died, and about two hundred others were left physically disabled. That experiment of Trovan (Trovafloxacin Mesylate), which couldn’t have happened if those in charge of our health system were not corrupt, became a reference and further evidence of the West’s sinister obsession with the population of the North.

A year earlier, in Zaria, the Rotary International’s vaccination project was discontinued. Parents of the children to be vaccinated refused to bring out their children because, in the previous exercise, boils developed on the injection site, that their children experienced hearing loss. In a March 6, 2004, interview with Weekly Trust, Dr. Haruna Kaita, then the Dean of Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Ahmadu Bello University, recalled an incident that occurred at Mayo Belwa in the former Gongola State during the CSM outbreak. He claimed that immunization resulted into “a massive outbreak unprecedented in the history of the country there, and it was mostly those who were given the vaccines that were affected in that outbreak.”

Dr. Kaita granted this interview while serving as a scientist against immunization for Jama’atu Nasril Islam [JNI], the umbrella group of the Muslim community. He stood to be advocating the interests of Muslims. In June 2003, JNI had declared that polio vaccines contained contaminants, and these, according to Dr. Kaita, “have direct effect on human reproductive system.” The President of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed, would go on to ask the Federal Government to suspend the immunization exercise. This period was remembered by the NPHCDA boss as one in which Nigeria “suffered a near fatal setback… This resulted in upsurge of polio cases. This upsurge continued to year 2006 with 1122 children paralyzed before the cases started to decline in 2007 with 285 cases. However, 2008 witnessed another upsurge in cases to 798, before it started a steep decline in 2009 to 388 cases, 21 cases in 2010 and 62 cases in 2011.”

Sadly, even the educated and enlightened, who ought to mitigate apprehensions over claims that the vaccines truly contained antifertility agents, joined the band of conspiracy theorists in manufacturing stories of the West’s commitment to halting humanity’s growth. A friend of mine once employed Malthusian theory to highlight what he considered to be “the general perception of exponential population by western institutions” and submitted that the vaccines must indeed cause sterility and engineered diseases that would raise our mortality rate.

Heading an agency established to guide preventive immunization into the heart of a people both scarred by, and scared of, Western medical intervention is to exist in the matrices of these communal and cultural sentiments, of the fear and ignorance promoted by the conspiracy theorists. The anti-immunization sentiments weren’t just expressed through boycotts and neighbour-to-neighbour anti-sensitization and sermons of compliant religious and community leaders, it met a fatal resistance in one of the unsolved cases of gun attacks in the Kano State—the killing of nine polio workers in February, 2013. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more healthcare workers and volunteers have actually been killed trying to prevent the spread of polio than the number of people who have died from the disease itself. The disease merely cripples, ignorance about it can kill and has.

Dr. Muhammad assumed duties at NPHCDA in 2011, appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan, and it’s commendable that in four years, Nigeria has left the league of Polio-endemic countries. But we still have two more years to be certified polio free, so that we are no longer ranked alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan. With President Buhari’s declaration to have the country certified polio-free by 2017, while noting the remnant distrust and security challenges that frustrate such an accomplishment in terrorism-afflicted regions, the world is already eager to record this new epoch in Nigerian public health history.

This essay is a garland to Dr. Ado JG Muhammad and the development partners who made this happen.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Wisdom of Comrade

image

It was my cousin who first drew my attention. I thought he was lying, was somehow trying to make the man we both admired look smarter than we’d thought he is. “Comrade is sharing camels for Sallah,” he said. He didn’t laugh as I expected. And it was not the first of April, not even the right month. I asked him to swear by Allah that it was true that Comrade had indeed bought camels for the masses. He did.

I rushed to Twitter for a confirmation. One can never be too sure these days. I searched for “Shehu Sani camel”, and the first image that came with the results was that of the man on the back of a camel, surrounded by happy masses. It’s true. Comrade looked royal on the camel. Like an Arab prince, and he has his very cool Afro to go with that royalty.

I scrolled down, and the first ten tweets were personalised attacks of this man we all call the People’s Activist, this man who looked Abacha in the eyes and called him a dictator, this hero who spent the best moments of his life in prison just to give us this thing we call a democracy. Further down, I got disappointed in all who were agitating. These ingrates expected sleek Mercedes wheels. Even those whose senators didn’t share ordinary chickens for Sallah were on Twitter attacking our gallant Comrade who donated whole camel, and not even one, to rehabilitate the stomach of those he proudly, and of course affectionately, referred to as “my people!” I like that he made a distinction on who his people really are, and that was done in response to a certain Abubakar, who hadn’t criticised Comrade with respect. It is rude to disagree with a senator like that. And if you must, start with, “Distinguished Senator Sir…” and then add “With all due respect Sir” before you state your grievance nicely.

This was the reason I was outraged, and asked Comrade to go to bed while I handled all the small boys and girls I suspected of working for Tinubu and el-Rufai to run the People’s Activist down. These politicians are intimidated by Comrade’s profile. He was fighting Abacha as advocate of the people when Buhari, the so-called People’s General, was having tea with the brutal dictator, Tinubu was fighting Abacha from his London mansion as a member of the cowardly NADECO, and el-Rufai was just a 30-something-year-old whose life wasn’t even newsworthy for a local campus magazine. Though I expected Comrade to understand how this Twitter business works, to know how to spot starving critics and procure them to serve as defenders – as what we call Voltrons. Just the way Tinubu and el-Rufai do. We all know the blogs and Twitter handles that began as critics of these politicians but are now standby underlings and professional arse-lickers. This life is tough!

But Comrade was still a wise man, he asked for our advice, we the masses, on what to do with Abubakar, the underling who disrespected him. His reason for disowning Abubakar was that the suspected PDP mole worked against him in the last election. And I supported him for that. I know Comrade doesn’t tell lies. My honest advice was, instead of granting Abubakar liberty to insult a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Comrade must send his political thugs after him to teach him a political lesson.

At first they came at me for this honesty, wanting to blackmail me. They had no idea that even their paymaster el-Rufai had to unfollow me when I wanted to end his career. But I think it was Elnathan John’s profound praise of Comrade that eventually crushed their guts. I like what Elnathan wrote about camels, especially the scientific things he checked on Wikipedia and presented as though he knew them from birth. I like smart people like that. And his name intimidated those semi-literate overlords who have fed fat on the largesse of Tinubu and el-Rufai. Elnathan is famous and influential now that even white men shortlist him for their writing competitions just to promote their brands. It was my gossipy friend, Tabawa Inuwa, that made this observation about the Caine Prize. I didn’t even say pim. I don’t like small talks!

On Sallah Day, after a fill of Camel pepper soup, I spoke to this fellow who had been attacking Comrade. He denied that he was paid a dime by Tinubu or El-Rufai. Not that I believed him. His reason was that Comrade is a former prisoner. I didn’t see why that is a problem. He made it seem like Comrade was a genuinely tried criminal, not knowing how it’s the dream of every activist to get arrested and become instantly relevant. I rolled out the names of powerful people, including Mandela, who had all been in jail, and out to dominate political scene.

Since venturing to defend Comrade, speculations that we are only seeking political appointments have become the headlines of several gossip forums. And it’s true that Elnathan and I have not been considered for an appointment. Yet. I don’t even know why, despite these many profound essays that even white people quote from Aberdeen to Zurich. But God knows what we are doing is simply to celebrate the wisdom of the man who knows, as Elnathan captures it, “the enduring value of camels.” In a place where politicians only share underage goats, commending the man who shared things as gargantuan as camels is only the right thing to do.

One ungrateful beneficiary of the camel largesse contacted me the day after Sallah and asked me to tell Comrade to help him with some money to buy Flagyl. I asked, was it Comrade’s fault that you ate too much camel? This show of ingratitude for the kindness of the man who has given us camels to show us the real meaning of change is just uncharitable. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Nigeria’s Present Rectangle of Tragedy

image

Since the past six years, no people have been so cruelly, and almost unanimously, ridiculed like members of the Nigerian armed forces. They’ve become the butt of our jokes, and scapegoat of every security lapse, and our anger, though understandable, is often misplaced, directed at the wrong party.

Ever since I learnt, or trained my mind to see, the difference between the Defence Headquarters and the Nigerian troops, I developed a certain compassion for the latter; the former, however, is only there for management of the defence organizations’ public relations, and the “small guys” in the terrorist infested fields don’t even know what those millionaire bureaucrats and rubber-stamp combatants say of their failings and victories, and how they’re being employed for political advantages by both the ruling and the opposition parties.

We’re presently entangled in a rectangle of tragedy: the paranoia of the armed forces, unaccountability of the executive, the conspiracies promoted by the opposition party and, the offshoot of the three, suspicions of the paranoid military and the unaccountable executive and, to an extent, even the opposition figures by private citizens.

Even a flippant observer must’ve already noticed how this rectangle brewed an atmosphere of distrust, which has intensified in this election period, especially with the renewed energy to fight insurgency as declared by the government itself. The unofficial excuse for the escalation of terrorism in the northeast, as cited by the foreign media, aside from the inherent corruption in our government, are the abuse of human rights by our counterterrorism forces and the infiltration of our military intelligence by agents of the insurgents, which resulted in termination of arms deals between Nigeria and the United States. This, also, is cited as the reason our government patronises international black markets for its arms.

While the President’s widely reported statements that “Boko Haram has infiltrated my government”, which, about two years later, he tried unsuccessfully to deny, validated the theory of our compromised security arrangements, his shadowy deals in the black markets, like the arrest of a a Nigerian-owned private jet in South Africa with about $10 million meant for arms purchase, added more stories to our books of conspiracy. This was also because the plane belonged to a pastor and loyal friend of the President, known for bigoted and polarising remarks on the state of our union.

Whichever excuse the government and its loyal Defence Headquarters officially provided as reason for the recent victories recorded in its counterterrorism, ours is to celebrate the outcomes, and even if we must attack, the Nigerian troops should be seen as different from the Defence Headquarters.

Tragic, though, how some of us rush to report and celebrate the “triumphs” of Chadian and Cameroonian forces but ridicule any attributed to Nigerian Troops. We must be up to cheer the Nigerian troops, whose efforts and realities are often misrepresented by badly-scripted propagandas from the Defence Headquarters, for these recent outcomes of their intensified counterterrorism. We must stand in solidarity with, and in prayers for, those martyrs like Private Kadiri, Corporal John and Captain Olusola giving up their all and lives to keep this nation whole and safe, away from the coverage of televisions.

Perhaps a little perception of theirs, not even solidarity, is all they want from us. At least for losing friends and brothers, without the media to convey their miseries to us. Or you think a soldier would just stand like a statue and let an insurgent shoot him? Let’s redirect our disappointment in our counterterrorism to the appropriate profiteers whose decision is the reason the welfare of the Nigerian troops is a cause for laments.

Thankfully some of us don’t need a photograph, only communication with the actual victims of terrorism up north, to confirm that some towns have truly been recaptured, with the insurgents crushed and fleeing, in northeast Nigeria.

If our President had been half as conscious as that khaki-decked Commander-in-Chief I saw, in photographs, combing northeast Nigeria, there wouldn’t have been these many conspiracy theories and and this much distrust. Sadly, President Jonathan preferred to keep the nation speculating, that he’s complicit in the escalation of this terror that consumes us. My own inference is, Mr. President deliberately refused to be a unifying figure, as he’s seen jumping from one church to another, even making obvious policy statements there, in expectation of a repeat of 2011- a period of polarized electorate. Now that he’s seen it bold and underlined, that Nigerians are better informed this time, his rush to be a responsible President only elicits pity. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakaknda on Twitter