The boys from the Niger Delta who took up arms during the administration of Umaru Shehu Yar’Adua had a clearly defined reason why they took up arms. The area in which they live is home to the oil deposits from where 95 percent of Nigeria’s revenue comes from. Activities of oil prospecting companies had since 1957 when exploration and exploitation started resulted in a steady degradation of the floral and faunal potentials of the environment. Concomitant revenue that came from oil exploration did not result in concomitant development in the fortunes of Niger Deltans – from appointments to national positions, direct capacity building for its inhabitants, or scholarships for the young people of that area. In fact in 2008 when Fanny Armstrong’s movie, Age of Stupid, was being shot in the Niger Delta, footages showed people washing their fish with Omo detergent before boiling the fish because of the black mass of crude oil which had spilled into the rivers and lakes that wrapped around the fish. This was too much for the people to bear, and even after repeated appeals to the centre for some respite, a respite was not forthcoming. You would also have known that such agitations by Niger Deltans did not start from Yar’Adua’s government – recall Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa who were murdered by Generals Gowon and Abacha. These were people who had a clearly defined mission, to wit, to draw attention to the environmental problems from oil prospecting that were not matched by equivalent attention to the plight of the people who lived in these places.
Two themes marked the Niger Delta agitation – one, the ‘militants’ focused on kidnapping foreigners who they thought were responsible for the environment problems of the Delta. But much later, they shifted attention to our own people who were seen as collaborators and agent provocateurs of the foreigners. Indeed, they shifted their activities every now and then – at some time they were blowing up pipelines – apparently a reaction from being told that the plans to improve on their terrible conditions in the Niger Delta were in the pipelines. The other common denominator inherent in the Niger Delta agitators was that if there was going to be a bomb somewhere, the militants would send advance warning via the internet, radio and sometimes through television. All of these activities began to have an effect to the extent that when the Federal government under Yar’Adua announced an amnesty programme addressing the grievances of the militants, we all heaved a sigh of relief that they accepted it.
But today we cannot say the same thing concerning Boko Haram. First, after the death of their leader at the hands of the police, they directed their guns and bombs at all government institutions including the office of the United Nations in Nigeria. When that seemed to have failed, and apparently because CCV cams were erected quickly in the city of Abuja, they turned their weapons of mass destruction at the church. In fact for the most part of last year, there was hardly any Sunday wherein a church was not bombed. This led to speculations that the avowed aim of the terrorists was somehow to provoke a religious war in Nigeria. And because the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria CAN insisted that its members should not retaliate and bomb mosques as well, what could have precipitated into a religious war has been averted so far. What a lot of people who are outside Nigeria are yet to understand is that most of the schools that the sect has attacked were schools with students of predominantly Christian parentage. In Borno State and key parts of the North, cultural as well as religious practices hardly encourage either the boy or girl child to go to school. The boy child of a conservative Northerner is an al-Majiri, akin to an Oliver Twist in the uniform of a scoundrel. He is left on the streets with tatters for clothes and remnants of food in the rubbish bins as breakfast and lunch. The girl child is mostly kept under lock and key, groomed for a certain fifty – or sixty something year old as husband. And therefore, a bombing and a killing of children attending school there is an attack on persons not of Northern origin or non – Muslims, or those of Northern origin who are Christians. By far the dastardliest of the mindless killings were the ones that took place in Nyanya in April this year. Far from what everyone has been made to believe, the bombs that killed nearly a hundred people in Nyanya were sensitive to gender, culture, religion and ethnicity. They were directed at the heart and soul of the ordinary person, most of whom again are Christians, both of Northern or non-Northern stock. Southerners, Easterners and Westerners who come to Abuja seeking greener pastures are wont to live there because of their inability to cope with finding accommodation in the city centre.
If you were to review these activities of the Boko Haram, and in spite of the fact that these killers have no clear cut demands apart from demanding a suspension of the Nigerian constitution, a surrender and transfer of the instruments of power from Mr. President to them, and the closure of schools, two things stand them out as well. One, nearly all the attacks were directed at one man – apparently from the perception that killing Nigerians of his religious and cultural suasion is an attack on the man himself. The second thing is that it has been really hard not to establish a nexus between the sect and the Islamic religion – the attacks were/are directed at the Church and at Christians in the North; the attackers never attacked any mosque, and their leader often quoted copiously from the revered book of the Muslims to back up killing people. In fact, it was when the Saudis and many self-respecting Muslims around the world began to damn and distance their selves from Boko Haram’s justifying the abduction of 230 girls from their school that the thin line that separated Boko Haram and Islam began to widen somewhat. Why would someone not think that this is a Jihad against non-Muslims when the chaps in question abduct school children, threaten to sell them off as slaves and then force them on the pain of death to recite verses from the Holy Koran?
So what really has been going on? Why would a sect with no clearly articulated principle or dogma or a demand just go to kill people? Did they want the huge gap between the Northern Oligarchy and the talakawa, the poor Northern folk, to shrink? Why were they shunning any form of dialogue, negotiations or parley with the Nigerian government or with any arbiter or go-between for that matter? What messages were they sending that were not already sent via the lives of thousands of Nigerians that they had killed? From all indications, it was clear as crystal that these people were not interested in any amnesty whatsoever. They seem to just want rivers of blood.
But it just doesn’t add up. Something must be behind this, and before we get to the bottom of it, I would state here quite plainly that many self-respecting people have clouded the issue with unctuous explanations. First they say that the root cause of Boko Haram’s fight and mindless killings and abductions is because they are protesting the rampant poverty of the Northern talakawa. Other people who should know better are saying that this is an Al Qaeda branch in Nigeria teaming up with outsiders to fight a jihad in Nigeria. Some have given it a Southern versus Northern Nigeria profile. In a certain respect, most of us are inclined to see reason why nobody wants to address the Boko Haram problem head on. The Boko Haram are said to have a hydra head, having infiltrated every strata of the Nigerian government – its navy, army, police, air force, its CBN, its National Assembly and even its universities. There are said to be ubiquitous and have no respect for anyone opposed to them or they oppose – after all haven’t they bom
bed churches, media houses, sacked police stations and are said to be highly motivated and better equipped than the Nigerian army? Given that impressive credential why would anyone want to as much as say anything to be considered annoying to the interests of the sect?
I had never agreed with the people who had been saying that the Boko Haram is fighting because there is poverty in the North. It can’t be. How could you be fighting poverty by killing and maiming people? If you wanted to fight poverty, why would you be against the one instrument – education – which helps free an individual from ignorance and mediocrity? Some also say the Boko Haram is not even a Northern problem, that it is a Nigerian problem. Such cryptic statements irritate and nauseate. ‘Northern’, the way it is used here is not merely descriptive but prescriptive as well. I verily believe that Boko Haram is a political army in the hands of a powerful Northern elite and oligarch, particularly because the perpetrators have their roots and ancestry in the North. The man who tried to bomb a plane in the United States is a Nigerian first of all before he is a Northerner, and the leader of the Boko Haram is a Northerner before he is a Nigerian.
But indeed, what really is going on? We are asking these questions because the time to tell ourselves certain hard truths is come. Why is there this sustained attack on the personality, ability and potential of one man? Somebody who should know has explained it all to me. He said it all started with the spirited efforts that IBB made to assuage the bruised sensibilities of the Yoruba after nobody had a clue why he cancelled that famous election. This person (for the sake of concealing his identity, I should hereinafter refer to this source as ‘this person’) said to me that after a Yoruba man became president, a certain nebulous G30 group made up of ‘Southerners’ and headed by Alex Ekwueme, former Nigerian vice-president, came up with the Nigerian elixir and panacea to the intractable ethnic virus plaguing the political life of our dear country Nigeria. Because of the complex ethnocentro-political disposition of the contraption of Nigeria, it was said that the group decided on a ‘zoning’ and a power rotation among geo-political zones that make Nigeria up. If this is true, the group’s decision was not in any way different from the British decision to amalgamate the South and North of Nigeria. We are persuaded thus because first of all the group did not make their recommendations public, and neither were they subject to any kind of referendum by the people. Their arrangement was that after the South-West (Obasanjo Olusegun) taking an eight-year turn, the instruments of government would tilt in the direction of the North (Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) who was supposed to do an eight year turn but died, sadly even before he completed his first tenure or term. After that, it was supposed to be the turn of the East. Things were never thought to be this way and the Southerners were never considered in the political equilibrium of our Country.
What all of this means in the first place is that one, the group that eventually metamorphosed into a single political party had made up its mind on the power structure of a Nigeria without any consideration for the wishes and opinions of a multiplicity of interests, peoples, associations and factors even beyond it. Second, it meant that if it was already decided that the next man was going to be president and even if we all have gone out to elect somebody else, our votes would never count for the person we have put our votes on. So, before and after Yar’Adua died, I remember the bad blood and acrimonious upheavals that lined the road to Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence first as acting president, and then his decision to contest as president. Before Yar’Adua’s unfortunate demise, certain prominent people who are today fighting Mr. President vigorously campaigned for him to succeed the sick president. Their fight for the President was based on the premise that the man in question is ‘weak’, and would in the event of becoming president would do their bidding. Others were said to have ‘fought’ for him to be president because he was supposed to continue with the machine, agenda and cabinet of his predecessor, the late Umaru Yar’Adua.
But the president did not continue with his predecessor’s machine, agenda and political cabinet. He became his own man by sacking his predecessor’s team and introducing his own. After he sacked them, they made underground overtures to him that that they wanted to be part of what they considered their master’s administration. The man shunned them all. Now, I ask myself the same question that my informant posed to me – why should I sack my predecessor’s team and introduce my own, especially when I realize that I rode to power on the back of his tiger? Well, I would answer that in all dynasties, and in all empires, in all ages, throughout the very dawn of political power plays, transition from one political platform to the other usually comes with a purge – but a king unwilling to kill his younger brothers to secure his throne sends them into exile. But of course we are no longer in the antediluvian times, and if a man decides not to use his predecessor’s machine, agenda and cabinet, that’s entirely his decision and not something that should be imposed on him. After the death of President JF Kennedy, his successor named his own cabinet and led the United States in a direction that was in line with his vision and focus. The very regrettable thing today is that those who are not happy that the president has not been ‘weak’ as they expected, and who thought that he would at least continue to run his government on his predecessor’s agenda are the people using Boko Haram to make him appear weak and incompetent. That is what my source has told me and I verily believe him. Today’s killings and abductions and bombs by the Boko Haram have the quiet support of disgruntled politicians who seek a pound of flesh from the man they hold responsible for taking what they assume is theirs.