Recently, Mallam Mohammed Ashafa, a 40-year old Nigerian and leader of an illegal terrorist organization called Nigeria Taliban in the northern part of Nigeria was arraigned before a Federal high court sitting in Abuja for gathering information and planning to carry out terrorist attacks on the residences of Americans living in Nigeria. Observers of Nigeria political scene believe that there are possibilities that this type of activities will increase with the emergence of Umar Yar’Adua as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There are many unanswered questions about the Governor of Katsina who is the flag-bearer of PDP and it is important that he makes a public declaration on some of the critical issues or it would be difficult for him to convince the majority of peace loving Nigerians that he would be neutral on matters of religious freedom.
Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow at Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom who is one of the authors of a research work on The Talibanization of Nigeria in the report “…warns that if left unchecked, sharia’s further spread could provoke widespread inter-religious conflict, and transform Nigeria, Africa’s largest nation, into a center of radical Islamism, linked to foreign radical groups and governments…”
Governor Umar Yar’Adua also needs to publicly outline his foreign policy priorities to win the confidence of the international communities. For example, on the 24th February 2001, 10 persons were killed and 3 persons were injured when youths claiming to be Shiite Muslims clashed with police during a protest following the visit of Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Oren to Gombe state. The youths also burned two churches and a nightclub. Knowing the sensitivity of the Middle East Crisis, it would be important to know if Governor Umar recognise and support the existence of Israel as a nation.
Dr. Ali Mazrui told a conference sponsored by the Nigeria Muslim Forum that, “The population of Nigeria, as we indicated, encompasses more Muslims than the population of any Arab country, including Egypt. But can the Sharia be implemented at the state level without compromising secularism at the federal level?” It is clear that there are some sections in Nigeria that will advocate that the country becomes a member of the Islamic state but such action will cause political chaos and the past record of Governor Umar Yar’Adua does not give any confidence that he will not follow this path except he publicly makes that promise now.
However, Umar Yar’Adua poor health has also been a subject of intense speculations in the last six years as he is said to undergo dialysis frequently to enable his kidneys function effectively. While I am not suggesting that a person’s health should be one of the criteria but it is clear that Nigeria needs a healthy leader in order to compete effectively in a global world.
For Nigerians living in the Diaspora, there are other critical issues of importance that any emerging president need to address particularly a good nation-wide strategy to tackle armed robbery and effective policing. I was in Nigeria some couple of months ago and it was a sad sorry because Nigeria Police Force had lost its credibility and ordinary Nigerian’s perception of the police is at its lowest. The Police Forceslogan “To serve and protect with integrity” need to be replaced because majority of them are trigger-happy frustrated individuals and armed-robbers in uniform. What made my experience of Nigerian Police worst was that I had a British friend with me visiting Nigeria for the first time and our policemen illegal roadblocks and general attitude was a complete apology.
As a Nigerian with experience of working with the UK Police Force and understanding of community policing, I am convinced that the attitude and manner of policing need to be addressed with urgency. The problem of Nigeria Police goes beyond just equipping them but rather educating them about value, personal accountability and pride. In fact, I will personally encourage the government to pilot the idea of declaring one Nigeria city as a “Fire-arm Free Zone” with only Special Forces being the only personnel allowed to have firearm and an amnesty of weapons declared in the town. In such a town, police should be disarmed and a special unit set up to handle firearm incidents with intensive penalty for people contravening the rule. A proper monitoring of the pilot scheme and evaluation will help to understand the best way forward. The purchase of 40,000 pieces of Ak-47 rifles and 20 million rounds of 7.62 x 39mm ammunition for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) ahead of the country’s 2007 elections does not help the situation. There is no doubt in my mind that 30% of the rifles will end up in the hands of political thugs and armed-robberies for their ongoing activities after the election.
Nigerian government also needs to address the issue of power supply from a regional perspective rather than trying to solve the entire problem at once. Transportation in Nigeria is nothing to talk about with emergency services un-equipped to save lives.
Nigeria needs a good leader that will be accountable to the people and not run the agenda of a particular ethnic group, religion or political class. If Governor Umar Yar’Adua will “Keep Nigeria on Track” in the words of President Olusegun Obasanjo and not allow his religious opinion to stain his reputation then he might be the best president yet to emerge in Nigerian politics because his contribution on other socio-economic issues are impressive. However, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar believes that Yar’Adua does not have a chance to enter Aso Rock. VP Atiku speaking to the Voice of America (VOA) said, “We will surely defeat the PDP, by the grace of God, in collaboration with other political parties in the country…Umaru Yar’Adua or not, we are in Politics”.
However, what will happen to VP Atiku when he returns to Nigeria? Is history likely to repeat itself? Is it possible that Atiku will face the same fate like Chief Moshood Abiola? We are onlookers and witnesses to the ongoing political chess game in Nigeria.