Nige­ria: The band plays on

Lesotho Times - - Opinion - Gwynne Dyer

There’s go­ing to be an elec­tion in Nige­ria in mid-Fe­bru­ary, and the weird thing is that it’s not go­ing to be all about Boko haram. The Is­lamist ter­ror­ists are now killing peo­ple at the rate of at least 500 a month — two 9/11s a year, in a coun­try with half the pop­u­la­tion of the United states — but most Nige­ri­ans seem to re­gard Boko haram as just one more prob­lem, and a fairly lo­cal one at that.

Up in the three north-east­ern prov­inces of the coun­try, where Boko haram has now de­clared that it is set­ting up an Is­lamic “Caliphate” on the model of IsIs’s “Is­lamic state” in Iraq and syria, they do care about ter­ror­ism.

They are also now start­ing to wor- ry about it more in the rest of the north, where Boko haram at­tacked the cen­tral mosque in Kano, the big­gest north­ern city, last Fri­day, and killed at least a hun­dred peo­ple.

But in the rest of the coun­try, the ter­ror­ist threat has not re­ally risen to the top of the po­lit­i­cal agenda.

The forth­com­ing elec­tion will not fo­cus on the stun­ning in­com­pe­tence and sheer in­er­tia of Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan’s gov­ern­ment in the face of this threat.

Boko haram’s rise to promi­nence has taken place en­tirely on Jonathan’s watch, and at no time has he shown much in­ter­est in fight­ing it.

he spoke out strongly when Boko haram at­tacked tar­gets in the capi- tal, Abuja, but did noth­ing.

For the rest, he left the prob­lem to the army and to his north­ern al­lies, the feu­dal emirs who still dom­i­nate pol­i­tics there.

Th­ese tra­di­tional rulers have man­aged to hang onto their power be­cause the north’s pop­u­la­tion is more il­lit­er­ate and far poorer than that of the south­ern states.

In or­der to jus­tify their wealth and po­lit­i­cal priv­i­lege, the emirs have al­ways stressed their tra­di­tional re­li­gious roles.

so when re­form­ers be­gan to crit­i­cise them from a rad­i­cal Is­lamic stand­point in the 1990s, they tried to steal the rad­i­cals’ thun­der by bring­ing in sharia law right across the north.

That didn’t pla­cate the grow­ing Is­lamist op­po­si­tion to the rule of the emirs.

The op­po­si­tion turned vi­o­lent in 2009, with Boko Haram’s first at­tacks, and de­spite its ex­treme cru­elty it en­joys some support across the north among both pi­ous Mus­lims and the down­trod­den.

And the army, as usual, did noth­ing use­ful.Last Fri­day’s at­tack on the Kano cen­tral mosque showed all th­ese cross-cur­rents vividly.

The build­ing is on the main square right next door to the palace of the emir of Kano, Mo­hammed sanusi II, who fre­quently preaches in the mosque. Nat­u­rally, he al­ways ex­horts the pop­u­lace to re­sist Boko haram.

But the emir also urges peo­ple not to de­pend on the army, be­cause it is use­less.

They should or­gan­ise to de­fend them­selves, for the sol­diers can­not be trusted to pro­tect them.

“If peo­ple flee the vil­lages (be­cause the army hasn’t come),” he said, “the ter­ror­ists slaugh­ter our male chil­dren and abduct our girls to force them into slav­ery.

”The Nige­rian army is widely ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, bru­tal­ity, and even cow­ardice. It rarely takes the fight to Boko Haram di­rectly, but it of­ten fires on the crowds who gather after ter­ror­ist at­tacks to protest at the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to pro­tect them.

Nige­rian army troops did that again out­side the Kano cen­tral mosque last week, and no­body even both­ered to ex­press their out­rage. No­body was sur­prised.

This is how almost all of Borno state ex­cept the cap­i­tal, Maiduguri, has slipped out of gov­ern­ment con­trol. so have large parts of neigh­bour­ing Yobe and Adamawa states, and Maiduguri it­self, a city of two mil­lion, may fall be­fore the elec­tion.

In th­ese cir­cum­stances, you would ex­pect the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and es­pe­cially Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan, to be un­der con­stant at­tack for hav­ing failed to act de­ci­sively against Boko haram, but noth­ing of the sort.

When the four big­gest op­po­si­tion par­ties united two years ago to form the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC), they gave Jonathan’s rul­ing Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) its first se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion since democ­racy was es­tab­lished in 1999.

But the APC’s charms have faded as the elec­tion nears.

It at­tracted lots of prom­i­nent de­fec­tors from the PDP at first, but those new re­cruits brought their old rep­u­ta­tion for cor­rup­tion with them.

It is this new strug­gle for power at the cen­tre, not the ugly and alarm­ing de­vel­op­ments in the far north-east, that mo­nop­o­lises the at­ten­tion of the po­lit­i­cal class, for the out­come of the Fe­bru­ary elec­tion mat­ters greatly for them.

It will de­cide who gets their snouts in the trough for the next four years.

Vot­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tion are so low that they are not even shocked by the quite plau­si­ble ac­cu­sa­tion that Jonathan has failed to fight hard against Boko haram be­cause the three north-east­ern states would prob­a­bly vote against the PDP in the next elec­tion.

Whereas if there is enough chaos in the north-east, the elec­tion will be can­celled in those states. And so the band plays on, as Nige­ria drifts to­wards civil war and dis­in­te­gra­tion.

Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent good­luck Jonathan (right) and his deputy Na­madi Sambo greet sup­port­ers at a po­lit­i­cal rally in abuja on 11 Novem­ber.

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