A president playing dangerous politics with Boko Haram
The last time we met on these pages two weeks ago, I concluded my piece that morning by putting the burden of solving the Boko Haram “riddle” (my own word) on the leadership of the Muslim North, specifically on the new Minister of Defence, Lt-General Aliyu Mohammed, (retired), a veteran spymaster and a former army chief, and on Col Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, retired, the current National Security Adviser to the President.
“On his part,” I said, “the new army chief should know that if, along with the National Security Adviser to the president, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, a scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, he cannot solve the, admittedly complex, riddle of Boko Haram which has done so much damage to Nigeria generally but more specifically to the North and to Muslims and to the image of their religion, then the Muslim North will have no one else to blame but its leaders, both secular and religious.”
President Goodluck Jonathan’s angry reply over the weekend in Bauchi to Governor Murtala Nyako’s charge in far away America that the president is incapable and/or uninterested in solving the Boko Haram crisis – that is if, according to Nyako, the man is not himself outrightly complicit in complicating the crisis for political gain - has got me wondering if I have been fair and sensible in shifting even the immediate burden of solving the crisis from the president to his lieutenants, and through them, to the entire leadership of a region. Of course the ultimate burden of solving any national problem lies with the country’s president; the buck, as they say, always stops at the table of the boss. However, there is also a lot his underlings can do to help him solve a problem. It was to that extent that I put the burden of ending the Boko Haram scourge on his two security chiefs. But then the president’s angry remarks last Saturday, March 26, during the Peoples Democratic Party’s North-East rally in Bauchi strongly suggests a frame of mind that is more interested in playing politics with Boko Haram than in ending its terror. With such a frame of mind it will not matter much what his subordinates do to help their boss do his job satisfactorily of securing the nation.
No doubt Governor Nyako’s paper during the March 17-19 symposium in Washington DC, USA, on the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East at the instance of the Unites States Institute for Peace to which all the 19 governors of the Northern State were invited, was highly provocative. “The security situation we are facing,” he said in the course of delivering his paper, “... could be sponsored by evil minded and overambitious leaders of Government and society for political gains.” Of course, he did not name names but it needed little or no imagination to guess those he was pointing his fingers at.
As if to remove any doubts about those the governor presumably had in mind, the president chose the occasion of his party’s rally in the main theatre of the Boko Haram insurrection to reply him. I solved the terror problem in my home state, Bayelsa, when I was deputy governor and then governor, so Nyako and other Northern governors accusing me of incompetent leadership should go solve their own Boko Haram problem, the president said, in effect.
“All what they put on their bodies,” the president reportedly said in his peculiar English and simplistic logic, apparently referring to the Boko Haram ragtag army, “is not worth N10, but they carry rifles and bullets worth more than N250,000. Somebody gives them food so that they can kill. You ask how we build this army of unemployed and unemployable youth? The Federal Government does not control primary education, it does not control secondary school education, and a governor has been on seat for nearly eight years and we have people in that state that can’t go to secondary school. You say bad leadership? Who is the bad leader? Is it the Federal Government? I made sure that every state has a university. That is the responsibility of the Federal Government and I have done it.”
The president is right, damn right, that governors – and I must say that includes himself when he was one, as can be seen from the poor primary and secondary enrolment figures of Bayelsa – have been almost criminally negligent of their responsibilities to provide primary (through Local Governments) and secondary education in their states.
However, the president was wrong to blame the states alone for their negligence. Part of the blame must go to the Federal Government for cornering so much revenue for itself from the Federation Account (55% or so) that states seem to lack enough to attend to even their more basic responsibilities in such areas as education, health and basic infrastructure.
The president was also wrong to think poor primary and secondary school enrolment is the main cause of Boko Haram. It is not. The Boko Haram army may be ragtag but its main recruits are not small kids who won’t go to Western schools. On the contrary it recruits mainly from youths who have been to such schools but have become totally disillusioned with a system which they can clearly see is more interested in producing a few billionaires than in raising millions out of poverty. The president may not be essentially responsible for such a system but he has not helped matters by the wilful way he has, for all practical purposes, refused to do anything about so much waste, corruption and scandal that has surrounded his administration.
The president was also wrong to claim he solved MEND’s terror problem in Bayelsa. He did not and could not. As governor, he had no control of the police and the security forces. As he knows all too well the credit for that goes mainly to his boss, late President Umaru Yar’adua for his amnesty programme for Delta militants, and partly to himself as vice-president, who, as the son of the soil, helped to oversee the execution of the programme. The president’s apparent misdiagnosis of the Boko Haram problem clearly suggests he is more inclined to playing politics with it than in trying to solve it. There have been at least two evidences of recent to support this thesis. First, is the reckless manner in which his party’s spokesman, Mr Olisa Metuh, has been attacking the main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress, labelling it an Islamic party with a “janjaweed” ideology, as if it is a crime to be a Muslim in this country. Indeed, he has said worse by accusing the party without a shred of evidence of being the sponsor of Boko Haram and no one seems to want to call him to order. On the contrary, he seems to enjoy at least the tacit support of his party’s leadership.
Even more telling than Metuh’s recklessness has been the president’s loud silence on the unmasking in February of his Senior Special Assistance on Social Media, Reno Omokri, as the brain behind a highly dubious attempt, through a Word document using a funny-sounding alias, Wendell Simlin, that tried to link Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to the recent increase in Boko Haram violence in Borno and Yobe States. The discovery that Omokri was the real author of the document has yet to earn the man even the mildest rebuke, never mind a sack.
It all reminds one, doesn’t it, of the charge by Mr Henry Emomotimi Okah, since jailed in South Africa for his alleged role in the October 1, 2010 fatal bombing of Eagle Square during the Golden Jubilee of Nigeria’s Independence, in an affidavit he swore to in a court in that country, that he was contacted by the presidency to prevail on Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) to withdraw its statement claiming responsibility for the bombing so that it can be blamed on some Northern politicians, notably General Ibrahim Babangida, former military president who was initially in the running for the 2011 presidential election.
Said Okah in his affidavit, “During the morning of 2 October 2010, I received two SMS’es from Mr Tony Uranta...The SMS’es were sent from Mr Uranta’s number +2348075407801. The first of the two SMS’es stated; - “Ask J.G to withdraw statement.” (J.G. being Jomo Gbomo the spokesperson for MEND.) The final SMS sent at 10h28:32 am states; - “The government will blame on Northern elements.”
Okah has since claimed that his refusal to co-operate with the presidency was why the Federal Government leaned heavily on the South Africans to secure his imprisonment.
In that same affidavit Okah claimed that “On the day of the bombing of 1 October 2010, I received a call from Mr Moses Jituboh, the Head of Personal Security to President Jonathan, who solicited my assistance and continued cooperation with President Goodluck
Jonathan towards shifting blame for the bombings to the North of Nigeria. He assured me in this meeting that President Goodluck Jonathan was determined to ensure that political power never returned to the North which Mr Orubebe described as parasites. To achieve this, President Goodluck Jonathan would pretend to do only one term in office and once entrenched, he would insist on a second term.”
Okah’s affidavit may sound like the desperate act of a dog in a manger, but his claims seemed to have been borne out by subsequent events, including former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s now famous open letter to the president reminding him that he had promised to do only one term during his campaign for the 2011 presidential election. With a record like this it is hardly unfair to suspect our president of being more interested in playing politics with the Boko Haram scourge than in bringing it to an end. In which case nothing his subordinates do will, in the end, make any difference in helping him secure the country and its citizens from terrorism.