Engaging the state on Boko Haram

By Abdullahi Musa

The State, as any that falls out of favor with it will testify, is a dangerous entity, institution. This is so because the state is powerful. Any entity that is weak, which cannot enforce its will, its laws, does not really deserve to be called a state. When we say State here, we do not mean any of the thirty six states of Nigerian federation; we mean the Nigerian state.

In the late sixties, a segment of this country was unhappy with the political arrangements then prevailing, and ultimately declared its intention to secede from the federation. A civil war ensued, and the Nigerian State triumphed by remaining united, up to now at least. The people of that area were either willing supporters of the cause, or had the cause imposed upon them by the elites of the area; the principal ones being those who were serving in the Nigerian armed forces.

While the war raged, the civilian population suffered untold hardship: towns, villages, farms, and industries were destroyed. People experienced hunger and starvation; children became malnourished; while some of the elites who imposed the seccession on the area fled the region to safe havens outside Nigeria. Today, that conflict belongs to history; but does it?

Today the current threat to peace and security is Boko Haram sect. As explained by so many writers, the sect is anti-western system of education; and may be by extension, western way of life. Many in Nigeria would have loved an aggressive State that would ensure uniformity. But the Nigerian State, particularly in the North, had been most benign. People are allowed not to send their children to modern schools. Many are today adults, in millions, who cannot understand the alphabets I am using to write this article.

The Nigerian State initially cajoled citizens in the North to join the system; but when they perceived that the benefits are now apparent, they left everyone to his own designs. In this free atmosphere one would be surprised to see someone fighting the State security apparatus for the right not to be educated in the western way, while millions are enjoying it (the illiteracy) without having to plant bombs, or assassinate government functionaries. Since force is the main characteristic of the State, some might come to the conclusion that if they defeat the State militarily, then they become the new ‘Lords of the Manor’. And then the docile civilians must of necessity follow the new rulers, ala Taliban.

One commends any citizen who gives up his or her comfort to endure the rigorous training necessary to be a member of the Nigerian Armed Forces. But if we are to follow the example of those who bequeathed the system to us, that force must be subordinated to civil authority. Not only that, the said legal force must love to protect the Nigerian citizen. It would thus be expected in any conflict where there are those who are not part of it, every effort be made to allow them to escape to safety. It is not heroism when you slaughter non-combatants more than you kill the perpetrators of the conflict.

After every inter-ethnic conflict, Nigerians go on living and doing business with one another. That does not mean a new conflict will not erupt, since most conflicts are imposed by elites who go scot-free, while the common men’s lives are sometimes destroyed as a consequence. Where this reconciliation is yet to permanently settle-in, is in the Police and Armed Forces. Here many armed men and women bear grudges against residents of the areas where they are sent to put down one crisis or another. There was an incidence in Kano where one civil servant who was sitting in front of his house was followed into the house and shot in the toilet by a member of army patrol team that was patrolling the area. That was all: no enquiry, no compensation; no nothing.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride themselves to death, so the saying goes. But one must still wish. One wishes that we find a way as individuals, as communities, as religious groups, as tribesmen and women, as clans, as interest groups, to be able to engage the Nigerian State in positive and civilized manner. This to me is necessary because the State, under normal circumstances is not supposed to take up arms against its citizens. It does so however, as we cited above, where some decide to take up arms against the State as in civil war, or other forms of insurrection.

Paradoxically, States are losing their sovereignty, where a more powerful State (like USA) may decide to instigate a group within a given country to rebel against its leadership or against its system. Nobody is interested in finding out the exact number of those who are rebelling: whether they are few or many. What is of interest is the interest of the hegemonic power. So if for whatever reasons Nigerians find it difficult to accept the Nigerian State, current leaders should know that it provides opening for detractors to move in. The Nigerian State cannot be the ideal State for all its component parts, but it should not be negotiable. But its non-negotiability is not simply a paragraph or chapter in the Nigerian Constitution. It has to be based on the acceptance of the citizens that the State is just, or at least fair. We are yet to really experience democracy at the federal level in Nigeria. A particular party wants to remain in power forever, irrespective of its track record. That to my understanding is the greatest threat to the stability of the Nigerian State. When the North thought it had the birth right to continue leading or ruling the nation, the South went on various forms of agitations till we had the power shift in the form of Obasanjo’s presidency.

There are lots of things wrong with the Nigerian nation. The current rulers think force will solve all political problems. I do not believe it will. As it is desirable for citizens to learn to engage the State peacefully through dialogue, then those in power should learn to really understand, and give room for the actualization of people’s aspirations. But the ruling elite seem uncomfortable opening up for new blood to enter the system. They prefer to keep on recycling the same materials, as if the nation is divided into castes: ruling elites, and subservient masses.

Three possible scenarios are possible, and all are not conducive to the survival of this nation as one, united entity; nor a stable one: scenario one: Boko Haram is the work of an intelligence agency; (whose seems to be immaterial) if we have our own intelligence agency, and their nation is the victim of the machinations of another country, then they may want to explain what their role is; unless they are accomplices.

Scenario two: Boko Haram is the misguided act of some Muslims (both local and outside). If that is the case, Muslims are being highly myopic, that the nation must be in their own image alone. Scenario three: Boko Haram is a security threat which can be faced by any nation; but the response seems to be that it is a continuation of the battle between Nigerian politicians of the two divides. So if Maiduguri residents are indiscriminately killed then may be an advisor somewhere is acting out a revenge script for some federal activities in his own area somewhere in the 90’s.

One would have prayed that Nigerians become capable of producing leaders who can rise above their sectional, regional, or religious biases; and try to truly meet the challenges of this nation which is not of our own creation. Nigerians deserve a breath of fresh air; as it were, we are forced to breathe the suffocating fumes of a coal-fired locomotive train.

Abdullahi Musa via kigongabas@gmail.com


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