“There is a permanent binding social contract between the nation and its citizens; the nation is to look after the welfare of the citizens and they, in return, are expected to behave like responsible citizens; and that contract has been broken woefully”- Alhaji Shehu Malami, Sarkin Sudan of Wurno.
Last Thursday evening, I telephoned Simeon Kolawole, editor of THISDAY newspaper, to make a few observations about the lead story of his newspaper for that day. THISDAY’s lead said “more soldiers killed in battle with FANATICS”! That, in my opinion, was not news reporting but a form of editorializing; and is a trend which unfortunately, has been the hallmark of the reportage of the BOKO HARAM episode.
What we have done is to systematically profile members of the group and in doing so, provided an ambience for the systematic executions, which began to surface from about last Tuesday.
I will not go into the content of the belief system of members of the group led by Malam Muhammed Yusuf; but when the media systematically profiled them as “fanatics”, we created a background of support for the extra-judicial killings that everybody is now horrified about. THE SUN newspaper on Tuesday last week carried on the front a picture of so many dead bodies, almost as if it meant nothing that the lives of very young people could be so wasted. Even DAILY TRUST was eventually to join the bandwagon, by displaying the bullet-riddled body of Muhammed Yusuf; a man that we now know was arrested alive but was savagely executed by the Nigeria police.
Let us remember that profiling has often been the background for crimes; Hitler and the Nazis profiled Jews before launching the genocide of the Second World War. In Rwanda, Hutu extremists in preparation for the genocide of the 1990s profiled Tutsis and after the 9/11 attacks; the Bush administration began to systematically profile Muslims in the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. It was within that profiling that the concept of “Good Muslim” and “Bad Muslim” emerged in the discourse of the US administration. Of course, the “Bad Muslim” must be killed, and pursuit to that, the USA invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, while suspected “Bad Muslims” have been subjected to “Extraordinarily Rendition” for torture and killing in prisons and torture centres like Bhagram in Afghanistan and Guantanamo!
Unfortunately, the Nigerian media seems imprisoned within often-undisguised biases, about Islam and that clearly showed in reportage and commentary. PUNCH of Tuesday, July 28, talked of “People SUSPECTED to be RELIGIOUS FANATICS (My emphasis)”. VANGUARD of July 31 reported that “Yar’adua rallies Govs against FANATICS”; NIGERIAN TRIBUNE of July 29th also reported that “FG orders defence chiefs to crush TALIBANS”; while THE INDEPENDENT of July 30 added that “43 EXTREMISTS killed in Yobe as military offensive rages”. So the operative terms were EXTREMISTS; TALIBANS; FANATICS. By mid-week, last week, international human rights groups had begun to alert to the systematic executions being perpetrated by Nigerian security forces; that did not catch on with the press until the blatant execution of the leader of the group as well as that of Alhaji Buji Foi, alleged to be a sponsor of the sect. A leading journalist like Bisi Lawrence of VANGUARD newspaper, was so imprisoned in prejudice, that he got angry in his column of Saturday, August 1st, that people will plead for the human rights of “de-humanized hordes of savages”! We therefore faced a media that sympathetically reports the OPC or romanticizes the “militants” of the Niger Delta, becoming uncritically embedded with the state that was perpetrating extra-judicial killings through a willful profiling of a group of Muslims, who canvass an unorthodox viewpoint. But what is democracy without dissent?
It is instructive to note, even in the context of the hysteria about the “weird beliefs” of members of BOKO HARAM, President Umaru Yar’adua actually confessed that it was the state which “preemptively” went after its members and not the other way round; that much he said, on the eve of his trip to Brazil, when he assumed wrongly that everything was under control! BOKO HARAM is an expression of an “alternative radicalism”; an example of non-state/anti-state mobilizations taking place all over the country today, because of the complete failure of the Nigerian state. In Southern Nigeria, people mobilize around ethnic organizations like OPC or militancy in the Niger Delta. For Northern Nigeria, radical Islam provides the ambience to challenge an inhumane status quo. 92% of the Nigerian people live on less than $1 per day; we have a venal and absolutely corrupt ruling class whose conduct has completely discredited the state. The implementation of neoliberal policies in the past 25years has alienated the people especially in Northern Nigeria, where the indices of underdevelopment and poverty are worse than the national average.
When members of BOKO HARAM, who in the main are young people, described as dropouts, the jobless, former university lecturers, and so on, publicly tear their certificates or inveigh against Western education, they merely underline the failure of the ruling elite to make modernity work for the people: no jobs; insecurity; a Hobbesian state of existence, etc. A responsible state would have carefully studied the social roots of radical alternatives and fundamentalist religious deviance; but not in Nigeria! The army rolled out tanks; hundreds of citizens were massacred and the ruling class deludes itself that it has ended a cycle of fundamentalism. Those in the media who ignorantly assume that there is “something wrong” with “those Northern Muslim fanatics”, might also chuckle at our “backwardness”; but they also miss the point. BOKO HARAM is not the problem of those that the state has executed in an extra-judicial manner; it is an indictment of Nigeria’s ruling class: its corruption and venality. It is also an indicator that the capitalism without human face, which withdraws the state from the provision of a social net for the people, has also FAILED!
Nigeria has to build a caring society, which allows its people to have a sense of belonging. The state must be purged of the venality of the ruling class and be made to work for the people: creation of jobs; provision of basic social amenities; the deepening of the content of democracy. In the past two weeks, Nigeria’s security forces wasted the lives of many young people who lived on the margins of a heartless society. No one can predict the next scenario if genuine remedial steps are not taken by the state. But our ruling class is bankrupt and incompetent comfortable only with a “law and order” approach to problems. It is also unfortunate, that by systematically profiling BOKO HARAM as “fanatics”, even the media contributed to the creation of the ambience which facilitated extra-judicial killings by Nigerian security forces.
THE THOUGHTS OF OLUSEGUN MIMIKO
A disclosure is appropriate at the onset; I supported Olusegun Mimiko and jubilated when he eventually became Ondo governor. I met him on Tuesday and he said governance could be meaningful if it genuinely focuses on the needs of the people. Right choices must be made on a sustainable basis and he is determined to fulfill hopes the Nigerian people invested in him. That was the kernel of our discussion.
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