The Boko Haram menace has given rise to a plethora of voices amongst Nigerians. One such voice is echoed by those calling for the disintegration of Nigeria so that “this forced marriage will come to an end.” A more nuanced variant of this voice are those calling for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to decide Nigeria’s future – basically to discuss how to dismantle the Lugardian project.
The second set of voice comes from those calling for overwhelming force (stick) to crush Boko Haram once and for all. A third set of voice comes from those calling for some form of incentives or dialogue (carrot) to look into the possibility of resolving this problem more diplomatically. A nuanced variant of this latter voice are those calling for root and branch diagnosis of the menace, including the need to fix Nigeria’s economy and politics.
In this piece, my focus is on those calling for the dismantling of Nigeria as way of getting rid of the northerners and their Boko Haram – as if this is the first time Nigeria is experiencing armed dissent. It is premature, if not dangerous, to jump into grandstanding, or to assume that disintegration is a magic wand that will bring an end to our national woes and tribulations.
Recently, Professor Omo Omoruyi, the former Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) during Babangida Regime added his voice to those calling for the balkanisation of Nigeria. He was quoted in at least two sources: “Let Boko Haram have their own country – Omoruyi” (Vanguard, July 5, 2011) and “If Oil is found in the north, Nigeria will be divided”- Omoruyi” (Republic Report, July 5, 2011). Without prejudice to the veracity of the reports (I leave that to the sources), it is important to counter Prof Omoruyi’s narratives before he adds another layer of insult to our present deep-rooted injuries as a nation.
The Vanguard reports that “Prof. Omo Omoruyi, has advocated for a referendum that will enable the Boko Haram religious sect have their own country in order to avoid further bloodshed.” Further, the Republic Report reports that Professor Omoruyi advocated that “the Islamic north should be allowed to have their own country.” In both reports, one can see a desire to chop-up Nigeria into tiny pieces so that the “peaceful Christian Southerners” will achieve the nation of their hearts’ desire, while the “violent Islamist northerners” will be given the chance to construct their very own Somalia or Afghanistan. It is wrong, even deceitful, to make such simplistic conjecture – and given that it comes from a learnt professor, this is a very unfortunate development, indeed. Neither the South nor north is as homogeneous as is often claimed. Neither is composed exclusively of Christians or Muslims. Neither can lay claim to peace or stability. The south is riven with violence and disunity. Its diverse ethnicities and faith communities - Yorubas, Igbo, Ijaws, Itsekiris, Egbas etc, as well Muslims, Christians and Animists – habour their own fair share of instability and grievance. Lest we forget, the south east is the home to Niger Delta militants who, without prejudice to their just cause, have also held Nigeria ransom – including much publicized clashes with Nigerian military forces, their hostage taking, sabotage of oil installations, oil bunkering and car bomb near Eagle Square on Independence Day in 2010. On the other hand, the north comprises diverse peoples in terms of faith and ethnicity – Christians, Muslims, Hausa, Fulanis, Biroms, Kanuris, Igala, Gwari, etc, and its instability is now legendary, albeit cast in a mischievous manner.
It appears Nigeria’s new balance of power has given rise to a dubious attempt by some to “disown” the north by throwing away the baby with the bathwater. I have always maintained that there are commonalities between the north and south and, more precisely, between Boko Haram and Niger Delta militancy – they are both fathered by Nigeria’s economic and political decay. It is very wrong to ignore these commonalities.
Further, Boko Haram is often brushed with a heavy coat of Islamist paint, so much so that every northerner, including the author of this article judging by his name, is either a Boko Haram sponsor or sympathiser. For goodness sake, majority of northern Muslims are moderates who have nothing to do with extremism, much less militancy. And, the north is not inhabited exclusively by Muslims. In some states such as Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba, Christians constitutes a sizeable percentage of the population. Yes, there are flashpoints of religious crisis in the North – such as Jos, Zangon Kataf, and Maiduguri – but there are also pockets of inter-religious coexistence.
Professor Omoruyi did not hide his sentiment by painting Niger Delta militants and their atrocities as legitimate and vice versa. Hear the eminent Professor: “In Niger Delta, we knew what the problems were, who the people were and what they were talking about; being injustice arising from the oil in the area…For Boko Haram…we don’t know these people. They have not come out to say who they are. Therefore, when somebody said that they want to dialogue, dialogue with who? When they say give amnesty, amnesty to who?” There is deliberate attempt by Professor Omoruyi and his ilk to “glamorize” our militants in the Niger Delta and “vilify” Boko Haram. It is important to understand the root causes of all hues of Nigeria’s militants – not to cherry pick some and blame them. It is equally important to track modus operandi of all militant groups – they all actively use violence as means of political expression. There may be some nuanced difference such as hostage taking (Niger Delta militant) and suicide bombing (Boko Haram), but they all share violence in common.
In addition to equating northerners with Boko Haram, the latter is equated with nocturnal seamlessness and lethal repercussions, as if this too is not demonstrated by our Delta militants. Nigeria’s militants operate in clandestine form. They take cover using unsuspecting barriers – creeks or homes. We all know the leaders of those militant groups. But their rank-and-file have always remained hidden. But then, when it came to proscribing solution, our dear Professor went for the jugular “So rather than grant amnesty to faceless people, let there be a referendum and give them [Boko Haram, northerners] their own country.” It appears Boko Haram has provided a powerful arsenal in the hand of those calling for Nigeria’s disintegration. What is the difference between Boko Haram and Professor Omoruyi in terms of advocating Nigeria’s’ demise?
These days Nigerians, including Professor Omoruyi, are infected by the bug of political correctness. Many view things in terms of Nigeria’s new power equation. Niger Delta produced a President, and the north is recuperating from utter political defeat. Boko Haram, we are told, is a Northern “Trojan Horse” unleashed to render Nigeria ungovernable against the backdrop of North’s nascent marginalization. Such explanation is spurious, not least because Nigeria is ruled by a cult of political elites of northern and southern extractions. If our President, Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief of Defence Staff and National Security Adviser, among others, are from the South, the north too prides itself of other equally important political office holders including the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Inspector General of Police, the Comptroller General Custom etc. Given this I am not sure if the north is not left out in the current political dispensation.
Professor Omoruyi’s next insinuation is even more bogus: a mean-spirited and twisted effort to “oilify” Nigeria’s current debacles. He said “If oil were found in Kano or Enugu or Ijebu Ode, the Nigerian history would have been different today. If today oil is found in Borno, Nigeria will be divided.” Professor Omoruyi recalled an equally spurious counter-narrative from a northern politician: “There was a time Gambo Jimeta, the former Inspector-General of Police said that Northerners will go to war over oil.
Any attempt to deprive the North of the oil, they will go to war. Why should they go to war?” What the foregoing meant is that the north is a barren, poverty-stricken space which is begging to remain as part of Nigeria. The region’s orchestrated poverty and barrenness is used as an excuse to cast aspersion on everything northern. An overstress on oil is symptomatic of the rentier mentality of Nigerian politicians, including our Professor Omoruyi. Oil has been proven to be “resource curse” largely because in resource-rich countries, the political class often becomes greedy and deprives the citizenry of their mass entitlements. Nigeria’s problem is not oil or the north, but how to utilize the rent that accrues form oil. If the country’s oil wealth is properly utilized, Nigeria will be like the Gulf states or the Sultanate of Brunei (in terms of level of development). Professor Omoryi should note that it takes a transparent and visionary leadership, a committed middle class and a fearless, hardworking citizenry to develop a state. Many developed countries are not oil-producing economies.
Professor Omoruyi should be ashamed for making such disparaging insinuations to the effect that he equated Boko Haram with the generality of peace-loving northern “Nigerians”! Decidedly or ignorantly, he picked the Boko Haram out of every northern household. Such claim can be pardoned if it comes from less-lettered fellow. To think that such a mischief is flowing from the mind of a renown Professor is, to say the least, as disastrous as the Boko Haram menace. We expect our intellectuals to be critical, constructive and measured – not diabolical, bigoted, biased or destructive. With all due respect, shame on you Professor Omoruyi, and other disciples of doom.
Dr Usman Tar is the Managing Editor of Information, Society & Justice, an academic journal based at the Faculty of Applied Social Science, London Metropolitan University,