I have been in hiding from Canadian journalists for the last two weeks since I came back to Toronto from Nigeria and Kenya. After giving two interviews to Canada Television (CTV) two weeks ago, I just felt so ashamed and so sick answering questions about whether Nigeria is now the new Afghanistan of Africa. I just could not handle the questions about this "open sore" of a nation (Soyinka). How has the mighty fallen? How did we come to this? I have always known that Nigeria is on a structure of injustice; created by Britain and sustained for the last one hundred years with lies, half-truths, injustice, violence, and deceit by both foreign and local feudal lords cannot survive in its present form. However, I did not expect this unjust structure to unfold this way.
Nigeria is broken and gravely ill as a political reality. However, viewed as a multicultural ideal of diverse peoples and interests forging a workable relationship in a different political structure in the future than this sinful state is still possible for Nigeria. However, Boko Haram has revealed the true face of Nigeria, and shown us everything that is wrong about this country and her peoples. Boko Haram, if not contained, will write the final verse of the painful elegy of the broken and falling giant of Africa! It is important then for all right thinking Nigerians to engage this reality with sober realism, and painful but truthful analysis of what is going on in Nigeria. We cannot continue to deceive ourselves that it is God’s will for this blessed land to be turned into rivers of blood and for our political and religious leaders to keep assuring us that this will soon pass away just because we are praying and hoping against hope. Many Nigerians beginning from the President to all of us ordinary people may dismiss Boko Haram as the most insipid entrails of a monstrous reality. We may claim that Boko Haram does not reflect our cultural, spiritual, religious and national values—whatever these may mean in the dysfunctional value syndrome which afflicts us all.
Many Northern Nigerian politicians who sponsored the various thugs which metamorphosed into Boko Haram and the patrons and sympathizers of Boko Haram may publicly wash their hands of them. However, it is the Northern political and religious elites who pauperized their young men and women, who celebrated keeping young Northern boys ignorant, unskilled, and uncultured, and who basked in the adulation of the almajiri band of roaming and roving beggars and tallakawas, who sang sweet praises for these rich alhajis, like untutored troubadours. The Northern political elites deny their youth any access to education, skills and job, and any possibility of being integrated in a well organized pluralistic entity. Boko Haram is populated by the lost Northern generation of wasted youth and other foreign elements whose past were years eaten away by the locust, and whose future is as gloomy as the darkness which they have imposed on the Nigerian state.
But we—all Nigerians especially the Northern leaders—must take responsibility for creating this monster: it was the Northern leaders who launched the campaign to introduce Sharia in most of Northern Nigeria in a foolish show of political grandstanding and without any true sense of Islamic passion or spirituality. They are the ones who began to question the ideals of a workable and manageable secular state in Nigeria and etched the anti-secular Nigeria and anti-Western and anti-Christian mentality in the consciousness of their impressionable and unlettered young boys. It is these elites, the so called Kaduna Mafia especially who cornered the federal wealth meant for the ordinary people and used it to organize nocturnal meetings, multibillion naira deals, strange political alliances and stratagems. These are the men who used money meant for building schools, hospitals, social centers, for food security through farming, animal husbandry, irrigation etc to build Sharia courts, Sharia police, Sharia bus services to separate women from men and other phantom and deceptive religious projects in the North. The Northern leaders are the ones who gave these young men nothing but ignorance, anger, fundamentalist drive, and a hatred for the Nigerian state.
It is patently shameful that the control of power and the unmerited access to Nigeria’s oil wealth by the Northern elites have brought no development to the North. Instead it has only empowered a few, and humiliated and existentially degraded and debased the many, especially the young. The level of poverty and the lack of civilization in many parts of Northern Nigeria especially in the North-East is not only shocking but cannot be justified given the amount of money which has been poured into the North and the amount of money stolen, diverted and mismanaged by Northern politicians. When I look at the motley crowd of disengaged and culturally alienated young men and girls especially in the far Northern Nigeria, I do not often see any relationship with them and the rest of the South at a cultural or national level. At a deepest level for sure, my Christian faith and African sense of connection leads me to see every human being as a brother and a sister. Indeed, I see my own destruction in the onslaught on the humanity of both the victims of terrorism in Nigeria and the perpetrators of terror. How much the Nigerian state and the world could have used the skills and ingenuity of these young men who are hiding in bushes! How much their brains could have been developed as scientists and change agents! Unfortunately, they have become the skunk of the earth and conscienceless husks of humanity.
Boko Haram is simply the reflection of Northern Nigeria. It is a metaphor of the true face of the North: a region which was shaped by violence with the Jihads of Othman Dan Fodio who inaugurated the first modern cultural colonization of the North, destroying ancient religions and cultures under the sacred robes of faith. His cultural project was baptized by the British who enforced a homogenizing structure on the North through paternalistic colonial fiats churned out by Lugard and his cultural conquistadors. In typical colonial fashion, robust cultural subjects and rich traditions of the Kanuris, the Nupes, the Tivs, the Jukuns, the Idomas just to mention but a few were sublated for the sake of an Islamic command center in Sokoto which became the political gyroscope around which revolved the British control of the so called Northern Protectorate.
Northern Nigeria has remained convulsive ever since with indigenous peoples, indigenous religious and Christian peoples and other minorities suffering from being cloaked with the same Islamic and cultural garment. Some of these minorities have been fighting for their liberation; they have been clamoring without being heard that we must withdraw the robe of sanctity from those who are using the name of Islam to dominate the minorities and exploit and manipulate the majority in most of the Northern states. Indeed, the Northern Christian and indigenous minorities are the ones who suffer most in this Boko Haram uprising. They have been fighting for years to make it clear that they do not share the same political or religious ideals with the mainline Islamic North simply because they share a geographical space or some physical proximity.
Northern Nigeria has produced the most radical forms of religious bigots and fundamentalists. I am sure that Boko Haram, given its increasing sophistication is much more than Shekau; it must have some help from inside the halls of power in Nigeria and perhaps from outside Nigeria, nobody knows. However, at least for now, the membership has come from the North until this is proven wrong. Some of the worst killings in Nigeria took place in the North: from the massacres of Easterners in the 1960s to the regrettable killings in the multiple Kaduna Islamic uprisings against Christians and indigenous peoples, and from the constant religiously motivated killings in the Kaduna-Kano-Zaria axis to the river of blood which flowed from the wicked swords and poisoned arrows of deranged Islamic fighters during the Maitatsine riots of the 1980s both under a Muslim president (Shagari) and a Muslim governor (Rimi). How can anyone forget the sufferings of the Northern minorities of the Middle Belt, for example the killings of hundreds of Tivs in their quest for self-determination of the Tiv in the 1900s and 1960s nor can one skip over the suppression of the Kanuri kingdom from the 1900s and the clinical cultural cleansing which led to the Zango-Kataf wars….the list is endless. There has been some very disturbing violence in other parts of Nigeria.
The wide West was a seething cauldron in Nigeria in the post-independence era, but it was rather a cultural-political war which turned violent. It was not a war against the state or innocent people. We know that the evanescent Easterners with their ‘big mouths, big titles and thirst for wealth’, continue to have issues with kidnappings, or the ritual killings which take place now and again in both the East and the West just to mention but a few. However, the truth is that Northern Nigeria has offered the Nigerian state a surfeit of violence. The Nigerian civil war did not start in Lagos or Enugu; it started in the North. Historians who will write about the present Nigerian condition in the years to come will for sure have different judgments about the escalation of violence in Nigeria, but one truth that they will surely assert is that even though there are killings and kidnappings in the East, violence in the Delta and ritual deaths in the West, there is nothing, absolutely nothing close to the kind of violence and asymmetrical warfare which we are experiencing in Northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram is the culmination of the North’s gift of violence for the Nigerian state and something has to give in here. I think the Northern politicians, the Northern Islamic leaders; ethnic and tribal leaders must take responsibility for Boko Haram. Indeed, they alone know how it started and they alone can bring this monstrous reality to an end, if they want. They can do this because they know the terrain, they understand the logic and they must be held accountable. They indeed need help from the rest of the country. However, truth be told that these senseless warriors are not members of my church congregation; they are not Christians; they are Muslims—even though bad ones—but the Muslim ummah in the North should also take responsibility as well for the evil acts of their brethren in the faith who frequent their mosques. Why leading Muslim clerics have not come out with a fatwa against Boko Haram is still a puzzle to some of us. A fatwa against Boko Haram by Nigerian Muslims will be more powerful than the UN declaring it a terrorist group.
The next point which I wish to make here is that blaming the Northern leaders for this monster and asking them to take responsibility is only a first step. The North needs the help of the rest of Nigeria. The second step is the whole question of the Nigerian state and the federal structure and the weak and clueless man who we have as president today and his beloved Dame Patience of the ‘there is God’ comical strip. The President is the commander in chief of the armed forces. He is the chief security officer of the nation. Even though state governors are the chief security officers of their respective states, according to the Nigerian constitution, the federal government still controls the armed forces and the police; hence the bulk stops at Goodluck’s table.
President Goodluck has shown a total lack of leadership in this area. Many people excuse his lack of leadership in national security because he is not a military man. The argument goes that Boko Haram could not have sprung up under Abacha or Idiagbon regimes as if we now need a military coup to clean up this security mess. The people in this camp point to the crushing massacre of Odi under Obasanjo and how it struck fear into many people’s hearts. However, we should still answer the question as to the extent to which the state should use violence against her own citizens and how much violence is sufficient in maintaining law and order and protecting the lives and properties of citizens.
But the truth is that President Goodluck not only lacks leadership when it comes to national security, he lacks leadership on many other pressing issues of national concerns. The ruling party, PDP seems to be a bunch of brigands who are only interested in milking this nation dry and holding on to power at all cost. Why can’t what happened in India’s recent election happen in Nigeria where the opposition won by a landslide? This is because politics in Nigeria is a game of brigands without values and standards; Nigerian politics is a deadly venture and a killing field. My analogy of Nigerian party politics is that these parties are like a bunch of armed robbers who are robbing the nation.
The ruling party, PDP is the ring leader, and the other parties are like smaller robbers who are constantly fighting to dislodge the ring leader (the PDP) through any means—fair or foul. However, since they cannot wrest power from the PDP in the short run, then they have to find a way of ‘robbing the nation together’, each party according to its own reach and capacity. This is why the only business in town in Nigeria is politics; in Nigeria money talks and values fall. The only speech and value in town is cash which is available through accession to power or connection to those in power. If you want to succeed in Nigeria you must have connection to someone in power.
Nigeria is a classic prebendal system where the citizens are like clients constantly begging at the doors of the politicians who are gate keepers and possessors of the keys to the kingdom. Even our religious leaders are all complicit in this whole macabre dance of the dead, selling their consciences and values for prize of lucre as they all bow to these corrupt demagogues, receiving gifts of cars and airplane, and huge monetary donations without any qualms of conscience. It must be pointed out in a most obvious way that no country or society ever grew or developed to reach her capacity when those in positions of authority or influence are most interested in what they can benefit from the system than what they can put into the system to enrich it and bring it to realizing its capability.
In the light of the above, I argue that we cannot view national security in isolation of the other things which are not working in Nigeria: education, social services, power, youth development and empowerment, oil sector, religious sector, cultural and social life etc. Nigeria is dying; Nigeria is broken; our systems are rotting away; there is corruption with impunity in our land and we see good and call it evil and we see evil and call it good; a culture of ‘anything goes.’ The masses of our people, the hoi polloi are working hard but held back by our leaders and the caterpillars of our commonwealth. We are suffering in Nigeria because we have dead weights parading themselves in our corridors of power and in the sacred portals of our churches, mosques and shrines.
Most of our current leaders appear to be short on ideas and ideals and lacking moral and spiritual fiber, but all of them are burning with a desire for money, for adulation, cult of personality and for empty shows. The chief culprit here is President Goodluck who got power on a platter of gold and who has a historical opportunity to write his name in gold, but seems to be clueless about the challenges of the times and lacking the big picture vision of how to meet these challenges. He will surely go down in history as the president who presided over the emergence of the worst form of terrorism in Nigeria and who by his own admission presided over a government that welcomed Al-Qaeda to the Nigerian and West African shores.
President Jonathan can still show leadership now. He should stop hiding and stop giving occasional platitudes and making empty promises about ‘finding these girls’ or ‘ending this reign of terror’ which no Nigerian believes. Most Nigerians are disconnected from the political process because they are tired of violence and tired of being used and as peons and fiefs; even the Boko Haram members hiding in bushes are not enjoying life: there is no joy in living in bushes; these are places for wild beasts and people who have lost their minds. They need to be brought home and brought to justice as well. President Goodluck must be in the forefront of this war and should be visible. Indeed, how he deals with this crisis could actually be a springboard for his political rebirth.
Finally, the answer to the crisis in Nigeria is not a simplistic blame game or conspiracy theory that the Northerners are creating this situation because we have a Christian President whose second term they wish to derail. The civil war and the worst crime committed against fellow Nigerians were not done under a Christian president and the Maitatsine riots took place under the watch of a Muslim president. This problem is not simply a Northern problem or a PDD problem. Boko Haram is the apotheosis in the evolution of a violent culture in Nigeria; it is only a new scale up of what is already an entrenched pathway of violence in Nigeria….remember Dele Giwa, Kudirat Abiola, Bola Ige, etc. Unfortunately, Boko Haram has tainted us all and brought grief and pain to many lives; Boko Haram is a Nigerian problem which has a Northern provenance! However, such groups are not unusual in modern times in the narrative of a post-colonial state.
Nigeria is a post-colonial state and what we see in Nigeria is a classic third wave post-colonial reality, that is, the constant strains and stress of contestations within the divergent social constructs and socially and culturally bounded groups in search of a place in the post-colonial state. This occurs after many years when the post-colonial state has become exhausted with living the lies imposed on it by a foreign colonial power. Thus, in every post-colonial state in Africa, one can find cultural and counter-cultural inventory traces—some of them benign in their expressions, and some violent and aggressive.
However, all of these are attempts to contest or destroy the hegemonic narrative and structure which prop up the state. Every post-colonial state must adopt a decolonizing pathway which rejects predictable or normative reasoning which holds that the colonial structure bequeathed to the people by the colonial cabals is a finished product which should be sustained through a predictable logic of unity at all costs or a deterministic constitutional regime; living together and forging bonds of peace is not simply a matter of constitution, good speeches, declarations or manifestoes: it requires hard work, sacrifice, martyrdom, courage and resilience. Indeed, embracing such a narrative of ‘Nigeria must survive’ at all cost is simply the pathway to death or to borrow the words of Edward Said, it will subject the post-colonial state to a ‘punishing destiny.’
Boko Haram, viewed in the light of post-colonial thinking is a resistant movement; it could be seen as a sub-altern because it claims to reject the state, and to offer a new narrative of state and society which it claims will be better than what is on offer by the Nigerian state. How valid is their claim and how realistic and ethical are their steps towards realizing their agenda? But then what is the alternative pathway being offered the citizenry today which will motivate the rest of the nation to mobilize as one to fight Boko Haram and their internal and external sponsors? What are the irreducible economic, political, social rights and freedoms which I enjoy as a Nigerian citizen?
I am afraid that there are no good answers from the living conditions of most Nigerians. What the Nigerian state has offered is an unpredictable and consistent pattern of exploitation of the people, abuse and misuse of political and religious power, and a refusal to embrace honesty and integrity in dealing with the most pressing challenges facing the country. The main problem here being the uncritical orthodoxy and deception that Nigeria is one nation and should remain so even if it condemns Nigerians to a punishing destiny of peonage, constant search for belonging and being, and a suffocating space which thwarts personal/ group as well as cultural and national flourishing.
This is why we need in Nigeria to stretch the boundaries of our national dialogue beyond the limited confines of this wasteful and diversionary national confab. We need sober and serious wider national conversations beyond the conventional wisdom of the politicians and their religious sympathizers and enablers. This is the only way through which a counter narrative of state can begin and social movements, revolutionary activism and counter-praxis can then arise in small ways in our isi ewu joints, churches and mosques, market squares and buses among other channels. We need the emergence of an array of critical repertoires to clearly articulate and valorize alternative pathways for Nigeria, and engender a new level of understanding and accountability for what God has given to this blessed land.
The blood of many brothers and sisters being spilled in Nigeria is crying to heaven for vengeance. We should not become used to seeing blood or death in our land. We should not become used to accepting the time worn argument used by those who are benefiting from the injustice in our land that staying together at all cost and with a punishing destiny for Nigeria is God’s will for Nigeria. We should not accept as divine the reality in our land which has pushed some of us to live abroad when we could have contributed greatly to the Nigeria of our dream. We should not accept as given the unacceptable political and social conditions which are making many young Nigerians want to leave this troubled land. We should reject the metaphysical assumption that it is God’s will that thousands of people should be killed and livelihood destroyed by Boko Haram; it is not God’s will that our young people suffocate in a stadium because they are searching for job; it is not God’s will that billions of our national wealth should be cornered to feed the passion and leisure of our leaders and the political and religious elites; it is not God’s will that our young people should be dying in their 20s and that our women should be dying from pregnancy and our elderly parents and grandparents should live the rest of their lives in penury and pain. We should not accept the Trojan horses and the Greek gifts from imperialists who claim to be interested in our national security but who will end up leaving Nigeria like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Libya.
Boko Haram is a Nigerian problem and demands a Nigerian-led Nigerian solution. However, treating this problem in isolation; playing politics with it as if it is PDD’s problem, or interpreting it as solely a Northern problem which can be solved by Northerners without help from other parts of Nigeria will be a mistake. It requires a total picture approach which should be multi-layered and multi-pronged. This begins with asking ourselves as Nigerians: What does Boko Haram reveal to us about Northern Nigeria and who we are as Nigerians? What does it mean to live in a country where these killings are taking place? What does it mean to be associated with such a country as part of my heritage and identity? What do we need to do individually and as a group to take responsibility and become accountable for our past, our present and our future as a people who unfortunately face a common destiny now even though we might need a separate path to that destiny in the future?
© Stan Chu Ilo is a teacher, Catholic priest, social justice exponent, and writer from Adu Achi, Enugu State, Nigeria. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters