Do Governments, Leaders Worry Nigeria is Trapping Her Future?, Conferees Ask

Senior academics, discussants and researchers at the just ended “National Conference on Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency” wondered if governments and leaders in Nigeria worry about certain practices which they equate with trapping the future. By trapping the future, they were referring to practices with potentials to explode in the future. One of such practices that came up in the course of comments, observations and questions across the sessions is the idea of school children wearing different sets of uniform in one school.  Participants wondered why it is important that children would be conscientised to their religious and cultural differences at such age in such a way that they can hardly outgrow. Warning that “our children are watching our steps”, some discussants expressed surprise that this happens in government owned schools where, in most cases, Christians wear a different set from Muslims. Does this worry the leaders, it was asked.

Intellectuals at a previous session of the conference

Prof Ogoh Alubo, a conference session chair

Similarly, the emergence of different markets for Christians and Muslims in some parts of the country was frowned at. So also is the emergent settlement pattern whereby Christians have their own sections and same for Muslims in many towns, cities and communities. Participants narrated the ordeal of individuals they knew who had to sell off, cheaply and quickly, the only house they managed to complete in order to relocate or risk being killed by youths of the ‘wrong’ community during violent conflicts.

Equally noted is the emergence of a parallel security system in terms of the street gating, high wall gates enveloping each house, neighborhood vigilante system, etc that mark an informal safety system as against the police and other organs that mark the formal system. In some cases, there are different District Heads for different sections of a community.

Although the items on this list emerged at different sessions at the conference, they cohere into the worry list of participants at the end of the day. The puzzle was always why the government or the leaders appear unfazed by any or all of these sorts of practices. Or always out of depth in terms of what alternatives should be the case.

But it was not one-way puzzles and no answers all the way. While no one had any explanation or answer to the cases of settlement patterns reflecting religious differences, the case of different markets was exonerated. According to contrary information, different markets in Jos, for instance, arose as a time-buying arrangement for tempers to cool, never as an official policy. “It was to create space for negotiation, to serve as a ceasefire kind of arrangement”, a participant told the conference. No one countered him on that submission.

Two other worries that got contrary analyses were why some people still believe no girls were abducted from Chibok and why is the abduction mediatised more than that of hundreds of other victims in Boko Haram series of atrocities. The second is what sense does society make from the statement of those who said that Boko Haram were freedom fighters or the tendering of apologies to Boko Haram by some three governors sometimes in the past.

While it was acknowledged that there are still people who are stuck with the conspiracy theory that abduction of the Chibok girls never happened but only something like that, organised to embarrass the government of the day, the question of media privileging of the plight of Chibok girls was related to the key features about it. According to Dr Kole Shettima, the first feature is the paradox in the failure of the idea of government it represents: government is supposed to protect everyone and here is a situation where this did not happen. The second feature is the sensitivity of the identity of the victims – they are all girls and were all students. The third is the way the abduction demonstrates the trend in the use of girls as weapons of war. “All these are situations that people cannot relate to and the media reflects that” and, hence, the demands that people do something about it as in the BBOGs campaign, it was stated.

A more comparative analogy came up in the question of people who described Boko Haram as freedom fighters ever before. What did they mean? Some discussants wanted to know what Boko Haram actually is. Is it a religious, specifically Islamicist movement or a criminal organisation involved in negative accumulation? If it is an Islamicist organisation, why does it attack mosques and kill Muslims also? Why did some scholars declare them freedom fighters when it started initially? Were they thinking it was something comparable to the IRA in Northern Ireland or even the African National Congress, (ANC) all of which started that way? Is it the case that people who made such statements now know better that Boko Haram is nothing of that sort? Questions! Questions!! And questions!!!

When Boko Haram bombed Police Headquarters in Abuja in June 2011

The Nigeria Police was not as lucky as Boko Haram. In spite of the presence of friendly and smiling police officers in uniform throughout the conference, discussants and other conferees descended on them as the case may be. Someone asked why the police collect bribe from both sides of every case. Earlier on, the celebration of Boko Haram in some communities initially when they were attacking only police and people in uniform generally was strongly cited as a bad omen. Such sense of relief that security agents were object of attack signposted pre-existing popular angst against the police and, by implication, the Nigerian State. If no such trust existed, how could there be sustainable resistance against a major disruption such as a murderous insurgency? It is hoped that the Nigerian State takes note as well as the Police Force itself.

Of equal concern was the attitude of the government in never resolving conflict because the government never goes beyond the violence phase. Once violence erupts, the government sends units of the Mobile Police or the army, in certain cases, ‘normalcy’ returns and the government forgets about the rest. Fact finding is never done, interfacing the protagonists and antagonists is never done, confidence building mechanisms are never put in place and the question of compensation is never addressed even in the most glaring cases of unfairness. So, the conflict goes down but not out. At the earliest opportunity, including where a community needs to act together in the face of collective danger, the old divide surfaces and makes this impossible because the old wounds was never well attended. Very few of the communities studied in the research rose above such divides.

Map showing Jigawa State in the Nigerian space

Why Boko Haram was basically absent in Jigawa remained a puzzle throughout the conference. The research report privileged leadership in its analysis. Some people acknowledged leadership but insisted on amending leadership to particular agency in analysing the Jigawa exception. In other words, leadership is too vague to be a useful analytic of the series of deliberate actions taken to keep Boko Haram off. Some people might quarrel with some of the actions but it was a case of what worked. The question of what worked was a constant in the research reports from the different states. In Yobe, when schools were relocated from some rural spaces to the state capital for fear that they could be attacked by Boko Haram, the decision was greeted with uproar. When Chibok girls were abducted from a typical rural school shortly after that, the relocation decision became the most applauded.

For those like this reporter who was on the ground in Jigawa during the time, the idea of giving more space to gubernatorial agency in trying to understand what happened was certainly not objectionable, not minding the devil’s advocate implication of saying so with the subsequent emergence of Sule Lamido as a sort of an elephant in the room. It should be difficult to be anything but a witness of truth for anyone who saw how things worked out. Moreover, it is not about accolades or denial of it to the then governor of Jigawa but about the theory that conflict management has become a disaster in Nigeria because of the crisis of political education and the associated governance tactics of most governors, if you take the state level. It could be said, up to a point that where a governor doesn’t want violent conflict, there would be none or, at worst, very few of such. Peace is a function of governance. And we must have the courage to say this for whoever proved this point, irrespective of personal or public reservations. Of course, there was an interesting analogy by the participant who wondered if the more apt explanation for the Jigawa puzzle in Boko Haram is not because Boko Haram commanders still have no idea that Jigawa and Kano are now two different states.

Governors at work: are they too overwhelmed as leaders?

Against the above background, the question would be: what sort of leadership, individual and collective, would permit school children wearing different uniforms in a same school in a multi-cultural formation as Nigeria; watch and do nothing over breakdown of trust between citizens and security agencies, allow settlement to be determined by one’s religious affiliation and even the market one patronises, among others. Is it that the leaders are not aware or they don’t understand the implications or they do not care. Or are they overwhelmed too? Why might any such possibilities exist? Is it time that would solve the problem or a deliberate choice to be made? By who and when if the solution lies in a deliberate choice? Professor Jibrin Ibrahim who coordinated the “National Conference on Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency” must be right, in this context, to say the study is a potentially important one for a country which has been undergoing shocks, from kidnapping to rural banditry and full scale insurgencies that have tasked the national security establishment. That is if Jibo himself has not been too gleeful in relating to resilience. That would be the last subject on Intervention‘s coverage of the “National Conference on Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency”.