Boko Haram And A Season Of Apologies

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The “Mother of Apologies” came last week from the former governor of Borno, Ali Modu Sherrif: “I wish to publically tender my apology to the Jama’atul Ahliss-Sunnah Ladda’awaiti Wal Jihad and any other group I might have offended in the course of discharging my duties as Executive Governor of Borno State. It is human to err divine to forgive”. It was almost a replica of the climb down and apologies issued earlier by Muhammad Danjuma Goje, former governor of Gombe and now senator and the sitting governor of Bauchi, Isa Yuguda. The apologies were in response to a demand from the Boko Haram group. Governors Sheriff and Yuguda had been directly locked in confrontation with the group in 2009, while Goje was pro-actively attempting to prevent a problem in Gombe, and in the process, became over-zealous in the manner he dealt with Boko Haram.

The Chinese say that a tiny spark can start a prairie fire! Boko Haram has become a new phenomenon in Nigerian, especially Northern Nigerian, life. For the first time, since the 1980s and 90s, we have witnessed the emergence of a group firmly located on the margins of society, with beliefs which are contrary to the dominant ethos of the ruling classes, in fact are subversive of these ethos, providing a direct challenge to the hegemony of the ruling classes and the state. While many commentators, especially in the Southern media, have seen Boko Haram almost as a continuum of Maitatsine, they did not understand the remarkable movement that has been wrought in space-time, in the political economy of the region and the radicalization which has been the consequence of the crisis of our society. The Nigerian state which confronted Maitatsine had some legitimacy; there was remarkable ability and knowhow and the world then, is completely different from that which created radical Islam; just as the Nigerian state has withered considerably in legitimacy and competence.

The late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, used to tell me of pro-active steps which the  regional government of the Sardauna used to take to forestall crisis in the North. But even when the resource base was very narrow, the old regional administration had a civil service structure with a lot of competence; a traditional structure which people genuinely respected and a state which was accountable and tried to function for the welfare of the people. Fast Forward to the present! Those who rule our states today never seemed to realize that we sit on a demographic powder keg. Our country is overwhelming young, and these young people have no hope and mostly exist on the margins of society; the choices the ruling class makes deepen their alienation.

The anger in our land is destructively channeled in addictions: of substances and a search for spiritual answers. So the appeal of radical groups became an alternative to the corrupt harangues of establishment religious scholars; while the comforts of the Westernized elite are unattainable for the majority, so they breed envy, disgust and rejection. When these new groups retreat from society, the state is worried, and searches them out for destruction. Where they retaliate, even more violence is visited upon them. The video of the extra-judicial killings of unarmed civilians, including disabled people, by Nigeria’s security forces (a practice that we all know goes on with these security forces ALL THE TIME!), explains why the Boko Haram genie, once it escaped the bottle, became an uncontrollable phenomenon.


So those individually fingered by the group have apologized; and I believe that it is a step in the right direction. Let us hope that Boko Haram accepts, in the words of former governor Sheriff, that “it is human to err divine to forgive”. But our rulers need to take apologies forward. Leadership must be centrally wedded to the concerns of the Nigerian people, and in the context of today, that means instituting regimes of job creation and the creative harnessing of the talents and energies of our young people. Unfortunately, as we have seen since 1999, there has not been much effort in that direction, at all levels of our governance structure.

The school system is rotten; demand far outstrips facility; just as the graduates do not have skills useful in the world of work. The economy does not create jobs to match the number of those who need them. The mantra of private sector-led growth has bred our monster “private sector” elite, which subsists on a corrupt linkage with the political elite. Many of the mandarins of the ‘private sector’ are merely overseers of the wealth looted from the public sector and laundered away into the parasitic private sector. Together, they ruin the future of Nigeria, yet delude themselves that they can somehow achieve the peace (of the grave yard!) to enjoy their loot. It takes Boko Haram or other non-state acts of violence to lay bare the injustice which is the heart of our existence today. This might be a season of apologies alright, but how far can mere apologies dislodge the rot in the land? Not too far!


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