Saturday, 16 January 2016

Post-Boko Haram: Rebuild North-East, Resolve Clamour For Biafra Secession



Food for thought:
 “Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due’’ – Emperor Justinian I (c.482-565)

Part One: The Boko Haram Miasma

If Boko Haram were to be a commercial brand, it will tenably rival the ilks of Google, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola amongst others in terms of global recognition. Founded in 2009 by Mohammed Yusuf and succeeded by Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram metamorphosed from been a sleepy, rabble religious sect to a monstrous bloodletting terror organization that taunted and some say, humbled the Nigerian military by virtually carving out vast swathes of land as its Islamic Caliphate - out of the Nigerian federation at the peak of its blitzkrieg. Notoriously ranked as plausibly the world’s deadliest terrorist organization in terms of casualties, Boko Haram militants have killed thousands of people and displaced about 2.2 million persons (IDPs). Largely dislodged from the Caliphate it carved out and occupied, the Sect has retroverted to its primordial tactics, more like Guerilla warfare of intermittently deploying suicide bombers with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) coupled with hit-and-run attacks on soft targets.

Socio-Economic Effect of Boko Haram Insurgency on North-East, Nigerian Economy

The Boko Haram insurgency, insecurity miasma in Nigeria has undoubtedly taken a toll on the Nigerian economy with dire socio-economic outcomes especially on the North-East. Agriculture, farming, tourism, infrastructure, education and local businesses amongst others, are the hardest hit. Business and commercial activities in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital where Boko Haram was birthed and other northern states came to a standstill. For instance, Baga, the popular and bustling fishing town on the fringes of Lake Chad which fell to Boko Haram after the infamous Baga massacre of January 3, 2014, is yet to recover from Boko Haram onslaught. The Maiduguri Monday Market believed to be the largest market in the city reportedly saw half of the 10, 000 shops and stalls in the market abandoned by traders fleeing the insurgency. Banks and telecom operator’s had to cut down their business hours as a precaution against random attacks by Boko Haram militants. Nigeria's former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, asserted that ‘’the Ebola virus disease and acts of violence by the Boko Haram sect had adversely affected business and economic activities, slashing the Nigeria’s projected economic growth rate from 7 to 6.5 per cent’’.  Not long ago, Northern lawmakers led by one Mr. Abdulrahman Abba-Terrab put the losses resulting from Boko Haram attacks in the North-East at over N100bn and claimed that the amount was needed to rebuild the zone. Mr. Abdulrahman adduced that Boko Haram has caused “immeasurable destruction of lives, property, and public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, worship centres and market places.” Of a truth, it will take enormous resources and decades to rebuild the wanton damage caused by Boko Haram.

North-East Development Commission To The Rescue

Sometime in December 2015, a bill for the establishment of ‘’North-East Development Commission’’ sponsored by the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, passed its second reading. The bill seeks to charge the envisaged commission with the responsibility to ‘’receive and manage funds from allocation from the federation account and international donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses, and business premises of victims of insurgency; and for other matters connected therewith’’. Establishing a North-East Development Commission (NEDC) is definitely a welcome development, albeit a kneejerk approach. Prior to now, the militancy, agitation for resource control in the Niger-Delta by the MEND etc. heralded the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Amnesty largesse that saw money been thrown at a problem, more like treating the symptom of a disease rather than the causative agent(s) of disease. The Amnesty bounty succeeded in transforming dilettante militants into nouveau-riche billionaires yet the problem inherent in the Niger-Delta persists. Now we have Boko Haram insurgency and the answer is to create a North-East Development Commission (NEDC). If there’s turmoil in North-Central Nigeria tomorrow, we create North-Central Development Commission (NCDC) and so on and so forth.

Part Two: The Rekindled Biafra, MASSOB, IPOB Agitation For Secession

Quest For Secession is A Global Phenomenon

Ever wonder why after 300 years of a political marriage, quasi-independence and devolution of powers involving Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scots are clamouring for full independence. A peaceful referendum devoid of muddslinging was put forward in this regard which Scottish nationalists narrowly lost. Alex Salmond, the then Scottish first minister and his ilks were and are not viewed as enemies of the state in the United Kingdom for daring to campaign for an independent Scotland. There was a referendum in Canada when Quebec province wanted to opt out. This January 2016, the BBC reports that the newly elected leader, Mr. Carles Puigdemont of the government in the Spanish region of Catalonia has pledged to continue his predecessor Artur Mas’s plans to secede from Spain within 18 months.  Recall that Catalonia in north-east of Spain, is said to be highly industrialized and populous region that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output. It follows that the quest for secession is not just a Nigerian thing but how we go about it and how we respond to it matters a lot. You don’t hear of the security agencies in these countries indiscriminately killing folks who agitate for balkanization of their country.

Bravado Will Not Suffocate Agitation For Biafra
One of the upshots of the 2015 presidential election is that Nigeria is more than ever fragmented into ethnic, religious lines and it is incumbent on Mr. President to heal the nation. As Bishop Matthew Kukah put it in his recent interview, ‘’Nigeria is now a more divided country’’. He went further to say that, this has resulted in persistent crises and youth restiveness in the nation‘’. It follows that the current administration needs wisdom in navigating the rekindled Biafran agitation. Just as the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the erstwhile founder of Boko Haram did not extinguish the Sect, allowing Nnamdi Kanu to rot in DSS gulag notwithstanding court orders granting him bail, WILL NOT end the massive traction and vociferation for an independent Biafra. Nigerian leaders, folks at the corridors of power must understand that power is transient, that reason and empathy is not tantamount to weakness. Though he supports Mr. President but in his recent article titled – “What is going on in Abuja’’,  Chief Dele Momodu was courageous to opine that President Buhari’s statement during his media chat to the effect that some of those arrested for economic crimes doesn’t deserve bail is ‘not so tactful but honest…and is incompatible with the tenets of democracy. Legal luminary, Mr. Femi Falana also believes that ‘’the orders for bail granted to Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu should be obeyed’’. President Buhari’s response with respect to the flagrant disobedience by the DSS of bails granted to Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu by competent courts implies a blatant contempt for the rule of law. There are something’s that are left unsaid and there are some stunts that are pulled behind the scene. According to Professor Okey Ndibe’s essay – do we have an ‘’Emperor Buhari, or Plain Poor Communicator’’? We voted Buhari as president of Nigeria; he needs not transmute himself into a court of law. You have the option of an appeal if one is not comfortable with the outcome of the ruling of a lower court. The President, organs of government and individuals, no matter how highly placed, are not at a liberty to hijack the functions of a court or choose which court injunction they respect. To do that is an invitation to tyranny, dictatorship. To paraphrase President Obama’s statement, Nigeria needs strong institutions not strong rulers. President Buhari must surround himself with men and women who will tell the home truth the truth not sycophants.

On the EFCC, the agency needs to be reminded that it does not have the mandate to detain an accused indefinitely or force him/her to admit to guilt or make restitution. The EFFC must not ascribe the role of a prosecutor and a court of law to itself; let the Commission play by the rules, do more of diligent investigation, prosecution than media trial and bullying.

Need For Superior Argument

Of a truth, the Nigerian federation as it is currently constituted and governed, need a whole lot of renegotiation and fine-tuning. We need superior arguments, convictions, facts, sense of belonging why Nigeria must remain one, not just because Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 hence it is a fait accompli. Nation states continue to re-negotiate the terms and conditions of their existence hence the unity or otherwise of a country is not sacrosanct as international borders are been redrawn regularly. Russia annexed Crimea a while ago while South Sudan just emerged from Sudan lately. Like them or loathe them, the Islamic is Balkanized from Syria and Iraq. My essay - ‘’Much Ado About One Nigeria’’ espouses the fact that Nigeria has a very long way to go in its quest for nationhood. Even in a nuclear family, there are disagreements, infighting, schisms. Secondly, granted a large chunk of Ndigbo identify with the spirit of Biafra however prevailing events in South Sudan constrain some of us to be somewhat guarded with the bandied prospect of an independent Biafra becoming the Eldorado or panacea to all the problems that Igbos encounter in Nigeria.

Extra-judicial Killings, High-handedness In Emasculating Peaceful Demonstrations

The Nigerian establishment cum security agencies must rein in their overly gung-ho approach, use of live ammunitions in quelling or emasculating peaceful demonstrations in Nigeria. For instance about nine people were reportedly killed in Onitcha during a pro-Biafra protest sometime in December 2015. Take a cue from this: On January 3, 2016, a well-armed and self-styled ‘’militia’’ took over a federal building at Oregon in the United States of America. Rather than aggravate the situation, the White House simply referred to the stand-off as ‘’a local law enforcement matter’’ and the FBI was dispatched to see that the incident was handled ‘’without violence’’. And the situation was brought under control even though the United States has the wherewithal to obliterate the so-called militia within few seconds. To dilettantish, unarmed Biafran agitators and demonstrators, go figure the fate of many unarmed prophets from Bible times till date. It is foolhardy for an unarmed individual to confront one that is not just armed with sophisticated weaponry but also trigger happy and enjoys the support, protection of the establishment.

If You Are Bent On Negotiating With Boko Haram, Why Not With Biafran Agitators?

During one his interviews, former president Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted as saying that Boko Haram has ‘genuine grievances’. If high-handedness, lack, deprivation, poverty, unemployment amongst others, are extenuating circumstances for what Boko Haram is doing, then the Igbo’s also have as erstwhile President Obasanjo put it, ‘’genuine grievances’’ against the federal government. The good news is that an average Igbo person is enterprising and seldom depends on the government, nay his kit and kin for provision. Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration unsuccessfully tried to force-feed the Boko Haram with a negotiation and now for the umpteenth time during President Buhari’s inaugural media chat in December 2015, he extended an olive branch, to negotiate with Boko Haram without PRE-CONDITIONS! If Boko Haram has genuine grievances and the Nigerian government is bent on negotiating with the leadership of a so-called faceless group, why not also give Biafran agitators – the MASSOB, IPOB, BZM an opportunity, a platform to express their grievances? Because they don’t bear arms or kidnap innocent school girls?

What Does Ndigbo Want?

In a clime where it is pedestrian to brand folks who offer constructive criticism or disagree with certain government policies, as ‘’opposition’’ or enemies of the state, one wishes to state categorically that this writer is not a PDP or APC apologist nor a student of parish-pump politics. Given the tyranny of choice that Nigerians were encumbered during the 2015 presidential election, my article: ‘’Dear Pres. Jonathan, Please Gracefully Absorb Your Merited ‘F’ Grade on Security, Economy etc.’’ attests to the fact that yours sincerely supported Buhari prior to the election even when many folks especially from my ethnic extraction foreclosed his chances and joined the Jonathan bandwagon. This writer is simply a politically conscious and active ‘change agent’ that yearns to see a country that works, a Nigeria where every Nigerian is as Nigerian as every other Nigerian. No one is saying President Buhari is solely responsible for the plight of Ndigbo in the Nigerian equation but as President, it is his responsibility to carry them along whether they voted for him or not.

Enter the MASSOB - Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra - led by Chief Ralf Uwazuruike with the new kid on the block – Nnamdi Kanu with his - IPOB - Indigenous People of Biafra and the - BZM - Biafra Zionist Movement led by one Barrister Benjamin Onwuka who are at the forefront of a so far blistering but non-violent campaign for the fruition of a sovereign Biafran nation. We hear ‘Biafran International Passports’ are been printed and sold to the uninitiated; please don’t turn the Biafran agitation as a money-spinning enterprise, Ponzi scheme.

For the avoidance of doubt, marginalization in this context can be defined as a subtle or overtly orchestrated attempt to relegate someone or a group of people to a lower or outer edge of a society. Some argue that Ndigbo are yet to be forgiven for the 1967-1970 Biafra-Nigeria civil war. Not just the federal government, selfish Igbo leaders are also complicit in the non-development of the region. One does not speak for Ndigbo but during the course of my routine tête-à-tête with fellow Ndigbo, some of the issues put forward as evidence of Igbo marginalization are encapsulated in but are not limited to the following events:

a.     Save for late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s stint as ceremonial Governor-General or something and Major General Aguiyi Ironsi’s interregnum as Head of State in the 1960’s, an Igbo man is yet to rule Nigeria in the last 50 years! That Obasanjo ascended the presidency in 1999 was meant to assuage the South-West for the nullification of the June 12, 1993 election. A similar goodwill, sense of belonging should be extended to Ndigbo in 2019. Power is not given but taken; to actualize this, Igbos must put their house in order, do some political re-engineering, permutation.

b.    Nigeria is made up of six geopolitical zones; the south-east is the only region with only five states and fewer Local Government Areas, not necessarily because they are sparsely populated. This structural imbalance has far-reaching ramifications; translates to fewer Senators, House of Representatives members, federal political appointments, LGA Chairmen, implies fewer representation in the armed forces, para-military, civil service, judiciary and allocations from the federal government.

c.      No seaport in the whole of South-East even when River Niger can be dredged and made a seaport. By this, South-East traders are constrained to import their goods through Lagos, Cotonou ports. It took hue and cry to upgrade Enugu airport to an international airport.

d.    Manifest under-development, lack of federal government investment, presence and infrastructure – no refinery etc. in the south-east. Fifty years after the first Niger Bridge was constructed, how many more years will it take to complete the second Niger Bridge? 

e.     Massive youth unemployment, under-employment and economic downturn. The economic policies – dollar restrictions amongst others, of the Buhari administration seem to stifle than encourage businesses. Nigerian businesses not just Igbo importers, traders are feeling the brunt. Some of them have resorted to swallowing dollars.  On the demolition of the Owonifari electronics market, Oshodi, on January 5, 2016 by the Lagos state government, what happened to compassion, giving the traders a little time to remove their wares? How do you justify smashing people’s stalls with their commodities, life strivings intact?

The Way Out: Nigeria Is Crying For Justice, Equity, and Radical Restructuring!

One of the greatest banes of the Nigerian federation is that too much power is vested at Aso Rock hence the raucous and rancorous quest by the various ethnic groups, politicians to have a shot at the presidency. Play the ostrich as much as we want, it is apparent that fifty five years after independence from Britain, the centrifugal forces at play in Nigeria habitually offsets the centripetal forces. A spin-off of the aforementioned is the unparalleled insecurity and instability bedeviling Nigeria. For instance the unbridled brinkmanship preparatory to the 2015 general elections was tantamount to a country on the brink of war. And there’s no guarantee that 2019 elections will not witness similar frenzy. Take a cue from the United Kingdom; extensive crude oil reserve is domiciled in Scotland – the North Sea Oil but Scotland and the other constituents of the United Kingdom - Wales and Northern Ireland don’t have to go cap in hand or kowtow to 10 Downing Street to get handouts to pay salaries. A radical and sincere political restructuring (a weak center, fiscal federalism amongst others), will immensely calm frayed nerves and tame recurring tensions, agitations and political instability in Nigeria. One understands the recently concluded national conference has answers to quests by sections of the country to opt out. The current ruling government should in the interest of the country, look into the recommendations of the National Conference in this regard rather than their current posture of askancing from the Conference recommendations. Nigeria must do away with the prevailing ‘feeding-bottle’ federal system of government! In his recent ‘’Roadmap To Successful Change’’ message, Pastor Tunde Bakare advocated the exigency of restructuring Nigeria.   

Conclusion:
The North-East Development Commission must not repeat the mistakes of the Amnesty Programme that more or less concentrated in doling contracts, monies to ex-militants rather than provide critical infrastructures to Niger-Delta communities and creating employment opportunities to its teeming youths. Monies accruable to the commission must be judiciously used and not frittered away. As a master-plan to rebuild Northern Nigeria is been rolled out, the federal government MUST also tackle the remote and immediate causes of quests for secession, youth restiveness  in the south-East and equally provide the much needed infrastructure and employment opportunities to youths in this part of the country. The same gusto devoted to the fight against corruption must also be channeled to revving up the Nigerian economy that is almost comatose. Businesses are collapsing every day; corporate organizations are downsizing, importers and individuals cannot access foreign currency. These are some of the factors driving youth restiveness. An idle mind they say, is the devils’ workshop. Finally, if the Nigerian establishment is confident that Ndigbo have a square deal, are better off in ‘One Nigeria’, to put the quest for Biafra secession to rest once and for all, they should have no qualms to bring forth a referendum and let the Igbos vote, decide whether they want out or not as was the case in the United Kingdom, Canada where the Scots, Quebec Province respectively had a plebiscite to decide where they wanted to belong.

Written by: © Don Okereke
January, 2016

Follow Don on Twitter: @DonOkereke