Boko Haram’s ambition of creating a climate of fear, terror and panic ahead of their plan to re-invent Nigeria, seem close to reality. A visitor to some of the major cities in northern Nigeria – Kano, Bauchi, Maiduguri, Kaduna etc – will be forgiven to conclude that Nigeria is at war. Indeed, every passing day brings heart rending stories of cruel killings from Boko Haram’s bombs
and explosions with panic stricken citizens running from pillar to post. And with police and military check-points conducting widespread stop and search everywhere, the scenario of a nation at war is hardly disputable.
There are many, many issues that the Boko Haram insurgency has thrown up which cannot be easily addressed; some have no solutions at all. For example, Boko Haram say their prime goal is to impose Shari’a Law throughout Northern Nigeria. In other words, they are seeking to dismantle this country as we know it and to create another in which they alone will rule. But we have also been told that they want to eradicate decadence, corruption and injustice in our body politic. And so on.
Yet, whatever it is that Boko Haram wants to achieve or create, one thing they seem to be doing rather well now is setting the various groups in Nigeria one against the other. One day, Boko Haram say they are killing christians because Christians are killing Muslims; another day, they say they will drive southerners out of the North because southerners are sending Northerners out of the South; yet another day, Boko Haram would say they are fighting the government because government leaders and agents are corrupt and unjust, etc. After that, they will stand aside and watch with glee as the different groups engage each other in mutual blame and recrimination.
Despite all this, what is clear and what we all see is that Boko Haram remains on the offensive and their bombs do not discriminate between friends and foe; notwithstanding their propaganda. And in the face of the generalized climate of fear, apprehensions and mistrust, people respond in ways that are neither calm nor measured, precisely the type of reaction that pleases Boko Haram. This has to change. People of goodwill everywhere must beware of the nature of the problems we are facing and should say or do nothing that will help the aggressor.
Religious leaders, leaders of ethnic or regional groups and politicians at all levels should step back and ponder the role they wittingly or unwittingly have played in the successes Boko Haram has recorded in its bloody campaign to destabilize Nigeria. One particularly unhelpful reaction came from certain Igbo leaders who advised their kinsmen in the wake of the onslaught by Boko Haram to move out of Northern Nigeria and to return to their ancestral homes in the east. Clearly, such advice, apart from playing into the hands of the insurgents, is a wanton infringement of the civic and legal rights of the people. An Igbo, Urhobo, Efamai, Ekwere etc. living in Damaturu, Minna, Zonkwa or Yola are bonafide citizens of these cities as are Kanuri, Tiv, Nupe or Hausafulani living in Port Harcourt, Umuahia, Onitsha or Shagamu. This is a right our Constitution has prescribed; a right no one, not even temporary difficulties, should take away. Besides, certain situations make such ideas utterly anachronistic if not entirely illogical. Over 200 people were reportedly killed and over a thousand others injured with many more displaced when two long feuding communities in Ezillo council area of Ebonyi state clashed towards the end of last year. Where were the survivors advised to re-locate to? No where else!
Truth is, Nigeria is currently in the grip of unprecedented crisis of insecurity – Boko Haram, kidnappings, armed robberies, militancy, communal conflicts etc – and there is no shortage of purveyors of doomsday reports, feeding a vicious cycle of suspicions, conspiracies and more insecurity. As the authorities grapple with ways to address these challenges, Nigerians must remain unflinching in their support and cooperation so that together we will keep these troubles on the front banner until they are addressed.
Now, whether we need to address our national problems through a sovereign national conference as some are suggesting or through the constitutional instrument of the legislature must take account of certain facts of contemporary history. Despite the imperfections of a federal set up, it provides a security umbrella to all its federating units. People are quick to cite the success stories of countries that were created as a result of division – Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Sudan, etc. Often, they would rather not discuss the greater success stories of countries that preserved their unity, including Indonesia, Canada, Germany, nor the problems with which the splinter republics grapple with. This is true not only of Pakistan or South Sudan but even more ominously so with the former Soviet Republics.
Unarguably, Nigeria is grappling with an unwieldy administrative structure, a problem brought about in part by agitations for self-determination that led to the creation of many unviable states and local governments. It is our duty and responsibility to nurture our country and steer it out of any temporary difficulties until it attains the perfection we admire in others. Any one preaching or advocating anything to the contrary should know of the implications not to talk of the grave consequences on the lives of so many people across the country.
We will say this openly and frankly and without fear of contradiction that given the spread and depth of our integration as a people, it is futile to expect Igbos, Hausa, Yoruba or any ethnic group to relocate easily or peacefully to their ancestral lands even if Nigeria were broken up. It is not time alone; many things in nature are not reversible. And we should never forget, it is decisions taken in moments such as this that shape our destiny.
Dangiwa Umar was a former Governor of Kaduna State