I am pleased to share my thoughts about two issues that confront our nation – terrorism and corruption. As a well-known opposition figure, I want to state clearly that the views expressed here are mine, and not of the political party I belong to – the Congress for Progressive Change. Secondly, my opinions are based on my interpretation of facts on the ground and research done by others, and not driven by politics.
At the crossroads that we have found ourselves as a nation, where a sitting government has shown no capacity and competence to confront these two challenges, we must be blunt in evaluating what has gone wrong – perhaps the moral outrage that results will be the basis for action to change things for the better. There are some preconceived and utterly wrong notions of where we are, how we got to this point and who to hold accountable that need to be questioned. There are narratives that are biased and not serving the nation well that need to be stated openly and sterilized. This is a duty beyond politics and partisanship, founded on respect for facts and logic. I will do my best to present some of these as a basis for our engagement. I thank you again for inviting me.
Terrorism and corruption are two words that now dominate our headline news more than any others. Domestic terrorism has now joined corruption as defining characteristics of our nation. It is sad that while other countries grapple with rebuilding their financial systems, upgrading their physical infrastructure and human capital, and adopting leapfrogging technologies to enhance their global competitiveness, our sensibilities are daily affronted by news of stolen trillions, multiple bombings and hapless leaders.
Terrorism is simply the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals. While to many, it appears to be a recent phenomenon in Nigeria, looking at it closely shows it has been with us in various degrees. What else do most of our political parties do other than use violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals? Who else exemplifies these characteristics more than the ruling party? In the context of this definition, where would you place what OPC and Egbesu Boys were doing in the 1990s? What have the militants of the Niger Delta and their umbrella organization called MEND been doing for years? Now there is no dispute as to whether the anarchist Boko Haram is a terrorist organization or not. The truth is that one’s freedom fighter is the terrorist in the eyes of another.
Even with the activities of these fringe ethnic and regional groupings, Nigeria did not enter the map of terrorism-prone nations until recently. Maplecroft, a British risk analysis and mapping firm that publishes the Terrorism Risk Index (TRI) ranked our country 19th and at “extreme risk” of terrorism in 2011, ahead of Israel (20th) but safer than Yemen, South Sudan and India among others. With the escalation of attacks by Boko Haram in the north, and resumption of threats and hostilities by MEND in the Niger Delta, Nigeria is likely to jump to near the top of the TRI soon, unless something concrete is done.
Our nation and citizens are in grave danger. Our unity in diversity is at the highest levels of risk since independence. The possible break-up of Nigeria is being discussed openly not only in the Villa, but in various regional and cultural association meetings. Our democracy is in danger, and its desirable end canvassed by young people in social media. The state no longer has monopoly of violence, and no longer in exclusive control of our maritime borders. We are increasingly resembling a failed state with confused and corrupt persons at the helm of affairs who seem concerned only about enriching themselves and their coteries of choristers. How did we get to this point of near helplessness so fast?
Corruption on the other hand refers to dishonest or fraudulent conduct by people vested with authority, and usually involves bribery or gratification. I think corruption is something Nigerians are sufficiently familiar with, so we do not need to spend a lot of time defining it. We all know it when we see it, and we see it often. For those in public office, I think the best way to determine whether that innocuous end-of-the-year gift amounts to a bribe, the question posed by Islamic jurists is appropriate – “Will this thing of value be offered to me by the person in question if I am not holding this public office?” If the answer to the question is not an immediate and unhesitant “Yes”, then the gift is a bribe, and should therefore be rejected.
You will notice I have carefully avoided referring to legislation, legal maxims and decided cases in defining either terrorism or corruption. It is not just because we have little by way of convictions for terrorism and corruption in our case law, but because many Nigerians have lost confidence in our justice system in its effort to deal with these terrible phenomena. For years, our nation has struggled with the reputation of being one of the world’s most corrupt nations. In 2002 we were amongst the bottom three, but with the emergence of EFCC and the implementation of several governance reforms between 2003 and 2007, we were out of the bottom thirty by the time the Obasanjo administration left office.
Under Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC charged eleven former governors for corruption and money laundering. With the exception of Lucky Igbinedion’s ‘plea bargain’ arranged by Farida Waziri, none of the cases have moved forward since then. Several of them now sit in the senate and chair powerful committees. Our justice system has been lax and ambivalent about dealing with cases of grand corruption, as evidenced by the recent conviction of James Ibori in London after a federal high court in Asaba had dismissed over 100 counts of money laundering and corruption against him. It is not surprising that we are now back to nearer the bottom of the corruption league table.
According to Human Rights Watch (2007), the endemic nature of corruption in Nigeria has led to the loss of US $380 billion between independence and 1999. A Global Financial Integrity Initiative report dated January 2011 estimated that US $130 billion worth of illicit financial flows occurred between 2000 to 2008. Adding these numbers to the loss of nearly $7 billion to the fuel subsidy racket alone brings our national loss due to corruption to something in the region of US $600 billion from independence to end of 2011!
In 2008, Afrobarometer reported that 57% of respondents surveyed considered the Yar’Adua government as handling the anti-corruption war badly. The same survey revealed that 30% of respondents did not trust political parties. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2010 painted a similar picture with 40% of household respondents judging the government’s war against corruption as ineffective, while political parties and the national assembly were perceived to be amongst the most corrupt bodies in Nigeria, side by side with the Nigeria Police.
This finding – that political parties, the legislature and the Police are the least trusted is not surprising because corruption takes many forms. Indeed, I am of the view that rigging elections is the foundation of all corruption because it confers power without legitimacy, and without responsibility. And in Nigeria’s fourth republic in particular, it has birthed not only financial corruption, but immorality, violent crimes and terrorism.
The scale and scope of corruption in Nigeria ha
ve moved from irritating road-side demands and under-the-table payments worth billions of naira per annum captured by officials to a multi-trillion naira business under Yar’Adua and Jonathan. Everywhere we bother to check, billions and trillions are being wasted or stolen – fuel subsidy, pension funds, inflated and unexecuted contracts, goods and services paid for that are never supplied, taxes collected but not remitted, illegal allowances and benefits collected by officials, and entire budgets for security diverted to private pockets. How did we get to this point of near hopelessness so fast?
The Unholy Trinity
Violent crimes, corruption and terrorism were referred to as the unholy trinity that would confront citizens and countries in the twenty first century by Shelley (2005). These constitute Siamese triplets that often go together. Some commentators like Sarup (2005) insist that corruption increases terrorism. Contributing at a debate about corruption in India, a judge, Justice Santosh Hegde opined that “terrorism is caused by a disease called greed.” He went to observe that “politics was public service, now it is business.” Do these sound familiar? Do these opinions apply to us in Nigeria in 2012?
In my humble opinion, our own version of the unholy trinity has roots in toxic politics, rigged elections and bad governance. Political ‘God-Fatherism’, transactional leadership and social injustice are the key manifestations of this trinity. They are a toxic cocktail that would bring down any community, nation or government sooner or later. We got to where we are because due to years of practicing a brand of politics that is neither democratic nor meritocratic, with elections that are mostly rigged in many parts of the country, and political parties that are capriciously controlled by a few people.
Undemocratic politics is based on the deployment of money, violent thugs and coercive powers of state machinery. In many states, politicians and parties have armies of “youths” that are fed with cheap drugs and then armed with machetes, swords and guns to attend political rallies and attack any perceived opponents of the party and candidate. For instance, in Bauchi, Isa Yuguda has his ‘sara-suka’ (attack and stab), Ali Modu Sheriff in Borno had his ECOMOG, and Gombe’s Danjuma Goje had his “Yan Kalare”. In Rivers State, Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo were similarly trained and armed by the PDP initially to ‘win elections’.
What then happens after the elections are won and the supply of cash and drugs end? Society was left with young, bitter and hopeless people that happen to possess some dangerous weapons. The result – kidnappers for cash that metamorphosed into militants in the Niger Delta, kidnappers and armed robbers in the South-East and Area Boys and various NURTW thugs in the South-West, and Boko Haram in the North-East.
When ‘elected’ officials know for sure that they were not truly elected, but rigged their way to power, the organic link of accountability between the leadership and the electorate is broken. The ‘elected’ official panders to the interest groups that got his or her into office rather than the people – these could be the party Godfathers, the officials that wrote the results (INEC, Police and the SSS) or the thugs that snatched ballot boxes and so on. The structure and composition of these interest groups vary from state to state, but the overall picture is similar across the board.
Pandering to these narrow interests cost money with the result that diverting budgets, operating huge security votes and appointing hundreds of ‘aides’ that do nothing becomes the norm. It is when these interests are taken care of that the electorate is remembered. The overall outcome is capricious governance, discretionary application of resources and transactional mindset in governance. Little can be achieved under these scenarios, and this is what happens in most of our 36 states, the FCT and the Federal Government in most of the 13 years of ‘democratic’ governance.
Social and economic injustice is the sum total of these decisions and actions by the political leadership. Young people that have worked hard to get an education do not have equal opportunity to compete for jobs, because only those that are politically-connected get jobs even when they are the least qualified. The lazy drop-outs of the last few years have built mansions and drive SUVs because they were ‘youth leaders’ of the ruling party. Gutsy but brainless people that are willing to dance to the tune of the state governors end up as local government chairmen or in national or state assemblies as members earning hefty but illegal allowances for doing next to nothing.
Our politics and its products completely inverted and reversed the incentive structure in our society. Merit, honesty and hard work ceased to be virtues in politics and public service. Sycophancy, servility and cunning were more useful qualities for getting ahead and succeeding. Our young men and women – about 4 million of them added every year to the population – have observed and appeared to internalize these distorted values. There is little or no sense of community in that generation just as the concept of social justice is unknown to them. Generally, there are just two types of young people now. The smart ones that wish to take advantage of the system and the honest but bitter ones that feel short-changed by our generation and the system they think we created.
With the exception of a minority of deeply thoughtful ones amongst them that can see through what is going on, most of our children have zero idealism. Many are uncouth, rude and abusive to everyone.They have no respect for their peers and seniors, and using the anonymity of social media, they vent their anger and frustrations on anyone that they believe is remotely responsible for their condition. They take no responsibility to be informed, educated or experienced. Such youths see everything through ethnic, religious and regional lenses. They only care about sex, expensive cars, music and European soccer leagues. When I compare the idealism with which we viewed the world in our younger days with what I read on Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger these days, I am worried about the future of our nation (or more precisely, the lack of it.)
Another unintended consequence of our toxic politics is poverty, unemployment and income inequality. Nigeria boasts of a rapidly-growing economy but has 113 million living below the poverty line of a dollar a day. For an agricultural nation, it is a shame that 41% of Nigerians – nearly 70 million – are classified as “food poor” in 2010. The zonal distribution tells a deeper story. Nearly 52% of the people living in the North-West and North-East, 39% of the North-Central, 41% of South-East, 36% of South-South and 25% of South-West are hardly able to feed themselves.
Unemployment is the primary target of every sensible nation’s economic policy, but our policy makers seem quite content trumpeting our jobless growth. Nationally, at least one in every five able-bodied Nigerians willing and able to work has no job. Again, a sample of different rates for states show a more serious disparity. In Lagos only about 8% are unemployed, and 9% in Oyo State. In contrast, it is 39% in Yobe State and 27% in Borno – the birthplace of Boko Haram. Other states’ indices are Bayelsa (19%), Akwa Ibom (26%), Kaduna (25%), Kano (26%), Zamfara (33%), Benue (26%), Nasarawa (22%) and Anambra (21%).
Income inequality is another serious problem. According to the NBS, in 2010 65% of Nigeria’s wealth is owned by just 20% of the population. This effectively means that 80% of the population share between them only about one third of the nation’s wealth. This income inequality manifests itself in conspic
uous consumption by a few side by side with abject poverty experienced by the many. Income inequality, unemployment and poverty have been shown to correlate strongly with increases in violent crimes in many societies. This cocktail is what US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson referred to when he stated that Nigeria’s Boko Haram was capitalizing on popular discontent with bad governance in Nigeria in general and the North in particular. The fact that virtually all indices of development and progress have been deteriorating from 2007 in spite of being a period of high oil prices and production should make every thoughtful person to question what is happening.
Emergence of Boko Haram
In 2007, we had terribly flawed elections that brought Umaru Yar’Adua and several governors into office. In at least 14 states of the federation, ballot papers for the presidential election were being delivered when the results declaring Yar’Adua the winner were announced. The new president was decent enough to admit that the election that brought him to power was flawed and established a committee to recommend remedial measures. The judicial challenges to the various elections were going through the election tribunals slowly but surely.
The Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration inherited about US $50 billion in foreign reserves, US $27 billion in the excess crude account, and only US $3 billion in foreign debt. Yar’Adua inherited a country that was liquid and had a strong balance sheet, with BB- sovereign credit rating by both Standard & Poor and Fitch. The economic prospects were bright if the political economy was managed well. The twin deficits of electricity and rail transport were being addressed through the award of contracts to build seven new power stations and the Lagos-Kano dual-track, standard gauge railway line.
Over the ensuing four years, the federation earned another US $180 billion from oil and gas, import duties and taxes. By 2011, all these resources had been wasted with little to show for it. The excess crude account had been run down to less than $1 billion, the reserves drawn down to about US $35 billion and none of the rail and power infrastructure projects completed. What is significant is that since February 2010 when he became acting president, Mr. Jonathan has been borrowing an average of US $1 billion monthly, mostly by issuing bonds, thereby doubling our total debt levels to nearly US $42 billion and counting. The federal government is fast accelerating towards insolvency!
In April 2007, Sheikh Jaafar was murdered in cold blood while praying in his mosque in Kano by assailants that years later turned out to be suspected members of a sect to be known as Boko Haram, operating out of Bauchi State. However at the time the Sheikh was killed, an attempt was made to link the murder to the state governor Ibrahim Shekarau. This as we shall see, became a recurring pattern of behavior by the security agencies in cases of this nature – the politicization of terrorism.
In July 2009, Yar’Adua deployed the Nigerian Army to “crush” Boko Haram. The leaders of the sect were captured alive, or arrested from their homes and extra-judicially executed by the Nigerian Police. The sect believes that Ali Modu Sheriff, then governor of Borno State and the Commissioner of Police took the decision to wipe out its leadership, regrouped and went on what was essentially a revenge mission targeting the Police, the Borno State Government and other uniformed services of the Federal Government. That is how Boko Haram evolved from a largely peaceful, fringe Islamic organization to a vengeful sect and currently an anarchist threat to the Nigerian nation.
Initially, Boko Haram’s targets were symbols of authority (Police, Borno State Government, etc.) and limited geographic (Borno State) scope. The attitude of authorities to the sect’s (Northerners are killing one another, so we do not care, etc.) activities emboldened them, and when the first bomb was exploded by MEND in Abuja on October 1, 2010, the sect learnt a thing or two about grabbing national attention. As the media gave the sect attention, it mainstreamed its activities to first attack Yobe State then the Federal Capital Territory.
The watershed in the sect’s activities were the June 2011 bombing of the Police Headquarters and the August 2011 attack on the UN Headquarters. By these actions the sect established the capacity to operate in the nation’s capital, outside its original geographic location thus attracting national and global attention. Sadly, between 2009 and 2012, more than 1,000 people have lost their lives as a result of Boko Haram’s attacks in Maiduguri, Potiskum, Damaturu, Jos, Kano, Gombe, Kaduna and Abuja. In 2011 alone, Boko Haram attacked 115 times with 550 deaths resulting.
Socio-Economic Impact of Terrorism and Corruption
Terrorism raises levels of insecurity and fear among citizens. It results in movement and travel restrictions and curtailing of human rights. These have negative impact on investment flows and functioning of markets. These combine to reduce employment opportunities, wealth creation and capital formation.
According to the World Investment Report of UNCTAD, the Nigerian economy recorded a reduction in foreign direct investment from US $8.65 billion in 2009 to US $6.1 billion in 2010 due to the fear of Boko Haram. The Nigerian tourism sector which is worth some N80 billion annually has lost more than half of its value due to fear of terrorist attacks. The domestic air transport industry which generates some N3 billion annually has been hard hit by flight cancellations to destinations in the north, with nearly half of the revenues lost.
In Borno State, schools have been closed. In other affected parts of the north, normal social life is unlikely to return soon. In places like Jos, the city is so neatly divided along ethnic lines that the vibrancy and inclusion that has been its heartbeat has been lost for a long time to come. The recent attack on media houses and Bayero University has opened new areas and targets of the sect that should worry the authorities.
The north has been the hardest hit with the leading commercial centre, Kano being under military occupation since January 2012. Kaduna, a leading industrial centre has also been repeatedly attacked by the various shades of what is known as Boko Haram. Many of us believe that there are at least four variants of Boko Haram – the real BH and three other fakes that use the brand to advance their own narrow, self-centered agendas. Many in the North see the patent inaction of the authorities as the advancement of a sinister agenda to destroy an already near prostate northern economy through occupation, militarization and disruption of socio-economic activities. The federal government has done nothing to indicate otherwise, and the state governments have acquiesced to the cavalier attitude of the Villa.
Way Out of the Quagmire
Terrorism and corruption are big issues with no easy solutions. There are no silver bullets and no country has been able to eradicate corruption or be totally immune from domestic terrorism. I will make some suggestions here as a basis for discussion and way forward.
I do not think our anti-corruption strategy attacks the roots of corruption. In addition to the unsuccessful ‘arrest-and-charge’ approach that we have tended to focus on, I believe we must reduce cash transactions to the barest minimum. If all transactions are electronic, it will be harder for untraceable, illicit payments to be made. If Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s efforts in cashless banking are complemented with a national ID system that can identify, monitor and audit every resident, and his or her financial transactions when a court order is obtained, it will be harder to take bribes and launder the money.
We also need to strengthen institutions by appointing decent people to head them, respect their tenures and appoint successors from within rather than bring in political hacks to do jobs that they are neither qualified nor trained to do. Our judiciary needs revamping. The last CJN has done incalculable damage to the the most important arm of government – because without an honest and decent judiciary, nothing will ever work in this country.
Terrorism is a harder nut to crack. I am of the view that a multi-track approach is necessary to increase the chances of its’ success. First, the prevailing narrative in the Jonathan camp must be discarded. This narrative is what the national security adviser tried to communicate at the Asaba summit of south-south leaders, but he was misunderstood by the media. Jonathan and his inner circle believe that Boko Haram is a northern conspiracy to prevent Jonathan enjoying his presidency. And northern political leaders like IBB and General Buhari are the sponsors and financiers of Boko Haram.
This narrative is believed by most Niger Delta leaders because of their own experience in organizing, training and arming the militants and providing funding for MEND during the period of ‘resource control’ agitations of the Obasanjo administration. Because theirs was a conspiracy of the political elite, they think the North must be doing the same. And they also feel that Boko Haram largely kills northerners or “parasites” as one presidential aide, Reno Omokri tweeted; so the more they are killed, the lesser the burden on the ‘oil-rich hosts.’ Another presidential aide actually said these words to an old ex-OPC friend of his in London in June 2011. With this narrative wired in the brains of Jonathan’s inner circle, they spent their first year trying to link some of us in opposition to Boko Haram instead of honestly tracking the real problems. While wasting time on us, the sect grew stronger, bolder and better trained. The first step therefore is to unwind this narrative and honestly ask the right questions.
It is of course disingenuous to believe the narrative, but I assure you that they believe it. Boko Haram’s first bloody confrontation with the authorities was under a northern, Muslim president in 2009. And Obasanjo is not a northerner but governed without Boko Haram. Anyone can see that it is indeed northerners and Muslims that constitute the bulk of the victims of the insurgency. And I think the insurgency escalated not because Jonathan became president by whatever means, but because the government did not care to address it early enough. Now things have spiraled out of control.
Secondly, I believe the fundamental roots of the insurgency challenge – rewarding those who take up arms against the state with the cash hand-outs called amnesty program has to be reviewed. Any society that rewards bad behavior with cash creates a moral hazard that may consume that society. Those giving out the cash should know that they are doing no favors to anyone. Indeed, they are fostering an entitlement culture that would ultimately be the undoing of that part of the country. Boko Haram does not appear to be motivated by money, so those thinking of an amnesty-like program may need to go back to the drawing board.
Thirdly, the corruption, inequality, poverty and unemployment cocktail that creates the breeding ground for violent crimes and terrorism need to be addressed through well-thought out and targeted programs of investment in education, healthcare, skills development and training, and infrastructure building that will provide employment opportunities in various communities. In addition, the authorities must criminalize the existence of political thugs by whatever name and of whatever description, and ensure elections are henceforth free, fair and credible. The political parties need to be reformed, leadership selection be guided largely by merit, while the electoral institutions need to be alive to their responsibilities.
Fourthly, as a medium term, structural measure, we must work to restore our federalism to the broad outlines embedded in the 1963 republican constitution, devolving more powers and responsibilities to the states and making the federal government less of a busy body. This would require that states like Bauchi whose annual internally-generated revenue is N7 billion should not run a government costing N58 billion because of monthly hand-outs from Abuja. Each state should learn to live within its means and seek to actively develop its comparative endowments. This also means the states would have greater say over their policing and security, natural resource royalties and taxation. State governors will then be compelled to use their resources better and not point fingers at the federal government.
Finally, in addition to reviewing the failed military strategy now in place and scaling back what has become the militarization of the north, the government must work with community leaders in Borno, Yobe, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna States to identify interlocutors that would enable honest discussions with Boko Haram to establish what they REALLY want. The arrest and prosecution of those that murdered their leaders would certainly be one demand, but there may be others that the government knows but would not want us to know. The Maitatsine sect was easily defeated in the 1980s because the surrounding communities despised them and their methods. The current situation in Kano and Borno States is one in which the military occupiers are killing more innocent people than Boko Haram, which injustice is tilting sympathy in their favor and against the Army. Unless the reckless killings of unarmed men, women and children stop, these communities would revolt sooner or later.
There is nowhere in the world where insurgencies like Boko Haram have been defeated purely through military force and occupation – ask the Americans about Afghanistan and Iraq, or the British about Northern Ireland. Those saying “crush them” should know that recent history of the war on terror is not on their side. We want a country that works for everyone, and this senseless loss of lives must end soon. The government that has the responsibility for our security must bend over backwards to deliver it. If they continue to fail in this regard, they will not be in government for too long.