Olusegun Adeniyi: Insurgency And The Emir’s Prescription

While he was delighted to see me, the first time we would be meeting since he ascended the throne of his forefathers in June this year, it was also evident that he looked somehow troubled and I did not have to wait for long to know what the problem was. With the exchange of pleasantries dispensed with, the Emir of Kano, Mallam Muhammad Sanusi II, broke the sad news: “A bomb has just exploded at a fuel station very close to where you are lodged. I am still waiting for the details but there are fatalities.”

When last Friday I found myself in Kano, I considered it appropriate to send SMS to the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and current Emir of the ancient city that I was within his domain and he replied that I should come to the palace by 8pm. I arrived as scheduled but unknown to me, a tragic drama had occurred at a filling station about 30 minutes earlier. As theKano State Commissioner of Police, Mr Aderinle Shinaba, would later explain, a suicide bomber went into the ever-busy Magarsiku Filling Station along Maiduguri road, pretending to be buying petrol, before detonating the bomb which was hidden inside his car, killing six people on the spot. That tragedy would set the tone for my conversation with the Emir who, I must add, has settled in nicely to his new role.

The Emir said he has been in conversation with many traditional rulers in the North on the necessity for self-defence against the Boko Haram marauders who now invade seemingly defenceless towns and villages to kill, rape, maim and destroy the people’s means of livelihood. As you would expect of a traditional ruler of his status, Emir Sanusi had clear insights about the nature of the recent attacks by the insurgents, the response (or lack of one) from our military authorities as well as the manner in which Boko Haram operated during and after invading the communities. After evaluating the situation, the Emir concluded that the insurgency would be defeated the moment there is a national will to do so.

However, in the absence of any clear military strategy on how to deal with the insurgency, and with the list of casualties and victims growing, the Emir argued that the traditional authorities in the North, working with their states governments and other critical stakeholders should mobilise the hunters to confront the menace. Even when he understands that providing security of such nature is the exclusive preserve of the state, a desperate situation, the Emir contends, deserves a desperate response.
As I would later learn, Emir Sanusi had propounded that same thesis earlier that morning at the closing ceremony of the weekly recitation of the Holy Quran as part of prayers for peace in the country, where he urged religious and community leaders to undertake the immediate task of reinventing courage in their people, particularly the youth, in preparation for self-defence against Boko Haram attacks. Speaking in Hausa, Emir Sanusi reportedly said: “people must stand resolute in the face of attack and not abandon their towns, women and children…These people (referring to the Boko Haram insurgents) when they attack towns, they kill boys and enslave girls… People must stand resolute. People must not assume that the crisis will not reach their area…If it comes, we are asking God to give us fortitude, but if He wishes to take martyrs from amongst us, we should be ready to give our lives. People must not wait for soldiers to protect them. There are even instances where soldiers on ground ran away in the face of attack.”

Anybody who has read the literature that perhaps best captures the Nigerian dilemma today vis-a-vis the Boko Haram insurgency cannot but appreciate Emir Sanusi’s position. I am sure many of our military commanders must have read the “History of the Peloponnesian War”, by Thucydides and if they have not, I strongly recommend it not only for them but also for the political authorities in our country today. The encounter between the citizens of Athens and those of Melos, a small island not too far from Sparta, as recounted in the book, vividly illustrates why the recent “ceasefire” agreement between the federal government and Boko Haram easily unravelled and why we must confront the situation with much more seriousness lest we lose our country.

In the dialogue in question (apparently reconstructed by the author’s fertile imagination), the all-powerful Athenians who were at war with Sparta had demanded that the Melians surrender their town and pay tributes to them. But the Melians, who believed they had a right to neutrality in the war pleaded with the Athenians to allow them be. The response from the Athenians was that “might makes right, and by the necessity of their nature, men always rule when they have the power…the powerful exact what they can, while the weak yield what they must”. Unable to make the Melians see reason with them, the Athenians invaded their community, killed the men of military age and starved the remaining citizens into surrender.

That exactly is what Boko Haram is doing in many Northern towns today in what has become a game of violent hide-and-seek with the Nigerian authorities. The insurgents understand the fact that in the process of consolidation, they need some identification symbols and that is why Abubakar Shekau, whether he is a man or a myth, is projected as invincible and to the extent that our military authorities keep bungling from one misadventure to another, it only helps to strengthen the resolve of the Boko Haram fighters. The question, however remains, is the proposition by the Emir, which is a desperate response to a perplexing situation the answer to the challenge of insecurity in a vast section of our country today?

Before I attempt an answer, it is important for us to understand the political dimension to the Boko Haram challenge and nobody has broken it down for me as succinctly as Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who I met shortly before leaving for the airport on my way back to Abuja last Saturday morning. According to Kwankwaso, there are two theories for the Boko Haram insurgency in the North. “If you talk to many people on the streets, they will tell you it is the Federal Government that is behind the insurgency to destroy the North. As ridiculous as it may sound, those who say that actually believe it. The second theory by those who choose to be more charitable is that while the presidency may not be instigating the violence, it has the capacity to deal with it but refuses to do so because it simply doesn’t care whether or not the North is destroyed,” the governor said.

However, what compounds the situation, according to Kwankwaso is that there is also a counter-narrative for the insurgency from the presidency. “Now, if you go to the Villa, the theory there is that it is we Northerners that created Boko Haram and are instigating all the violence against our own people, killing thousands, destroying the means of livelihood of millions of our people and causing all these mayhem just because we don’t like President Jonathan. While that is also ridiculous, many people believe such nonsense, and it may actually inform the lack of adequate response to the madness that is now destroying our country.”

To buttress Kwankwaso’s position, the South-South Consolidated Forum (SSCF) on Tuesday in Calabar accused the Northern elite of sponsoring the violent activities of Boko Haram in its bid to destabilise the administration of President Jonathan. According to the group, “it is not out of place to say that the insurgents are being sponsored by some highly placed desperate ambitious politicians from the North, who felt that the presidency is their birth-right. They do this just to discredit the efforts of the federal government. Unfortunately for them, their evil plans have failed and will continue to fail. The Northern Leaders and Elders Forum need to tell the world the truth and rise to the occasion to put an end to this national genocide against innocent Nigerian citizens.”

Given such mindset on both sides of the political divide on the Boko Haram insurgency, it is very clear that the defeat on the battlefield begins from the political front since the insurgents, having divided us, now find it easy to conquer our people. What flows from that therefore is that until we deal with that political problem borne out of mutual ethnic/religious distrusts, it will be difficult to defeat Boko Haram on the battlefield. But it is the political authority that must take the charge if we are ever going to successfully tackle the insurgency.

In his book, “Man and His Government: An Empirical Theory of Politics”, the late Harvard Professor and one of the greatest scholars in political science,Carl Joachim Friedrichargued that the defense of any community (state) is the primary responsibility of the political authority and to that extent, wars are won and lost at that level. According to Friedrich, in war, “political and military considerations are intertwined in complex ways, but in the last analysis, the political must and will prevail, even in the military field”.

Friedrich had relied on the thesis of his 19th century German compatriot and military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, generally regarded as the foremost authority on war. National defence preparedness, according to Clusewitz, presupposes “an army which is soundly trained for war, a military leadership which does not await enemy in perplexed and confused uncertainty, but with quiet determination…and finally a healthy nation which does not fear its enemy any more than it is feared by the enemy.”

That Nigeria has for years been a state in retreat is not in doubt given the way government is becoming removed from our lives. It started with public utilities in which people began to buy generator to provide their own electricity and then we moved to digging boreholes to provide our water. Then we subverted the public schools and health institutions. Of course, everybody also started providing his own security by erecting iron gates and employing security guards with communities relying on Vigilantes. Now, with our people losing faith in the ability of the armed forces to defend the territorial integrity of our nation, it is hunters that we are calling upon to rescue us. If there is anything that points to state failure, I cannot see any better evidence than that.

It is within that context that we should interrogate Emir Sanusi’s position which derives from the desperation of a traditional authority who finds it difficult to reconcile himself to the fact that his people, who are increasingly becoming sitting targets for extermination by Boko Haram insurgents, are practically abandoned to their fate. That then explains why the role which should ordinarily reside in the national sovereign is being thrown back to primordial authorities. Yet the recourse to hunters and other crude modes of collective defense to counter Boko Haram is not only a further indication of the incremental collapse of the military as the security backbone of our nation, it is a solution that cannot endure. So what we should all advocate is that the state should be more alive to what is actually its core responsibility: securing the lives and livelihood of the citizens.

Interestingly, the notion of deploying unconventional troops to fight on behalf of a state is not new but the result has never been worthwhile. While Niccolo Machiavelli is usually remembered for his political discourses such as “The Prince” and “The Art of War”, he was also an official of the “Florence Republic” that lasted only 14 years between 1498 and 1512. Appointed secretary of war in 1507, Machiavelli established a citizen-militia that would be in a state of combat-readiness against foreign enemies but the idea which is no different from that of deploying hunters to fight insurgency ultimately failed.

The pertinent question is: How can such a force that is not trained in discipline and would have no serious command and control structure be able to fight a deadly insurgency whose men are not only prepared to kill but also to die? Therefore, while I appreciate the concerns of Emir Sanusi, and as much as I agree that mobilizing hunters to deal with the immediate challenge is a pragmatic approach in the current circumstance, the only enduring solution lies in reforming/repositioning our armed forces and the security agencies in such a manner that they would have the capacity for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. That of course will require leadership, at some critical levels. Unfortunately, we have not seen any demonstration of that in recent times.

Write on the Mark

When a few weeks ago Dr. Chidi Amuta, a man for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration and under whom I have learnt a lot in recent years, decreed that I would be the reviewer of his collection of essays, “Writing the Wrongs”, he knew I had no choice in the matter. Therefore, I had to be in Lagos on Tuesday to honour him. Incidentally, at the book signature ceremony, the ghost of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election resurfaced when the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, who delivered a thought-provoking lecture titled: “The Bipartisan Imperative: Leading from the Future,” was taken to task by THISDAY Deputy Managing Director, Kayode Komolafe.

However, both the chairman of the occasion, Aremo Olusegun Osoba and my former boss at Concord Press, Dr. (Mrs) Hamidat Doyinsola Abiola, intervened on behalf of Maduekwe, to say that the story of June 12 is far more complex than Nigerians are made to believe. The duo argued that some of the people being vilified are actually heroes while some others who are being deified may be no more than traitors to the cause. But the fiery exchanges did not take the shine off the essence of the occasion which was the presentation of Amuta’s book.

Arranged in thematic order rather than by the period each of the pieces was written, if there is anything that “Writing the Wrongs” demonstrates, it is the fact that when the quality of content of a book combines with tight editing and brilliant production, the resultant collection becomes more than the sum total of its parts. Spanning 1065 pages, it is a huge collection that will task many readers but to the extent that the contents provide useful resource materials for those who seek a better understanding of our country and its challenges, it is a book worth having in our private and public libraries.

What all the articles have in common is the writer’s attention to details, his curiousity and his sense of humour which most often reveals the foibles of the subjects, especially when dealing with political personages. At the end, Amuta reminds us that if weembrace a more productive and cooperative form of engagement as a people, the Nigerian project is not a lost cause. It is the most appropriate message for a time like this.

Maryam Uwais’ Remarkable Feat

The Aspen Institute last week held in New York the 2014 McNulty Prize where five finalists drawn from Nigeria, El Salvador, South Africa, Palestine and the United States competed. Representing Nigeria was Mrs. Maryam Uwais whose Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWIE), according to the organisers, has been “responding to the crisis of women’s education and health in northern Nigeria, made infamous by Boko Haram” and giving “women and girls education in literacy, health and childbirth assistance, income generating skills, and the voice to take more ownership and leadership in their communities.”

The McNulty Prize, according to Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, exemplifies “the best of what can be accomplished when entrepreneurial minds are set on solving the difficult challenges they see around them,” while the 2014 laureates “are making a significant impact on their communities and across the globe, from educating women and girls in parts of northern Nigeria; to engaging Palestinian youth in civic participation and the democratic process; to providing youth alternatives to gangs in El Salvador through soccer programs and personal development; to uniting those affected by rare diseases into a powerful advocacy movement; to working with poor rural populations in South Africa to develop their own path to self-sufficiency.”

The Institute’s Trustee, Anne Welsh McNulty, sums it up: “The leadership needed to solve the most stubborn global challenges is lacking at the highest levels of government and business. These fellows are using their entrepreneurial expertise, their resources, and their networks to relentlessly tackle problems that wait for no nation’s politics.”

Although the panel of judges, including former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, eventually settled for the South African lady, Rejane Woodroffe, as the winner of the star prize of $100,000, Mrs Uwais, like each of the other four laureates, received a consolation prize of $10,000. Considering that the IWIE foundation, named after her late father, was launched only six years ago in Kano (a ceremony I attended back then), it is remarkable that it has achieved so much within so short a time as to have received such international recognition. Congratulations, my sister.


The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; [email protected]


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