29 April 2012

Nigeria: Bloodied but Unbowed, We March On


THISDAY became the latest victim of terrorism last Thursday as suicide bombers attacked our offices in Abuja and Kaduna, killing at least eight persons.

Immediately these co-ordinated and simultaneous attacks were executed, people started calling and asking: why THISDAY? What did you guys do to them? Later in the evening, a news website reported that "Boko Haram" had claimed responsibility. According to the claim, the attacks were meant to warn the media over biased reporting of their activities. The spokesman said the stories that favoured Boko Haram were not being positively reported while the angle of the security agencies was having the better part of the front page.

If indeed Boko Haram was responsible for the attacks on THISDAY, then a different branch of the sect did it. I know of the Boko Haram that is avenging the death of its leader, Muhammed Yusuf, in the hands of security agencies in 2009. They have been launching attacks on police, army and SSS ever since then. I know of Boko Haram that is seeking to Islamise Nigeria with the backing of some international terrorist groups. They deploy suicide bombers and are obviously carrying out the major operations in the North today. And now, as premature tension begins to build up ahead of the 2015 presidential election, another branch of Boko Haram-hired by some desperate politicians-may have emerged. And, my sense tells me, that political wing was responsible for the murderous attacks on THISDAY.

Why am I saying this? If we examine the allegations attributed to "Abu Qaqa" in the claim against THISDAY, they cannot be substantiated. It is just like giving a dog a bad name in order to butcher it. Any honest observer who could take the pain of doing a content analysis of this newspaper would come to the conclusion that we have been very fair in our reporting of the insurgency. There is nothing we have reported that other papers have not reported. In fact, we are not a "good" option for those who want to read exclusive stories on Boko Haram. As I read through the accusations by "Abu Qaqa" one by one, it became clear to me that whoever authored the claims did not study THISDAY properly. Most of the "offensive" reports "Abu Qaqa" was referring to were not carried by THISDAY. More so, when Boko Haram recently issued a statement threatening some media houses, they specifically named those that they had problems with. THISDAY was not on the list.

All that we have sought at THISDAY is a lasting resolution to the crisis, and this has guided our editorial treatment of stories in reporting the conflict. Personally, I have been a subject of intensive attacks from Southerners and Middle Belters who accused me of being "too soft" on Boko Haram. Some have gone to the extent of cursing me, heaping abuses on me and my family and anything that relates to me. When I wrote to support ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo's underground moves to negotiate with some members of the group, I was thoroughly insulted by a man who said his aunty was injured in the UN House attack. When I wrote that the security agencies were wrong to, extra-judicially, kill the Boko Haram leader, someone accused me of trying to be "politically correct" by taking sides with "those animals".

On this page, I have consistently canvassed a multi-dimensional approach to addressing the conflict. I am a student of conflict and development and I know, judging from case studies around the world, that any conflict that has religious undertone can hardly be fully resolved, much less with military force. Religious extremism is an incurable disease; if you cannot prevent it, then you have to devise a lasting way of containing it. This, unfortunately, involves some shifting of ground, which could be in the form of negotiation, without compromising the sovereignty of the state. The laws must still be enforced. Security must still do its work. But the door to a negotiated settlement must never be shut.

We are not dealing with a case of armed robbery; we are dealing with people who, having been thoroughly brainwashed, are ready to take their own lives in the belief that they will end up in heaven with loads of virgins at their beck-and-call. How do you kill somebody who is ready to kill himself? That is a serious complication. The situation is further worsened by the fact that members of the sect have now acquired the knowledge of how to make explosives. Which means they can make explosives right in their bedrooms and toilets! Are we now going to deploy policeman in every house? Someone can just improvise an explosive device in his sitting room, load it in his car and drive to the next target to unleash terror. The materials are everywhere. You cannot ban fertilisers or condensers or mobile phones. That is why terrorism is very delicate and frustrating to subdue. It is based on these sad realities that I have always advocated a multi-dimensional approach to tame the monster.

Indulge me to reproduce a mail I got when I wrote in support Obasanjo's underground moves to resolve the conflict. The reader wrote: "In your last article 'Jos: A Society without Statesmen', where you commended Obasanjo for visiting the family of the late Boko Haram leader, I was appalled. You call his act that of a statesman? Apart from the fact that the UN victims were being remembered, the fact that a former president dines with terrorists makes you 'glad'? So you subscribe to negotiations, appeasement and of course amnesty, while law abiding citizens suffer fear and intimidation... There is nothing statesmanly about Obasanjo's actions! I do not condone the extra-judicial killings of the Boko Haram leaders, but the law courts are there for them. Moreover they have killed so many policemen and innocent citizens, so where exactly does your sympathy stem from? As our 'reputable' journalists tread cautiously not to anger the terrorists (yes, who will bell the cat), stop pushing your theories down our throats! You have the power (of the pen), please don't abuse it!"

So how exactly does THISDAY, of which I'm the Editor, qualify to be a target for Boko Haram for "biased reporting"? I am by no means trying to be apologetic. We owe Boko Haram no apology and they are not in a position to edit our newspaper for us. They cannot determine for us what story should be on the front page and the one that should go inside the pages. But I have gone to this length in laying out the facts just to prove that last Thursday's attacks on THISDAY were not based on the contents of the newspaper. The allegations by "Abu Qaqa" do not describe THISDAY at all. There is, therefore, more to the attacks than those accusations that are being peddled. It is either their media advisers misadvised them or-more likely-some political interests are at work and they have identified THISDAY as the newspaper that could hurt their narrow and selfish ambitions. So they hired some Boko Haram militants to do their bidding and, as afterthought, have now manufactured evidence to justify the act. I suspect that intimidating THISDAY is one of the strategies of these interests.

Because of the terrorist attacks on THISDAY, my friends have been asking me: "So, Simon, do you still believe in one Nigeria?" I still think we are missing the point. If Nigerians decide that the country should break up, how is that my problem? All I have said and will continue to say is that there is no challenge facing our nationhood that good leadership cannot address. If you create Republic of Southern Nigeria today, I would love to see how the Igbo and the Yoruba will sleep on the same bed without conflict! I would love to see how the South-South will stop talking about "our oil"! We also talk about breaking Nigeria into North and South on the basis of the activities of Boko Haram, forgetting that there is a vast population of Christians even in Borno State, the headquarters of the sect. Are we going to relocate them to Ondo State? What about the millions of Northern Muslims who do not agree with Boko Haram's philosophy and who are also subjects of the sect's attacks?

Breaking up the country looks good on paper but there is no neat way of doing it in a country of 250 ethnic groups and 5000 dialects, as Comrade Kayode Komolafe would always say. Every nation has its fault lines. It is the management of these challenges that matters. There will always be challenges, even in a mono-ethnic nation, as we have seen in Somalia. Our resolve should be that the sponsors of Boko Haram will be brought to book. Our resolve should be that our politicians will begin to put the interest of Nigeria above sectional and selfish interests. With the calibre of leaders ruling us at different levels, breaking up Nigeria will only change the shape of the map; our problems will remain intact. Fact.

And Four Other Things...

Thanks, All!

The outpour of condolences and support after the terrorist attacks on our offices in Abuja and Kaduna helped in relieving the pain. As soon as the news broke, our phones never stopped ringing as people from far and wide expressed shock and surprise at the unprovoked attacks. Many people could not really understand why THISDAY would become a target, no matter the excuse and afterthought being bandied around. My phone was beeping every second such that I had to abandon it for hours and even days to clear my head. The truth is that the hate mongers will not win this war. The outpour of love, in my opinion, is a billion times more powerful than the torrent of bombs unleashed on us, killing innocent people and sending their families into sorrow and pain. How any human being would be happy killing and inflicting pain on others for no just cause is something I will never understand in my life. But the terrorists should know this for a fact: hate can never overcome love. Thanks to all who shared in our moment of pain.

Azazi's Outburst

The National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, launched a very brutal attack on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the menace of terrorism in the land. He said the party was responsible because of the nature of their politics. "PDP got it wrong from the beginning by saying Mr A can go and Mr B cannot go, and these decisions were made without looking at the constitution," Azazi said at the second South-South Economic Summit in Asaba. To be honest, I didn't understand him, but I suspect he was indirectly referring to the "zoning" crisis in the PDP. He seems to believe that the growing violence is an aftermath of the failure of some politicians to get their wish in the last presidential election. "Is it not amazing that after the elections, Boko Haram became better trained, better armed and better funded? But I can assure you that Boko Haram could not have that kind of sophistication without a backing," he said. I don't know but as the NSA, I thought his job is to fish out these backers and bring them to justice.

Poverty Haram

I recently commented on the attempt to tie the Boko Haram insurgency strictly to poverty. I did argue that the sophisticated weapons being used by the militants don't come cheap, so blaming the insurgency on poverty will not help matters. A reader, who did not agree with me, asked that I have a rethink over the argument. To be sure, I agree that there is a poverty element. When people are jobless, they become ready tools in the hands of the devil. I will be the first to admit that. But that begs the question on the motive and motivation for Boko Haram. The first thing driving these guys is religious extremism and religious hate. This trend has been there for decades. Poverty may be helping them to recruit foot soldiers, but when you tell a man to be a suicide bomber because you would give N200,000 to his family when he dies, I don't think his motivation is the money. He believes he is performing a duty for God. That's the drive. Let's get these issues right and stop playing games.

Lagos Doctors' Strike

One of the saddest, heart-breaking moments in my life is anytime I hear that doctors are going on strike. I can live with journalists going on strike, or even lawyers, or engineers. I can live with PHCN going on strike. I can never live with doctors going on strike. We are talking about human lives being saved and lost. A life lost can never be replaced. There is a saying I always deploy when discussing the importance of doctors: "After God, it is doctors." When doctors embark on their strike to make a point against the government, who loses? How many governors' or ministers' children die during the strikes? It is the ordinary people that bear the brunt. The current strike by Lagos doctors makes me really sad because I know that they are better off than most other states. I am not saying they don't have a point, but I don't know how much sense it makes for doctors to be going on strike at the slightest provocation, like tanker drivers. No, it doesn't make sense to me.

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