24 June 2012

Nigeria: Terrorism and Conspiracy Theories

I was worried but not scared. Immediately I learnt of the outbreak of violence in Kaduna last Sunday, I put a call through to my elder sister. This has become a routine since the Shari'ah riots of 2000. Anytime violence breaks out, I call to check on her and her family. Kaduna is home to many of my cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunties. My mum used to work at ABU Teaching Hospital, Zaria. My younger ones schooled in Zaria. My elder sister has been living in Kaduna for over 25 years. To her, Kaduna is home. I have been begging her since 2000 to leave the city but she would not listen to me.

Last Sunday, I discovered something had changed in her. After assuring me that she and her family were safe, she began to lament. "My daughter and I have been crying since morning. Come and see innocent people being slaughtered in front of our house," she said, sorrowfully. As I rounded off our conversation, I told her, softly: "Don't you think it's time you left Kaduna so that my mind could be at rest? How long would this continue? Why continue to risk your life and the lives of your children?"

For the first time, my sister was very receptive. She replied: "My dear brother, I am tired. I am ready to leave. Enough is enough!" We are now making arrangements to ferry her away from the unending bloodshed. As we ended our chat, my head dropped. I was supposed to be happy that my sister would soon flee the ever-present danger in Kaduna. But then I was further saddened. Is this the kind of country we want? Is this the country my children and your children will inherit? Is there no way out? Are we that helpless? Who are the people hell-bent on destroying this country?

Boko Haram soon claimed responsibility for last Sunday's attacks. Different theories-which are being propounded everyday-are ruling the airwaves over these bombings. Every theorist talks with conviction and authority. I have identified at least six theories so far. Originally, in the last three years at least, Boko Haram always held themselves responsible for the bombings. But after the 2011 general election, things have changed dramatically. More theorists have entered the fray and now we don't know what to believe again.

There is a theory that the politicians who lost out in the zoning crisis that engulfed the PDP last year are responsible for the violence. They had threatened to make the country ungovernable for President Goodluck Jonathan and are clearly carrying out the threat in conjunction with Boko Haram, this theory goes. A closely related theory is that this is all about 2015: there is a concerted effort to scare Jonathan out of the race. These two theories are peddled mostly by those sympathetic to Jonathan.

A third theory is that it is the security agencies that are planting the bombs in order to justify heavy security votes. A twin part of this belief, or perhaps a fourth theory, is that of "official complicity". That is, government is planting the bombs in order to blame it on the Northern elite as part of the 2015 game plan-the same way Gen. Sani Abacha planted bombs and blamed NADECO. The fifth theory says the attacks are sponsored by the Western powers to break up Nigeria by 2015 (in accordance with the myth that America has said Nigeria would break up by then). The sixth theory is that the bombings are a plot to destroy the economy of Northern Nigeria.

Oh, there is a seventh theory: that it is Christians themselves that are bombing the churches and attributing it to Boko Haram. Those who say this have their own bits of evidence. One, some Christians were reportedly arrested in Bauchi trying to bomb a church. Two, a certain John Alaku Akpavan was arrested with bombs at the Radio House, Abuja, recently. Three, an indigene of Akwa Ibom, Augustine Offiong, who was arrested in Kano last month, is a Boko Haram member (although, he is said to be a Muslim convert with a new name, Abubakar Garba). Based on these, some have concluded that indeed, the bombings are the handiwork of Christians.

Well, this is Nigeria; I don't want to rule out any theory. This is a country where anything can happen. But in this avalanche of theories, what should we believe? Without knowing where all these attacks are coming from, how can we genuinely hope for a solution? What would be the overall strategy? How can we be sure there is a resolution in sight? All the same, I would like to say two things as we conclude. The first is that the security agencies must come clean on the issue of Christians (and other suspects) arrested with bombs. The agencies cannot just keep quiet on it. They must tell us their findings on these guys and their sponsors. This silence cannot be golden. They've been threatening to name the sponsors for ages; it is time for them to carry out their threat.

My second and final comment on these conspiracy theories is simple: Boko Haram is real. Some commentators talk as if suddenly, there is no Boko Haram again. They talk as if attacks carried out now have nothing to do with Boko Haram. I do not accept this line of reasoning, which appears to be gaining ground among some pundits. Let's stop playing politics and face the fact: there is a Boko Haram somewhere. They bomb. They shoot. They kill. They attack security agents, bomb churches and kill fellow Muslims. We cannot solve the Boko Haram problem by denying their existence and focusing all our attention on conspiracy theories. Let's stop playing pranks with bloodshed.

And FourOther Things...

Good Ambassador

The life of Ambassador Segun Olusola always challenged me. The creator of one of the most popular TV series in our history, Village Headmaster, was one man who did not do things for glamour or public praise. He showed commitment to any cause he decided to promote. He was always on time to any event he was invited. He mentored so many young people and attended their programmes when other "big men" would stay away. He was authentic. It was not coincidental that he spent the last stage of his life caring for refugees. He was a genuinely great man..

Kaduna Conundrum

Do you know that Kaduna city is effectively divided into two, geographically speaking? There is a Muslim part (mainly Rigasa and Tudun Wada) and a Christian end (mainly Gonin Gora and Sabon Tasha). This physical division is a product of socio-political evolution following a spate of violent conflicts since 1987. For whatever reason, the Northern Muslims live in one part while Christians (including Southern Muslims) live in the so-called Christian area. This was obviously designed for the sake of peace-or to send a message of "divided we stand". I don't know if it has worked, but I wonder what Nigeria is gradually becoming...

Road Closed

The all-important Third Mainland Bridge will be closed to traffic from July 1 to November 6, 2012. That is more than four months. This is to allow for proper maintenance of the reputed longest bridge in Africa inaugurated in 1990. It is a good thing that work is being done on the bridge-imagine the catastrophe if it were to suddenly collapse. However, I hope the authorities have mapped out effective strategies to cope with the horrendous traffic that will hit other routes, such as Ikorodu Road. The last time the bridge was closed in 2009, I remember spending four hours to get to Apapa. Scary, isn't it?

Cheap Hanging

A Jos High Court has sentenced 26-year-old Obinna John to death by hanging for robbing a woman of-now you won't believe this-N1, 705! One thousand, seven hundred and five naira only! You heard me right: he is to die by hanging. It's called armed robbery. If there is anything like reincarnation, John should come back to the world as a member of the Pensions Task Force. He will be able to steal billions of naira in an air-conditioned office-and receive chieftaincy titles and honorary doctorate degrees in return. He could well be conferred with a national honour.

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