4 November 2012

Nigeria: Boko Haram, Buhari and the Catch 22


Joseph Heller the American satirist could have been writing about the dilemma of being a northerner in today's Nigeria when he wrote his famous novel Catch 22. The novel describes a problematic situation with its inherent solution embedded in itself.

Just as men from Mars would not solve the problems confronting our country; the problems of the north were created by northerners and the capacity to solve them rests with northerners. The only difference between Heller's world and the reality of today's northern Nigeria is by the time it ends; good things would have been consumed by the fire it kindled.

Only a few weeks back, Senator Ahmed Zanna was accused of being a Boko Haram sponsor. He became the second senator from Borno to be rolled into the saga. The police say he cannot distance himself from the activities of his quondam cousin with whom he parted ways and through whom Boko Haram benefitted N1.5 million for Sallah rams. Quarrels exist between families, but they do not negate blood ties.

The fact as any resident of Maiduguri would confirm is that they have all had to pay protection fee to Boko Haram to remain in their homes. It is an open secret that governments in the region pay. With the most incompetent law enforcement system in the world, it is suicidal not to pay. The consequences are lethal. N1.5 million may be much for the majority who struggle to put a meal in their mouths, Nigerian politicians roll in cash and the rule in crime usually is - from each individual according to their capacity. I speak not for Zanna who would have his day before judges and not column writers.

We now move to the news that General MuhammaduBuhari has been 'nominated' to be a mediator between the government and the sect, preferably in Mecca. What does one make of such 'news'? Is it good or bad? Again, this analysis may be skewed, but let us consider it.

The fact of geography is that a significant number of northerners are Muslims even if the Census Bureau shy away from it. Another fact is that it is the wish of every Muslim to live under a system that guarantees them justice and freedom of worship. Call it sharia if you have the liver.

With a failed political system and the upsurge of faith in a system that guarantees these ideals, (albeit no such system exists anywhere on earth) it is hard to find a true Muslim, anywhere who is not waiting to see the ideal replace the uncertain. This is true of any other believer in any deity. Northern Muslims, who bear the brunt of Boko Haram's onslaught, hate the violence it perpetrates and the stereotype now associated with their faith. However, very few would out rightly condemn a system that seeks to bring God's kingdom down to earth, that tantamount to apostasy.

So when an English speaking voice used the same means to request General Buhari to be its negotiator, the Catch 22 could not be worse. If that speaker represented Boko Haram, there are questions begging for answers.What has happened to legendary Abu Qaqa? Is Boko Haram's ranks decimated or has it suddenly realized after plunging our nation into chaos and further tarnishing the battered image of the north that it is better to jaw jaw than to war war? Why pick on Buhari, a man already vilified for sundry unproved allegations as a negotiator?

Buhari is a northern Muslim; perhaps one of the very few from this area with an impeccable record of integrity.He is equally an elder statesman. If Buhari agrees to head this negotiation team, it would be an 'affirmation' to some that he too is a Boko Haram 'sponsor'. If he declines, he would be called a bad statesman who is hungry for power even at the cost of allowing the system to collapse.

If Buhari heads this team to Mecca and it fails, it would be further proof that he would stop at nothing to grab power for the power hungry northern hawks. Wherein would then lie his mass of support in the north as an elder and what becomes of his 'political career'? Yet, I strongly believe that the solution to Boko Haram as a menace lies in the north and in dialogue and not in a military solution.

The scorched earth policy adopted by the government would only hurt the innocent and drive this group further underground. The trouble with writing a weekend column is how fast events change. No matter which way the pendulum swings, it is time to change tactics by all sides in this national shame. The survival of our country should be more important than any aspiration by individuals or groups.

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