Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Speaking in Tongues

Photo: Leadership
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar

A friend is one who has the same enemies you have. -Abraham Lincoln

At the special interdenominational church service held to mark this year's Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja, President Jonathan appealed to 'saboteurs' in his administration to stop leaking security secrets to the Boko Haram sect. He was reported to have said, "the saboteurs in government condoning terrorism by Boko Haram, you do not love this nation. My question to our Armed Forces and other security outfits is what, what are you building? Will what you are building build or destroy the nation? You are supposed to build the nation wherever you go." The president also mentioned a few of the usual sentiments associated with the occasion, such as the indivisibility of Nigeria and the increasing tendency for politicians to use the threats of secession as a political tool.

Even making allowances for the fact President Jonathan does make statements which require many more statements to clarify or limit damage, the allusion to saboteurs in the fight against the insurgency must raise more than eyebrows. The President had said last year that he had Boko Haram moles in his administration, a statement that shocked a nation in the grip of a raging war with a militant insurgency. It must also have made many people around the president squirm at the thought that they shared a breakfast with a mole, or that they could be the suspected moles. This does not do much good to morale or team spirit.

It may be something in spiritual environments that encourages statements which confound the nation by highly-placed persons, because the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar chose a meeting involving traditional rulers and senior clerics in Kaduna two days ago to say that they have advised President Jonathan and northern governors on how the violence in the North can be contained, but their advise has been ignored. He also blamed politicians for both facilitating the growth of the insurgency, and being masterminds of the violence initially blamed on the Boko Haram sect. "So many times" the Sultan said "politicians are arrested as masterminds of killings which have been earlier on attributed to Boko Haram. What is Boko Haram. I want to ask, who are members of the Boko Haram?" In spite of the stinging indictment of the presidency and northern governors by the Sultan, the chairman of the Northern Governors' Forum Committee on Reconciliation, Healing and Security, Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim says the committee has been assured by the governors that they will implement its recommendations, which will be fair and just.

There is more. The Northern Elders Forum under the chairmanship of Danmasanin Kano, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule met last week, seven months after submitting a detailed document complete with suggestions on dealing with the problems of insecurity and poverty in the North to President Jonathan. They told an assemblage of northern political groups and the media that they have heard nothing from the president since that widely-covered and historic visit. The northern governors have not met with them either, but they have set up their own committee, the same committee the Sultan informed politicians and leaders are not doing enough to bring a solution to the problem. There are a few more evidences of worrying disarray in the manner this problem is being managed or reported. You hear today about arrests of kingpins, and then a few more assassinations and fire fights on a daily basis. Is the threat abetting, or changing its form?

Citizens looking for clues that the war against the raging violence in the North is being won or lost will find the signals being sent out by people who should make a difference either way most discouraging. If there are, as the President says, moles in the security services who provide information and intelligence to the insurgents, the president chose the wrong avenue and the wrong mode of dealing with them. The existence of moles is a very serious threat, and in most instances it is handled in a very decisive and professional manner. This does not include announcing their presence from a pulpit on an occasion designed to celebrate the patriotism and commitment of the Armed Forces. If the Sultan and leading clerics and traditional rulers have given actionable clues and recommendations to the president and governors which have been ignored, this will fuel the speculation that government is not interested in bringing this extremely damaging insurgency to an end. If the recommendations of members of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) were not practical or valuable, government should say so. The members of the Council should themselves own up to some play to galleries: they say one thing as members of NIREC, and often quite the opposite when they speak to people of their own faith. Could this explain why the president and governors do not take them seriously?

The Sultan's lament that politicians are responsible for starting this fire, and that "whatever is happening in the North is our own doing because we did not play or do what we are supposed to do" is one that needs very careful consideration. Apart from being an indictment of leaders, it suggests the possibility that the solution to this problem can only be found if Northern leaders generate sufficient political will and create a platform with sufficient clout and credibility to deal with it. This is the option that should be explored by the many groups, committees and initiatives to address the problem by Northerners. The Northern Elders Forum, Governors, Groups and leading clerics can, together, make a real difference in the security, economy and poverty of the North. But they have to act now, because with 2015 approaching, every problem which weakens the north will be made worse.

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