27 January 2013

Nigeria: When Bravery Trumps Insanity

The attack by gunmen Saturday last week on the convoy of the Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero was one of the single most shocking episodes of violence that has been experienced in this country since the onset of a high level of insecurity in the Northern states. The gunmen attacked the convoy as it made its way back to the palace.

The emir had attended a ceremony marking the graduation of Islamic school pupils at the Murtala Mohamed Mosque on Zoo Road. The attackers rained bullets on the emir's car and other vehicles in the convoy, including those bearing two of his sons, Turakin Kano Alhaji Nasiru Ado Bayero and Ciroman Kano Alhaji Sanusi Ado Bayero. The emir survived the dastardly attack because two of his palace guards shielded him from the bullets with their own bodies; three of them as well as his driver were killed. The interim chairman of Kumbotso Local Government Alhaji Salisu Kura and his driver were also killed when they took a detour to escape the attack but were waylaid and shot by the attackers. The day after the attack, the emir and his two injured sons were flown abroad for further medical attention.

The question on all lips is, who carried out this attack and for what reason? No group has claimed responsibility for this heinous act which appeared to be well planned and well coordinated. The security agencies were slow to point accusing fingers in any direction, but the police said some suspects have been nabbed. Deputy Governor of Kano State Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje also said foreign elements were involved in the attack, though he did not say who they were or from which country.

The attackers clearly wanted to kill a high-profile target. They chose the wrong one, an octogenarian who is about to mark 50 years on the throne and who, throughout his reign, has been known as a man of peace and an ardent promoter of religious values. About two years ago, an attempt had been made on the life of the emir by a man later said to be deranged, who wielded a knife inside a mosque but was overpowered by the emir's guards.

This latest attack is a much more dastardly one. The attackers were at least a dozen in number, were armed with heavy weapons, had done some reconnaissance work on the site and had laid a military-style ambush. It is not certain who they were, but there are some pointers. The attack was carried out almost exactly on the first anniversary date of last year's devastating attack on Kano City for which the Boko Haram sect claimed responsibility. Some 200 people were killed in that attack, the single worst outrage perpetrated by the sect in its three year campaign of violence. Emir Ado Bayero condemned that attack in the strongest terms and even shed tears when the president paid him a condolence visit.

Since then, the Kano community has cooperated very closely with the security agencies in their fight against the violent sect, as a result of which many sect leaders were apprehended and many factories for the making of improvised explosive devices were located and destroyed.

Nor was this the first attempt by the sect to kill a high-profile Northern traditional ruler. An attempt was made last year by suicide bombers on the lives of the Shehu of Borno and the Emir of Fika, both of who miraculously survived the attacks.

An outrage like this one was also to be expected since Nigeria has contributed troops to the effort to flush out secessionist and al-Qaeda-linked rebels in northern Mali. Given what happened in Algeria recently, this country must step up its guard against a similar outrage. Here too, an attack was launched against a troop convoy in Kogi State that was bound for Mali, in which two soldiers lost their lives. With the pressure now building up against the Malian secessionists and jihadists from the international force that is gathering there to uproot them, they would seek to escape into neighbouring African countries. The authorities must take prompt action to seal our notoriously porous borders.

In the whole sordid episode in Kano, the most memorable element is not the cowardly, unjustified and sacrilegious attack on the peace-loving emir's convoy, but the exemplary bravery, courage and self-sacrifice of his palace guards. The bravery and heroism displayed by the emir's bodyguards was an example of very noble self-sacrifice in the line of duty of the kind almost unheard of in a society now largely overtaken by greed and selfishness. It is also a grand testimony to the credibility and resilience of the traditional institution that it could breed and nurture such heroic men.

Their self-sacrifice in the line of duty to protect the symbol of the community's heritage should be celebrated and rewards should be bestowed on their families. They should be immortalised as shining examples for all times.

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