If you have not heard the name Mohamed Warsama before, it only means that you have not yet been playing in the big league of the Nigerian internet community. For the uninitiated, Warsama is a Kenyan who has managed to wangle his way into several Nigerian blogs and listserv, especially those operated by our compatriots in the Diaspora.
Given the hate messages and stereotypes along ethno-religious lines that pass around, the personal abuses and insults hurled at one another, the labels put on those with whom we disagree and the tales of scandals that abound in our public arena, Warsama has quite naturally seen our nakedness as a nation and has clearly formed his opinion about us as a people. For that reason, the Kenyan delights in winding Nigerians and using every opportunity to take potshots at our country. Yet while his interventions could be mischievous, even diabolical, there are times when you cannot but sense genuine affection for, and concern about, our country.
Three weeks ago, Warsama posted a one-paragraph message which apparently was (as usual) meant to needle Nigerians but may in fact be helpful in understanding our current travails. He wrote: "Last Friday, the Kenyan newspaper, The Standard, had a page three article on 12 chimpanzees at the Sweetwaters Sanctuary in Laikipia. Title of the article: 'Unity of purpose: Amazing lessons from chimpanzees on pulling together'. Our chimpanzees are educated and intelligent enough to work together as a team. In Nigeria and Cameroun, they eat their chimpanzees. Considering the deplorable noisy quarrels on Nigerian blogs, I believe it is high time for Nigerians to ape our chimps and start pulling together."
That Nigeria is today a divided country is self-evident, what with the misdirected anger and mutual recriminations. Yet when a people can no longer engage in meaningful conversations about their country without imputation of motives and mutual suspicion, there is a serious challenge as it would be difficult to resolve common problems. It is then little wonder that Boko Haram has almost carved an empire for itself in the Northeast of Nigeria with hundreds of innocent lives lost and countless others physically and psychologically maimed for the rest of their lives.
As a way of addressing the problem, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa'ad Abubakar recently suggested the idea of amnesty. However, rather than the federal government quietly inviting the Sultan for a discussion on how such could be achieved, since amnesty is a process and not an event, President Goodluck Jonathan went public to dismiss the idea in the course of a visit to Borno and Yobe States, the epicentre of Boko Haram violent operations, on the pretext that amnesty cannot be granted to "ghosts".
What that unfortunate declaration did was to open another floodgate of ill-digested agitations. Since we always assume that two wrongs make a right, many prominent people from the North have jumped into the fray to make it appear as if the only solution to the problem is amnesty. So with both sides politicising the Sultan's patriotic proposition for addressing a perplexing national challenge, the atmosphere has now been fouled by nothing but crass opportunism.
However, the bottom-line remains that the federal government is mismanaging the situation. The Sultan is a deep and reticent man who weighs his words very carefully and I fail to understand why his well-meaning intervention should get the response it did given that he was only reading from the script already written by Aso Rock. It is recalled that on August 2, 2011, the federal government inaugurated a Presidential Committee on the security challenges in the North-East zone with Amb. Usman Galtimari as chairman. Other members of the committee included Senator Mohammed Ndume, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, (SAN) and three serving ministers: Dr Bello H. Mohammed, Mr Bala Mohammed and Mr Emeka Wogu.
Following the submission of their report, the federal government then set up a white paper committee headed by Interior Minister, Comrade Abba Moro who came up with the recommendations on which the positions of government were then clearly stated in May 2012, almost one year ago! Instructively, the preamble to the government position reads: "The white paper committee wishes to underscore the presidential committee's recommendation for a prompt implementation of the report. The timely implementation will inevitably serve as lasting solution to the security challenge thrown up by the Boko Haram sect."
For inexplicable reasons, the federal government has refused to heed its own counsel, even on the recommendations it actually accepted for implementation. Here is a quote from the white paper which may help our perspective on the issue of amnesty: "The Committee recommended the urgent need to constructively engage and dialogue with the leadership of the sect as an essential strategy in bringing them on board. However, it advised that government should negotiate from a position of strength by allowing security forces dominate the environment. In addition, dialogue with the sect should be contingent upon their renunciation of violence and arms. Government accepts this recommendation and encourages the intermediaries who have access to them to initiate this dialogue". Then as part of the long term measures, government also accepted the "rehabilitation of arrested members before their integration into the society".
What the above suggests is that the federal government has since May last year accepted in principle the idea of amnesty as a possible solution to the Boko Haram challenge but has not done anything to move the process forward. That is why the call by the Sultan should not have elicited the reaction it did if there were honesty of purpose. But neither should some prominent Northern stakeholders turn the amnesty proposal into another song and dance or a political "bulala" with which to whip the Jonathan administration. What is ignored in this sabre rattling is that times like this demand sensitivity not only because there are families still hurting from losing loved ones as a result of the violence going on but also because peace cannot be achieved in an environment of acrimony and grandstanding.
In any case, amnesty for Boko Haram alone cannot resolve all the contradictions that engender violence in our country yet the entire atmosphere is now suffused with the politics of 2015 at a critical juncture in our history when we need the intervention of genuine patriots to stand up and be counted. Right now, there are killings between the Enugu-Otu Aguleri and their Ashonwo/Odeke neighbours in Ibaji Local government area of Kogi state over oil wells and only last week, Kaduna State Governor Mukhtar Yero lamented that the living pattern within Kaduna metropolis is now divided along ethno-religious line and it has nothing to do with Boko Haram. According to him, "people can no longer reside wherever they wish for fear of being singled out for attack in times of crisis due to a particular disparity with other residents that are in majority...we cannot work together and share jokes by afternoon and fear to sleep in the same location at night. That is not genuine peace and we cannot continue that way."
It is within the foregoing context that we should situate the suggestion made by the Sultan to the effect that all options should be on the table if we actually mean to resolve the Boko Haram logjam and I also believe we can borrow from the Niger Delta amnesty template. I, however, disagree with those who compare Boko Haram with the Niger Delta agitation against the despoliation of their land and environment as a result of oil prospecting. They are clearly different issues but those details matter little if what we are looking for is solution to a complicated problem. However, if we must embrace the option of amnesty, it should also be clearly understood that it is a very difficult process. It involves identifying credible intermediaries and honest brokers, it involves the president going out of his way to meet specific people within the Boko Haram rank and file (they have sufficiently proved to be no ghosts), it involves time and painstaking dialogue sessions, even at odd hours and it involves money.
Mr David Edevbie and I took notes for President Yar'Adua in most of his meetings with various stakeholders (including the militant leaders) on Niger Delta amnesty and almost every of such sessions always ended with the two of us being asked out so Yar'Adua could hold one-on-one discussion with whoever he was meeting with. We may not know the details of what was discussed behind closed doors but we had ideas because people don't just surrender their weapons without some tangibles to fall back on. In any case, it was very telling that despite the chilling security reports on the much-dreaded "Camp 5", including how soldiers were killed and buried in shallow graves, Chief Government Ekpumopolo aka Tompolo, had easy access to Yar'Adua anytime he wanted to see or speak with him. So involved was the late president that he even brokered a reconciliation meeting between Rivers State Governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi and militant leader, Mr Ateke Tom, lasting hours. Then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan also took a rather risky expedition to the creeks to discuss with the militant leaders in between travelling to South Africa to meet with Mr Henry Okah. Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike, Major General Godwin Abe (rtd), AVM Lucky Ararile (rtd), Mr Mike Okiro, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Chief Mike Aondoakaa, Mr Afakriya Gadzama, Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Admiral Mike Aikhigbe, Major General Luke Akpezi (rtd), Mr Amagbe Kentebe, Mr Timi Alaibe, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN), Chief James Ibori, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Elder Godsday Orubebe as well as then National Security Adviser, Major General Sarki Mouktah played critical role in the process. I cannot forget to mention Chief Tony Anenih who, at the special request of the late president, took a most dangerous risk of a night trip to Tompolo's hideout (at a time JTF had taken the battle to his camp and he was on the run), using the contact of a retired police officer whom he personally recruited into the force in the seventies. All these were done because of the desire for peace in the Niger Delta without which there can neither be peace nor prosperity in our country.
What the above suggests is that granting amnesty is not an easy option and even at that it is a gamble that can fail as President Olusegun Obasanjo reminded the late Yar'Adua at the Council of State meeting held shortly before the proclamation of Amnesty for Niger Delta militants was made on June 25, 2009. But it was a gamble worth taking aside the fact that there was also "Option B" coordinated by Dike in collaboration with all then service Chiefs (General Abdulrahman Dambazzau, Rear Admiral Isaiah Iko Ibrahim and Air Vice Marshall Oluseyi Peterin). This is therefore time for President Jonathan to be a statesman by jettisoning the counsel of those around him who see Boko Haram as a "Northern problem". He should also ignore political opponents who think they can exploit the current tragedy to advance their own career. And to those who may have problems with granting amnesty to Boko Haram, I invite them to read the Easter homily of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah on http://premiumtimesng.com/opinion/127773-from-amnesty-to-repentance-by-mathew-hassan-kukah.html.
At a time we need to come together as one, there is no greater evidence that we are gradually losing our country than a most unfortunate line in the tribute paid Prof. Chinua Achebe by our two surviving literary legends, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Soyinka and Prof. John Pepper Clarke. Here they go: "Indeed, we cannot help wondering if the recent insensate massacre of Chinua's people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him so many years after his crippling accident." Last week, there was an online debate among members of THISDAY editorial board on this statement by the two literary icons. For me, nobody summed up our feeling more brilliantly than Mr Kayode Komolafe who in his own comment (which I reproduce with his permission) wrote: "the violence in parts of the north is a national problem. The over 3, 000 persons reportedly killed in the various incidents were all Achebe's people. Even non-Nigerians amongst the victims belonged to the same humanity with Achebe. The perspective to this problem should not just be vertical; it should also be horizontal. Nigeria is not just the arithmetic sum of Hausa, Ijaw, Igbo, Fulani, Yoruba, Urhobos, etc. Nigeria is actually made of the rich and powerful people from all regions and ethnic groups who are causing the problems and living with the poor everywhere who are always the victims. There has to be a Nigerian solution to the problem."
In the stage that we are in today, to foreclose amnesty or put the responsibility on Northern leaders to produce Boko Haram leaders is not only disingenuous, it betrays a clear lack of willingness to resolve the problem. It must be very clear to the discerning that the entrepreneurs of violence in our midst understand those nuances and may indeed be selecting their targets in such a manner as to further set us against one another. But it is our responsibility to ensure that they do not win the argument. And we will only do that if, like Warsama's Kenyan Chimpanzees, we all pull together. But President Jonathan must also lead on the issue. And he can only do that if he sees himself as the President of Nigeria, and not that of a particular section of the country.
JUST FOR THE RECORD
While I have no problem with those who still hold me to account for joining government in 2007 "in search of something to eat" and I take whatever abuses that come my way with equanimity, I still believe facts should be sacred. So for that reason, I want to state for the avoidance of any doubt that I was not sacked and I did not leave government because my boss, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua died: the fact is that I resigned before he died. My letter of disengagement from government was addressed to Dr Goodluck Jonathan in his capacity as acting president (which he was at the time). Fortunately, it was also in that capacity that he minuted on my letter, thanking me for my services and wishing me well in my future endeavour. Of course, I take responsibility for joining government and the choices (including mistakes) that I made in the course of my assignment as spokesman to the late president. But this clarification is necessary to put the record straight because I notice that even an ordinary reporter like me has lately become a hot topic on the internet. For that reason, I enclose excerpts from the closing pages of my book, "Power, Politics and Death: A front-row account of Nigeria under the late President Yar'Adua". The usual diatribes can then follow...
...By the end of 2009, when it became glaring that the health of the president had become an issue that would not go away, all these frustrations would return, and I came to the inescapable conclusion that I had to leave government. But mindful of several factors, including the ethnicity issue, I resolved I would have to do it with tact. I recall that when I was appointed, there were several people from the northern part of the country who felt that Yar'Adua had not made a wise political choice. The argument was that his predecessor, Obasanjo, a Yoruba man, picked three kinsmen of his in succession, and so by the same logic, Yar'Adua ought to have picked a Hausa-Fulani man. There was an open campaign about this, which he ignored. I didn't want to give those who criticized my appointment an opportunity to say, "We warned him." He didn't deserve that from me.
Through the help of my friend, the Consul General of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, Mr. Guo Kun, I had secured a scholarship for a one-year MPA programme at the Beijing University that would have enabled me to go with my family. My relationship with the Chinese embassy dates back to 2001, when, as the Saturday editor of THISDAY, I was invited from Nigeria as one of several African journalists selected for the first Sino-African conference in Beijing. It was a fascinating experience. When Guo arrived at the embassy in 2005, he took special interest in THISDAY, and he struck a personal friendship with me. Through him, the Chinese ambassador, Mr. Xu Jianguo (now back to Beijing) also became a personal friend, and he hosted me and my wife to dinner several times in Abuja. He also frequently visited me in my office. So when I was looking for a way out of government at the end of 2009, it was inevitable that I would approach him to help, and he did.
My plan, therefore, was that whenever the president came back, I would inform him that I had secured admission, which would then mean that I could resign. That way, there would be no question of disloyalty, as the reason for my resignation would be clear. But the circumstances of his arrival back to the country in late February were not such that made such a discussion possible. So, I kept things to myself. But by then I had become an object of ridicule, with people ascribing to me things I never said or did. I took all these in stride as part of the price to pay for accepting to serve in public office. Even though it was a very difficult period for me, I did not want to be seen as abandoning my boss in his hour of trial, especially when I knew the state he was in.
I recall having a conference call with THISDAY editors, who told me to resign, until I confirmed to them that I had seen the president. I also explained my exit plan to them, given my Beijing University admission.
By a stroke of fortune, on April 14, 2010, a friend sent me an internet link to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the largest international research center within Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Without bothering to examine the admission requirements, I simply applied and sent my résumé to the program director, Dr. Kathleen Molony. Less than an hour later, I got a response from her. She wrote that application for the 2010 session closed two months earlier on February 25 and that participants had been chosen. She however added that given that she found my application quite compelling, she would discuss it with the selection board to see if they could still consider me. That began an exchange of correspondences with Harvard University, and on May 4, 2010, I finally got the offer of admission.
I was so excited when I got the mail that I could not help but share it with the reporters who were then in my office. So, quite naturally, the news spread within the villa that I would be leaving for Harvard. This was a day before the president died. The next morning, May 5, the principal secretary to the acting president, Chief Mike Oghiadome sent for me. The moment I entered his office, he said, "I gathered you won an award at Harvard, and you don't want to tell oga [Jonathan]. Please go and put it into writing for him."
On the way back to my office, I ruminated over what Oghiadome had said and concluded that it was just a clever way of asking me to resign immediately, so I took the hint. In what I titled 'Letter of Disengagement from Government' and addressed to the acting president, I expressed my gratitude for the opportunity to have served in the government of my country. When I took my letter to Oghiadome, he expressed shock, and I could see it was genuine. "You are resigning, why?"
I explained to him that my Harvard appointment was for one year, and since he said I should commit myself into writing immediately, he implied I should resign. He felt very bad. "No, I thought it was an award like a plaque or something, which the State House normally gazettes. No, you are not going anywhere...."
While I felt relieved that he was not hounding me out as I had earlier imagined, I nonetheless said that since I had already written the letter, he should pass it on. He minuted on it before sending it to the secretary of the acting president, who in turn called me to come and take the letter in personally.
I had an interesting time with the acting president. He was evidently very happy for me, and I must have spent about thirty minutes with him as we reflected on the state of the nation and the then prevailing situation in the villa. I had enjoyed a good relationship with Jonathan, who had two pet names for me: 'media guru' and 'Focus Nigeria'. Incidentally, anytime he addressed me by the second appellation, he would add with laughter for the benefit of whoever was around: "Do you know the producer of Gbenga Aruleba's programme (on AIT)? It's Segun."
At this period when the nation was in crisis, the burden of leadership had made him lose much of his sense of humour, but we still had a good discussion. I could understand the power game going on and why Jonathan felt less obligated to the president. Aside from the refusal to transmit a letter to the National Assembly, which then necessitated the intervention of the lawmakers, the relationship between the president and his deputy had started on a wrong note.
Early in the life of the administration, Jonathan had written a memo to the president seeking for his office to be self-accounting. Specifically, he requested that the office of the vice president be given the same role and responsibility that were enjoyed by Atiku Abubakar before he fell out of favour with President Obasanjo. After a meeting held at the villa between the duo and attended by the principal secretary and chief of staff, the memo was turned down in favour of 'one presidency'.
Even if Jonathan could forget that slight, his aides definitely could not because they were more affected by the decision. So when the opportunity came for their boss to become the main man at the villa, it was no surprise that they led the charge. On the home front, Mrs. Patience Jonathan was also preparing to be the First Lady. As early in the administration as December 2007, a group of women had paid her a visit, and in the course of the discussion, one had asked: "How is oga ?" To this Mrs. Jonathan replied, "My husband is in the office reading newspapers." Then she added in pidgin English, rather sarcastically: "Abi no be newspaper Turai [Mrs. Yar'Adua] say make im dey read?"
No matter the politics between him and his ailing boss, Jonathan was very gracious to me on May 5, 2010. As I was leaving his office, I met the NSA, Gusau, on the way, and I shared the information about my Harvard offer with him. It was the first time I would meet him since his appointment, and he also congratulated me and fixed an appointment for us to meet. Just as I got downstairs, I also encountered the SGF, who also congratulated me.
Given that the news of my Harvard appointment had spread, I concluded I needed to meet the First Lady before she would hear about it from a third party. I called her media assistant, Bakori, and told him to fix an appointment for me to see her. He called back to say she would see me that same day at the residence at 9:00 p.m. I also went to meet the CSO at home. I was a bit uncomfortable about this meeting, as I felt he would think I was deserting them. Even though our working relationship began with mutual suspicions, we had become friends in the intervening period, and I could see what he too was going through.
Within the villa, and even among the aides, the CSO was a very unpopular person, and till today, many hold him responsible not only for the crisis in the nation but indeed for the fate that ultimately befell the president. I share a contrary view. Having been a state house correspondent in the past, I knew that no CSO was really ever liked because they tended to be overprotective of the president. In the case of Tilde, the circumstances of his appointment pointed to the fact that it must have been based on some bond of trust between him and the president. Some other officer from Katsina was first appointed as CSO, but after just 24 hours, the president asked General Mohammed to help him seek out Tilde, who was the SSS Director in Katsina between 1999 and 2003.
I observed one thing about his relationship with the president: of all the aides, Tilde was the only one who could openly stand up to the First Lady, yet with Yar'Adua, everybody-including childhood friends-knew that his immediate family, especially his wife, was off-limits for them. That the CSO could consistently cross that line without consequences meant something. I had a feeling he knew everything about the illness of the president, who must have taken him into confidence. I therefore reckoned that it was on that basis that he took it upon himself to protect the man and in the process committed what turned out to be grave errors. So I had sympathy for Tilde even in times when I found his actions rather irrational. I also found him a rather pleasant person outside officialdom, so we became friends.
When I gave him my letter of offer from Harvard on May 5, 2010, I got an unexpected reaction. He read it twice and said rather solemnly: "My brother, I am very happy for you, and this can only be divine. I wish I could also get something like this today."
I reacted immediately: "To do what? You mean you will leave oga . You can't be serious!"
He laughed and said he was joking, as he congratulated me again before we moved to other things. What I would later learn was that, shortly before I met with the CSO, he had just left the president, whose heart had stopped beating and had to be resuscitated after pressure was applied to his chest, an indication that the end was nigh.
By 9:00 p.m., I was at the Residence for my scheduled appointment with the First Lady, but the moment I arrived, she was called upstairs. That turned out to be the period her husband finally gave up. Immediately it happened, both the CSO and ADC took charge. They went to inform the acting president, who would later come with the Speaker, deputy Senate president, SGF, NSA and his principal secretary. The First Lady took him and the Speaker upstairs to see the remains of her husband.
The death that night brought a dramatic end to the saga in the country, yet notwithstanding the bad blood generated by his last weeks in office, there was a national, and indeed global, consensus that Yar'Adua was a decent man who gave his best to his country despite his health challenges.
His death also released me, as I could make public my resignation and the fact that I was going to Harvard. On May 6, 2010, I arrived at the villa early as family members were moving their personal effects into vehicles. The solemn moment came when the president's body was wheeled out into the ambulance that would take his remains to the airport for the beginning of his final journey. I could not help reflecting on what might have been had he not been hampered by ill health. Even at that, I believed he gave the thankless job of building a good society his very best, refusing to let the position of president and the power he wielded deprive him and others of their humanity.
Shortly before we left for the airport, one of the aides stared hard at the official portrait of the president that was still hanging by the Red Carpet, removed it, and turning to me, said, "I am very happy that this is the image of the president that Nigerians will always remember when they think of him."
I perfectly understood his sentiment. Given the manner in which the illness ravaged his body, the image in the photograph bore little resemblance to the Yar'Adua that died.
What remains sad for me, however, is that this was also true in several other ways.