Many different newspaper headlines emanating from last Thursday's Northern Christian Elders Forum [NCEF] statement were enough to confuse a fleeing wildebeest. One newspaper headline quoted NCEF as saying "Nigeria in the throes of Jihad;" another quoted them as saying "Jihad already in Nigeria;" a third said "Jihad has been launched in Nigeria;" another paper said, "NCEF: Nigeria on the throes of war over attempt to impose Shari'a" while yet another newspaper said, "NCEF blames Buhari for national crises." One thing was clear: "elders" were trying to outdo youngsters in stirring the national hornet's nest.
Compared to leaders of Arewa Youth groups that issued the so-called Igbo quit notice, none of whom was recognisable by regular newspaper readers, or to Nnamdi Kanu, who became known only because he propounded the secessionist agenda, the NCEF leaders that met in Abuja last Thursday were well known national figures, albeit from another era. They include Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma, General Joshua Dogonyaro, Major General Zamani Lekwot, former NTA director general Shyngle Wigwe, former Anambra State governor Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife and their lesser known chairman, Elder Solomon Asemota, SAN.
NCEF [since extended to the South East to include Ezeife and Wigwe] expressed concern about "the threat of another major ethnic conflict occasioned by the Independent [sic] People of Biafra's (IPOB) call for secession and the response of Arewa Northern Youths for the eviction of Ibos from the North, the agitations for fiscal federalism and resource control, amongst many other regional agitations." One problem was that NCEF was arriving fairly late to this issue, weeks after Acting President Yemi Osinbajo's series of meetings with regional leaders had managed to douse the tension. While the crises lasted, the government blamed it on economic recession and youth unemployment; others blamed it on PDP sore losers; still others said the Buhari regime's unequal treatment of regions was to blame while others blamed foreign powers for planting seeds of discord in Nigeria.
NCEF however smuggled in a new, more volatile explanation. It said, "The real problem with the country is that JIHAD has been launched in Nigeria and Islamists that have been interfering in the governance of the country using "Taqiyya" (approved deception) as "Stealth/Civilization Jihad" and Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen as violent Jihad are relentless in their pursuit of eradicating democracy in Nigeria. The objective of the Islamists (Political Islam) is to supplant the Constitution of Nigeria with Sharia ideology as the source of legislation in the nation. The conflict between Democracy as national ideology and Sharia as a usurping ideology is responsible for the crisis unfolding in Nigeria. The nation is in the throes of Jihad." This poorly constructed allegation sought to bring Nigeria's volatile religious divides to centre stage in recent political problems and add fuel to smoking logs. Nigerians are crafty conspiracy theorists but this is one of the most dangerous ever spinned.
And what is NCEF's proof of this allegation? It said "Jihadists have taken over the education and security apparatuses of the nation to foist Islamic rule." It has been alleged since 2015 that most heads of security agencies that President Buhari appointed are Muslims and that it was lopsided. Personally I cannot defend that and I have criticised it in at least two column articles. To however proceed from there and infer that every Muslim head of a security agency is a Jihadist and was so appointed "to foist Islamic rule" on the country is unbecoming of T.Y. Danjuma at least, who was already a GOC in the Gowon era when the Head of State and all the military service chiefs were Christians. Yet no one said the country was Christianised.
From all indications, this strange stretching of fact emanated from recent events in General Danjuma's home state of Taraba. NCEF's statement "called on the security forces to be impartial and non-discriminatory. It is disturbing the alacrity with which the security forces and top Government officials responded to the attacks against the Fulani on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, while remaining insensitive to the serial attacks and killings by the same Fulani herdsmen across the nation." In other words, why did the military intervene in a major breakdown of internal security on the Mambilla Plateau where a lot of people were being killed and maimed?
I think the answer to that is that the military also intervened in many other places where people were being killed including Plateau, Agatu, Southern Kaduna, Zamfara State, Aguleri-Umuleri, Ikwerre and Ife-Modakeke to mention but a few. It could be that they moved faster in some situations than in others. In Zamfara State for example, the army launched Operation Harbin Kunama only after bandits had been killing villagers for three years. I am sure there are many reasons for the differential speed with which soldiers move into crisis situations, not the least being when they receive orders from political authorities. It is amazing indeed that any elder, for that matter a pious Christian one, will frown at a measure that stops killings, whatever the tribal issues involved.
NCEF sought to buttress its claim about a Jihadist takeover of educational apparatus with the allegation that "The Islamic agenda is responsible for introduction of the Religion and National Values subject, which denigrates Christianity and promotes Islam. NCEF joins in the demand that CRK and IRK should revert to the original status as standalone subjects." NCEF is coming late to this issue because last year, Sultan Muhammadu Sa'ad and Prof Ishaq Oloyede, then Secretary General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA], made the same demand. Rather than denigrate CRK and uplift IRK, the basic school curriculum produced by Nigeria Educational Research Council [NERC] was an equal opportunity denigration of both, reducing them to "themes" in the subject Religion and National Values. If anyone was to blame for that, it was NERC's then executive secretary Prof Obioma, his supervising minister Nyesom Wike and the then President of the Federal Republic, Goodluck Jonathan. It is the current Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu who spearheaded the reversal of that policy a year before the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] made it an issue.
In its statement, NCEF then "frowned at the decision of some state governments to allocate tribal land for animal grazing. NCEF finds it disturbing that with the wide expanse of land available in the North, Government is sponsoring Grazing Reserve for Fulani herdsmen across the nation. Apart from the injustice of Government promoting one trade over and above other business interest groups in the country, NCEF cannot understand the rationale behind the action of some State Governors who are willing to release the ancestral land of their people as Grazing Reserve." It is the duty of government to promote every trade and every occupation that adds to the national wealth. Thirty million heads of cattle, sheep and goats is one of Nigeria's biggest national assets and any government will be a fool to trifle with it.
As to "favouring one trade over others," government has always done that by providing markets and other reserved areas in all our cities and towns to goods traders, vehicle dealers, mechanics, spare parts dealers, clearing and forwarding agents, estate builders, manufacturers, petrol stations etc. Most of these were built on ancestral lands; is it only grazing reserves that take over ancestral lands? General Danjuma was a top ranking member of the Supreme Military Council when it issued the Land Use Decree in 1977 that gave government the power to take over any ancestral lands and reallocate them for public or private projects. SMC even embedded that decree into the 1979 Constitution. Why didn't the gruff and stern T.Y. say at the time that grazing reserves should be excluded from the envisaged projects?