Friday, May 27, 2016

Sobering triumph



Everyone's in favour of progress. It's just change they don't like. Anon.

A sensitive celebration of the first year anniversary of the inauguration of President Buhari will not roll out  the loudest drums. True, there are good reasons why the anniversary should be loud and noisy, but restraints in the manner a major watershed in Nigeria's history will be celebrated are likely to be placed by a sober recognition of the state of the nation. It is rare for Nigerians to wear long faces on festive occasions, but this is one of those occasions when reflection is best suited.
This time last year, most Nigerians were looking forward to the benefits of the emergence of a new administration that would set new standards and direction for the nation. The fact that this administration emerged at all is a small miracle. There were genuine fears of the consequences of a Buhari on lives and assets at the top echelons of the Jonathan administration. Every trick in the book was employed to frustrate that possibility, and was resisted by a citizenry that had made up its mind to trust the General who was to fight insecurity and corruption. The international community had made it clear that it would welcome a change in leadership that will address the threats to the country and stop the brazen pillaging of the nation's economy. When it became clear that losing will represent an unacceptable option for Jonathan's circle, incredible stores of energy, muscle and goodwill were deployed by Nigerians and foreign friends to persuade both contestants to concede if  they lost, and to seek assurances that there were to be no persecutions.
The combination of a credible electoral process and a productive mediation on possible outcomes saw the nation conduct largely peaceful and credible elections, defying the most frightening, but not altogether baseless projections to the contrary. Nigerians set a new mark on a spectrum with extremes of condemnable and commendable, moving from our traditional role of leading Africa towards the former. A president emerged who had contested and vigorously challenged his loss three times. An electoral system that had been a major liability for the nation's democratic process delivered the will of the people without the usual flow of blood and threats to the nation's survival. An incumbent president was defeated for the first time in Nigeria's history. A party that had grown fat and complacent from patronage and spoils of office was roundly rejected by Nigerians. The results reflected some of the traditional geo-political character of the nation, but on the whole, they showed a nation willing to move beyond its historical comfort zones to create something new.
And so the Buhari presidency was ushered in with very high expectations. Hard-pressed Nigerians running from bombs and bullets or chasing crumbs from vast resources being stolen felt they had created their own government. The world was relieved that Nigeria survived its elections and had a leader it can do business with. The appetite for major improvements in security, management of the economy and integrity of the governance process had been whetted by the reputation and the promises of President Buhari. The opposition was in disarray, and few would question the capacity of the new administration to deliver on its promises.
A year down the road, you will be lynched in many parts of the north if you said that security of lives has not been improved as a result of the successes against Boko Haram. The people in the north-east will still sleep better if there are no lingering threats from suicide bombers and insurgents holed up in forests, as well as over two million fellow citizens living in camps. No one holds President Buhari responsible for this, but parents of the Chibok girls and thousands whose relations are also missing will want them home. As Boko Haram retreated, new and recycled threats emerged, some exploiting weaknesses in our internal security assets, others with more patently political undertones. A neo-Biafra group was making the case with threats and blood that Nigeria and Igbos had no place for each other. Inter-communal violence involving sophisticated weapons assumed uncanny political character and threatens to compound major worries over the state's capacity to secure communities. Then, parts of the Niger Delta exploded with bombs destroying oil and gas assets, and voices behind them demanding major political concessions. The disastrous collapse of crude price is now being made worse by losses of huge quantities of exportable crude to organized violence seeking political goals, the classic definition of terror.
The intimate relationship between security, politics and the economy has been made more prominent in the last few months. The anti-corruption war is likely being resisted by exploiting major weaknesses or links in the Nigerian economic chain. The manner the fight itself is being fought has created massive expectations that could pose problems owing to the fact that it has to be processed and channelled through a problematic judicial process. Impatient Nigerians want assets confiscated, restitutions made and culprits in jail now. Many believe that stolen wealth and retrieved funds can be deployed to cushion the effects of the economic recession that is making life very difficult for them.
Many Nigerians still have faith that President Buhari means well, and will do better if the economic circumstances in which he has had to govern were better. A segment is losing patience and demanding for relief, not apologies. They say they elected President Buhari to fix problems, not remind them that he did not create them. There are also millions who believe that Buhari will find solutions. This group is among the most badly affected by rising prices of food and all other basic commodities, yet they defeated the plans of organized labour to reject the new, higher fuel prices. They will go even further with the President, but crushing poverty and hunger tend to abridge loyalty.
The immediate future will not be a source of great joy to most Nigerians. They could be told it can be a lot worse under another president, but Buhari is the president today. Nigerians will want to see genuine attempts to bring relief to their hardships. They will believe Buhari if he engages them and shares with them the facts of our existence and what can or cannot be done. They will want to see a compassionate government; one that fairly shares the resources meant for the poor and the vulnerable; one in which people with responsibility show discipline and make sacrifices. In spite of their muted celebrations, Nigerians know that they created a source of hope and improvements in their lives. The leaders they elected now have to assure them that that hope is alive.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The deep stains of corruption

If you want to make enemies, try to change something. Woodrow Wilson
 
President Buhari’s retort to Prime Minister David Cameron’s gaffe on Nigeria’s reputation will rank among the best statesman-like responses to provocations. It reminds one of many of Prime Minister Churchill’s reactions to people he frequently offended. A lady was offended by his drunken behavior at a social event, and told him how she would poison his drink if he were her husband. ‘Madam’, he said, ‘if I were your husband, I will drink that poison’. When the gloss is removed from the quick and matured response of President Buhari, you will see a rather somber, if dignified layer that suggests that taking on the label would have been futile. The President himself had been the chief spokesman against the depth and damage of corruption in Nigeria. On a day the New York Times published it editorial against selling highly advanced fighter jets to Nigeria on grounds that our military cannot be trusted to use them in a manner that satisfies US concerns over human rights abuses, the President himself told a visiting dignitary that corruption was responsible for Nigeria’s failure to defeat Boko Haram earlier. Just give us back our money was a good way to say you have kept proceeds of corruption, but it does, as his subsequent comments made clear, that he accepted that Nigeria is indeed a very corrupt nation.
A year since he came to power on the back of promises to rein-in corruption, fight insecurity and provide jobs, President Buhari’s administration will not be inconsiderably concerned over the speed with which the fight against it is yielding results. Certainly, the case has been made, beyond even the most cynical mindsets, that past administrations have simply plundered the nation’s resources. Nigerians are numb with revelations over huge amounts which literally moved from government to private accounts. The fight against corruption may have become a victim of its own successes, to the degree that the daily parade of suspects and revelations of new discoveries have suggested that massive resources will soon be recovered or have been recovered, and many in the league of the powerful and the wealthy will soon be convicts.
Now the nation is being assured that President Buhari will mention details of recoveries and their sources on May 29th, and EFCC says it has recovered three trillion dollars. My gut instinct is to believe that both are being mis-reported. I also hope I am right, because many Nigerians will stay awake until May 29th to hear from the lips of our President those who are in the league of grand looters. The impression that EFCC is also sitting on three trillion (dollars or naira), will need to be addressed, or hard-pressed citizens will believe that the 2016 budget will end with a massive surplus.
Many Nigerians will be pained that a key strategic partner like the US will be discouraged from selling military assets that should hasten the end of Boko Haram. The reality, however, is that while those who take decisions in many countries appreciate the major strides that President Buhari’s administration had made against Boko Haram and deep-seated corruption in Nigeria, they also know that President Buhari is not reinventing Nigeria. His administration is just coming to terms with a problem that will take a lot of effort and time to deal with. Operating within the challenging margins of the rule of law ought to generate understanding from champions of human rights and protectors of due process. There are no emergency routes to securing a nation, or locating, retrieving unspent stolen wealth, or punishing those who looted the treasury. The interests ranged against the anti-corruption battles are vastly equipped and experienced in manipulating the judicial process. They will exploit its limitations and weaknesses, and highlight them against the expectations raised by an administration leading an impatient nation baying for restitution and punishment.
The concern that the world will not cut President Buhari much more slack than he already has should not discourage efforts to set and meet standards that are indispensible if important doors will be opened further. A few advanced fighter jets from the US will not entirely win the war against Boko Haram. They are likely to tip the scales deeper in the direction of success, and will serve a symbolic purpose of reinforcing the support of the US in our fight against Boko Haram and the globalization of terror. If they come in spite of attempts to generate domestic resistance in the over reported abuses by our armed forces, they will most likely be used to nudge the government towards looking into allegations recently made by Amnesty International and improving the levels of institutional integrity of our armed forces. If they are prevented from being sold, it should serve as an impetus to push on with our own resolve and the equipment we can lay hands on. The war can still be won, but we should not ignore voices that raise concerns over the manner we win it. The jets represent a reminder that in many circles where opinions over Nigeria are important, we are not out of the woods yet.
Then again, the fightback by corruption will have to be resisted even as the President Buhari fights Boko Haram with what may appear as liabilities in the form of views that resonate in key global centers. The damaging resurgence of organized violence in the creeks which has taken a toll of 800,000 barrels a day of crude cannot be divorced from the spreading dragnets of the anti-corruption war. At some point, the administration will have to evaluate all options in dealing with this new threat, particularly in view of its potential to stretch the nation’s defences even further. Will some form of accommodation be required that may involve limiting the scope of investigations and possible prosecution, if powerful interests are found behind both the resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta and the plunder of our resources in the last few years? Will nations that are in receipt of our stolen wealth improve the processes of repatriating what is stolen, or assisting Nigeria with intelligence, repatriating suspects and extending greater levels of understanding in this battle for the soul and survival of Nigeria?
The fight against corruption will not be won easily, and Nigerians should appreciate this and learn to live with a cynical world that we have to relate with. Very high expectations have been raised that the war against corruption will yield dividends in the short time in form of massive amounts recovered and the increasingly longer list of suspects that daily report to EFCC. The time it takes to process suspicion into conviction and restitution will be exploited by interests hostile to the anti-corruption war to raise questions about its fairness and integrity. Not all criticisms against the war against corruption are informed by those whose hands are stained, any more than the case being made for improving the professionalism of our armed forces should be treated as hostile propaganda. We all have agreed that corruption is a worse enemy than Boko Haram. We need to fight it with courage, imagination and an awareness that it will be resisted every inch of the way.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Timing and context in politics



          Do not call a dog with a whip in your hand. African proverb.

What appears to be the resumption of organized violence against the Nigerian state from the Niger Delta should worry Nigerians and the international community who are encouraged by efforts to improve the state of national security and management of the nation's economy. There is wide consensus that Boko Haram has been severely contained, although its retreat has revealed the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster it had created with over two million displaced persons and destruction of basic social and economic infrastructure in many parts of the north east. As Boko Haram retreated, the new presidency was taken up by a group from the south east, seeking secession. Internal security challenges such as intra and inter-community conflicts and kidnappings also exposed a nation burdened by illegal weapons and virtually non-existent policing institutions. There was also genuine concern that the fight against corruption will trigger a response from threatened powerful interests with knowledge and influence over some of the nation's security fault lines.
Then  hooded and armed gangs who like to be called militants from parts of Niger Delta rolled out boats and joined the queue, destroying oil and gas infrastructure, engaging the military and further endangering an economy desperately attempting to come to terms with crashed crude prices. To be sure, no one believed that organized violence had permanently resigned from politics and public life in the Niger Delta. Attempts to settle and  co-opt the long line of the aggrieved into the political process and the economy showed their limitations as violence continued to run the political and electoral processes during the 2015 elections and during every other election in the region since then. The reappearance of dynamites, bombs, boats and heavily-armed men with a long list of demands written in blood and threats will compound worries over whether  INEC will ever succeed in organizing all the outstanding elections dotting the region. More specifically, the sabotage of oil and gas gas facilities threatens the national economy which depends on dwindling revenues from sell of crude oil. Sabotage of gas supplies to power generating facilities will keep generation levels low and unpredictable.
If there is some thinking behind the escalation of violence in the Niger Delta, Nigerians will be entitled to ask how much attention it is paying to the issue of timing and disposition of the leadership as well as the current  mood of the nation. It would appear that someone is getting contexts wrong, and neglecting to read historical circumstances well. This  strategic miscalculation will cost the nation dearly, but deliver very little in terms of the goals of these neo-militants. Perhaps the nation is dealing with groups similar to IPOB which reincarnates a historical relic to fight for modern spoils. It could even be the case that a few people believe that they have an inexhaustible cause that can be tweaked at convenience. Then again, someone could be overestimating the place of terror in a nation just walking away from being a victim of the worst forms of violence.
For nearly two decades, Nigeria lived with major provocations around a cause in the Niger Delta. It was impossible to dismiss the evidence of cumulative abuse, neglect and insensitivity for which governments, local leaders, oil companies and armed groups were responsible. The case for redress and restitution from a people who deserved a lot better was heard and adopted across the globe, and then forced upon reluctant sympathies of the Nigerian government and oil companies. From that moment, the flood gates were opened to every demand to be made. Violence was bought with billions, but the means of violence were tucked away. Terrible crimes were pardoned. Billions released for infrastructure development went into pockets of politicians and local muscles with fancy titles like community leaders. Voices raised in protest at the cost of peace were drowned by more violence and greater damage to the national economy. More and more was conceded to a region that was basically at par with most of the rest of Nigeria, until a President came from it, and a large chunk of the nation's resources went to it.
The nation, it seems, was wrong in assuming that it had paid its dues to the Niger Delta. When Nigerians voted to reject the farce that was the Jonathan administration, to put in its place a leadership that will secure the nation and stop the institutionalized pillage of the commonwealth, they did this along with people of the Niger Delta. If they actually voted, their votes showed that most of them preferred a continuation on the Jonathan presidency, which was their right. They lost out to other Nigerians who had had enough. The world applauded the choice for change that pulled the nation away from the margins of collapse.
Now the bombs are going off in the name of a cause that will not accept that the nation can move on. Those behind this current blackmail will find that they are choosing the wrong President to threaten. President Buhari leads a nation that has neither the patience, the resources to play with nor the luxury of time to wait for this threat to play itself out. He enjoys the support of Nigerians and the global community to secure a nation that is facing one of its worst economic crises. The military under his watch had rolled back Boko Haram. IPOB met stiff resistance from a President not given to ceding part of the nation or submitting to crude blackmail. Communities in the Delta region are unlikely to provide the type of support to violent groups as they did in the past, if the outcomes will only be the destruction of oil and gas assets and the prospects of living with a full-blown military presence. They will be even more reluctant as they learn how much was pocketed for the little they got as communities. The world has little stomach for the resumption of hostilities in the Delta, after prodding the Nigerian government and oil companies to make substantial improvements in the lives of communities. Elites from the region have done it no favours, going by the plunder of public resources that is being revealed daily. An abandoned ten kilometer road near Ituoke that was to cost one billion Naira per kilometer is a screaming testimony to the legacy left behind by leaders from the region. This is the region where three trillion Naira was supposed to have been spent under Jonathan.
Most Nigerians would welcome an end to the violence and damage to oil and gas assets in the Niger Delta, and they would prefer that real grievances are processed through the institutions of state. No one will accept that the nation must remain perpetually at the mercy of violent groups from the region. If they were in the mood for it, fellow Nigerians from the north east will make people from the Niger Delta weep with their versions of life in the last four years, and a future that does not go beyond the next meal. Many Nigerians will tell them of life resting on deepening poverty and escalating insecurity. Armed gangs who blow up facilities and kill security people are not fighting the administration of President Buhari. They are fighting Nigerians in a war they cannot win.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Lawwali, almajiri.



         It takes a whole village to bring up a child. African proverb.

At the age of eleven, Lawwali has been an almajiri(traditional Islamic school pupil/student) for five years. He had seen his father once when he came to visit the Malam(teacher),but not his mother since  he left in their village near Gummi in Kebbi State. His younger brother  is also an almajiri in Suleja, Niger State. Looking at him, you will not see evidence of loneliness or longing for warmth. If you give him alms, he will thank you and pray for you. If you do not, he walks away with his thoughts of you and his society. Sentiments and signs of weakness have been erased from his countenance and replaced be an unapologetic posture that tolerates an existence at the mercy and compassion of strangers ,and an acceptance that his life has been designed by parents and teachers along lines of a long tradition.
Lawwali has lived under a tough regime that has no  room for self pity or weakness. He has learned to fight for everything, from sleeping space under a punishing learning system, to bullying and other abuses from seniors and, many times, to little food or sleeping on an empty stomach. He has survived illnesses and diseases, and lives with the permanent burden of providing for himself, teachers and minders. You will not get him to speak on life on the streets. His story is in the dirty, empty plastic bowl he holds and the rags on his back. Like your child, he was born out of love and affection of parents. He is the face of a people who pity, fear or loath him. He is us. Lawwali participated in a riot or two in Kaduna, and has seen murdered people on streets. He had been a member of the spectacular multitudes in many political events and campaigns of Governor el-Rufai and President  Buhari, and had run for miles following motorcades and convoys   shouting 'Chanji!'His stoic acceptance of generosity or denial in equal measure is a study  in systems that tolerate pain and privations as rewards.
Lawwali is the face of the monumental failure of the northern Muslim community to find a  point where traditional methods of teaching young Muslims elements of their faith will be isolated from its structural limitations and political  indifference. He is one of millions of young Nigerians who are going through the same mode of study their ancestors went through. Northern Muslim communities moved on a century ago in pursuit of western education, making available every opportunity for some of their  children to acquire western education. Millions of other children stayed behind, tied down by a  strong and stubborn value system that was neither threatened nor cajoled by the state to join the scramble for a future anchored around western values and systems. This is where the basic roots of class differentiation in the North lie. Research  on almajirci from beneficiaries of western education will fill entire libraries, many with profound insights and suggestions on integration of systems, and measures that could eliminate begging and the wretched existence of the almajiri as the hallmarks of Islamic education. They have not made a dent on the institution.
 If the near-universal consensus among Muslims that Islam does not support begging had any potency in the north, there will be very few beggars on the streets. If laws and regulations against child hawkers and beggars and like  Lawwali worked, the prisons will be bursting with almajirai, their parents, teachers and people who give them alms or other forms of support. If genuine intentions and the strength of faith and compassion had a place  in us, the army of the needy in the north, including almajirai will not go out the entire day looking for a meal or two. If northern leaders had political will and vision, the alarming numbers of child beggars who are ill-prepared to live in today's complex and punishing enviroment will not represent the dangerous blight at the heart of the north, whose most valuable potential asset is its human population. If political leaders had the support of the people and the courage to deal with deeply-rooted social problems, many battles would have been fought and won against powerful religious sects and leaders who consign Lawwali's existence to rigid patterns.
Now the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai has found his own solution to this ancient problem. He will ban street begging, and fine or jail anyone involved in it, and others who give them alms. He is likely get support among citizens who are angry that Islam is being portrayed as a faith that encourages destitution and dehumanization. Many who are irritated by beggars because they tug at their hearts and confront them with the dilenma of giving and encouraging beggars, or ignoring the beggar in the hope that begging will stop will also have sympathy for the Governor. Some will support him because they want clean, beggar-free streets to drive through. Some will believe that a ban will force beggars, including almajirai to look for alternative sources of basic subsistence.
 Malam Nasir el-Rufai is not an easy man to dissuade when he makes up his mind. He is, however, likely to meet stiff resistance against this latest foray into the heart of our limitations and weaknesses as a society. To discourage him will be wrong and unpatriotic, but not to advise him to give this issue a deeper consideration will be irresponsible. Lawwali and thousands like him could be stopped from begging in the streets and homes if he Governor has enough enforcement capacity not to make a mockery of law-making. If those who live off charity are sufficiently deterred form begging for food and basic subsistence, the Governor has to worry over how they will feed and survive, because one way or the other, they will. The sheer number of almajirai and an assortment of the disabled being chased or jailed in a context where you have not cultivated strong support for caging them way from neat and destitution-free environments will pose a problem of perception  and poor public sympathy for a government already fighting on many fronts.
Stopping Lawwali from begging will not eliminate the institution of  almajirci. An enlightened policy that feeds the almajiri from public funds, the same way the government now feeds primary school children is more likely to keep them off the streets. They may even stay back in schools, and teachers and sect leaders may accept some practical accomodation of some elements of western education along with what they teach. Not the farce that Jonathan slapped the north with, but a sustainable arrangement that substantially stops street begging, allows for continuation of Islamic teaching and creation of room for some western education. If he has not done so already, el-Rufai should look at experiences of states such as Kano in dealing with this problem. It is important to remind leaders that their task is to bridge distances between state and religion, not to widen them.
Lawwali and millions of almajirai will be with us for a long time. No one should celebrate or tolerate this tragic projection. In spite of the belief of his parents that his youth, sacrificed virtually in rags, hunger and exposure to damaging social tendencies is a useful investment for his adult and next life, the reality is that he deserves and can get better options for the same goals. He needs support that challenges these beliefs, creates those better options and saves him from being both  a victim and a villain. In Kaduna State, he will spend the next few months in a cat-and-mouse with government agents. His new challenge will be resolved either in a manner that leaves his life  substantially unaffected, or by circumstances that alienate him further from a society that believes the solution to his problem is to make it worse.

Friday, April 29, 2016

About herders

              A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market. African proverb.

          In the last one week alone, the ambigious and amorphous killing machine under the popular label of Fulani herdsmen has reportedly killed many people and destroyed villages in many parts of the country. Going by media reports, Fulani herdsmen are fast spreading to the south, attacking innocent villagers at will. There is hardly any mention of casualties on the part of these herders-turned-killers, and if there are arrests from the ranks of these apparently distinctly-identifiable killers, they are not made to public. Fulani organization spokesmen routinely distance their people from these spreading attacks, with little effect. The nation is being led down a very dangerous path, unless some urgent and decisive measures are taken. There is a danger that broad opinion is being polarized between those who see a sinister motive and official indifference behind these killings, and those who refuse to accept the broad label of Fulani herdsmen being slapped on groups that kill and destroy villages.
 What is needed at this stage is not to succumb to hysteria either way. Obviously there are killings going on in many parts of the country that appear to fit into a pattern, and victims will not be consoled by arguments over identity of perpetrators. Large and heavily armed gangs lurking in forests or around villages may pose a challenge to police and other security agents, but they must be flushed out and dealt with.
Next, we need to work towards some broad understanding of the nature of this threat. The amorphous label of Fulani herdsmen needs to be critically scrutinized against all known parameters, including common sense. The objectives of the attackers, if they have any, needs to be understood. Their grievances, if they exist, need to be identified. The sociological and economic contexts of existence of Fulani herdsmen need to be appreciated in a setting isolated from stereotyping and hysteria. The massive changes imposed on lifestyles of herders by ecology, economy, politics and security in Nigeria in the last four decades need to be understood. The point of all these enquiries will not be to make excuses for behavior of Fulani herdsmen, if indeed they are responsible for these attacks. It is to isolate what can be done now to arrest a problem that has frightening implications for national unity and security, as well as adopt strategies and policies that will mitigate the danger and eliminate the problem in the long run.
There is an urgent need to put this problem on the table and understand its nature and dimensions. It is also important to appreciate certain realities even as the nation attempts to make sense of a looming crisis. One of these is that Fulani will continue to herd cattle to all places where their livelihood is assured, and, as they have done for centuries, they are bound to come into conflicts with farmers and communities. There is no magic wand the nation can wave that will reform and domesticate animal husbandry in the next few months, and only the worst threats and disasters will stop Fulani from herding their cattle across the entire length and breadth of Nigeria. Secondly, many communities will now relate with Fulani herdsmen from suspicious and hostile perspectives, no thanks to the politicization and negative publicity they have been exposed to. Thirdly, the magnitude of the failure of basic policing, community cohesion and influence of local traditional structures in Nigeria in the last few decades, as well as widespread access to firearms among citizens should caution against tendencies to assume that Fulani herdsmen are the sole source of many of the problems in local communities that have suffered from conflicts.
Northern governors, Fulani organizations and security agencies should, as a matter of urgency, tap into expert and relevant knowledge on this relatively new phenomenon. There will be benefits from starting with rather basic questions. For instance, if these attackers are Fulani herders, where are their cattle? What do they gain by fighting communities on whose goodwill they absolutely depend on to survive? Are these genuine herders, or hoards of Fulani whose herds have been stolen in an industrial-scale pillage by organized crime or other communities in the last few years? Is there an emerging spicie of Fulani that is armed and experienced in crimes of cattle rustling, armed robbery, kidnappings and sustained attacks on villages and communities? Are there genuine grounds for believing the theory that foreign Fulani are involved in violent attacks on communities in many parts of the middle belt, south west, south south and south east? If there are, what are their motivations?
Beyond asking difficult questions, there is a major responsibility for northern leaders and the federal government to adopt emergency and long-term solutions to problems relating to animal husbandry. Many Fulani will rather live in local, secure environments than risk hostility in distant communities. There is no state in the north where, with political will, substantial grazing reserves and routes cannot be created in the next few months. These need to be accorded the highest priority in the context of national security and obligation of political leadership to core northern interests.
At the national level, answers will need to be sought for possible links between a fragmenting insurgency, armed bands seemingly fighting communities with no visible goals other than to trigger larger ethnic conflicts, and the manner armed groups succeed in infiltrating Nigerian communities. Conflicts between herdsmen and local communities should not divert attention from endemic conflicts between and within communities, and the tendency for these conflicts to assume more intense and destructive violence should be a major source of concern.
There will be opportunistic attempts to link President Buhari’s person with the appearance of bold Fulani herdsmen who fight and kill locals in communities far from their traditional locations. There will also be attempts to pitch local communities against every Fulani, to rupture age-old bonds of goodwill and co-habitation and trigger large-scale expulsion of Fulani herdsmen from many parts of Nigeria. President Buhari has already given marching orders for this phenomenon to be arrested. Governors and other leaders and security agencies should agree on strategies which lower tensions and improve relations between Fulani and local communities. Security and intelligence services should be more diligent in arresting and exposing the people who operate behind the franchise of Fulani herdsmen.
The rising, if justified indignation over the exploits of herdsmen is a major threat to national security. Left to the sorry state of the institutions of state responsible for maintenance of basic security, law and order, the nation will be confronted with a serious and complex problem that will compound our multiple security challenges. In addition to decisive action by all governments, leaders of opinion should also exercise responsible restraint. There is nothing inherent in the Fulani that makes them immune to temptations to take up arms to defend themselves, or to commit crimes.
Fulani who commit crimes are not above the law, and security intelligence should address the pressing imperative of demystifying the mask behind the generic band of killers labelled Fulani herdsmen. Defending Fulani herdsmen from being unjustly branded is also an obligation, if peace and justice remain key national values. Those with responsibility today should rise to the challenge to find solutions to the livelihood and lifestyle of the law-abiding Fulani herdsman, because clearly, his lot is being made worse by the perception that being Fulani herdsman alone is a security threat to other Nigerians. Those communities which are hurt have a right to be protected, to know their attackers and why they are being attacked. The stakes are too high for ambiguities to be tolerated.
 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Saraki Matters

Loyalty is a fine quality, but in excess it fills political graveyards. Neil Kinnock
 
Of all the ghosts from the past that haunt the All Progressives Congress the (APC) none is as significant as the person and circumstances surrounding Senate President Bukola Saraki. In fact, it is safe to say he embodies all the complex elements and nuances that are captured in the phenomenon that became the APC, and the nation is witnessing their unfolding. His conviction by the Code of Conduct Tribunal is (CCT) is one possible outcome out of many, as the past catches up with a present and a threatens to shape a future that appears poorly prepared to handle the impact. 
History of the APC will accord substantial place to Saraki and other members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) who defected into a fledgling APC, giving it muscle, numbers and resources. Even more significantly, their defection mortally wounded the PDP, making it even weaker to resist the onslaught of a party that promised Nigerians major changes in their lives. Saraki’s hand was in every move from the original but historic walk out by some governors from the PDP, to his decision not to stand against General Buhari for the party’s flag, to the campaigns and the victory of the APC. For them, the stakes were very high for both victory and defeat of the APC. Defeat by the PDP would have confronted the defectors with serious threats to their personal and political fortunes as a vengeful PDP visited its anger and muscle over their betrayal. Success would earn them new leases of political life and front seats in an administration that was wrested from the PDP without asking too many questions over who joined in the historic struggle and why.
The heat of the battle to unseat PDP drowned voices that cautioned against wholesale and unquestioning accommodation of all elements, their resources, their records against the very opposition they are joining and their ambitions in the new party. Not that anyone would have listened, given the key objective of the battle: change the PDP as the ruling party. The difficult issue involving the exact nature of the change and its drivers was assumed to be one that will be easier to sort out under the massive influence of President Buhari and the army of party generals who gave the party its clout, and tapped into the unprecedented desire for new leadership in the nation.
The rather simplistic assumption that everyone will play by the rules, and wait for the starters’ gun was breached in a scramble led by Saraki, whose political antenna for opportunity pointed at some vulnerable points in President Buhari’s politics. Defying Buhari, the party and the unwritten philosophy of the new party which hinted at respect for leaders and chieftains, restraining personal ambitions, reinforcing the boundaries between the APC and PDP and generally not raising your flags higher than others’, Saraki moved quickly to secure the Senate Presidency. Not the claim of innocence, or compliance with due process, or the pledge of loyalty to President Buhari and the party, or the legions of mediators, peacemakers or palliatives would remove from Saraki the toga of betrayal and rehabilitate him as a trusted and important ally with whom the President and the party could be comfortable.
From there on, the story began to be told in tongues and in a manner less visible to simpler sights. President Buhari put up a brave face and said he would work with Saraki, the Senate President. When the grounds began to sink under Saraki’s feet with the reincarnation of his case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the presidency distanced itself from the matter, and the President specifically insisted, against many appeals from different sources, that he will not interfere with a judicial process. The trial itself set the cat among many different pigeons. The PDP, a major facilitator and beneficiary of Saraki’s emergence as Senate President found new and additional uses as his protector and potentially the winner at the end of what appears to be an undeclared civil war. Many of the Senators with huge files at the EFCC saw themselves in the image of Saraki, and rallied around him. APC Senators were split right down the middle, as patronage politics and the manipulation of the many avenues available to leadership of the Senate to keep Senators loyal, combined to keep many either staying out of the battle entirely, or joining Saraki’s ranks in the absence of strong pull in the other direction.
The judicial process has been stretched and tested to its limits over Saraki’s trial, and the fact that the trial is going on at all is either an indictment or an evidence of the integrity of the judicial process, depending on which opinion you defer to. The party has been largely consigned to an observer status, hamstrung by the very forces which made it unable to influence the emergence of the source of the problem in the first place. The 2016 budget has suffered from the stresses and strains of the saga, and relations between the executive and the legislature, particularly the Senate, have been badly affected.
Little will be gained by a blame game at this stage, unless it is meant to help the APC learn valuable lessons and undertake essential damage control. There are, however, key issues that need careful handling. The reckless attempt by the Senate to repeal the laws setting up the CCT and amend criminal administration provisions has mercifully been halted. The President’s steadfast commitment not to interfere with the judicial process to operate as designed should be complemented by vigilance over other powerful interests that many want to tinker with it, either in pursuance of his interests, or theirs’. The APC should prepare for all eventualities. If Saraki in convicted and ceases to be Senate President, it should expect the type of turbulence that could quite possibly deprive it of the Senate Presidency. Many of its Senators would quite happily work with a Senate President who is from the PDP, and the upper chamber on the whole could become more difficult to do business with. Not enough work is being done to keep APC Senators in line, and the anti-corruption war is daily obliterating the partisan division.
At this stage, the die is cast in terms of the conduct of the trial to its logical conclusion. No major interest is, however, likely to wait for the outcome to act. Even as he faces a trial he had fought hard to avoid, Saraki is not a finished man. Between him and his friends in and outside the Senate, he could do some serious damage to the house. PDP and APC Senators will scheme to exact advantages out of his travails. Powerful interests in the APC will prepare to beat chests over victories in clipping his wings. The fight against corruption will register a casualty, and reinforce greater resistance in quarters that ought to assist it. The party will most likely be weakened by the pervasive influence of powerful individuals who would have had their say in this saga.
President Buhari will have to deal with the consequences of a position that substantially isolates him from processes, even where he has strong interests he needs to protect. With three years to go in its mandate, the APC should learn the right lessons from the Saraki saga. One of these, hopefully, is that the past is the architect of the present, but the future is built by leaders who soil boots in the murky waters of politics to save key goals from being swamped.