Friday, April 7, 2017

Dr David Lambo, 1949-2017.

A most remarkable Nigerian, Dr David Lambo passed away on the 17th of March without leaving the type of ripples Nigerians are famous for creating as testimonies for lives spent in great service on this side of life. I suspect this is how David would have wanted it, to have his passion and footprints in the service of humanity speak louder than the life of a Nigerian who in itself was marked by outstanding achievements. A post by his colleagues at Center for Humanitarian Dialogue(HD), in Geneva and Nairobi which announced his death described him as a tireless humanitarian. It was an apt description, possibly coined by someone who knew him a lot longer than people like me who had the privilege of working with him at that stage of his life when it served principally to point others in a direction that he had followed for the largest part of his life.
It will not do much justice to David to dwell too long on a personal life born into distinction and service, but it must be mentioned, so that it serves as context for its remarkable success in charting courses fueled almost entirely by a personal instinct to make a difference. His father was the famous the Professor Adeoye Lambo, his mother a British-born lady who lived her entire life in Nigeria for her family. He graduated from University of Ibadan in 1971, those days when that made you one of the world's best. He worked for the Economic Commission for Africa(ECA) and  the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNHCR) ,rising to a senior position, and then left to spend a decade in the Nigerian private sector attempting to make a difference in giving Nigerian and Ghanian agriculture a modern competitive edge that was accessible to the small farmer. He returned to the UN system, this time at the deep end of the UNHCR. In 1992 he served as co-ordinator of the agency's largest repatriations operation ever organized with the return of 1.5 million Mozambicans to their home country. Until he retired in 2006,David was deeply involved in bringing the agency's services to assist the defunct OAU and the government of Ethiopia.
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue(HD) was to provide a setting for putting in place David's passion and experiences in dealing with conflicts and the search for peace and development in the African continent. For more than a decade since he joined HD in 2006 as Senior Advisor, he worked tirelessly to establish its Africa Programme. He was at the heart of conflict prevention, mediation and peace-building in Africa, as Advisor to Kofi Annan during the election violence in Kenya; as co-architect of many mediation processes in Somalia; facilitator of dialogue processes in Liberia during the 2011 elections; the inspiration for the complex but ultimately rewarding dialogue processes parts of Nigeria's Middle Belt; a key player in the delicate and discreet efforts to ensure a peaceful transition to a new administration before, during and after Nigeria's 2015 general elections. Above all he was a mentor to many young people from all over the world, a trusted companion to presidents and a source of hope and comfort to families and communities at points of submitting to unending conflicts and crushing poverty.
To work with David was to learn the virtues of sacrifice for others and limitless confidence that there are always solutions to human conflicts, mostly in the willingness to explore options to violence. His vast experience in dealing first hand with conflicts in many parts of Africa gave him the rare quality of keeping a level head and an incredible ability to read the basic issues with an uncanny ability. He will identify what many conflicts share in common, as well as how they differ in character and progression. From the tragic history of Somalia, he will draw worrying similarities with the origin and developments of Boko Haram, and advise on learning the right lessons by Nigerian governments and affected communities. He was a walking encyclopedia on the linkages between underlying issues related to exclusive political processes, unpopular regimes, disputed elections and electoral violence. He would analyze weakly-rooted governments and tendencies that encourage balkanization and violence, with lessons from South Sudan, Rwanda, Congo and Somalia. He would reel out multiple success stories from mediation, and highlight many instances where peace is secured around simple folk whose stakes in peace and development are protected and promoted. Above all he never tired in highlighting the intimate linkages between social justice, development and sustainable peace.
In the last few years, David agonized over the alarming growth of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and its neighbors. He was concerned that the context and nature of the insurgency is properly understood by the Nigerian state, and that its responses are informed both by the need to save the democratic process in Africa's largest nation as its only guarantee for survival as one nation, as well as experiences of other nations which had dealt, or a dealing with massive internal security challenges or insurgencies. He espoused a long-term perspective that included a successful military campaign, a vigorous enquiry over social values and structures that may have been subverted before the rise of the insurgency or by it, and a comprehensive and aggressive policy that will reconstruct, rehabilitate and heal communities that have been damaged by the insurgency. He was passionate in his conviction that Nigeria could benefit from experiences of many countries across the world that had dealt with similar conflicts, and his kast two years saw him visit every important leader from President Buhari to all key Ministers and aides to garner support for an opportunity to expose our policy makers to a range of choices in dealing with the current state of the fight against the insurgency.
David's most unique footprint in Nigeria is to be found in the largely unheralded success of the painstaking and laboured dialogue processes he and HD engineered in and around Jos, Plateau and parts of Southern Kaduna State. A decade ago, Jos led the way in terms of perennial conflicts involving neighbours who had cohabited for decades. No one was ever going to win in these circles of blood-letting, yet every attempted solution ended up making the problem worse. In this regard, parts of Plateau resembled Kaduna State. I hope one day David's colleagues will tell the world what it took to create an atmosphere around northern Plateau that has largely brought to an end the permanent state of siege under which every community lived. The little that I know is that it involved an elaborate and extensive mapping of issues and grievances, and a dogged pursuit of community leaders, combatant youth, clergy, women groups, traditional and political leaders and security agencies in a period spanning years, to come to accept to even acknowledge existence of the others. 'Enemies' listed grievances and solutions, which were then exchanged. When they met, arguments about issues ranging from ancient history to recent incidents, land, identities, pride, injuries all kept tensions high, until it became clear that everyone had a cause, a grievance and solution, but none will find peace without some compromise and accommodation. In the end, communities signed peace agreements that appear to holding more in Plateau State than in Southern Kaduna. In his last few months, David was excited about the invitation of Kaduna State government to revisit its earlier efforts to create a framework for peace anchored around the agreements of communities to design a peace process they can police and live with. I hope HD will support further efforts to do in Kaduna State, what was done in Plateau State.
David would not accept the image of a hero. His humility and willingness to go wherever lie solutions or resources to find solutions gave him the means to open doors many would give up on. He was passionate about Nigeria and Africa, and lived his life  like a very small breed of elderly Africans who have not walked away from seemingly hopeless generations. In 2015,President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Shehu Sani, David and I spent three days at the Oslo Peace Conference. In those few days, you could see that his courage in pushing himself in spite of very challenging health situation was only surpassed by his incredible devotion to his family and his aged mother who died only last year in Lagos. He was never without a new idea or a project to find peace. The greatest legacy he lives behind is a legion of people and colleagues who share his vision of Nigeria and Africa where human dignity and development can be pursued and achieved through a rediscovery of the basic foundation of human civilization: the capacity to seek peaceful resolution to conflicts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Do they know?

If something is adjustable, sooner or later it will need adjusting. Max Frisch

Along with six friends, I watched television footage of  the crowds that cheered Chief James Ibori as he drove on the streets on his return home last week  after his  prison service in the United Kingdom. There was pronounced silence as we watched young and old struggle to catch a glimpse of the man. Like us, it was obvious that  many in the crowds that followed his jeep at close quarters did not believe it was indeed Ibori until he, at a point, emerged from the top of his jeep to show an apparently well-fed and healthy-looking former  Governor. There was a long silence after the spectacle  had we just watched, broken by a question we all thought was rhetorical: "Do these people know what Chief  Ibori was, and what he  did?" What followed was an animated and passionate argument that laid bare many of the skeletons in our nation's cupboard. Our fundamental values as people are apparently as varied and questionable as we choose to make them. The lady who asked the question was not going to be ignored. She asked again if this is the typically Nigerian rent-a-crowd, or a spontaneous and genuine outpouring of joy among people whose hero had retuned after being jailed in a foreign country for stealing, in all probability, their commonwealth.
In a few exchanges, arguments that corruption is a Nigerian elite affair, a matter of personal opinion, a  phenomenon determined by a cultural perspective or an effective value redistribution mechanism which anchors political power competed for hearing and dominance. There was no arguing away the reality before all Nigerians: either Chief Ibori is an extraordinarily likable politician who could do no wrong by his people, or the concept of private plunder of public resources is unknown where he came from. It was relatively easy to tick-off familiar arguments and refrain from many parts of the Niger Delta region, such as those that make heroes of locals who 'liberate', appropriate' or 'personalize' the communities' assets in oil and gas, as opposed to 'strangers' from the rest of Nigeria and the world who 'steal' it under official cover. People form the Niger Delta who will feel insulted by this criminal conclusion were not at the airport and road sides holding up placards saying 'no to corrupt politicians'. By default, voices that agonized over the bleeding of communities by strongmen in the Niger Delta had submitted to a narrative that the use of public office or violence to divert massive resources was tolerable if it was done by locals. If half of the energy devoted to making the case for larger control of revenues by local communities  had been directed at fighting corruption that stole huge resources from the same communities by politicians, the Delta region will not so viciously offend all standards of just and equitable development.
Chief Ibori's return will open up many uncomfortable points in debates regarding the place of official corruption in our lives. There will be those that will insist that the fight against corruption is an elite affair, between those who have not amassed wealth illegally either because they could not, or were deeply predisposed against it, on the one hand, and those who see the acquisition of illegal wealth as a normal and essential element of acquiring power and serving the people. They will point at the verifiable fact that no Nigerian politician has ever acquired power without spending huge resources, most of which will not stand up to close legal scrutiny. That is the investment in an enterprise with the surest guarantee for returns. The distance between stolen wealth and productive activities of the vast majority of citizens make it difficult to raise requisite levels of passion and anger against the pillage of common resources. What is endemic is the pervasive and residual resentment of the rich, fueled by suspicion that all wealth is stolen. The popular clamour to humiliate the rich   by any means   available is constantly hounded by deep-seated convictions that everyone will be corrupt if they get the opportunities.
Do Nigerians know the nature of the damage which systemic corruption does to their lives and the nation, or do they think the fight against corruption is largely a ploy by some elite to settle scores? Not to answer the first question in the affirmative will be to insult everything we value: our religious faiths and other key social values, our politicians who daily remind us that our strengths and assets have been bled dry by corruption, and our indignation at the situation we face daily when we have to submit to corruption. It is the second question which our recent experiences and current circumstances has difficult answers. This administration came to power to fight corruption, and we have a long list of suspects on trial or under investigation to prove it. If therefore, a committed supporter of the current campaign against corruption asks if the cheering crowd that welcomed Ibori knew what he was and what they were involved in, he should be prepared to answer some difficult questions as well. Do our leaders know that corruption at lower levels, the type that touches every citizen still thrives without fear or cover. Do they know that commercial drivers routinely and openly hand over money to police and other army of enforcers and regulators on our roads in full view of citizen passengers who duly note that nothing has changed? Do they know that every transaction, every activity that is service  is still substantially fueled by bribes and inducements?
There is a massive disconnect between the fight President Buhari's government is waging against corruption and the life of the Nigerian who has long readjusted to living with bribery, inducement, cheating, bending of rules, impunity and a host  of other practices that suggest that only those who steal billions are corrupt. The difficulties imposed by an economy in recession make cheerleading the fight against corruption more difficult. Poor citizens ask if government knows how difficult life has become; why the cost of palm oil, matches, sugar and garri rise literally by the day and no one does anything about it. School fees, diesel, medications, rent, transport and every other essentials are becoming unaffordable. The state is receding at a dangerous rate from many Nigerians, Many among whom now provide their own security, basic infrastructure and other essentials of life. When you do this on a permanent basis, it is difficult to have much sympathy for the case that everyone should live within their means. It does not help the administration's cause when much mileage is made against suspicion that it is reluctant to look too critically at its own side in a nation where saints and sinners wear the same faces, but can be told apart with a strong will and a commitment to expose corruption.
Some weeks ago, Vice President Osinbajo appealed to Nigerians to dislike corruption in all its ramifications, or the battle against it is as good as lost. This an important attempt to hit corruption where it hurts most: in those circles where wealth and power bulldoze their ways into our adulating and weak hearts. You have to feel for a President whose singular hallmark has been the fight against corruption, and a Deputy who doubles as a priest, that they stand at a point where they could persuade Nigerians to stay overwhelmingly loyal to the fight against corruption, or one that could register an irretrievable loss. If the Buhari administration will not win the fight against corruption, it is going to be difficult to see who will. If it will win this war, this administration needs to re-strategize and re-focus on value change and an aggressive campaign to stop small scale corruption which citizens live with. If a citizen cannot be saved from paying bribes for just about everything of value, he is unlikely to see any wrong in Chief James Iboris life. The battle for 2019 will test the effectiveness of the anti-corruption campaign. If billions or trillion are going to have to be spent by politicians and their backers in business they will have to steal it now.

I am about to take a break to serve the nation in another capacity. I will hope that there is still room for me in the paper and your attention when I resume. I thank you for reading me and giving me the courage to share my thought with you.
Good bye

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Restarting the North. Again.

" If you don't know when you have been spat on, it does not matter too much what else you think you know". Ruth Shays.
Northern Governors last week attempted a feat the region had long jettisoned: bringing together its assets under one roof to count its strengths and weaknesses. The Governors and senior officials went beyond the routine and ritual of periodically assembling for a few days in Kaduna, mostly to run away from begging and complaining citizens. This time, they set for themselves the challenging task of putting the region's security challenges on the table and reaching out to traditional rulers and groups of elders to help examine just where to begin to deal with its multiple manifestations. When you remember that a few years ago, Northern Governors were literally forced to stop meetings in Kaduna, or attend any event in the symbolically-important Arewa House by local youth who harassed them with such abandon, this particular meeting which had an impressive attendance will be recorded as an achievement for holding at all. It was even more remarkable that Governors accepted to tap into the perspectives and experiences of traditional rulers, that layer that hovers between uncomfortable submission to elected politicians the age of their offspring or younger brothers, and leveraging on the considerable opportunities that exist outside their narrow formal environments to be heard. They even tacitly accepted that associations of elderly Northerners who had played their parts many times over in the affairs of the region and the nation had something of value to say in the search for solutions.

The Governor of Borno State who is the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum spoke with such passion, anger and lamentation over the state of the North, it was obvious that the Governors had decided to do something different this time. The anger was substantially directed at the North, the region with the size, the people and the potential to be the richest in the nation, and to feed the entire West Africa. It is not any such thing today. It is, instead, the wretched region, derided and despised for begging for its existence and contributing nothing but trouble by the rest of Nigeria. Its people are angry and terrified by its numerous security challenges. Ten million of its young are beggars, and millions more will not receive any type of education or skills to prepare them for productive adult lives. Thousands of its people have died and are dying from preventable security threats, and millions will be victims of the Boko Haram insurgency for many years to come, or for entire lives. The North is virtually de-industrialized, its basic infrastructure decaying beyond rehabilitation. Desperately poor communities fight each other for every reason except those that improve their economic well-being. The solid show of  political unity demonstrated with the election of President Buhari in 2015 is threatening to unravel, as shadowy attackers under the generic identity of Fulani herders threaten ethno-religious harmony in many parts of the North, providing huge opportunities to exploit and regenerate dormant hostilities. The North that protected its turf as one unit with such confidence and competence in the first republic is a pathetic shadow, with nineteen governments, bureaucracies and rulers, spending resources it does not produce on governments, not the people.

This was the North whose political leaders, all nineteen of them, decided to look critically at a region that is regressing at such a rapid rate that it has become a major threat to itself and the rest of the nation, and even Africa. Well, they got an earful from the distinguished assemblage in turbans and robes and grey hairs on heads in their 80s and 90s.The Sultan of Sokoto advised on the values of justice and honesty as foundations of good governance and security. The Shehu of Borno painted a most distressing picture of the devastation being wrecked by the retreating Boko Haram insurgency. Emir of Kano made a strong case for far-reaching social reforms as solutions to the deep-seated problems of the North which feed insecurity. Other traditional rulers offered advise on dealing with cultural pluralism, threats and strengthening governance structures. Elders took Governors on a journey to a past which held together because leaders put premium on justice, inclusiveness and sacrifices. They reminded Governors of imperatives of lowering boundaries, adopting pan-Northern policies and programs and regenerating the dilapidated assets of the North. They held Governors responsible for exerting pressure on the Federal Government to accord priority to adequate investments in agriculture, solid mineral development and basic infrastructure in the North as rights and not as a favour to Northerners. They drew attention to energetic efforts of governors from the Southwest to build foundations for regional development and political unity. They pointed to multiple security threats and challenges from many parts of the nation fed by the desire to corner more resources, while the North fights itself and fritters away its bountiful opportunities. They lamented the alarming and widening gaps between the North and the rest of Nigeria in education, wealth creation, security and quality of life.

Remakably, there was also substantial yielding of grounds around boundaries and turfs. Governor Nasir el-Rufai submitted to a meeting that had hinted that insecurity in any part of the North is a northern problem through a detailed briefing on challenges and responses of his government on the Shia, cattle rustling and Southern Kaduna. Reactions to his briefing supported the view that northern leaders recognize that developments involving the Shia (or as he insisted, the IMN),and Southern Kaduna represented major threats to the whole North and the nation. Not one voice failed to support the enforcement of the law against people  and groups who defy it, whatever religious garb they wear, or their status. A few, however advised on the values of exploring additional avenues and opportunities to manage conflicts. Dealing with overlapping responsibilities on security, law and order between federal and state governments is  a major problem, and in both the Shia and Southern Kaduna issues, the need for greater synergy and collaboration was identified as a major issue that northern governors should take up with the federal government.

The outcome of the meeting, the next day when the governors met alone, suggested that they may have decided on a number of steps that were best left unannounced. Some of the observations and  decisions they made public must have raised a few eyebrows, including the categorical statement that the Fulani suspected of involvement in fights with farming communities are from other countries in West Africa. Even making allowances for the possibility that the governors have the evidence to support this, it is a cause of concern that the conclusion could absolve from suspicion, the huge Fulani population which is entirely Nigerian in fights with communities. Fulani herders, Nigerian and foreign, will now be subjected to much closer scrutiny and potential abuse to show evidence of nationality. The onus to secure borders and prevent illegal entry for foreign Fulani has now been shifted to the federal government, a move that will neither improve border security nor the security of communities in the near future. Conflict resolution efforts and peace building will have to meander through a position which suggests that Fulani who should be involved are foreigners. Communities which still fear Fulani attacks will not find much comfort in the position that their adversaries are from other countries, and they may suspect that attempts are being made to push responsibilities further away.

In any case, Northern Governors have made the commendable efforts to assume primary responsibility for the security of citizens. They have raised hopes that must be met, because the future of the North is severely threatened by unacceptable levels of poverty and crippling insecurity that compounds poverty. The North has never been as politically unified in partisan terms as it is today, with only two states in the hand of the PDP. If APC, with control of the executive and legislature at the federal level as well as 17 of 19 northern states cannot make a radical difference in the lives of northerners in the next one year, it is very likely that it will find it difficult to sell itself in 2019.If northern governors cannot find common grounds and the will to fight religious extremism, ethno-religious conflicts, youth unemployment, banditry, kidnappings, drugs and violence among youth, they would go down in history as the set who lost the North irretrievably. Last week, they showed that they do not want this place in history. They need help to restart the North.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

This democracy

       The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. Niels Bohr.
 In the space of a week, the expression of the people's will to be governed by people they elect showed three different faces. Vastly different nations, political contexts and democratic systems in Nigeria, The Gambia and United States of America presented major variants of a system of governance that sends back many of its students to drawing boards. In Nigeria, a routine constitutional requirement that presidents proceeding on leave notify the legislature and submit the leadership of the nation to deputies was met by President Buhari as he left the country for ten-day leave and medical attention. A few years ago, the failure of late President Umaru Yar'Adua to comply with this requirement plunged the country into a constitutional crisis of such proportions, it required a rare national consensus and ingenious legal brinkmanship to push the nation beyond. In The Gambia, the popular will required a hefty push from barrels of the gun to survive a major setback. In the USA, a president-elect who had defied all conventional wisdom to win was sworn in to lead a nation that is deeply divided over the elections that produced him. 
 The elections of 2015 in Nigeria broke with tradition in many respects. The results were not widely and violently disputed. An incumbent president and a dominant party were defeated, and they yielded power to those elected in a seamless transition. It is difficult to remember that in 2010, Vice President Jonathan only assumed the office of President after a frightful attempt to create obstacles to the activation of constitutional requirements, a transition that represented a triumph of elite consensus around constitutionalism and evidence of a maturing democracy. One year later, the electoral mandate he won was stained with the blood of hundreds of victims of election violence which followed the elections. Nigerians were reminded of the fragility of their democratic process, and you could not fault those who wondered if it will ever be free of the damaging limitations which elections progressively subjected it to. The next general elections then restored confidence that Nigerians could organize credible elections and strengthen the foundations of the democratic process. Those foundations allowed a president to leave the country in the hands of his deputy who himself was out of the country at the time, and hardly anyone batted an eyelid.
 Even as he left the nation in the hands of Vice President Osinbajo, Buhari was aware that the Nigerian military he had dispatched to shore up the popular will of the people of The Gambia was on its way. Nigeria was executing the mandate of nations in the ECOWAS sub region to enforce, if necessary, the will of the citizens of a tiny nation whose landmark decision to reject a leader who was in power for 20 years was in danger of being repudiated. The Gambia was going to test the commitment of many African leaders to the democratic process, but Jammeh may not have been alone in underrating the capacity of Africans to influence the course of history in other nations. Many Africans had thought the freedom to travel long distances to fight in foreign soils and impose different orders belonged only to the most powerful nations such as US, EU countries and Russia. There were many who hoped that the intense lobby of Jammeh will make him budge, because they did not believe that it was prudent and expedient for countries like Nigeria to wage wars in The Gambia over election disputes.
 As it turned out, the threat of the use of force was precisely what was needed to save the democratic process in The Gambia. Tragically, Jammeh shunned the fresh examples of John Mahama and Goodluck Jonathan, but while he shut out the voices of Gambians, he could not ignore the drums of war. A man who could have written his own political future ended up with one imposed on him, even with the elaborate assurances of the ECOWAS, AU and UN that he will be free of persecution. Gambian democracy has been rescued by outsiders who stood with a majority of voters. What does this say of the future of the democratic process in many African countries which, Gambia or not, will experience disputes over election outcomes? Is The Gambia a fluke or a standard? What will be the benchmark for disputes that should force nations to move into action, including the threat or use of force? Can Africans sustain armed threats or use of force against leaders who defy popular will in places such as East and Central Africa?
 It is tempting to believe that the new Gambian president will respond to the historic decision of Gambians to choose him over Jammeh, as well as the resolve of African nations and their allies to enforce that decision, with good governance and a constant reminder of the experience of Jammeh. He will be challenged with the daunting task of liberalizing the political environment that bore the character of Jammeh's prolonged stay in power, and rebuilding an economy that needs fresh confidence and massive investment. The Gambia's rescued democratic processes will be closely policed by neighboring Senegal and other regional powers such as Nigeria. The other major dimension of The Gambia experience is that it places a major burden on shoulders of leaders that went out on a limb to rescue the will of the Gambian people. Big nations such as Nigeria and Ghana will now have to behave with as little blemish as possible, not just because they raised the bar in The Gambia, but because their own messy disputes around election results will almost certainly not be resolved by direct foreign intervention. They cannot afford to yield the higher ground to nations with a little more muscle than The Gambia, where disputes could create real threats of civil wars if foreign intervention is resisted by parties to disputes.
 While Africans were celebrating a victory of sorts, one that required the threat of war to enforce an electoral verdict, a new President was being sworn-in in America. The event was as profound as the swearing in of a black president eight years earlier. In 2008, the American son of an African student became president of the US, suggesting that American people and democracy had matured to a point where race played second fiddle to merit. After eight years, Obama's dignified presidency was handed to a man who will fit the tag of serial offender of all known and unknown sensitivities Americans and the world have come to associate with responsible leadership. A sulking, powerful layer of US voters dragged the presidency from convention and handed it over to a man who offended races, religions, neighbours, allies, women, the media, the intelligence community and just about everyone or thing that can be tweeted into anger or fear. A supreme irony was lost to the world at a time a candidate who had threatened to reject an electoral verdict from US voters if he lost, was being sworn-in, and another in Africa who actually rejected the verdict of voters in his country was being forced to yield to popular vote. It may be just an amusing, academic question to ask what could have happened if Trump had lost the elections and carried out his threat to reject the result. A legitimate question to ask will be if Trump's heresy had in any way bolstered Jammeh?
 US voters got what they wanted. Only time will tell if that will be what the Americans need to reunite a divided nation, with major segments angry and suspicious that they will be engaged in  bruising fights with a president who thinks his mandate is an endorsement of everything he is and of his plans. The world now waits to see the new face of America, an exercise that is tasking, to say the least, because it worries that the future will demand major painful adjustments within the very little room available. People of The Gambia were handed a reprieve, but will now hope that subsequent elections will not require foreign warships and boots to enforce their will. Africans improved their ranking in the league of champions of the democratic system, and will now hope that The Gambia will represent a strong threshold that will determine future conduct in the continent. Nigerians have been further committed to the support of the democratic process, and will now be continuously reminded that you cannot export what you do not have yourself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A day in Maiduguri

Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won't eat you. African proverb.

I was part of a delegation of Northern Elders Forum that visited the Borno State capital, Maiduguri last week. The visit lasted all of one day, but it revealed an entire future that is both inspiring and frightening. The last time a delegation of the Forum visited Maiduguri was about three years ago, and it barely managed to leave the beleaguered city with some dignity because President Jonathan's State of Emergency order was made on its first day in Maiduguri. There was no such cause for panic this time. The short stay was informed by the challenges of age and conditions of people well past use-before dates, and a loaded program designed to engage major stakeholders, political and community leaders as well as victims. A day was long enough to see the outlines of a disaster in transition, and enough to judge the progress of communities and a nation through an uncertain future.

Surreal is one way of describing the overall feeling you get when you look deep into the faces and soul of Maiduguri. The city which witnessed the tipping point in the history of the insurgency and then went through six years of agony is bravely attempting to come back to life although the war is far from over, it is stretched beyond imaginable limits with more than one and a half  million internally displaced people in homes and camps, the odd suicide bomb goes off now and then, soldiers and other security personnel live on  constant alert, nieghbours closely scrutinize each other, and the global community attempts to find entry points into one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in recent human history. In this city where families were split into insurgents and victims, or scattered into varied circumstances, there are children who will never know the love of parents. Many did not know electricity until the last two years. Many have spent years out of school or lived under care, or no care at all. Many have seen deaths and other psychologically-traumatizing experiences that require intense counseling and other therapies they will never get. Children under ten in Maiduguri have grown up knowing what bullets and bombs sound like. In twenty years, they will be adults, the people who will determine the way all others live.

Engaging the Governor and senior public officials, you get the distinct impression of leaders who believe they have won decisive battles by not surrendering to the insurgency. You see confidence among public officials who could not visit home in towns and villages this time last year, and a few whose towns are still not easily accessible. You see evidence of a leadership made up of Muslims and Christians bonded by the realization that Boko Haram makes all faiths equal victims. The governor's confidence belies his recent altercation with NGOs and relief organizations, the challenges of meandering through the forest of federal and state agencies as well as frustrations over the daily struggle to balance current needs  of citizens against rebuilding a context for a secure and productive future. The relief over the recent successes of the military campaign in Sambisa forest is palpable, and you get the impression that Borno state people will vote for President Buhari as many times as he will ask for their support. You will not detect a feeling that they feel abandoned, but the leadership and citizens of Borno are quick to appreciate gratitude for even token gestures that assure them that they are not alone as they walk away from a murderous insurgency into a future full of challenges.

The spectacle of dignified splendour around the Shehu of Bornu barely conceals the reality that this ancient civilization has been traumatized and squeezed into Maiduguri by an insurgency whose origin and development it disowns at every opportunity. The Shehu's empire substantially hangs around his palace, with subordinates chased out of palaces, while government offices, schools, hospitals, basic social and economic infrastructure, homes, mosques and churches have all largely been largely destroyed. If you thought the Shehu's assertion that Borno will rise again was conjured bravado, you are forced into doubt as you see hundreds of young people outside his palace watching a football match, the number of young people who run towards any siren to raise clenched fists in greetings and adulation, or the number of school children (including, significantly, school-age girls) who squeeze through heavy traffic to go to school, or the relaxed faces on streets even when no one is certain that the next person may not be concealing a bomb.

The faces of resistance are represented in elders and elite who have stayed behind to resist this assault either because they have no choice or because they chose to risk staying put in Maiduguri. It is also represented by the mostly young Civilian JTF, that precocious group that forced its way into a war, making the difference by exposing relations, neighbours and suspects, providing an invaluable compass in the fight and paying a very high price for its effort. Borno Elders Forum serves as the voice and vanguard of the community, often irritating or serially annoying authority at all levels by its insistence that there are right ways of dealing with security challenges and the rights and dignity of citizens. These elders paid their dues to the Nigerian state at many levels, and they will not abandon the belief that it is possible to re-engineer a Nigeria with Borno as a pillar.

In the Northeast generally, and in Borno State in particular, everyone speaks in statistics. You will hear that there are over 2m IDPs in the region, only 10% of whom live in camps. The numbers increase literally by the day, as the military dislodge more insurgents and free captive populations. There are anywhere between fifty and one hundred thousand young orphans, a curious phenomenon in an African context until you are reminded that no one has the space or resources to give them a home. Many of the IDPs are children or relations of insurgents who are shunned with such vehemence, they require special protection. More than half of school-age children have not been to school in the last 5 years. 90% of the IDPs living with families receive no assistance, nor do their host families. Their future depends largely on when towns and villages can be secured, when basic infrastructure including houses are rebuilt and when the means of production are made available. The statistics relating to poverty levels, malnourishment, juvenile delinquency, crimes and vulnerability of women and children and even the possibility of the prolongation or mutation of the insurgency can safely be marked up in the next few months, even with increased support, coordination and resources. The .2m IDPs who will be released into the population if the Government of Borno State goes ahead with its plans to close down all IDP camps in May this year, will pose additional problems for security and victims' management.

Maiduguri is the epicenter of devastation, the magnitude of which the nation is yet to fully grasp. At this stage, only a few things are certain: the resolve of the government of Nigeria to degrade the insurgency to a point where it is no longer a credible threat; the determination of the leaders and the communities in the northeast region to claw their ways into a rebuilt future; the determination of international relief and humanitarian organizations and friendly nations and many Nigerian NGOs to sustain the difficult tasks of reaching the vulnerable and the needy; and finally, a hugely uncertain future for millions of people in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The pace and tempo of the military campaign must be sustained and matched by parallel efforts at rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction. In the last few months, the federal government has made improvements in the manner it coordinates activities of governments and agencies involved in managing a major humanitarian disaster. Still, the domestication of the Kampala Declaration will vastly improve the legal and policy framework for protecting and assisting IDPs. The people of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States and many parts of the North have lived with a nightmare for many years. Even if the insurgency is comprehensively defeated soon, this will only mark the beginning of another long and tasking challenge to rebuild lives and livelihoods. In Maiduguri, we saw signs among the population that there is hope for a safe and secure future. It is not just their future, because every Nigerian lives in Maiduguri.