Thursday, September 22, 2016

What did I miss?



Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. J.K Galbraith.

You may have noticed that I have not written for the last three Fridays. I have been away performing the Hajj, by the Grace of Allah and the generous facilitation of the Program of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the Hajj, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Alsaud. This was not a break. It was a taxing ritual, its demands being surpassed only by the profound gratitude that one was by Allah to perform the Hajj. Hajj is an intensely solitary set of rituals during which one submitted to Allah the same way Muslims did for over 1,400 years, humbled by His Majesty and emboldened by His promise to forgive sins and grant prayers. It was also an awe-inspiring group activity, as millions of Muslims together performed every stage of the pilgrimage as if they are one person. Pilgrims from Nigeria performed rites and rituals with Muslims from Turkmenistan, Ghana, Kosovo, Comoros, Togo, Pakistan, South Sudan and Fiji. We shared meals with Muslims from Uzbekistan, Uganda, Tajikistan, South Africa, Nepal, Kenya, Fiji and Maldives. We travelled with Muslims from Myanmar, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Albania, Indonesia, Mali, Turkey and Somalia. In many fora and on the streets, Muslims from the USA, Philippines, Germany, Ethiopia, France, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Niger discussed the global state of Islam the faith, and Muslims the community in a world which increasingly sees both with some level of discomfort.
It was difficult to find time for anything else other than acts of worship, but you could not keep politics out of a Nigerian. Credible sources for information and developments were rare, and the distinguished group from Nigeria which I was privileged to be part of included university administrators and professors, clerics, journalists and public servants who were not inclined towards idle gossip. Much resting time was taken up by that human bundle of humor and sprawling intellect, Dr Bala Muhammad, the Daily Trust Saturday Back Page permanent resident who, on many occasions, reminded our hosts that we may not do better in organization of major events as Nigerians, but no one beats us at complaining when we smelt the slightest trace of tardiness or conducts unbecoming. His entire persona reminded other guests that our abilities to get the world to notice us as Nigerians are still sharp, in spite of what it hears about Boko Haram, corruption, economic recession and Religious politics. We found a world eager to hear about Nigeria, and if there were some who thought we were on a deserving decline, they kept it pretty much away from us. The truth, however, is that the Muslim world is very worried about Boko Haram and a restive Shi'a following in a country with one of the largest   Muslim populations in the world. There was a little less noise because the Iranian government said its citizens will not perform the Hajj this year.
We left on a high, with information that Mohammed Haruna, the journalism icon, was nominated as a National Commissioner of INEC among other credible Nigerians. He is eminently qualified to boost the integrity and credibility requirements of the Commission, and the nominations as a whole moved somewhat towards plugging the gaping holes in vacancies that were threatening the ability of the Commission to function in a manner that will sustain the gains of the 2015 elections. Then we began to hear near-comical stories of claims that government had pinched the intellectual property of one or two young Nigerians in the form of the name of the value-changing campaign, #ChangeBeginsWithMe. It sounded the same way it would if a parent snatches food from the mouth of its child and gobbles it down. A bigger outrage overtook this rather messy opening to a campaign to recapture service, sacrifice and excellence, when it was revealed that President Buhari's speech at the launching of this campaign had plagiarized an Obama speech. You got the distinct impression that this campaign was jinxed, but we were in Holy locale, so superstition had little traction.
In between, cynics, sworn skeptics, the opposition and an assortment of elements fast finding comfort in throwing muck at the administration questioned the basic assumptions of a campaign strategy which asks citizens that voted for change to change if they wanted change. Wasn't 2015 the triumph of the spirit for change, and doesn't this put the burden to affect this change on elected leaders? Just when it appeared that the problem was traceable to a muffled message, complaints over muddled, confused, conflicting and confounding macroeconomic policies from notable and knowledgeable persons with mixed records of goodwill towards the administration tilted the scales in favour of the perception that the administration was choosing a campaign with a disputed title over serious reviews of its capacities and strategies. Even the rump of the PDP and a few professional and permanently aggrieved persons asked why the administration appeared content to blame a past for all the nation's woes when its prime task was to pull the nation through its current challenges.
 A major Retreat on the economy did not end with bold, imaginative and informed conclusions and decisions that would begin to address the elements necessary to limit the damage of an economy in a recession. A major conflict involving Hausa peasants and armed vigilante on the one hand, and Fulani of mixed credentials in and around a Zamfara forest was reminding the nation that banditry and violence have no ethnic identity. The Zamfara state Governor flew back into the country at the height of the conflict, and promptly joined the President's entourage for the UN General Assembly(UNGA). The President himself left for the UNGA, knowing that he will meet with leaders from nations with deep interests in Nigeria. They will ask polite but searching questions about the economy, the Chibok girls, Boko Haram and the massive humanitarian disaster which it has spawned. Some of the leaders  the President will meet will raise issues regarding the management of IDPs, rumored corruption and weak coordination of efforts and utilization of assets. The President is likely to meet some resistance to pleas for more help unless there is evidence of serious improvement in levels of competence and transparency in the management of this disaster.  PDP is still involved in the search for a painful suicide. Dame Jonathan is crying to the heavens that EFCC is trying to snatch her $30m stash for medical treatment. Leaders of the national legislature are sending out feelers to test the waters and find out where the sharks are. Governors are sinking deeper into depression as bills mount and citizens ask why they voted them into power. Rumours of massive movements out of the two major parties towards a third alternative are rife. In the US, the battle appears set to be close between a discredited and a destructive candidate. Syria bleeds more as world powers attempt to gain footholds among ruins and misery of civilian populations.
Three weeks away at a distance could magnify the state of things when you are back. Still, the luxury of distance and the benefits of a relatively fresh assessment give you a fairly good idea of the state of the nation. On the whole, there is good reason to believe that Nigerian pilgrims' intense prayers during this Hajj were a good investment of time and effort. We prayed at points where our pilgrims like Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf and Professor Al-Miskin and many others died last year, even though there was nothing to remind you of that tragedy this year. We prayed for relief from the hardship being experienced by all Nigerians. We prayed for greater courage and wisdom for our leaders as they grapple with a crisis designed by our greed and currently executed by our failure to rally the nation to extract opportunities from adversity. Those of us with sympathy for the administration prayed to God, so that it will never be said,(to paraphrase Churchill): never in the history of our nation has so much expectation of many been so wasted by so few.

Friday, August 26, 2016

#BringBackOurSanity

"When members of a family fight, a stranger inherits their home." Igbo proverb.

The low intensity hostility between government and the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) pressure group  peaked again in the last few days .A new video released two weeks ago by a faction of Boko Haram showing many of the abducted Chibok girls looking apparently healthy triggered a frenzy of activities. The video's objective was clearly to intensify the pressure on the Nigerian government over the fate of the girls, and events that followed it showed that it was, at least in part, achieved. One of the girls' plaintive appeal for meeting the demands of the insurgency to exchange them for its detained leaders wrenched at hearts. Other twists were added: the insurgency claimed that Nigerian planes were bombing the girls; many have died or are wounded, and finally ,the threat that Nigerian authorities will never recover the girls alive by use of force. That new video took another casualty: the nation's focus and resolve to sustain a broad agreement that the release of the Chibok girls remains a national priority, a critical and strategic priority  which is part of the imperative of winning the war against the insurgency.
A cacophony followed the release of the video. The military expectedly denounced it as propaganda and attempted blackmail from an insurgency that was pinned to the ground, and denied that it was killing Chibok girls during its bombing sorties. It then followed up by splashing a wanted notice against three persons it said had clues to the whereabouts of the girls. Traditional no-concession quarters renewed calls against any swap or concessions to the insurgency. Parents and the Chibok community were reminded of the gaping wounds in their hearts. The sorrows of parents who identified their daughters in the video were surpassed only by the agony of those who did not see theirs'. Hopes raised by the sight of some of the girls were cancelled by the widespread feeling of utter helplessness in a nation whose military says it has no idea where the girls are being held. Top brass of the military said it knows nothing about the politics of dialogue and negotiations, its job being to successfully wage a war against the insurgency.
BBOG was re-energized by this new development, reeling out old and new demands and grievances against the government over the fate of the girls. It demanded for greater efforts to trace and free the girls; for greater access to information on the state of the war against the insurgency; for a consideration of all options to free the girls, and a host of other demands which suggested that it is unhappy, to put it politely, with government over the fate of the girls. BBOG had assumed a front row in the assembly of critics of government response to Internally-Displaced Persons(IDPs).It leads the clamour for increasing transparency in a war that has had very limited scope for distinguishing friend from foe, and accountability for mixing up the two. It has attempted to wear the mantle of resident-conscience-of-the-nation over the fate of the girls, as well as the manner of the execution of the war. It has occasionally branched into wider matters of accountability and integrity in governance, and has fresh scars to show for this.
When the history of the ignoble end to the Jonathan administration is written, a pride of place will be assigned to the few women and men who couldn't sleep after the abduction of the Chibok girls until leaders with responsibility to rescue them also stayed awake and were held accountable for their failures to stop the abductions or free the girls. Their resistance against an imminent resignation by a nation numbed by atrocities of a rampaging terror group alerted the global community to an outrage it couldn't ignore. A handful of Nigerians refused to walk away from unspeakable incompetence and insensitivity of leaders. It gradually gathered a crowd of world leaders, the famous, the media and the Chibok community and Nigerians around an issue with a simple demand: free the girls and bring them home. Their moving faith in the ability of the Nigerian state to do this was solid and unshakable.
BBOG had  the best cause to fight, but it was clearly lacking the sophistication and the rough edges to its tactics that were absolutely vital in taking on governments, the military, a community tossed and turned around by hybrid interests, flagging spirits of core supporters and a nation distracted by many more disasters and new challenges. Multiple skirmishes with the presidency took their toll on official goodwill and accommodation. Never friends with the Jonathan administration, the movement celebrated its exit and laid a fresh layer of paint to welcome a Buhari presidency that promised to put an end to the insurgency and bring back the girls. In spite of spectacular successes against an insurgency that had the nation literally on the run, the new administration failed to get the movement to shift substantially from its trademark suspicion and hostility to anything that did not deliver the girls. The military's resentment to what it saw as damaging distraction and meddlesomeness from an Abuja-based coalition of busy bodies hardened. The community was tired and weary of do-gooders who raised its hopes and delivered little. Flickers of hope in videos showing some of the girls or a lone Chibok girl picked up and VIP-eed with her Boko Haram 'husband' all the way to the Villa opened up possibilities and created new reasons to quarrel.
Events in the last few days have marked a new low in relations between government and the BBOG movement. For both parties, this is the point where major revisions in relations and strategies need to be made. BBOG needs to understand that it has registered a standard in citizen power around a cause that has few parallels in this country. The credibility and integrity of its leadership cannot be questioned. Its persistence has been a tremendous source of inspiration and support for the families and the Chibok community, and has kept the nation and the global community informed about our living conscience as a people. It should know that its fight is about the girls, and when it steps outside the mandate it gave to itself, it risks fight backs that it is poorly equipped to handle. It is neither an alternative government, nor even the political opposition. It is pursuing a cause that is substantially contingent on capacities of a government it needs as a strategic ally. Bringing the girls home is as much a military target as it could be function of other options. It needs to improve its channels in making inputs into strategies and tactics. It needs to revisit its strategies in the light of current dispositions in political and military circles. BBOG needs to be seen as a vital asset and a major influence in shaping opinions and keeping the nation focussed on the human toll in the fight against Boko Haram. It must not let its frustrations distract it from the goals it had set itself: freeing and reuniting the Chibok girls with their families.
The government and the military should know by now that BBOG  cannot be wished away. It represents the nation's permanent vigilance over the atrocity that was the abductions of the Chibok girls as well as thousands of other females and young men taken away by Boko Haram. It will not walk away from the manner the war is being waged; or from the community; or the welfare of IDPs, or the insistence of the military that it has total discretion management of all  information regarding the execution of the war, access to war theaters  or standards of accountability. There is much that suggests that it will benefit government and public interest if BBOG is pulled away from a hostile position into one in which it can both remain focussed on its mandate, and be useful to a nation at war. Nigeria has lost much in the war against Boko Haram. If we are confused over the real enemy, we would have lost our sanity as well. Further deterioration in relations between government and groups such as BBOG will hand over an undeserved victory to the real enemy.



Friday, August 19, 2016

2019

"If your cornfield is far from your house, birds will eat your corns." Congolese proverb.

Staying abreast of developments in the two major political parties can leave you breathless. There is not a day that passes without a new drama or a major twist to an on-going drama. It will be comforting to believe that both are adjusting to thoroughly unfamiliar, reversed roles, but this will be grossly deceptive. The APC is a new phenomenon in Nigerian politics, even though it captures fragments of historical dynamics to challenge PDP's hegemony. PDP's spectacular spiral into oblivion began as far back as its decision to betray itself over its zoning arrangement in 2010/2011.It lost substantial political clout and territory, and its resort to pillaging the commonwealth to buy another mandate from Nigerians is coming back to haunt its attempts to survive as a party. APC is attempting to govern a nation under the most challenging economic environment with a political platform that shows a tendency to be weakened further. In political terms,2019 is about one year away. It is not a total waste of energy to speculate over the possible impact of current state of the two parties on the elections of 2019.
The latest twist to the PDP's laboured struggle to move on appears to have deepened its woes. Complete with direct threats if its orders are disobeyed, a High Court has halted plans to hold a National Convention being planned by the faction under former governor Ahmed Makarfi. The level above this faction that has sympathies for it says it has extended  its life for another year. No one should expect this to be a solution. Whatever gains this setback to the party appears to bestow on Makarfi's faction, it will be challenged and trashed by governor Ali Modu Shariff's posse. Shariff is the PDP's worst nightmare, a creation of the highest traditions of a party that grew by subverting its own and all other rules and standards. Virtually every member with influence has been dragged into a fight that neither office nor huge amounts can resolve. If the PDP cannot use the weight of public office or massive financial inducements to settle fights or buy off internal opposition, it is virtually finished. This is the only way it knows how to play politics.
It will be difficult, but not impossible that some accommodation can be found that will slow down the PDP's degrading process. A truce of sorts could be engineered if the party can rediscover its time-tested ability to buy -off real solutions with short-term, opportunistic concessions. In the end, what will determine the fate of the party will be perceptions of interests regarding the 2019 elections. Between its thirteen governors and a considerable number of federal legislators, it could create a bloc that could provide a major facilitating role in regenerating the party, but most of these are haunted and distracted by past sins and an atmosphere that dictates survival to the next pay as premium political wisdom. There is too much distrust among major players who know only too well that words mean little, and an  agreement lasts only until it is replaced by another that is more convenient to any of the parties. The ground is also continuously shifting, such that it is increasingly difficult to build a longer term, sustainable strategy for cumulative recovery. For now, major initiatives by interests around chairmanship of the party from the south west, or presidential ambitions from the north could put together some sort of ceasefire that will last only until another group feels left out. The biggest stimulus to a rediscovery of party unity and the spirit of compromise within the PDP will be concrete evidence that APC will literally commit suicide before 2019.Even then, it is unlikely to be the PDP as it is presently known that will move in to capitalize. The scramble for spoils will fragment the PDP along many lines, because many PDP chieftains and younger members with tall ambitions will prefer to wear a different toga to the party.
It says a lot about the depth of the crises within the PDP that its loudest voices are raised in complaints over interference from an administration which itself is attempting to find a firm ground to stand on under the debilitating legacies of the PDP, massively-raised expectations and an economy which does not encourage pronounced sustenance of loyalty from the poor and an increasingly alienated middle class. Its loony fringes are monopolized by people like Fayose and Fani-Kayode who make many PDP people cringe when they make occasional forays on behalf of the party. In other parts of the country where the party has substantial muscle, electoral violence has been used substantially to limit the presence of the APC.
The PDP mainstream limits itself to murmurs over partisan disposition of law and order agencies and unfair execution of the anti-corruption war, while it prays that the economic hardship of the people will get worse. Like the PDP,APC is also enjoying a virtual free hand in determining its current state and its future. Its coalition of myth, hard-headed political calculations and popular faith that democracy under the right leadership can make a difference in lives of the poor  has been under intense pressure to reveal its identity  from the moment President Buhari  became its candidate way back in late 2014.
Monumental changes have occurred in the nature of the APC, most of them covered by controversies and disputes over what it represents. Some of its building blocks have grown and hardened, while others have shrank or melted. The fights over its soul has been waged with almost the same passion as the fight against the PDP, only it has involved mostly its own members. The administration and the party are also involved in fights to limit the disastrous economic recession which is visiting widespread hardship of citizens in a nation that is poorly-prepared to deal with adversity of this nature and scale. It is fighting on many fronts to roll back the threats to lives, the economy and integrity and survival of the Nigerian nation. It does not appear to have raised its eyes from these titanic fights to see the challenges it will face, come 2019.
By the end of the year 2018,the  APC administration would not have fixed the economy to a point where most Nigerians will feel less of the pains of their present circumstances because the future will be better. It would have recorded notable successes against insecurity, but it will need a lot more than two years to improve the state's capacities to deal with threats and reinforce faith of citizens in the utility of the Nigerian nation. It would have made major incursions into corruption, but rebuilding values and institutions that will sustain the fight against corruption will take years and sustained political will to accomplish. It will need to demonstrate real achievements in the face of unprecedented economic meltdown. The party at all levels will have to be re-invented and reintegrated into the governance process. The towering image and presence of President Buhari will need to be captured and reflected in routine governance within his vision and values. Its limited capacities for strategic communication will need radical improvements to engage Nigerians to share in its mission, vision, setbacks and achievements. It will have to find a way to limit its tendency to allow messy fights within its ranks to fester and threaten party unity and its character as a coalition of the eager, the faithful and the desperate.
Neither the PDP nor the APC will participate in the 2019 elections in their current forms. PDP could make amends for its legacies and capitalize on the record of an APC administration that was popularly cheered into the ring with its hands tied behind its back. This is unlikely, however, because many ambitions will ditch it and align with other elements from APC and other parties to give Nigerians another option, long before 2019.APC will get to 2019 with some achievements, elaborate blueprints and containers of excuses for the promises it could not deliver on. It will do this without many of its members who bear scars of the fights to determine which interests it served. APC's biggest challenge will be to avoid the "one chance" trap and seek another mandate to consolidate on changing the basic nature of the Nigerian political economy. PDP's challenge will be to survive its current travails as a party and avoid a damaging scramble for the door which will rob it of any chance to recapture power. The challenge for the democratic process will be to survive a desperate political competition involving parties that will face virtual extinction if they do not win the 2019 elections.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A hostage economy


"You become wise when you begin to run out of money".Ghanian Proverb

A few weeks ago, President Buhari appeared in full military uniform when he visited a major military exercise in Zamfara state. The symbolism was important. The exercise was to signal the start of a major offensive against large bandit communities that had taken permanent residence in the vast stretches of forests that run through a number of states in the north, with pronounced presence in Zamfara and Kaduna States. The exercise looked impressive, and reports  later said  soldiers wrought a lot of damage on bandits who had had the run of forests, highways and farming communities for decades. A few weeks later, the bandits resurfaced, attacking villages, extorting, raping women and killing informants, vigilantes and local authorities with greater venom as they re-established their authority. Villagers abandoned homesteads, farms and animals, or adjusted to a life they had been familiar with, buying some security from bandits and submitting to horrific periodic violence as normal existence.

Our forests, ordinarily valuable assets, have been turned into major sources of threats to communities and the economy. At the height of the cattle rustling frenzy which has now decimated much of the large-scale ranching industry in the north, forests provided the cover and security needed by rustlers against a state that was too thin on the ground to take them on. A brave effort involving some state governments in the north freed rustled cattle and pushed the bandits further away, restoring some territory to the communities. Without adequate and sustained police presence and a motivated vigilante that can be freed from farming on a permanent basis, the gains made by interventions such as this were soon lost. Farming suffers as villagers are made to choose between paid protection to bandits for the  privilege to farm, or virtual starvation. Movement is severely restricted, so the low level of economic activity shrivels further. Herders stay away from these traditional sources of subsistence, and then add pressure on non-traditional sources, thus compounding existing frictions. Many villagers relocate entirely to places where they enjoy temporary physical security without means of livelihood. Where they stay put, many families move out into the bushes at night and leave homesteads for bandits when they visit.

Now there are rumours that factions and bands of Boko Haram being flushed out of forests in  Borno state  are moving into forests in other parts of the northeast which stretch all the way to Kaduna State. The damage done to the economy and millions of lives in the northeast will take a  decade to repair, even if the insurgency is effectively eliminated in the next one year. Elsewhere, from Abuja to Kaduna and Zaria and parts of Niger state, the forests  habour dens of kidnappers who have apparently graduated from rustling to kidnapping. The scales of the kidnapping industry fast catching on in the north, Its organization and sophistication are frightening. The fear of being kidnapped is taking a terrible toll on large scale farming by wealthy farmers who cannot venture a few hundred meters off highways. What was, until recently, a Fulani-on-Fulani crime involving kidnappings for guaranteed ransom to be paid from sold cattle has assumed a much bigger dimension on highways and even within towns and cities, with routine mentions of millions paid as ransom. In many other parts of the nation, movement anywhere is a risky business, and many families have paid up and retrieved kidnapped relations, ignoring police advise not to pay, or simply ignoring police entirely. Kidnapping strikes at the soft underbelly of the nation: any one who can move about is a potential victim. It makes instant millionaires out of a few criminals, and generally takes out the cumbersome nature of rustling or the dangers of armed robbery.

Our economy is becoming a hostage to violence. Much of the southeast has lived under the gun for much of the last three decades. In the south-south, violence is threatening to shut off a vital national resource in oil and gas. Crime has acquired sophisticated weaponry, boats and knowledge to destroy assets, attack military and law-enforcement agents and bring entire communities under its control. In any one week a dozen cases of killings and attacks take place in many parts of the nation's central belt. Fights involving complex motives and combatants with multiple identities rage in villages and communities. Farming is threatened as farms become dangerous to access. Cattle herders represent a threat at sight, and are threatened if they move, and threatened if they don't. Women and children become refugees while the men prepare for revenge missions, or to protect slippery victories. Military and police break up fights, and then become part of the problem as many of the combatants accuse them of taking sides. Everyone is armed, and there does not appear to be any signs that supplies of firearms will dry up. Local industries which illegally fabricate crude but effective weapons are booming. Manufacturers now fight the state for the privilege to continue supplies unhindered.

It is now clear that our economy has also  been largely hostage  to complacency, greed and corruption. Freeing it from deep seated corruption, rent-seeking and dangerously-narrow foundations and placing it on a stronger footing will involve massive dislocations and difficult choices in an environment that is politically unforgiving.  Managing the economic crises arising from the crash in revenues and the attempts to destroy the infrastructure in the oil and gas industry is challenging enough for any administration. Fighting a war against Boko Haram and a full-scale onslaught on destructive bands in the Niger Delta will severely stretch the capabilities of the government. Ideally, the  on-going discussions with armed militants should be pursued until they reach a productive outcome. The state should have other options, nonetheless, and they should include containment strategies that limit the damage to national assets in the event that the nation cannot afford the price of peace with militants. It is reasonable to expect that very close attention is being paid to the current state of the crisis at leadership levels of Boko Haram and the current thinking within the Shiite movement in Nigeria. The Nigerian state needs to be steps ahead of these threats, and improve its response capabilities in relating with them. The three million IDPs who are hostages to activities of  the insurgency, poverty and corruption should be the focus of serious concern. Major initiatives need to be taken by governments to empower states ,communities and their traditional structures to improve security management at local levels. Substantial investments in thinking and resources need to be made to address major sources of frictions among and between communities. Basic policing needs to be literally re-invented in Nigeria.


Violence is becoming a major factor in the manner Nigerians relate with each other and the state. Of all the key requirements necessary for economic reconstruction, growth and development today, none is more important than radical improvements in the security of producers, investors and economic assets. Nigerians can  live with poverty, but a poor and insecure life will call to question the basic value of the Nigerian state in the minds of many citizens. That is a threshold we must take very seriously at a time when many talk glibly about the utility and relevance of our union.