Just before midnight on Tuesday this week I received a phone call from a former boss and journalist colleague. He currently works with one of the newest ground-breaking weekly publications of our time. He was worried.
What he called the ‘agenda setting’ for breaking up the country using that recurring call (I call it, threat) of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) has started in earnest, he said. He insisted I look for a copy of that day’s The Punch newspaper for a better understanding of what he was talking about. Not only were ‘forces’ bent on causing the disintegration of this great and suffering country, they were prepared to back down only if their principal gets tenure elongation. His grim advice? Get ready for chaos.
Tenure elongation. The SNC threat. All very familiar if we cast our mind back to Cartelopia’s quasi –military regimes of 1999-2007 and before to 1986 through to 1998. This time there are new elements. What again you might ask (as we say in Nigeria)? Why, this time it’s not just armed robbery across the nation or on again, off again insurgency in the Niger Delta. This time we are dealing with other (additional) threats – Boko Horror, Bombs and angry Bishops.
This is not a good time for us and that is saying a whole lot.
Since the coming of Jonah, Cartelopia’s soldier of good fortune and current Prime Minister (PM), things have transformed indeed. In April 2010 he promised that his focus would be ‘on electoral reform, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country, and standing strong on our resolve against corruption’.
How hollow that all sounds today. The Niger Delta may be a little quieter – though pipelines are still going up in flames occasionally and kidnapping has remained a major source of ‘employment’. And our incredible 2011 General elections have been internationally hailed. Nationals however seem to be far less effusive than foreigners; as though there were something that only sons of the soil can really understand. A cynical resignation has taken hold. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the PM keep insisting lamely, that there are ‘no perfect elections’.
The still unpunished and inexplicable logistics disaster that greeted the first day of the general elections was the beginning of our electoral undoing, in my view. The achievements of a fairly good voter register were rubbished by its virtual non-utilisation in the voting proper. Then the integrity of the electoral process as it unfolded with Police chief routinely contradicting the Elections chief, sinister technical errors bobbing up from nowhere, left many of us shaking our heads.
It’s all history now, swept under the carpet along with news of already tired elections tribunals and uncooperative electoral officials. Add to this waves of violent protest which strangely and rather too suddenly disintegrated into pogroms against whole communities and Cartelopia’s complete undoing begins to manifest. Those of us on the ground… as elections observers, as members of the development community without the luxury of foreign citizenships or homes abroad, sensed many things just did not gel. From strange election results to fratricidal killings that were selectively reported by most national and downplayed by international media, we were left worried and apprehensive. Something just was not right.
Through this thread of events as a long subsisting sectarian war in Central province simmered and a newer two year -old insurgency in North- East province began to explode, the affable and good natured PM seemed oblivious. He visited Central province during the electioneering campaign but made little mention of the routine killings that had been taking place… It was backslapping and celebration.
As for North-east province (where prior to October 1st 2010, no bombs had ever exploded) hundreds were being daily killed, innocents, police officers, soldiers and politicians had been gunned down by ‘unknown’ Boko Horror gunmen. Our jolly PM has never thought it worth his while to visit there. One is tempted to ask today especially if perhaps the North East province is not part of his constituency. As one newspaper put it an ‘unofficial state of emergency’ currently exists there, as an exodus of students, ‘non-indigenes’ and others from all over the country continues – my home province of Kano evacuated all its students last week. And he continues to say practically nothing.
Since the bombs started to go off on October 1st at the hands of people our PM said he knew we have had countless exploding, maiming and obliterating at will, in the Federal capital, and at least two nearby provinces. Unlike that seminal October 1st one – all the rest have been attributed to a nameless, faceless and essentially leaderless Boko Horror terrorist group. We are told they are the same Muslim group that operated peacefully since 2003 in the North East province under the watch of one notable governor.
To say it is all unsettling, illogical and frightening is another understatement. In spite of our PMs cocksure bravado since October 1st – no- one, I repeat , no-one has been charged, and prosecuted to conclusion- whether in the name of ‘foreign terrorists’ (not MEND of course) or the ghostly – Muslim- Boko Horror. Hundreds have been arrested and locked them up without charge, but that is another story.
There is also a Sheikh Albani from Zaria province who was arrested in early June and charged with masterminding a pre-election bomb which killed one bomber only. That bomb left a fellow ‘bomber’ alive to tell his story conveniently from his hospital bed to a satellite TV channel and selected newspapers. He told reporters how he and his colleague had been given the bomb by an Arab man. Some versions said it was Osama Bin Laden himself. Since then nothing more has been heard from this witness and ostensible criminal. Rather, months later, a very dark skinned African, Sheik Albani was arrested and locked up for weeks. He was finally released on bail due to complete lack of evidence to connect him with this ‘bombing’ on June 22nd only to be promptly re-arrested outside the premises. He was (re-)arraigned on June 23rd on charges – wait for it- of illegal possession of firearms! Since then he has finally been granted actual bail.
My concern is that it turns out that this Sheikh also happens to be one cleric who is reported to have raised alarm over the strange preaching of the long-dead leader of Boko Horror. He unlike another even more renowned, respected and revered scholar Sheikh Jafar Adam, who fought the extremist strands of Boko Horror, is however, still alive…
Meanwhile the strangest part of this story is that according to reports- the only bomber survivor so far known to us all, thanks to that TV footage is now nowhere to be found..! Indeed! The man who so volubly told his story of Arabs- read Muslims- and Osamas prowling our country as we went to vote, has disappeared! Go figure.
And so we come to the third arm of our unfolding nightmare: The angry, angry bishops who have been calling for the resignation of the country’s central bank governor. In an almost surreal turn of events we find that Cartelopia is now gripped by the desire of a vocal few to deprive ‘fellow’ compatriots of the opportunity to set up an additional system of banking and finance that has been on the cards for at least ten years. It is system which has become a part of the global financial landscape since the 1970s. It is known as Islamic finance.
They cry foul. And have been joined by a (once) respected National Bar Association (NBA). Does it matter that the head of the NBA is also an honorary adviser to the affable PM? Ask them what they mean by the Islamisation of the country with its- at ‘least 50%’ Christian community and you might not get a cogent answer. Instead they reply by threatening SNC…fire and brimstone. Of course as the imminent ‘break-up’ of the country is posited on our cyber forums (because of Islamic finance??) and the hysterics continue –one man remains silent: our ever affable PM. As my colleagues and I continue to agonise, maybe he had better start talking.
Yolah, a development economist, journalist and public affairs analyst writes from Abuja.