Total Pageviews

Friday, July 29, 2011

Short Essay 17. Qur'anic School in Mamou, Guinea

Qur'anic School in Mamou, Guinea
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

These are my relevant observations about the picture in the email of some Qur'anic school in Mamou, Guinea-Conakry when I visited it last month:

1. The children are resident pupils, not almajiris. They do not have almajiris in Guinea. Children learn the Qur'an in their neighborhoods. We hope we in Nigeria will one day graduate to this. They go to their respective family farms after the morning lesson during the weekends. They go to modern schools on school days. Education is free and compulsory in Guinea, though there are many absentees.

2. Their teacher, Diallo, the boy standing, has a shop. It is his economic base. In fact, the school is in the space right in front of his shop. He would have held the lesson in his house. No. Money too is important and he has to earn it. He is not begging for charity. So he runs it at his shop. He is rendering a community service, you can say.

3. The teacher also has a sense of time. See him standing attending to a customer briefly before he returns to teaching the children. What a sensible use of time. Guinea is not blessed with Igbos. The Fulani are the Igbos there.

4. Diallo the teacher is wearing jeans. Can we be so liberal in Nigeria? Or would it be the Guinean piety that would one day also come to be measured by wearing the 3/4 trouser that has long become commonplace among us? I remember praying behind a Sheikh in Kano two years ago who always insist that every member of his congregation must wear a 3/4 trouser. He insisted that I fold my trouser well above my ankle. I complied simply because I didn't want to embarrass him by proving to him that his figh is really weird, very extreme. I have never read or heard where it is said a 3/4 trouser is a precondition to prayer. Diallo in his jeans and jacket is not only a Muslim in Guinea but also a scholar that renders valuable service to the community. His liberality reminds me of what I saw at their National Mosque - the King Faisal Mosque in Conakry. At the backyard premises of the mosque, I had the pleasure of watching three teams playing football one evening, each taking its turn after an hour. Come to think of it in Nigeria. Football in the premises of the National Mosque? Chineke! What? Are you crazy? Hakkun. Tafiya mabudar ilmi!

5. The girl with off-white cover behind the teacher that was 'giraffing' at the camera is about 16 years. I didn't find her reading the Qur'an but a small home written book on figh of women. The teacher was translating it to her in their native Fulani. You can see the logic: she is prepared for adulthood, equipped with the essential knowledge she needs. What a beautiful curriculum.

6. The boys and girls are mixed in their sitting. Taboo in Nigeria.

7. Can you see how neat and well-fed the children are? Can you see that they are all sitting on something, a mat or so, not on bare ground and those whose feet were touching the ground kept their slippers? Can you see that even the teacher wore his slippers for the few steps he took to attend to his customer? Have you seen any fly on any of the children or in the surrounding? The Guineans are not richer than us but they can afford to be very neat.

8. Have you also noticed the relaxed atmosphere of the class? Enlarge the picture and notice the light-complexioned girl sitting on the chair behind the teacher was laughing...with her slippers on.

9. These boys will grow up educated in French and many of them will be businessmen. We communicate with the teacher in French. The Fulani possess most of the shops in Guinea, big and small. They are into every business - men and women, boys and girls - and control the largest share of the Guinean economy. Is there a comparison with Nigerian Muslims, our Fulani in particular. As it is now only about 10% of us, mostly heads of families, are economically active - while the women and children remain to dependents - creating a conducive atmosphere for the spread and entrenchment of poverty. Can we please rise to the ocassion and try to change things in one or two generations to come? The world is a fast moving train. It doesn't wait for anyone, as Shata said in Ummarun Dandanduna.

10. Throughout the tour, I didn't feel at home anywhere as I did at that spot. I saw my past in the present Guinea. I saw the present Guinea that is just opening to the world - simple, humble and hardworking. And I could see its future too - prosperity, which I cannot see in our northern community here.

May God bless these children and their young teacher.

Guinea, I love you. I will return to you many times.

Fulbe Fouta, Jaaraama.

Please study the picture and write your own observations of the picture in the comments below.

29 July 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Short Essay 16. Dumping My Darling, MTN

Short Essay 16
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Dumping My Darling, MTN

I just returned from the Glo zonal office at Yakubu Gowon Way, Jos. I acquired a new glo line and went on to configure my Blackberry Internet Service on it, ending my long days with my darling, MTN. Make no mistake about it: This is a one man's declaration of war against the biggest telecommunications giants in Africa. And I will win it. Soon.

If you like your pocket, join me. Switch to another line, ETISALAT, AIRTEL, etc, even if temporarily, until MTN brings down its tariff. You will be saving thousands of Naira by the end of the month. May be as much as $2,000 or more annually. And you know what? You will not miss anything!

Do you need to be convinced? Come with me.

MTN's prepaid services are still going for about N36/min. My goodness! Forget about the gimmick of its lower rates for one or four special numbers special numbers - family and friends it calls them. My family is large, my friends many. Sorry MTN. Keep the offer.

Now, if you are like me, you grudgingly spend an average of N1,500.00 on a moody day. In a better mood, however, N3,000.00/day is really conservative enough to make me a professor of economics. In a month MTN makes a return of at least N45,000.00 from me - less than half of it legitimate; more than half, robbery.

You understand the racket as soon as you switch to another provider of equal competence, say Glo. The retention capacity of your pocket would double automatically. Glo 'infinity' - whatever that means - gives you a handsome prepaid package of N15.00/min at no extra cost, to any line, anywhere, anytime. Who said saving N21.00 in every minute I dial my phone will not make me richer suddenly? That is N875.00 daily or N26,500 monthly, if I abandon MTN. I have. That is more than a living cost of a family, a la Labour's minimum wage. Econet, sorry Airtel, is knocking on my door for even a better offer: N12/min. My readers operating on other cheaper careers can please help Nigerians in the comment space below with the tariffs they enjoy. I know glo could also be bad with their often horrible meter, something that MTN could hardly make a mistake about. I once dumped my 0807 for such theft by glo. But, honestly, Is MTN living on the moon? Think about it.

MTN will need to convince me why I should keep our friendship. Since the cheaper rates provided by other lines are blanket, allowing us to enjoy the same rate to any line, and they have now largely the same spread as MTN, the company should quickly realize that its days of monopoly are over. It either comes down from its high profiteering pedestal or we will push it under.

Perhaps sensing the trouble is why MTN is conducting surveys among its high user customers. I was at Mutala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, when this polite lady on 180 called me asking why my usage in June was lower than in previous months. I told her I have been away. If she calls again this time, I have a better answer for her: catch me on glo, madam.

MTN has been notorious in 'renditing' our pockets to its coffers pitilessly. I remember our plea to the career in those days to switch its meter from per minute to per second charge. It played the deaf and dumb game with Nigerians until mighty glo emancipated us. Glo hit the market with its per second charge from day one. In the beginning MTN was adamant and skeptical, but it did not take long before it caved in given the mass migration of customers to glo. I am a veteran of that war. And here I return. Old habits die hard. Do you remember how much we were buying its SIM card initially? Gosh. N18,000.00, just for the kids to remember, not knowing that it could sell it even for N200.00!. Who said old Shakespearean Shylock is dead?

The little concession I will give MTN is to leave my line open for incoming calls, just in case a fortune would visit me through that gate, though fortune hardly comes these days. That too has a moratorium. Three months only. I will only reconsider reviving my friendship with MTN only if it becomes more generous than glo and other carriers.

The next stage of my protest after the moratorium is to boycott those using MTN unless their call carries a big positive monetary value.

Therefore, it makes sense to join me in my protest if you are on MTN by switching to other cheaper networks. But it makes better sense for MTN to come down steadily by harmonizing its tariff with those of other careers before we collapse the telecom giant through the dictates of the free market.

21 July 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Discourse 323. A Day With Fukuyama

Discourse 323
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

A Day With Fukuyama

Nigeria is today counted among failed states. Early in his tenure, President Obama was said to privately dismiss the country as a failed state, an assessment that prompted his preference for Ghana as the venue to declare his short but eloquent prescription for the largely failed African continent: “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong leaders.”

On a more impersonal level, the Failed States Index published by Foreign Relations of the United State Department of State has been listing Nigeria among failed states since its debut in 2005. In 2011, Nigeria maintained its 14th position as in 2010 largely as a result of its whopping deficit in provision of basic public services that a state should deliver to its citizens.

However, our notorious position is beginning to be hailed even in academic circles, beyond the political environs of foreign offices. Nowhere was I alerted to this fact than in the latest publication of the renowned American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order (2011). In the early pages of the book, the reader finds Fukuyama listing Nigeria along with Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, as failed nations that “everyone would like to figure out how to transform…into ‘Denmark’… stable, democratic, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and has extremely low level of political corruption.” (Pg. 14).

Only two paragraphs earlier, Fukuyama has described sub-Saharan African countries as libertarian paradise, “the kinds of minimal or no-government societies envisioned by dreamers of the Left and Right.” The region as a whole region, generalized the author,

“is a low tax utopia, with governments often unable to collect more than about 10 percent of GDP in taxes compared to more than 30 percent in the United states and 50 percent in parts of Europe…basic public services, like health, education, and pothole filling are starved of funding…”

The two best illustrations of those “kinds of minimal or no-government societies that Fukuyama could find among the failed states in the region were Somalia and – again – Nigeria.

Fukuyama’s voluminous The Origins is a must read. From his thesis, one understands that Nigerians’ retrogression into primordial cleavages of tribe and religion is a standard reaction of humanity wherever political decay has set in as the society gets stuck in “dysfunctional institutional equilibrium.” Our preference to members of our tribes and families than to the wider interest of the Nigerian nation is precisely the expected response of people living where higher social institutions fail:

“Inclusive fitness (kin selection) and reciprocal fitness…may be regarded as default form of social organization. The tendency to favor family and friends can be overridden by new rules and incentives that mandate, for example, hiring a qualified individual rather than a family member. But the higher-level institutions are in some sense quite unnatural, and when they break down, humans revert to the earlier form of sociability.”

Nigeria has inarguably returned to that primitive level of sociability. I doubt in the near future the good old days of merit would return. Our preference today is clearly for the family or tribe member (nepotism), a person we are indebted to in one way or another (reciprocal altruism) or a member of our religion.

The retrogression plague has eaten deep into our psyche. Today, not a single issue would be raised without beneficiaries of our state of decay infusing it with those primordial sentiments. We fail even to see crimes against Nigerians as crimes so long as they do not touch our own. When the military evidently stepped beyond their bounds and carried out atrocities that resulted in the depopulation of Maiduguri early last week, many people sounded not only indifferent but were eager to ridicule the rationale of any protest against the atrocities. The debate over Islamic Banking also smacks of the same depressed psyche. An American friend whomisman expert on Nigeria told me that his heart sunk after reading the press release against the interest-free banking by leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Also, it was not quite a while when we saw during the last presidential election how the country was sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines. Credibility was thrown away in favour of religion and ethnicity. This sad trend, unless checked, is likely to remain for generations to come.

We daily lament on our decay but evidently we deliberately work to entrench it. We may continue on this road but we cannot avoid its consequences. Under such circumstances, violence in form of ethnic and religious crises – including Boko Haram – will continue to be commonplace. It represents the symptoms of our accelerating decomposition. At the same time it is the manifestation for the need for institutional change. Fukuyama:

“Politics emerges as a mechanism for controlling violence, yet violence constantly remains as a background condition for certain types of political change. Societies can get stuck in a dysfunctional institutional equilibrium in which existing stakeholders can veto necessary institutional change. Sometimes violence or the threat of violence is necessary to break out of the equilibrium.” (Pg. 45)

Toeing this line, many concerned Nigerians have at various times expressed the desire for structural change. They see the diminishing return in governance to be as a result of the tragedy of the commons. If only the Nigeria is disbanded into new nations based identities of tribe or religion, its people would be better governed.

Thus, the nostalgia of reverting to life under the former three regions has dominated the debate. Biafra, representing Igbo interest, was and is still the voice to reckon with in the Southeast. The passion for its reincarnation remains high. The Afenifere cultural group lays claim to a separate government for Yoruba ‘race’ in the Southwest. Recently, the South-south has found a voice in MEND for the control of its resources to the exclusion of the remaining ‘parasites’ in the country. Its intention to secede is widely speculated. From the North is the Middle Belt movement representing the non-Muslim minority groups there who would live happily once emancipated from the dominance of their Muslim Hausa-Fulani neighbours. Finally, the araba sentiment of the 1966 has been rekindled in the Muslim North itself as rising increasing religious influence and feeling of its political alienation from the rest of the country in the aftermath of last elections. The voice of unity and progress from the nationalist that echoed loudly in the 1970s seem to be lost by the cacophony of these agitations.

However, there is no guarantee that even if the new entities that would emerge after the de-amalgamation of the country would be different from the present. If separation is based on the primordial instinct of kinship, further instability as a result of lineal differences is very likely to stage a comeback. In short, Nigerians should not trust kinship. Fukuyama, once more:

“While segments can aggregate at a high level, they are prone to immediate fissioning once the cause of their union (such as external threat) disappears. The possibility of multilevel segmentation is seen in many different tribal societies and is reflected in the Arab saying, “Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the stranger.” (Pg. 58)

Learning from the studies of E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s studies of the Nuer people of Southern Sudan which Fukuyama cited to illustrate this point, one can easily see how our present hope is not founded on better basis than the kinship basis that drove our African independence movement. 'Africa for Africans' was the common 'nationalist' dictum throughout the continent against the ‘white’ colonialists.

However, immediately after the departure of the British from Nigeria, for example, as in all other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the ‘fictive kinship’ of the anthropologist overtook national interest, leading to civil wars in many countries, many of which are still claiming lives unabated. One would need some thinking before counting 15 African countries that have not gone through the hell of civil war. Nepotism became the order of the day, resulting in the gross underdevelopment of the continent to the extent that many people, including many scholars, today lament the departure of the 'white' man. Given our failed state, only an undeserved self-pride would prevent us from welcoming the 'white man' were he to knock on our doors today. Or is he here already in hue name of privatization and aid agencies?

In the same vein, the presence of other regions in today’s Nigeria may serve as a catalyst for de-amalgamation. But it is utopian to think that more stable nations will emerge there from. The risk of failure cannot be ruled put even in the homogenous Southwest and Southeast. "Me against my brother..." As for the Northern part of the country – the Middle Belt and the North – their catalysts cannot be kinship but a compound of different chemistry: religion.

Though Christianity and Islam has helped to forge social cohesion at levels higher than the tribe in Europe and Muslim World respectively, they woefully failed to protect such societies against the primordial instincts once institutional structures they built became dysfunctional. Europe cannot count its inter-faith wars until it decided to shut religion entirely from its politics. The same thing with the Muslim World. No sooner did the initial four caliphs passed away than the Ummah became divided and continued fighting civil wars until the caliphate was abolished by Attaturk in the early 20th Century.

So religious harmony would not guarantee stability among people given to decay due to the strong sectarian nature of religion. Thus Somalia, the consistent gold medalist on the Failed Nation Index, is not only struggling with clannish differences but also, most recently, with sectarian ones between sufis and the Wahabbi al-Shabab. The Muslim North in Nigeria would likely be prone to instability from such differences too. Boko Haram is here as an undeniable example. There will be many similar puritanical organizations in the new North that may launch a ‘Jihad’ against other Muslims whom they already declared infidels. "Somalia", in the words of a contributor in one of the Northern Internet fora, "is not distant from my sight."

The would be emancipated Middle Belt nation will have both factors – tribe and religion – to contend with. There is no end to its diversity. The differences could be an advantage in forming a pluralistic society or a disadvantage that would engulf the state into ceaseless inter-ethnic crisis similar to the ones the region has witnessed during the past two decades - including the one fought just last week between Mumuyes and Jukun in Taraba State that has left many dead.

Agitation of the South-south is based on its oil - its sharing and environmental impact. Unless its leaders acquire wisdom superior to the one they portray today, differences between various tribes and the capriciousness of its elites may become the ingredients for instability. The scramble may produce the worst case scenario.

I am not a prophet of doom. Citizens of the different nations to emerge may show a propensity for mutual tolerance and transparency better than what they exhibit presently as Nigerians. They may prove both the anthropologists and the political scientists wrong in the absence of ‘the other Nigerian’, when the tragedy of the common disappears. That not withstanding, personally, I will not squander my hope.

If there are sufficient Nigerians ready to make the present nation work as it is I will not hesitate to join them rather than consigning my fate to the unknown, a priori. At least I have a feeling of the problems of the present and there is a consensus that what is needed is a credible leadership that will oversee the overhauling of our institutions. Our differences are not insurmountable. They could be addressed to the reasonable satisfaction of all under the tutelage of a charismatic and competent leadership, a Gorbachev if necessary. Though the probability of such a leadership may not be high especially if we insist on its emergence through the present counterfeit democracy, the pain of waiting for it is mild compared to the long suffering in conflict ridden new nations.

How that vanguard would emerge and compel the necessary reform of political institutions remains a serious challenge to well-meaning Nigerians who, though many, are yet to cross the borders of their ethnic and religious divides, catalogue the grievances of each section, brainstorm over their solution and submit it to Nigerians for adoption through the most effective means possible. Thus, our problems of scale and its diminishing return on governance can be addressed without resorting to primitive cleavages that guarantee further suffering in most of the emerging entities.

This is my distillation of our situation as informed by my one day companionship with The Origins. It has provided me with sufficient reason for caution against the consequences of breaking up our country based on tribal and religious sentiments. It has instigated the desire in me to look for Nigerians with whom I would partner for the emergence of a future Nigeria, perhaps of different configuration, that would be quickly expelled from the league of failed states.

I am ready to be a foot soldier of any commander to this cause.


19 July 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Discourse 322. Rape Spree in Maiduguri

Discourse 322
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde


When I wrote Boko Haram and the Military three days ago, in my heart the accusation of rape against the Nigerian military was the weightiest of all the allegations. The obscenity of the act is what every normal citizen should abhor. I then based my evidence on eyewitness accounts of people fleeing the town. Listeners of early morning VOA or BBC Hausa service programmes can recall the voice of a woman who was fleeing Maiduguri for Misau in Bauchi State. This is what I can recollect from her conversation with the reporter:

“We have to flee. Soldiers are bursting into our houses, killing our husbands and committing obscenity with the women. What can we do other than to flee to where we will feel safe?”

I did not doubt her. Though she did not mention rape in Hausa for reasons of shyness, the words she used left no one in doubt of what she meant. What obscene thing would make a woman shy from its mere mention though it caused her to abandon her residence?

When the I published the article in my blog (, a reader, apparently a military officer, wrote this anonymous contribution and doubted the veracity of the rape allegation. He politely said:

“I doubt very much the allegation of rape. Please check your facts very well.”

Another contributor, from the military it looks, also said:

“I would suggest that you refrain from comments that would depict our soldiers as barbarians thereby causing them to lose the public support they require to carry out their duties effectively…They certainly do not deserve the castigation you are pouring out to them. In the case of reported atrocities by these soldiers, I will suggest you take your time to investigate before you go public and not base your write up on hearsay."

Let me pause to assert that our military counterparts should please appreciate that we are living in a democracy in which freedom of expression is cornerstone. When actions of soldiers contravene fundamental human rights enshrined in our constitution, we are bound to speak out. That is the life of a bloody civilian. He doesn't carry arms. All he can do is to talk, and the talking is what we are doing here. As civilians, we expect the soldiers to protect us, not attack us in the middle of our sleep, killing our men, burning our houses and cars, beating our women and raping our daughters. They have not met this expectation in Maiduguri, and hence our complain.

Now before I could investigate, I was vindicated by the Borno Elders Forum. In an appeal to the President reported in the Daily Trust, the elders categorically mentioned rape among several atrocities committed by the soldiers:

“The soldiers have been burning down cars, killing innocent passersby, looting private property, harassing innocent passerby and even raping young girls.”

The veracity of the accusation can be driven from the weight of the personalities that made it:

“Shettima Ali Monguno, the Imam Idaini of Borno Imam Baba Gana Asil, Alhaji Garba Abba Satomi, Alhaji Bukar Bolori, Alhaji Usman Gaji Galtimari, Alhaji Kyari Sandabe, Brigadier General Abba Kyari (rtd), Air Vice Marshal Al-Amin Daggash (rtd), Shettima Ali Kidaji…Ambassador Ahmed Yusufari, AIG Zanna Laminu Mamadi, AIG Muktar Alkali, Alhaji Tijjani Bolori, Alhaji Bulama Mali Gubio, Alhaji Umar Abba Shuwa, Alhaji Ibrahim El-Zubairu, Malam Ibrahim Mustapha and Alhaji Gambo Vubio.”

These people are qualified to be senior citizens in any country. Their words cannot be dismissed as simple hearsay.

The military authorities were quick in denying the atrocities leveled by the Borno Elders Forum. However, reports continue to assert the issue of rape. This article is even prompted by a mail I received from a noble sister with relations in Maiduguri, sounding helpless over the atrocities that have not ceased, causing her sisters to go into hiding:

“My dear brothers and sisters, please we need your prayers. Young girls in Maiduguri are in great danger. My sisters and some other young girls have fled from their homes. Our parents are all hiding their female children because soldiers are raping them. Oh Allah save our generation.”

For a commentator I think this is enough to take the allegation of rape seriously. I do not need to catch the soldier in the act before I comment on it. I am not a policeman. Just as no President in the world, other than the coconut headed ones we have in Africa, would go to sleep in the face of this quantum of allegations and complaints.

However, in Nigeria the complaints were answered with an air of impunity as usual. Major General Azazi (rtd) said, in reply to the Elders, he said that government will not withdraw soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri. He even concluded his statement without the usual false palliative of investigating the allegations to fray the nerves of the population. In other words, you do not deserve it, bloody civilians.

Today so many human rights groups have jointly signed an appeal to the government for investigating the atrocities and putting an end to them.

I tried to figure out the justification behind this truly barbaric behaviour in the 21st century. Despite the fact that Nigerian soldiers have consistently shown this level of human rights abuse before, as I was quick to point out in my last article on the matter, I was shocked to discover a justification from an ethnic angle consistently opened to me by one of my readers of Igbo extraction, Ike Agbor. On the point I made that “killing of civilians under any circumstance is a massacre…punishable under the Geneva convention, he said this, apparently in justifying the actions of Maj. General Jack Nwachukwu’s soldiers in Maiduguri:

“Where do we start? A revisit of the massacre by Nigerian soldiers under Murtala at Asaba, the massacre of a congregation at a church once Nigerian soldiers entered into Onitsha, or the every other massacres orchestrated by Nigerian soldiers inside Biafra?... I will be glad if you hold my hands and take me to the sections of the Geneva Conventions that were contravened by the Northern civilians, and the soldiers, who took part in the orgy of killings in the North, the starvation of civilians in Biafra and the near equal frenzy of massacre of Biafrans and the rape of women at the end of hostilities in January 1970.”

After reading this mail, I simply sent him a question whether the atrocities committed in the past should determine what our soldiers should do presently. No reply.

Are some elements in the Nigerian military 'justifiably' under a revenge mission in Maiduguri, if Ike is right?

The government, if I must reiterate, should commence investigations into these allegations and request Maj General Jack Nwachukwu and his soldiers to become more vigilant of the possible bad eggs in their ranks. Saying that miscreants or Boko Haram members carry out the rapes simply does not click. Everybody is mentioning soldiers, soldiers and soldiers alone. It is possible there could be fake soldiers on the streets, as was witnessed whenever there is a religious crisis in Bauchi, Plateau and Kaduna. Only investigations by the military will bring out the true identity of the soldiers. Lending a deaf ear to the appeals, therefore, will not help the situation.

Whoever is behind the rapes and whatever are his reasons, I will not hesitate to warn the Nigerian government of the consequences of continued insensitivity to the complaints. A point may be reached when the population of Maiduguri would entirely come out on the streets and revolt against the soldiers. This is the easiest thing that the progenies of Mai Idris Alooma and El-Kanemi can do when pushed to the wall. Here, it will be apt to advise the military not to take the level-headedness of the population for granted.

“If you see the teeth of the lion exposed”, said my favourite Abbasid poet, Al-Mutanabbi, “don’t think that the lion is laughing.”

15 July 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Discourse 321. Boko Haram and the Military: A Dialogue of Bombs and Bullets

Discourse 321
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Boko Haram and the Military: A Dialogue of Bombs and Bullets

Events during the last fortnight have disproved the assurance given by the Chief of Army Staff that the military will soon end the Boko Haram insurrection in the Northern part of the country. The group went about its activities in complete disregard to his words. It escalated its attacks unimpeded, leaving the nation in the safety of generals whose superficial measures depict the incapacity of the nation’s security apparatus to execute its most fundamental duty.

Inexperienced in urban warfare, the military mounted, with little success, roadblocks with the hope of intercepting weapons and arresting the insurgents. Abuja, for example, suddenly became inaccessible to workers as a result of the measure. Vehicles were moving at a speed of a kilometer per hour. It was such an embarrassment that the checkpoints on the arteries leading to the city had to be removed before the following day. Corruption and indifference also came into play. During the period, I drove from Bauchi to Abuja and back to Bauchi through Kaduna and Kano without my booth checked at any point. In spite of the situation, security personnel at the roadblocks were more interested in a tip than in discovering any arsenal I might carry. Nigeria we hail thee!

Before I returned to Bauchi, however, militants suspected to be members of the dreaded Boko Haram stormed the divisional police station of my local government in Toro. To the delight of the police, the militants allowed them to disperse unmolested, abandoning, without hesitation, the station for their dear lives. The militants missed the Divisional Police Officer who had left the station two minutes earlier and upon hearing the gunshots there, was reported to have hid in the neighbouring secondary school. Though they missed their target, the DPO, the militants were able to cart away with rifles and ammunitions, without harming anyone in town.

Five days later, similar militants attacked a bank and razed down a whole divisional police headquarters at Alkaleri. They distributed part of their loot, as they did in Katsina a month earlier, to the villagers who scrambled over it, causing the death of one boy. In Maiduguri, the headquarters of Boko Haram, bombings of apparatus of coercion have virtually become a daily occurrence. Two days ago, a bomb for the second time exploded in Suleja, though no group has claimed responsibility, as was the case in the first instance during the election campaigns. Yesterday, another bomb exploded at a drinking joint in Obalande, Kaduna, killing six people and injuring seventeen.

However, it is the unfortunate turn of events at the epicenter of the crisis that is beginning to catch the attention of the world. There was a shootout between Boko Haram members and members of the Joint Task Force (JTF), a collection of military, police and State Security Service personnel deployed to Maiduguri to crackdown on the insurgents. In revenging the killing of some of its personnel during the Sunday shootout and under the pretext of harboring Boko Haram members and refusing to divulge intelligence, JTF men cordoned some sections of the town and set ablaze houses and cars, allegedly raped women and killed all men they could find in the houses that they broke into. There had been rumours making the rounds that the military has vowed to kill 50 civilians for every soldier killed by Boko Haram members. According to a source, this is exactly what they went about doing two days ago. The reports aired on foreign media like the BBC, VOA, RDW, and RFI throughout yesterday, Monday 11 July 2011, have corroborated these accounts.

To Nigerians familiar with how the military boys behaved in Zaki Biam and Odi, this gross violation of human rights is typical and did not come as a surprise. The Nigerian military still thinks that it reserves the right to take the lives of ‘bloody’ civilians with impunity. It must have known that it must lose some personnel in the course of its duty in Maiduguri. So to organize the killing of as many civilians as possible in retaliation to the death of a soldier or two would be the most unfortunate thing any officer could contemplate. In an interview he gave to the BBC Hausa Service, a spokesman of the JTF, Lt. Col. Raphael Isa, did admit, in the usual carefree tone of a Third World soldier, that an unknown number of civilians were killed.

A force sent to protect civilian population did not even care to know how many people it killed and could, without the slightest sign of remorse, look at a foreign correspondent and acknowledge his ignorance of the number of his victims. His celebration of successfully killing eleven Boko Haram members at the end of the unfortunate operation casts a thick shadow of doubt over claim by a government spokesman last week that the roadblocks measures have enabled the arrest of a hundred members of the sect. Not a single member was paraded before the newsmen, in contravention of Nigerian tradition and Boko Haram has not corroborated the claim either.

Killing innocent civilians under any circumstance is a massacre. It is a war crime punishable under the Geneva Convention. One really wonders what our military officers learn at their staff colleges. They refuse to learn from the methods of their contemporaries. Americans and other NATO forces are losing lives daily in Afghanistan. But they have not gone about killing innocent civilians. They take their time to patiently locate and target their enemy with a precision that would ensure a minimum collateral damage. And they are quick to apologize where a missile hits a civilian population due to a technical or human error. We have also seen the masterly skill they employed in waiting for ten years before reaching their main target, Osama Bin Laden. When they finally got him, not a single person in the neighbourhood was killed or arrested for harbouring the most wanted person in the world. It is this degree of professionalism that we expect from our soldiers. Indiscriminate killing of Nigerians, destroying their property and raping their women leaves us with little doubt that textbooks on the primitive methods of Royal Niger Company and Nigerian Civil War remain the predominant reference materials in Jaji and War College.

If America is too distant, our military officers would have learnt from the consequences of the brute force used to subdue the same Boko Haram militants in 2009. They were shot at sight in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe and Kano States. The army then prided itself with the evidence that it handed over the leader of the group alive to the police. The police did not spare him in his cell, just as they executed Mohammed Foi in public glare. The direct consequence of those murders was the metamorphosis of the group into an underground movement and a revision of their methodology from open confrontation to urban guerilla warfare. By the time they resurfaced, the world was quick to acknowledge the sophistication of their means and the fatality of their devices. The political class took their threats seriously: Three governors knelt before them, seeking their pardon. Immediately after the Inspector General of Police escaped from their suicide bomb by a whisker, the scared President rushed to reopen the hitherto forgotten murder case of their leader and ordered the prosecution of the culprits. The IGP learnt the hard way how to keep his mouth shut and the President soon abandoned the reflection that Boko Haram should be left to decimate the North to his political advantage. With the attack on the police headquarters, the President realized that he is within the range of its bombs.

With these abundant lessons, I wonder how the military thinks that terrorizing civilian populations will help it in anyway to extinguish the fire of Boko Haram. Its indiscretion is already producing a boomerang, attracting the civilian animosity that was hitherto directed at Boko Haram. The hate now is for the military that goes about mass killings and other human rights violations against civilians, not the Boko Haram whose bomb could unintentionally kill only few people when it successfully detonates. Youths in Jajere ward, as reported by one of my readers have vowed to join Boko Haram after the public execution of one of them who was a footballer. It is clear who is winning the battle for the souls of Nigerians between the military and Boko Haram.,The military has started with one enemy, now it has many: Boko Haram and civilians. Boko Haram, on their part, started with many enemies, now it has just one: the JTF.

Before concluding this piece, it will not be out of place to suggest three things. First, it the President must calm down and understand that Boko Haram is a philosophical organization, with demands that ultimately borders on the national question. Others since Sultan Attahiru have made similar demands during the last hundred years. Even in contemporary Nigeria, there are organizations from various regions asking for a revision of our colonial burden. May be Nigerians of various origins are tired of this impractical Lugardian marriage. After a hundred years, many are ready to end it without walking the extra fifty years of Southern Sudan. Therefore, it will not be out of place if Jonathan, from the oil rich Niger Delta, considers becoming Africa’s Gorbachev. He would definitely be supported by the oil rich but disgruntled and underdeveloped South-south, the enterprising but impeded Southeast, the 'racially' superior Southwest and, finally, the complacent and 'backward' North. A promise of that alone, better than bullets and rapes, may be the dialogue that will end the Boko Haram revolt instantly. The international community will also be relieved of the failure that threatens its economic interest in the Niger Delta.

Secondly, there is the need for the President to immediately review the military operations in Maiduguri. Sending a Mladic there is not in the best interest of the administration and the nation in general. It will lead to unnecessary escalation and earn Boko Haram more foot soldiers and sympathizers. The Kanuri are people with sufficient measure of pride. One cannot but envisage a more volatile situation if the current spate of human abuses is not ended. A general who is ready to respect the rights of Nigerians living there, taking into consideration their cultural sensitivities, is urgently needed to replace the present one. By the way, where is Maj. General Maina? This was the fine officer that led the JTF in Jos without a single complaint of murder or rape against his soldiers. So much was done on the Plateau to frustrate and provoke this gentleman, including an ex-general calling him 'idiot' over the radio, but he did not waver. He should be deployed to Maiduguri or, if retired, someone of no lesser professional mien should be sent.

Thirdly, in addition to investigations that the Federal Government should conduct as a statutory obligation, civil society groups should assist in taking an inventory of human right abuses presently going on in Maiduguri. Victims and their relations must be forthcoming in this. They should index them and submit them to the government as quick as possible. If it fails to stop the abuses or bring the culprits to book, then the groups can avail themselves of the appropriate organs of redress under the United Nations. I am glad that Civil Rights Congress under Comrade Shehu Sani is already working on this. He has my blessings. FOMWAN, MSO, NACOMYO, CAN, JNI and all the churches and mosques in Maiduguri must also come on board. Citizens with modern communication hardware should also gather evidence and post them on the Internet. That was what irrefutably attested to the extrajudicial killings in 2009. Few hours after posting this article, a video was posted Youtube depicting once more the manhandling of suspects by police. We need many of such conclusive evidence on abuses by the military.

Finally, I would like to appeal to 'Boko Haram' leaders to reiframe their arguments and project them as a demand for restructuring this country, just as other groups are doing. This is what their opinion against the constitution and demand for full implementation of Shariah logically culminate in, given the demographic composition of the country. Baked in this more palatable language, their demand would be understood better and accommodated fully within the wider spectrum of the national question. If they adopt this strategy, they will definitely be amazed at the millions of supporters they will gain overnight. This is a demand that negotiations in a conference room can meet. This is the only way to end the ongoing dialogue of bombs and bullets that is claiming the lives of innocent Nigerians.

12 July 2011

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Discourse 320. Nigerian Bishops and Islamic Banking, Plus the Missing Link

Discourse 320
By Aliyu U. Tilde

Nigerian Bishops and Islamic Banking, Plus the Missing Link

I will not be surprised if this essay is short in the end because honestly there is little to add to the blind statements circulated daily around the country in the name of ‘debate’ about ‘Islamic’ banking, which the country, we are told, must ditch for the sake of its ‘unity’. The whole wahala about Islamic banking is mounted on the defective tripod of debate, Islam and unity, which are poorly joined by the clandestine glue of self-interest.

Debate is about objective reasoning. But there is no reason in this one, much less objectivity, at least not to my hearing so far. The speakers opposing the motion of Islamic banking have failed to make a single point, economic or constitutional. Instead, they flaunt threats, as if intimidation will earn them the points which only reason could accord.

There are also reservations about the characterization of the interest-free banking as ‘Islamic’. Many learned people, including some prominent Muslim scholars in Nigeria, would readily argue that interest and usury are not synonyms. But even if we grant that interest is usury, then Islam is not innovative in forbidding it. Christianity and Judaism have earlier condemned strongly. Categorizing it as ‘Islamic’ also gives the feeling, albeit a subtle one, that the contemporary interest-based financial institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF that have aided the proliferation of misery in the world, are Christian. We must not fall into this trap of the bigotry. Let us keep in mind that the West has abandoned many teachings of Christ (blessings be upon him) long ago, just as the Muslims have long abandoned an equal quantum of the teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Very bad followers of the trio – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad – inhabit the world today. Oh Heaven. Come to our rescue.

The third leg is the ‘unity’ of Nigeria that is often used to justify any self-motivated clamor. We have seen this before in the OIC question of the 1980s. It was said that the country would be divided if it becomes a member of the organization though Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Uganda and so many Christian dominated countries did not give up to the ghost when they took the OIC membership pill. Nigeria must be a strange beast, therefore. The reaction was the same when the country contemplated taking an interest-free loan from Islamic Development Bank. Again, the cry was Nigeria does not need the Bank since it is ‘Islamic’. It should take it from the IMF where, as someone put it, the country finally paid $16billion on a $5billion loan, and still owed the debtors $28billion. But it is cool in the eyes of our Bishops because IMF in their misconstrued judgment is ‘Christian’.

And now it is the turn of interest-free banking that is now a global financial product to reincarnate that blind dissonance. Our ears, again, are deafened by the fallacy of the 80s. Here we go again: ‘This is a plan to Islamize Nigeria’ ‘It is Boko Haram banking’ ‘Nigeria will be divided’. Evidently, a visitor from Mars will not fail, upon hearing these statements, to declare that Nigeria is a haven for imbecility and mischief. A simple survey of the so-called Islamic banking will reveal that it is practiced by ‘Christian’ banks in ‘Christian’ nations like Europe and America, the principal mentors of its antagonists in Nigeria. As if to silence the Christian leadership in Nigeria, the Vatican press published an article extolling the merits and successes of Islamic banking two weeks ago. Poor Vatican! It does not know that Nigerians could be more Catholic than the Pope.

I will plead with my Christian brothers that we the laity should not listen to our local leaders on this matter. Reason should prevail. It is high time someone bold enough among our brothers rise to the occasion and tell the clerics these simple facts:

“Please separate economics from politics, for God’s sake. Give to the bank manager what is to the bank, and to PDP what is to Caesar. Transact here, and cheat there. Mixing the two could be a lethal cocktail. Embrace the teachings of Jesus by condemning usury in all its ramifications. Follow the Vatican and establish your interest-free banks or let the Central Bank of Nigeria the breathing space to perform its statutory duty of issuing license of the same genre to whoever is interested and qualified. Christianity does not take its measurements from Islam. So do not make Islam to determine Christianity. Opposing Islam and Muslims in Nigeria does not always qualify anything as Christian. Christianity, like Islam, is a religion based on values, principal among them the abrogation of all forms of human exploitation, of which usury plays the major role in the prevailing world economic disorder. Not a fly would die in Nigeria because a bank or two have adopted an interest-free product as part of their portfolio.”

These are the words I am waiting to hear from the bold Christian who would publicly come forward and call the clerics to order. A Soludo who initiated the product, an Iweala that is respected even by the oyinbo, just any name they can trust. Why not a word from Jonathan? If there is none, then I cannot help becoming sick. Please check me at the emergency ward.

But some ‘Christian’ banks in the country cannot afford to wait for that brave voice. Driven by the Smithian principle of profit, every week one of them is approaching the CBN for a license for Islamic Banking. I believe, before long, all the ‘Christian’ banks in the country would buy the product to the dismay of the Bishops.

I join those who are intelligent enough to know that Nigeria will not break up for the sake of interest-free banking. It may break up, perhaps soon, but on different grounds. I will enjoin all well meaning Nigerians not to engage in the futile exercise of defending ‘Islamic Banking’ in the face of opposition from our Christian fathers. They should continue to embrace the Shafi’ite logic: the lion is feared though it is silent, but the dog is stoned in spite of it's barking. Let us not bark at any visitor to our house. He may be a friend. It is the statutory duty of the apex bank and I am satisfied with the quantum of energy it is expending to explain, notwithstanding the deafness of its audience, that it is not a matter of religion but business, unusual though.

Muslims must not confuse the clerics with Christianity or our Christian brothers. The clerics are billionaires. Recently, one of them boasted that he is a billionaire and that “there is nothing anybody can do about it!” Yes Bishop. What can ordinary souls like me do about it? My Christian brothers and me are not billionaires. We are only struggling to make ends meet in Nigeria. Aha.

The clerics, it seems, are in an unholy alliance with the interest-based banks to extort ordinary Christians. The banks are where the bishops and pastors safely keep, and profiteer through interest banking, the millions they harvest from their fellowship weekly. As billionaire depositors, how much interest do they earn daily? Oh! That is the missing link in the ongoing debate on Islamic banking. In a vicious way, opposition to anything Muslim serves as a lubricant to this extortion engine. It is expected to impress the followers and make them more susceptible to increase the returns of their billionaire bishops. Thus in Nigeria Islam has become an interest-free product of primitive accumulation that makes Mr. Bishop and Mr. Bank Manager smile every Monday morning.

Finally, when all is said and done, with the ‘debate’ on ‘Islamic’ banking in a ‘united’ Nigeria long forgotten, one indisputable fact would remain: both Muslims and Christians, in America or in Nigeria, are victims of the present free-for-all financial institutions that are based on interest and speculations. It should therefore be an area of mutual interest, not mutual discord. Fighting this exploitation should be a joint project for Muslims and Christians in Nigeria with common sense.

But I am sad to note that for many in my country Nigeria, sense is not common.

6 July, 2011