Ever since terrorism found a home in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria, there has not been a shortage of theories and opinions about this scourge, from what and who is responsible to finding a way out. Like with all things Nigerian, it is an increasingly complex situation. It is a case of the more you see, the less you understand. There seem to increasingly be new dimensions to the issue of Boko Haram: political, religious and criminal.
It is without a doubt that this crisis did not emerge from a vacuum, but there was a fertile ground in which the seeds of terrorism was planted. Many commentators have fingered endemic poverty in the North, together with chronic underdevelopment and illiteracy. But the North has not been the only region experiencing poverty; other factors came into play that made it easy for this situation to arise. In this January blog post of mine, I linked one of the main factors that has brought about terrorism in Nigeria is the politicization of Islam.
However, I have continuously heard various conspiracy theories amongst my fellow Northerners attempting to posit as explanations for the sorry situation we find ourselves in:
One theory claims that the on-going violence in the North is fomented by the Federal Government which ‘is now controlled by Southerners’, since they have also always blamed the North for dragging Nigeria backwards. In their words, ‘Northern leaders have been unfairly tagged as failures’. I find this theory very ridiculous. The fact is that Northern leaders have indeed been failures. Of the 52 years Nigeria has existed post-independence, power has been held by one Northerner or the other for 39 of those years. Yet, not only has Nigeria stagnated and even gone backwards, the North is worse off. Add to that the numerous present and past governors, local government chairmen, legislators and all other public office holders. How many can be pointed to have improved the conditions of their people?
What will a ‘Southern-controlled’ government benefit by causing instability in the North? It was not enough that the South is way ahead of the North in terms of living standards and incomes; it is also now a far more attractive place to invest. So far, the terrorism menace in Nigeria represents just another business risk to investors, as long as these attacks do not extend there. Agreed, there is quite a deep anti-North sentiment in the South, and one not without basis. If I was a Southerner, I would likely feel the same way, especially when I know opportunities are skewed against me. Government policies such as federal character and quota systems in school admissions favour the North excessively, a far less competitive place, than the South, where the competition for employment and admissions are more intense.
Another theory is to consistently point fingers at the West, especially the United States of America, for destabilizing the North in order to foment a civil war and an eventual break-up of the country. They claim that the US is interested in Nigeria’s oil and figure that the best way to get a greater hold of it is to engineer a splitting of Nigeria, especially using religion. They then cite the examples of Sudan as one ‘victim’ of such American foreign policy, where it has now been split along the lines of an oil-rich Christian South Sudan and a Muslim Sudan; and also of how the US is always releasing terror alerts of impending attacks, which always come to pass. Those who spread such conspiracy theory are grossly ignorant of both history and contemporary geo-politics.
To start with, comparisons of Nigeria with the Sudan/South Sudan situation are misplaced. The two Sudans were engaged in a war for 25 years, before the discovery of oil in what is now South Sudan forced the Arab North to sit down for peace talks with the South, because of the appeal of oil revenues in 2005. They agreed on autonomy for the South and a referendum in 6 years to determine whether the South chooses independence or to continue remaining with the North. The South needed no ‘instigation’ from the West to know their future lies best as an independent nation, rather than with people who did not believe in equally co-existing with them and were more interested in lording it over them. Nigeria is not, and God willing, will never be in this situation.
Also, the US does not have to instigate a splitting of Nigeria before they can have greater access to our oil. They are already Nigeria’s biggest oil customers, despite increasing demand from and supply to China. More than that, the present US administration has made energy independence one of its cardinal goals, and has so far to cut down its fuel imports to 45% in 2011 from a record high of 60% in 2005. Wouldn’t intending to split Nigeria for our oil be going in the opposite direction to its goals? We are no Iraq, neither will we ever be.
Again, I sincerely believe the global community has genuine concerns about the state of Nigeria’s security and want to see us remain one indivisible entity because they know the ripple effects and the destabilizing effects a break-up would have across the continent. They know that Nigeria has no clear dividing lines and any break-up would just create another Somalia, where anarchy reigns and it is just a place on the map where people die. We have a population greater than that of the rest of the West Africa sub-region combined. Imagine how the influx of refugees into surrounding nations in case of a civil war/break up would cause wahala. There can be no ECOMOG peacekeeping troops to return order, because not only is Nigeria its biggest sponsor, it is also the country being able to provide the manpower in the form of soldiers. The West knows that another Somalia-type country would create better breeding grounds for terrorists who will end up targeting them eventually.
I also think pointing fingers at the West as the sponsors because their terror alerts come to pass is short-sighted. Rather, we should be pointing fingers at our security services for not acting upon those alerts as tips and to forestall them coming to pass. The embassies issuing the alerts are merely looking out for their citizens, to whom they have a primary responsibility. As to how they always know of impending attacks, it is not a secret that they have foreign intelligence services in this country, as we do in other countries (or at least, so I believe) in the form of the National Intelligence Agency.
If there is anyone to be blamed for the situation today in the North, it is we Northerners: both the leaders or elites and the common people. Our leaders have squandered their opportunities in government to improve our lives, choosing instead to line their pockets with our money and improving only the conditions of their families. There have been both conscious and unconscious efforts to make sure that common Northerners are poor, illiterate and uneducated, so as to use us as easy fodder in their games of politics. If there is any proof I need that this opinion of mine is true, it is in that January blog post of mine. There was not a single response disputing all the facts in the blog post, and it was a widely circulated and syndicated article.
We as common Northerners are also to blame because we have refused to change a lot of our habits and thinking with time. Many Northerners till today spend their entire lives cocooned in their small worlds, either entirely within their town/state, or among their ethno-religious brethren. A young man is born and bred in Katsina, and the only place he has travelled to is Zamfara. When he then finds himself outside the region and among people who are not from his part of the country, he struggles to adjust. In a world today where it is ideal to get a lot of experience by interacting with as many different backgrounds of people as possible, we have chosen to remain in our neat little circle and deny ourselves of not only of learning from other cultures, but from having rounded worldviews. This has also affected how ambitious we desire to be in life. We cannot compete academically and intellectually outside the region, and even worse, we do not care. We are content being local champions; big fishes in small waters. Even when Northerners find themselves outside the North, this habit persists as they stick together in entire neighbourhoods, which become known as Hausa Quarters or areas. The same refusal to truly integrate with their communities, interact properly and learn from each other where necessary persists.
It is about time we quit the conspiracy theories and the blame games and be radically honest with ourselves. It is a pity we have found ourselves in this quagmire, which God willing, shall soon pass. But after all this is over, we must also ensure that we take the destiny of our region in our hands and make the determined push to take ourselves ahead. Even beyond ensuring that we have people with a hunger to bring change and development to our areas, we must also individually develop ourselves. We must also have an attitudinal change where we wait for government to do it all for us. We should remember that we are the government; even more, that government will always be a reflection of the people we are. We should be educated and exposed enough to be globally competitive and yet locally relevant. We must cease to see our towns and states as the only stages on which we can excel. With a great mass of educated people, we can lift our region even without the help of government. We can organise ourselves into groups and associations and find specific problems we want to provide solutions to.
I still dream of a vibrant North, economically advancing and appealing to people from all over the world to come, live and do business in. Deep inside of me, I believe that this dream is still a realizable one. But it cannot be realized if we keep hiding our heads in the sand like ostriches, blaming others for our predicament rather than seizing control of the situation and finding solutions to our problems.