by Tarila Marclint Ebiede
Every president who has served under Nigeria’s fourth republic has at least two slogans with which he could be identified with. President Jonathan stepped into the presidential space with a “breath of fresh air” and his “transformation agenda”. His emergence seemed like a breakaway from the old establishment that has been in charge of the Nigerian project, yet the national challenges which his presidency seeks to resolve are embedded in the Nigerian polity as a result of over 5 decades of bad governance by the old establishment.
Lately, the most pressing of these challenges has been terrorism in the Northern part of Nigeria. It’s important to note that there is no single variable with which we can explain terrorism in Northern Nigeria; rather it is plausible to say that terrorism is a phenomenon that was birthed by a cocktail of issues brewed by the failure of governance within the Nigerian state which predates the Jonathan administration. From poverty and illiteracy, to religion, analysts and pundits have attributed different factors to explain terrorism. Yet it is obvious that failure of governance provides the necessary environment for the seeds of terrorism to blossom.
In his ‘transformational’ style, President Jonathan consulted extensively before taking decisive action to confront the terrorists. In the process he’s left many fundamental issues to be determined by political horse trading and the “rule of law”.
Within this period, the terrorists have wreaked havoc on the citizens and soldiers of Nigerian armed forces and expanded their control of geographical spaces within Nigeria. The President also acknowledged that terrorists have hoisted their flags and taken control of certain areas of the north eastern state of Borno.
Lately, the terrorists have also resorted to hostage taking, with a particular focus on women and children. This provides an insight into the urgency of the matter at hand. In the month of March, the idea of an amnesty for terrorists was mooted and before it could fly, the terrorists themselves rejected the amnesty. Consultations are still ongoing. Finally, in what has been seen in some quarters as a bold step, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the north eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
The state of emergency clause has been invoked in the past to deal with issues of insecurity and conflicts. However little has changed in states, such as Plateau, where this rule was applied. This is mainly because the issues that give rise to such violence are embedded in the structures of our society and cannot be uprooted by the simple use of force. Thus any meaningful attempt at resolving the challenge of terrorism and unbridled violence must first ask two fair questions; how did we reach this level of annihilative violence in Northern Nigeria? And what can we do differently to avoid a recurrence of terrorism?
As I’ve alluded earlier, bad governance at all levels of government in Nigeria provides the necessary environment for terrorism to thrive in Nigeria. The Nigerian society is characterized by dehumanizing poverty and conflict inducing inequities. The systems of resource distribution alienates majority of the population from the commonwealth. Divisive narratives are built around ethnic and religious identities to create political capital for politicians. There is an entrenched state patronage system built around the oil industry, where access to state power constitutes the most important variable in the distribution of resources. In their desperation to capture political power, Nigerian politicians have appropriated both latent and manifest violence. There is a relationship between most organized violence in Nigeria and the character of politics in specific regions. The capture of political power does not translate to public service.
In this situation, citizens are alienated from the state and destructive ideologies find their place within ungoverned spaces in Nigeria. This is how terrorism finds its roots in Nigeria. Simply put, the absence of government in the subconscious of a certain class of people and their non-attachment to the Nigerian state makes them susceptible to destructive ideologies that turn them into terrorists.
President Jonathan has taken the right step in declaring a state of emergency in accordance with the provision of the 1999 constitution. However this is not a sufficient strategy. The use of counter terrorist military engagement strategies should be supported by a subtle religious enlightenment program in Northern Nigeria that targets non-combatants and other vulnerable groups in the region. This is to checkmate the spread of fundamentalist ideologies and hate messages. We should not underestimate the strength of an ideology. Often, the use of violence is built on ideological constructs that captures the realities of the oppressed and disempowered. The purpose is to justify the use of violence as it is the justifiability of the action that makes it sustainable even in the absence of its initiators. Terrorism is an extension of armed violence based on ideologies.
Next to this, the Federal Government must see the communities as partners in progress. Destructive violence perpetuated by state forces in the search of terrorists alienates the communities. We must also recognize that the communities live in fear of the terrorists. To earn their cooperation, the government must take them out of the insecurity. The Government forces must balance force with intelligence by focusing on strategic targets and supply sources of insurgent groups.
The Government must also ensure diligent prosecution of all those facing terrorist charges. The Nigerian judiciary and Bar must recognize that they are partners in progress with the executive arm in the fight against terrorism. Also, there is a need for improved information management. Government needs to partner with the civil society, NGOs and journalists to enlighten Nigerians on the fight against terrorism.
Northern elites must take responsibility and provide leadership at the local and community level. One thing this conflict has exposed is that there is a deep disconnect between the elites of the North and the ‘subalterns’ of the region. This has made it difficult for them to establish an acceptable framework for peace building.
State Governments and Local Governments need to re-establish themselves in the region. There is a need to a new type of relationship between the state and its citizens; a relationship defined by public service delivery on the part of the state and patriotism on the part of the citizens.
The out-of-power political parties should also join hands with the federal government and desist from politicizing terrorism. They should move beyond criticizing the shortcomings of the current efforts of the government to providing alternative policy suggestions that might enhance the fight against terrorism.
While these short term efforts are ongoing, it is important we also keep in mind that there is an urgent need to redefine Nigeria’s political economy which creates the environment and factors that give rise to terrorism. There is a need for the different identities in Nigeria to have a common understanding of what it means to be members of a multi-national state. This is only possible if we can engage in honest and sincere national conversation. President Jonathan should take the bold step and initiate this dialogue. Such dialogue must be different from our previous attempts. It should be a genuine attempt to establish a new Nigeria. It is only then that we can conveniently say, indeed Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan came with a “breath of fresh air” that transformed Nigeria.
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @ETMarclint