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Simon Kolawole: Everything can’t be politics


Simon Kolawole: Everything can’t be politics

by Simon Kolawole

Alhaji Bamanga Tukur recently canvassed something that has always been uppermost on my mind “constructive criticism”. The former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was, of course, seeking support for President Goodluck Jonathan’s government and we would, in any case, expect that from him. After all, they both belong to the same camp, politically. But strip the statement of his political affiliation, and you would get the gist: criticism should seek to build and not destroy, especially when national interest is at stake. Unfortunately, we have this incurable tendency to politicise everything in Nigeria ─ from Boko Haram to corruption ─ even when the fortune of millions of Nigerians is at stake. Alas, politics has become everything.

But for his foray into the PDP, Tukur’s voice should generally be treated as that of an elder statesman. For a man who will be 80 next year, he has earned that right. He is clearly one of the most accomplished Nigerians ever. Educated at Ahmadu Bello University, University of Pittsburgh and London School of Economics and Political Science, he has served as state governor and federal minister. Before the PDP fiasco, the image of Tukur that readily came to mind was that of a successful businessman, celebrated globally for his leadership of the African Business Roundtable and his chairmanship of NEPAD Business Group. He also endowed the Bamanga Tukur Institute for International Trade and Development at the University of Port Harcourt.

Ordinarily, therefore, if Tukur speaks, we should listen. Every society should have elders: those who have earned their stripes by reason of their age, service and experience. It is all the more desirable that they do not promote sectional and partisan interests. We need elders we can always look up to, elders who can call us to order when we are going out of our minds. What you find in Nigeria today, however, is that we are too political. We are all speaking in tongues and there is nobody to shout hallelujah. Those who should play the role of elders are patently political too. They are unable to speak with sincerity. Even if what they are saying is what most people would love to hear, their motives give them away.

Back to the “constructive criticism” advocacy by Tukur, recent events have saddened me. I am talking about the renewed Boko Haram onslaught. By any definition, this is a national tragedy that requires all hands on deck, irrespective of political or religious affiliation. Anybody who has human blood in his veins should never turn this tragedy into an opportunistic campaign for 2015. It is nothing but a massive insult on our crippling injury. The Boko Haram militants have consistently attacked Muslims and Christians, men and women, boys and girls and politicians from all divides. Everybody who does not share their beliefs is an enemy simple. And we who do not share their beliefs must never miss this point.

I was reviewing the activities of Boko Haram a few weeks ago and I was telling myself “we’re winning the war”. I looked at the fact that the Sunday-Sunday bombings have died down. Suicide bombings have virtually disappeared. Abuja came under attack on many occasions: the attacks on police headquarters, the UN House and the THISDAY office were quite deadly but there has been no fresh case in Abuja in a long time. The regular attacks on Kano have reduced. My conclusion then was that because of renewed security strategy and the co-operation of local people, most Boko Haram insurgents have been pushed out of the heart of Northern Nigeria into the margins – especially on the border with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The next frontier, therefore, is the border ─ which is very vulnerable. African borders are very, very porous. The most vicious Boko Haram attacks in recent times have been launched in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States. Nigerians living in the border towns are defenceless, and it is most tragic that secondary school students are now being mercilessly massacred by the militants. Does it not make sense, then, that the anti-insurgency strategy should shift to the border? When the militants were operating in the heart of the North, containing them was complicated because they could easily pass for your next-door neighbours. However, they now operate on foot ─ like combat soldiers ─ and this is the area that the Nigerian military is trained to fight. The battleground is now well defined.

I would rather think, then, that we should be constructive in confronting this insurgency. In this moment of national grief and a clear threat to the territorial integrity of Nigeria, this should not be seen as an opportunity to play 2015 politics. This is not the time to demoralise our soldiers, who are consistently on the firing line. Some things should be too sacred for politicking. I have no objections to Jonathan and the opposition playing politics with each other over the performance of the economy, the foreign reserves, the excess crude account, the “missing $20 billion” and what-not. They are politicians. They are jostling for the same position. That is the nature of politics. But Boko Haram? No. Never. We are talking about life and death here. It is beyond politicking.

What we need at this critical moment is a compassionate, patriotic and constructive conversation on the way forward. Terrorism is no child’s play. A cursory study of terrorism in countries such as Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq will reveal that it is not something to be toyed with. They’ve been battling it for decades. It is not a war you start tonight and finish tomorrow. Countries that are far more advanced than Nigeria in military, intelligence and technological capabilities ─ countries such as the US and the UK ─ have suffered heavy casualty and burnt billions of dollars fighting terror in unfamiliar terrains. Pakistan has superior military capability compared to Nigeria, but it has not comfortably tackled terrorism. Quenching terrorism is not the same thing as quelling a riot.

The reality is that we are in a long-drawn war and if we have no input into how we can win it, we don’t need to complicate things. The military chiefs should talk less and do more. The more they triumphantly announce that the days of Boko Haram are numbered, the more those guys keep coming at them. The war cannot be won on the pages of newspapers. The opposition must accept the fact that we need a Nigeria before they can even think of taking it over in 2015, so they must not see this as yet another opportunity for politicking. President Jonathan should know that the responsibility to secure the lives and property of Nigerians is his primary duty ─ more important than getting a second term in office.

For us ─ the onlookers ─ we should realise that all these political actors are temporary. The health of our country is in clear and present danger. We need to heal, not kill. We need to build, not destroy. That is why I find Tukur’s words instructive. I am more worried about my country than Jonathan and his opponents. As we say, “soja go, soja come but barrack remain.”

• Follow me on twitter @simonkolawole

And Four Other Things…

An angry Nigerian sent me an email last week over the centenary celebration. He was so angry that the celebration still went ahead despite the Yobe killings that he suggested an article with the title: “Our President Has Gone Mad!” I already expressed my opposition to the event on twitter. While we may not want to give Boko Haram the impression that they are succeeding in disrupting national life, the fact remains that the Yobe killings and the kidnapping of 20 young girls were a national tragedy. Postponing the celebration would have been an appropriate national mourning.

Despite my opposition to the centenary dinner, I was pleased to see in attendance two staunch opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan. I’m sure the supporters of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would not like it. However, my point is that we must separate national issues from partisan matters. Attending the event does not mean the two former heads of state will drop their opposition to Jonathan’s re-election bid. Anytime the two men boycott Council of State meetings, I usually don’t like it. It is not about Jonathan; it is about the progress of Nigeria. That’s my point.

The National Conference, which first seemed doomed to be “brought in dead”, is generating interest more than we expected. Initially derided as a tactic by President Jonathan to distract our attention from more important issues, the conference is now attracting credible participation from across the country. Some of the agenda that different groups are taking to the conference are looking very familiar. Nonetheless, I think the political actors are now realising that the politics of boycott is not always effective. You can only shape the discussion effectively if you participate. I still wonder, however, how binding the outcome will be.

Kudos to Uncle Taiwo Obe for the very successful summit on Functional Social Networking for Nigerian Journalists. It was supported by UBA Plc which also played host to the large gathering of journalists. There is no doubt that the media landscape has changed dramatically. Getting social media-savvy is no longer a choice but a necessity for journalists, except we want to be left behind. The era when we journalists had monopoly over reporting is over. There are still issues about ethics and professionalism as anarchy threatens the online landscape, but that is where the professionals will eventually make a difference.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday

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