By Simon Kolawole
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, I visited an uncle who has enormous interest in “the end times”. I often got into an argument with him. My point was that I was not interested in end times. I would tease him: “What is my business with 666, anti-Christ and mark of the beast? My worry is how well I am using my life today. Am I caring for the widows and orphans as it is expected of me? Am I preaching the gospel with diligence? That is what matters to me, not 666.” He would tell me not to be ignorant of the “devices of the devil” which could keep me from “understanding the times”. My conclusion was always that we had different interests.
On this particular day, he raised the eschatology topic again, referring to the attacks on the twin towers in New York by terrorists who hijacked airliners. He linked terrorism to a phase in “the end times”. Inevitably we had to discuss it. And inevitably, he got my attention this time. He connected the events to some biblical predictions on how the world would come to an end.
“The Third World War will not be conventional,” he declared, officially. “It will be asymmetrical. It will not be fought within defined territories as we saw in the first and the second world wars. It will be fought in virtually every country and continent. Terrorism is the Third World War. It has started already. It will not be a war between countries like before. It will be a war between terrorists and the rest of us. The war will be fought anywhere and everywhere.”
At the time my uncle said this 14 years ago, al-Qaeda was just gaining global recognition. There was no Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), or al-Shabab in Somalia, or Boko Haram in Nigeria as we know them today. There was no Islamic State, which today controls a territory of 10 million people and has franchises on different continents. If anybody had told me then that terrorism would find a space in Nigeria, that Nigerians would become suicide bombers in their own country, that pre-teen girls would be wired with bombs to blow up fellow Nigerians, and that motor parks would be targeted, I would never have believed. But here we are.
The November 13 attacks in Paris, targeting a stadium filled with 80,000 fans, is just another pointer to the unlimited imagination of terrorists. But for the heightened security as a result of the presence of the French president at the stadium, terrorists would have made their biggest haul in a single day. The 9/11 attacks recorded 2,996 deaths (including the 19 hijackers), which is still the highest in a single event. The Stade de France would have recorded double or triple that figure, not just from the explosions that would most probably have made the terraces collapse, but also from the inevitable stampede. And then 21 people were killed in a hotel in Mali on Friday. Such evil machinations!
The Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt over the Sinai Peninsula in October was brought down with an improvised bomb, killing all 224 people on board. The Islamic State claimed responsibility and later revealed that it used a can of Schweppes Gold soft drink. The can had a detonator and a switch: three simple components. It was successfully smuggled into the aircraft, perhaps in a checked-in bag. How did it pass through security undetected? We are yet to be told. Maybe the scanning equipment failed to detect the material. Or maybe an airport official is sympathetic to the Islamic State. Such machination! Now that should be scary.
Back home in Nigeria, little girls wearing hijab have sent hundreds of people to their deaths at mosques. How do you stop that? Are you going to be banning girls in hijab from entering the mosque? Even if you do, are there no other ways the terrorists can gain access? We have seen the terrorists attack markets again and again, which shows their thinking. The moment these guys gained knowledge of how to make improvised bombs, our vulnerability became exposed. They can just assemble the device inside their toilet or kitchen and go to the next market or motor park to strike. We are at their mercy. Even the best of security agencies will be stretched.
Could we have contained Boko Haram before they went out of hand? That is a massive question. Truth be told: we never imagined they would be this big. We initially thought they were a bunch of religious zealots who could be tamed by the police. They were visible. We knew them by name and by face. Worshippers trooped to their mosques to listen to their messages. When the police cracked down on them, we rejoiced thinking it was going to be over in a moment. But it was just the beginning. They would soon get affiliated to al-Qaeda, and they would soon be wearing suicide vests and kidnapping girls and stoning “infidels” to death.
The political competition in the land since 2010 did not help matters — and Boko Haram quietly consolidated and became a formidable force. To the PDP-led government, it was fashionable to link Boko Haram to the opposition party, treating it as a creation designed to destabilise the government of President Goodluck Jonathan and get him out of power. To the APC, it was an opportunity to celebrate how incompetent Jonathan was, and why APC should be elected into power. The PDP and APC saw an opportunity to play games while thousands of Nigerians were being bombed and millions were being displaced from their homes and farmlands. And so, here we are.
While all this was going on, some of us kept warning that Boko Haram should not be politicised. I consistently argued that we needed a common front against the enemy, that the PDP government had the duty to secure lives and property no matter who was behind Boko Haram, and that the APC could play politics with some other issues and leave Boko Haram out of it. But, of course, the way public debate goes in Nigeria is that you must continue to say one side is a saint and the other side is a devil. The common interest, the national interest, hardly forms the basis of our thoughts. Everything has to be debated on the basis of ethnic, religious or political sentiments.
The reality today, however, is that we are fighting a war that will continue to consume innocent lives no matter who is in power — APC or PDP. With nearly six months of the APC government, we are still at the mercy of Boko Haram. Indeed, there are two aspects to Boko Haram — terrorism and insurgency. We can crush the insurgency and secure our territory. But the terrorism aspect — the hit-and-run, the targeting of soft spots like religious gatherings, markets, motor parks and IDP camps — is not a war to be won easily. That is the reality we have found ourselves. With the renewed attacks on Kano and Yola, terrorism is obviously far from being over yet!
When Saddam Hussein said in 1990 that the Gulf War was going to be the Mother of All Wars, he might not have understood the ramifications of his own pronouncement.
He probably had territorial wars in mind, but terrorism has turned out to be the most common. I never for once thought Nigeria would be sucked in, but here we are. Since 1990, many wars have been born and are still being born. Terrorism has been with us for ages but it has now become the most common warfare strategy. Every country is vulnerable, no matter the religious configuration. It seems we have entered an era in human history that will reshape politics, religion and the international order forever.
The Islamic State — to which a faction of Boko Haram has claimed allegiance — seeks to establish a caliphate around the world. Everybody is their enemy. A Muslim who does not subscribe to barbarism is not better than an infidel who is only fit to die. They claim religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. They are loaded with cash. They are loaded with evil ideas. It is indeed a phase in human history, and we do not know how this war will end yet, or what will come up next. The whole world must unite to find a solution, to incapacitate terror. We cannot afford to surrender. Evil must never overcome good.
And four other things
Buhari has sent a supplementary bill to the national assembly to pay marketers N413 billion in fuel subsidy arrears. By December 31, the total bill for 2015 alone may be close to N1trillion, adding what the previous administration also paid. Can you imagine what else N1trilliom could have fixed? Roads? Hospitals? Schools? Water? And you know what? People are buying fuel for as much as N200 — as against the subsidised price of N87 — in many parts of the country despite Buhari’s “body language”. And these marketers will still file for subsidy claims later — and we will pay them again. Dumbfounding.
I was shocked to learn that President Muhammadu Buhari had issued an order that Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser, should be arrested over the interim report of a committee probing the purchase of arms since 2007. While the government must do everything to punish the culprits, there are institutional ways of doing that. My advice would be that everything should be done fairly, transparently and legally. Buhari can still get the same result by sticking to his constitutional powers. One wrong step and the whole anti-corruption war will become discredited. A presidential arrest order in a democracy? Worrisome.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, on Tuesday issued a fascist order that fuel hoarded by filling stations should be sold free of charge by DPR. Under what laws, if I may ask? There is a process for dealing with infractions by marketers; selling the fuel free of charge is not one of the prescribed punishments. Is Kachikwu, a lawyer who should know better, trying to please President Buhari by “talking tough”? Are we entering an era of military-like proclamations in a democracy? I hope government officials will not start gaming Buhari over this anti-corruption war. Dangerous.
Federal lawmakers have started doing what they know best — summoning people and institutions to appear before them at the slightest provocation. Only God knows how many times Diezani Alison-Madueke and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala were summoned in the last administration — and can anyone remember the outcome please? What was the outcome of the probes into subsidy scam, the $16 billion power sector expenditure and the $20 billion “missing money”? Anyone please? Now they are summoning the IG, summoning British embassy, summons, summons, summons, when committees could simply have handled these matters by themselves. Are there no urgent issues to discuss again? Disgusting.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole/Thisday