Saturday, April 18, 2015

Buhari: From Boko Haram to Boko Halal?

By Biko Agozin

In his April 14 2015 NYT Op Ed, General Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect of Nigeria, appears to respond to some of my comments on what I called Buhari’s Chatham House Silences. He is still silent on some other silences but his Op Ed is an indication that he has attentive speech writers around him ready to respond to current affairs on international media platforms. However, it would have been more appropriate for him to publish such policy opinions in the Nigerian media first and let foreign media outlets pick up the stories from there (as Professor Obi Nwakanma opined in his Orbit column for The Vanguard. In my earlier comment the very day he made the Chatham House campaign speech, I had this to say on my blog:

‘This sounds like a speech written by Tony Blair with emphasis on militarism as the solution to insecurity and to its 'causes', without acknowledging that militarism is a big part of the problem. Nowhere in Buhari's Chatham House speech today is there a single recognition of the importance of education even though Boko Haram poses its challenge primarily as an educational one! This contrasts with the speech of Azikiwe, Nigeria's first president, to the colonial Legislative Council sitting in Kaduna in 1948 in which he disagreed with those who spoke out against education on the assumption that educated children tend to be disobedient. And by education, is not meant only text-book education, important as that is in a country with mass illiteracy, 80% failure in high school exams and no university ranked among the top 1000 in the world. Buhari also said that Nigeria has never been as insecure as it is today except during the civil war. So the question arises, which candidate for president has the courage in leadership to apologize to Nigerians for the atrocities committed by the Nigerian state during the civil war and commit to pay reparations to the survivors of the war that cost us 3.1 million of some of our most industrious, creative and intellectual youth in 30 months of carnage supported by Britain and the Soviet Union and led by soldiers like Buhari? Without admitting the wrongs done against the Igbo and making amends, Nigeria will continue to send the message to groups like Boko Haram that the mass killing of our people and mass abduction of our young girls are heroic acts to be rewarded with ill-gotten gains. Making atonement and allowing the history to be taught in schools, building monuments to the victimized, allowing the flag of Biafra to be flown on private property without the risk of extra judicial killings that go on with impunity unabated, authorization of commemorative car license plates and holding re-enactments of the war to re-educate the people and to attract tourists (one of the things that Buhari promises to stimulate), will be part of the necessary political education to emphasize to Nigerians that never again will any government wake up and slap the buttocks of soldiers, then send them into a genocidal rampage against fellow Nigerians. The cooperation of the neighboring countries' armies in fighting Boko Haram should also have been acknowledged by Buhari and a visionary leadership should seek to rebuild the larger polity that Nnamdi Azikiwe attempted to build with his National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons.’

In his NYT Op Ed, Buhari maintains that he plans to ‘Stop Boko Haram’ terrorists with the force of the Nigerian military first before addressing the underlying causes of the terrorism - including poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. To accomplish the first task of stopping Boko Haram, he plans to renew the training of Nigerian soldiers by the US military that the out-going administration cancelled after the US curiously refused to sell weapons to the regime that could not guarantee not to use them to commit human rights violations. Buhari also promised to equip the military with the necessary weapons that corruption apparently denied the troops and to coordinate with neighboring countries to avoid each country pushing the terrorists beyond their borders into the borders of their neighbors, only to have to fight them again another day.

I caution the president-elect against over-confidence in militarism as the solution to terrorism in Nigeria. The most powerful military in the world, Pax Americana, is yet to defeat terrorism militarily in any country and the deployment of US military might tends to escalate rather than diminish terrorist threats around the world. This is probably because the war on terror inevitably destroys numerous innocent human beings that are called collateral damages, resulting in some of their sympathizers, friends and family vowing revenge for the killing of their innocent ones. As a result, a big part of the US war on terror relies on diplomacy and to a smaller extent, on amnesty for enemy combatants who have been freed from detention after many years of being held without trial and also for active combatants who are offered dialogue. General Buhari needs to revive the amnesty program that President Umaru Yaradua adopted and which President Jonathan used to help to disarm the Niger Delta militants. No one believes that militarism, no matter how powerful, is enough to defeat terrorism, nor that you need to stop Boko Haram first before addressing the roots.

The solutions to the second task of tackling the root causes of terrorism were not outlined in as much detail in his NYT Op Ed. Nor is there a clear indication that Buhari's speech writers understand that a major part of the root causes is the normalization of mass violence since the Igbo genocide in Biafra and that part of the solutions to the current terrorism is to openly apologize to the survivors of the Igbo genocide and offer them reasonable reparations, as I suggested in my comment on his Chatham House speech

Given that Igbophobia still thrives in the country as indicated by the cruel threat of a Muslim Yoruba chief to commit genocide against the Igbo in Lagos unless they voted for his chosen governorship candidate (a rationalization of xenophobia cited by Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini to justify his refusal to apologize for inciting mass violence against African 'foreigners' in South Africa), Buhari needs to address the Igbo problem urgently as part of the efforts to turn a new page in the country. Other ethnic groups that have suffered lesser historic wrongs in Nigeria have been offered reparations but the big Igbo elephant in the room continues to be ignored at the expense of Nigerians.

Furthermore, the problem of education and poverty, though more acute in the North East base of Boko Haram, is a nationwide problem that cries out for enormous allocation of resources across the country. If Buhari succeeds in eliminating illiteracy from all parts of Nigeria in the next four years (turning Boko Haram into Boko Halal, as Professor Ken Harrow suggested on USAfricadialogue news group moderated by Professor Toyin Falola); if he has the courage to apologize on behalf of Nigerians for the Igbo genocide and if he offers reparations to the survivors, authorizes the teaching of the history of the genocide in schools, and amends the constitutional amendment that Jonathan vetoed to allow the creation of the sixth state in the South East for geopolitical equity among the zones, his legacy will stand out in the history of Nigeria without a doubt. If he adopts militarism as his major strategy and succeeds in making matters worse as militarism tends to do, history will not be kind to him because this is his second chance to do the right thing for the suffering masses of Nigeria.

 Dr Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA.

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