JA Control Panle

Peoples Daily

Home Columnist Wednesday Columnist The changing pigment of Nigeria (1)

The changing pigment of Nigeria (1)

E-mail Print PDF

Musings by Garba Shehu

The Economist did a report on bearded men and the suspicion they aroused in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York.
A man who wore the look of a Muslim ate at a restaurant inside the busy Heathrow, London Airport. He kept a constant eye on his wristwatch. Was it anxiety about his impending flight that made him keep glancing at the time piece? He alone knew his reasons. But his fixation with the wristwatch could not escape the attention of other patrons who had equally come to eat. Someone apparently had hinted someone, and the word then began to go round that the bearded man wearing trousers above the knee may have set up a "time bomb" and was watching out as its time ticked away. From then, and one after the other, everyone sneaked out of the restaurant leaving just one man - the guy watching over the wristwatch. The restauranteur took notice of the desertion by all of the eatery and he too got the hint that it was all about the suspicions the customers had of this man. It was at this point that they walked up to him and asked him to leave.
That period was one that was most difficult for bearers of Muslim names on international travel. From time to time, announcements came on the public address systems at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York, Heathrow in London and Frankfurt in Germany calling out names like "Mohammed El-Amin" or "Faruk Ahmed" and asking that they report at airport information counter for something "important." Usually, they were subjected to further screening. Recently, despite proper identification, two Muslim clerics were forced off a U.S-bound flight. That is the extent Muslim names and physical features inspire fear or suspicion.
The dark clouds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious prejudice had been with us for a long time in this country; so they are not new. For example, no popular comedian does well with captive audiences without play-acting the Hausa in their silliness and greed for power; the Igbo in their insatiable love for money and the Yoruba in their selfishness and cunning. But the advent of terrorism and in particular the Boko Haram has been bringing out the worst kind of racism and ethnicism with others and within us. Many were shocked to read the opinion of a political leader from the South-South, a man with previous claims to nationalist credentials, asking that Nigerians of Southern extraction be issued new travel passports so that outside the country, others would make the easy distinction between the terrorism suspects (read Northerners) and those that are not.
Lately, I have heard many stories of passengers shunning taxis in Abuja driven by bearded Muslims, in the fear that they could be Boko Haram who, it is feared, has possible links to several bombing incidents which are becoming a phenomenon in the country.
I am not sure I understood how panicky many have become about the Boko Haram until I heard the story of my friend, M.J. Abubakar, the immediate past Commissioner of Police in Borno which, as the reader knows very well, is the home base of the Boko Haram. Being one of the police's finest officers and an effective one at that, Abubakar was sent to Borno by a proud Inspector General who felt that the challenge of policing Borno required the extra-ordinary talent, training and courage of this outstanding police commissioner. Abubakar answered the call and discharged his office as best as anyone could. A few months ago, they asked him to proceed to Jigawa state as Commissioner. Shortly before he took up the new post, Emirs in Jigawa met and resolved to advise the Governor to reject the new Police Commissioner coming from Borno, saying that they feared that Boko Haram might trail him to their peaceful state. As I write, Abubakar is serving as the Police Commissioner responsible for Imo state in far away Eastern Nigeria. It is indeed interesting that Jigawa, once a part of Kano, would deny a Kano man as Commissioner of Police. In the case of the lower cadre policemen, the ones who come face to face with the insurgent forces on the streets, the fear of the Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom. A few weeks ago, the press was awash with reports of the protest some 84 of these men took to the Police Headquarters in Lagos, saying that they were prepared to leave the force rather than proceed to Bauchi and Borno on posting. This is an irony because Police and the Customs used to covet posting to Borno. They got to Borno to become rich because of the illegal cross-border trade prevalent in the state.
Someone witnessed a drama at a checkpoint somewhere in Borno between Potiskum and Maiduguri. The policemen on duty, looking emphatic and officious, barked out orders in blood-curdling baritone as they sniffed into a commercial van for Boko Haram. As their red eyes scanned each individual passenger, the radiance of fear written on their own faces was discernible. A passenger with a wry sense of humour announced to them that Boko Haram were in the bus they just overtook and would shortly be at that check point. With no further ado, all the policemen scrambled into the bus and asked the driver to "fly" if he could before anyone caught up with them. The checkpoint was momentarily abandoned.
The changing pigment of our society, no thanks to Boko Haram, reflects on the judiciary as well. As reported by the popular press, Federal High Court judges in Abuja had initially declined to come forward to try Boko Haram suspects for fear of dear life. Quoting a source in the secret service, the SSS operative painted the picture at that time when he said "we are at a crossroads now on what to do with the suspects. This is because as much as we are aware that the public is expecting us to begin their trial, coupled with the constitutional protection enjoyed by accused persons against indefinite detention, judges are not helping matters because none, for now, wants to take up their case."
Fear is a tactical weapon employed by many terrorist organizations. They use fear to target public opinion because they cannot defeat the system without changing public opinion. On Al-Qaeda's agenda, they want western public opinion to swing against their governments and force acknowledgement of the perceived injustice done to them. Control of public opinion is strategically important for many terrorist organizations. They need public sympathy for their cause by spread of fear through evident attack. The call for dialogue with Boko Haram is part of the strategy.
A second observation is that there is no substitute to a well-equipped, fully mobilised and well-motivated security service in combating crimes and that includes terrorism. The habit of crime is never, never defined either by tribal marks on our faces, by ethnicity, religion or nationality. There are good people and there are bad people in all groups, societies and nations. To this extent, the confused zeal with which the Immigration Service has embarked upon a blatantly punitive deportation of citizens of neighbouring countries, in disregard of the ECOWAS charter is a bad joke for them, but a worse joke on Nigeria as a regional leader.
Among these deportees are the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri, who live on both sides of the border as do the Yoruba across the border with Benin. In their daily interactions, these people pay little attention to what country they are in. In any case, these are borders drawn using longitude and latitude by European colonisers in 1888 at a Berlin conference called to portion out Africa like a melon.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Collective guilt feeling working in favour of Boko Haram
written by Onitire Okafor, October 05, 2011
Interesting article by Mallam Garba. A fair appraisal of the Boko Haram phenomenon must of necessity go back to the genesis of the sect and especially the high handedness and criminal impunity with which rogue agents of the Nigerian State like the police, the SSS, the army and the judiciary, to some extent, delt with members of the sect. There is enough guilt to go around: From the unwarranted harassment of the latter to the extra-judicial killings of the sect's leaders and followers by the police and the active connivance of the judiciary which looked the other way and the executive arm of the federal government which had ordered the crackdown on the sect in the first place. Also, a lot of the traditional rulers in the far-North and much of the established Islamist clergy - collaborators of corrupt leaders in government - have severally expressed open and often irrational hostility to the emergence of the sect for some time now. At the beginning, Boko Haram was an innocuous religious association whose members hold unconventional views - an act that is still allowed under the Nigerian constitution. . The criminal and violent persecution of Boko Haram by the State was the trigger for their radicalization and eventually their justified sense of martyrdom. Remember, most citizens were not overly bothered as long as Boko Haram limited their reprisal attacks on violent agents of state terror like the police, the SSS, the army and even the corrupt judiciary. Most Nigerians today have no confidence in established authority which is seen as rotten to the core, as more than ten times being afar greater threat to the welfare of the average citizen than the Boko Haram.

Write comment




Theories of BH(2) - Northern troubles

Weather Report

Abuja - Nigeria : Weather forecast
Weather Provided by weatherforecast

Today's Front Page

Find & Follows Us

Find us on facebook
Follow us on twitter