By Lasisi Olagunju
Will there be elections next year? Across the 19 northern states, tell me, apart from certain parts of Kwara and Kogi, where else will people queue on Election Day in 2023 without wearing vests of steel? Senator Shehu Sani is one big man from the North who does not know how to keep quiet. On July 21, 2022, he wrote on the social media about the siege of bandits and terrorists: “No one is safe and no one is secure. Terrorists kidnap and kill at the time and place of their choice. They have razed villages and impoverished families through ransom payments. Terrorists have become a shadow government.” I find Sani’s choice of words, particularly terrorists becoming “shadow government” thought-provoking. Call it what Literature says it is: cryptocracy; secret government; hidden government; invisible government. The important thing is that what controls our country today is not what we voted for. A ‘shadow government’ is in charge. It is not the government you see; it is what its name says it is: a shadow. We are under a band in a shadow. Whose shadow? Who (or what) is in charge as we speak? Maybe I should reframe that question and ask in a more dangerous, audacious way: If Nigeria’s ragged bandits or its crude Boko Haram or its wily ISWAP or Ansaru demand that you stay off voting at elections next year, and the government counters the threat with an assurance of safety, between the two powers, who are you likely to believe and obey?
“Terrorism constitutes a real threat to democracy, the rule of law and the enjoyment of human rights,” says the Council of Europe. Do we still have a democracy? No. We have lost its key to violators of innocence. We’ve been told that terrorists who abduct for ransom collect hundreds of millions on their victims. Someone asked how these millions are delivered to the terrorists and what the receivers do with the money. They keep the cash. Where? They spend the money. On what? And how? They take millions and come out poor and haggard looking – like underpaid farm hands of heartless barons. Could they be just foot soldiers of some big men who do evil wearing veils of piety? We read yesterday that those who kidnapped two Nollywood stars in a south-eastern state last week are demanding dollars as ransom. Was that currency swap a prompt response to the free-fall of the naira? And who were the smart ‘economists’ in the forest who decided on the currency of the blood trade?
Nigeria’s entire size is 923,768 square kilometers. Out of that figure, northern Nigeria accounts for 660,000 square kilometers – more than two-thirds. And more than two-thirds of the North’s vast area is governed by terror and banditry. If you listen carefully to the voice of criminal silence in the North, you will hear orders issuing from the barrels of terrorism. Criminals make laws there and enforce them – and everyone, big and small, fall in line. There are snippets in the media on this to the discomfort of the government and the complicit elite. ‘Ansaru militants have taken over some Kaduna communities, banned political activities’ is the headline of a 27 June, 2022 story in Daily Trust. Ansaru is the de facto branch of Al-Qaeda in Nigeria. The Nigerian Tribune of 14 May, 2022 carried a similar report quoting the chairman of Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union, Ishaq Usman Kasai: “Ansaru members go to mosques in various communities in the area wearing military uniform, preaching and sharing pamphlets containing their ideology to congregations. It is our concern that many villagers are losing hope in government for protection against bandits and are beginning to develop interest in joining Ansaru so that they can live freely and do their businesses without fear in their communities.” So, who are the government in these places?
The Columbia Encyclopedia says government is “a system of social control under which the right to make laws, and the right to enforce them, is vested in a particular group in society.” I beg to apply that definition to what rules northern Nigeria. I also beg to submit that terrorists are the government there. I plead that I be allowed to warn that this may cover the whole nation unless a miracle happens very fast. I say so because we all can see that terror appears to have finished conquering the North; it now sweeps southwards – the Federal Capital Territory is the new theatre of fear. Twice, the homegrown terrorists attacked soldiers around Abuja last week and forced schools to close. They left all of us scampering for safety and wondering who is in charge. Abuja should not be a soft target; it is the physical representation of Nigeria’s awesomeness as a black power. But Abuja was assailed by terrorists and Nigeria’s integrity as a sovereign nation was violated by an enemy in purdah- unknown, unseen. If our federal capital was that vulnerable, you can imagine how puny the entire union is. The terrorists went for our army, playing snooker with its balls. Soldiers kill to live and are very hard targets. Tragically, they are now pop-up targets for some rag-tag felons who kill without borders in Nigeria. Bands and gangs who seek out, take on, and kill soldiers of a nation-state are not ordinary criminals. So, what should we call them and how should the government treat them? Or, rather, what should we call a government that is helpless and effete while terrorists run rings round it; ruin people’s lives, rule people’s homes and reign over people’s farms?
The Nigerian power elite, particularly those from the North, are a debauched, decadent lot. In all these, where are they? They are in Abuja marrying underage girls and dragging their obscenely oversized gowns from one meeting to another. Their villages may burn, what should not burst is the massive pipeline feeding their crude greed. And they are busy working hard on that. They want the world to believe that all is well in their zone of pain so that they can manufacture billions of votes from their factories of terror and stay in power till the end of the world. Today appears lost to the merchants of sorrow and death. Every Nigerian of goodwill, north to south, must separate the future of our lives from the tomorrow being designed by the enemy in power.
It is what one has that one uses to spoil one’s child. Do we apply this to those pampering terror with kid gloves? The elite and their government would rather hit the critic while carousing the criminal. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last week released a documentary that went deep into the war in (northern) Nigeria. The BBC spoke with victims of terror and with terrorists who claimed being victims. It showed rare footages of the ravaged remains of northern Nigeria. I watched the documentary and thought it is an excellent window into the causes and effects of the crises and a door that may lead to solutions. It is also a red flag, a warning to the South to dam the trouble. But the government said the BBC did not do well. It said the broadcasting house was wrong to have heard the bandits on why and how they became what they are and the way out of the mire of violence. Our government of cripples said it would punish the BBC for being that daring. We wait to see what it will do.
My people say the truthful always lacks a mat to sit or sleep on (olóòtó kìi l’éní). Every culture on every continent knows the taste of truth. They say it is bitter. Before the government’s anger came, there was an angrier outburst from top-rated journalist, Kadaria Ahmed. Her argument was exactly that of the government and you wonder on whose side the lady from Zamfara is. What was her point? The BBC glorified terror by speaking with terrorists. Was Osama bin Laden not interviewed by the western media? The media exists to squeeze out facts, organize and refine them for public consumption. Mexican drug lord, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman; his Colombian counterpart, Pablo Escobar; Pablo’s widow, Maria, were interviewed by the media of the free world for the benefit of history. There was a scramble from the west for interviews with Hitler whose coconut head exploded the Second World War bombs that killed an estimated forty to fifty million people. Kadaria’s curious intervention provided government the lead for the threat to punish the media for doing their work. Instead of shouting that hoarse over a great effort by the BBC in opening the lid of silence in northern Nigeria, Kadaria should have sweated more on forcing the government to do what it was voted to do. In a February 7, 2021 Daily Trust interview, Kadaria Ahmed said: “In my books, if you abdicate major responsibilities, you have to resign. It is not a job you do halfway. You can’t continue to enjoy the benefits of your office and say you are no longer the chief security officer when security is the biggest issue.” She was speaking then about a Zamfara State governor and government and the daily harvest of deaths there. She said she did a street protest because “at some point, there were more people dying in Zamfara than Borno, yet it was underreported…” She wanted awareness. Now, the BBC has provided the deepest insights into the problem and Kadaria is not happy. The BBC has shown us the ethno-economic complexities of the real issues destroying the North – and Nigeria. So, what is Kadaria’s problem? Except she is satisfied with the life her people now live, I do not see any point in her tirade against the media. I am shocked she is not yet in BBC’s office with a bouquet of gratitude. People around the lady should give her appropriate words to thank the BBC for helping her to explode the capsule of silence in that axis of evil.
We play politics and cower under the thorny thickets of terrorism. Everyone strong enough to do or say something to stop the killings looks away. They are part of this terror. Blood of the innocent may flow daily; presidential politicians keep scheming for advantage. They think that if they condemn those attacking us, their aspirations would lose the favour of those holding the yam and the knife. Therefore, they are quiet, silent and muted. But in vain they scheme. The country they want to rule is already being ruled by terror – and there can’t be two sovereigns on the throne same time; one must prevail, the other must yield its buttocks. Several soldiers were killed by terrorists last week. Did you hear a single word of sorrow, or sympathy or empathy or condemnation or indignation from your favourite politicians who want to be our Commander-in-Chief next year? If you did, I didn’t. They won’t talk because they possibly know what we do not know. They fear (or respect) the terrorists and their enablers who control the votes – and with their silence, they stab the Nigerian people. That is betrayal, cavalier, postdated. But all betrayals attract consequences. On 22 September, 1828, when Zulu king, Emperor Shaka, was dying from a brother’s stab, he told his assailant: “Hey brother! You kill me, thinking you will rule; you won’t; the swallows will do that.”