The Nigerian Nation And The Gathering Dangers

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Jan 10th, 2012

Summary: On December 25, 2011, well-coordinated bomb explosions occurred in three Nigerian cities. Boko Haram claimed responsibility. On December 31, the President of Nigeria responded by declaring state of emergency in some places. On January 1, 2012, Nigerian Government announced the removal of subsidies on fuel right in the middle of raging national debates and controversies over the subsidy regime. There is a
strong connection between these three events and they portend trouble for Nigeria. As of this date, it is fair and reasonable to say that President Jonathan seems to have nearly lost all grips on leadership. The options for avoiding a complete failure of the state and the monumental humanitarian crisis that would follow are running out fast.

Main: When Boko Haram, the militant Islamic sect, which has been seeking for the total shariarization of Nigeria, took credit for the bomb explosions on December 25, it marked yet a new level of escalation of the crisis of confidence in the nature and character of the Nigerian state. Boko Haram’s choice of timing and target selection were most strategic. The choice of a church and the Christmas day cannot be lost on the Nigerian public. The choice of State Security Service offices for attack is equally instructive. And the choice of Jos, given that city’s recent history of religious violence and the consequential militarization of that area, is also striking in its significance.

For Boko Haram, the Christmas Day attacks demonstrated heightened levels of effectiveness and capabilities. It could now strike at any place in Nigeria and at any time of its choosing. The police and the military have been unable to stop it. In fact, key state security installations have been successful targets recently. The introduction of suicide delivery system for their weapons defies all security and defensive protocols known to Nigerian forces. The pervasive acts of corruption in the country, coupled with deeply-entrenched religious and ethnic conflicts mean that a van laden with bombs, and driven by a suicide striker from Niger State to Lagos would probably get to its target unstopped. The dawning of this reality upon Nigerians has led inevitably to a certain degree of paralyzing fears both for the Government and the ordinary citizen. The Government had warned the public to be careful visiting places such as pubs and restaurants. Now, it finds itself warning the citizens to be careful how they visit places of worship.

Boko Haram’s ability to attack; days after it urged Southern Christians to leave the North, days after the President imposed his brand of state of emergency, and days after the Police Chief advised the people to ignore such threats; is a telling demonstration that the Nigerian authority had lost touch with the situation on the ground. One thing so difficult to ignore is the apparent equivocation and insistency on the part of the government. At once the President would describe the menace in grave terms, such as in his remark on December 31, 2011, thus: the attacks “have threatened our collective security and shaken the foundations of our corporate existence as a nation.” Yet, the same President would fail to match this assessment with the requisite practical measures to deal with it. If there is a credible threat to “our corporate existence as a nation”, the President should then act with that level of totality of response that would save the nation. A threat to the existence of the Nigerian state ought to be viewed as the highest conceivable threat requiring of every effort the government could muster. But that has not been the case.

Along the lines of the President’s thoughts, there are widening discussions that touch upon the disintegration of Nigeria. Many Nigerians now ask whether Nigeria could remain one country or whether alternative possibilities would be preferable. Such questions could be taken at multiple levels of analysis. At one level, one could be view the questions as mark of frustration at the inability of the government to contain, prevent or preempt Boko Haram. At yet another level, there is a more informed, but equally alarming, concern about the failure of politics in Nigeria, which lies at the root of the crisis. But regardless of where one stands on this debate, one thing is clear. There ought to be a better way to break up a country than another civil war or more genocide.

As Christians are being advised by leadership of CAN to “prepare to protect themselves” against the continued terrorist attacks from presumed members of Boko Haram, and as Southerners in the North and Northerners in the South begin to return to their respective indigenous regions, those who could recall the 60s are noting the several similarities with deepening concerns. No one has done this better than the President himself. On January 8, 2012, at a church event, of all places, the President shocked the world by admitting that he believed Boko Haram had infiltrated all departments of government and even the nation’s security forces. This was after blaming those attacks on his political opponents like Buhari, Babangida, Atiku, etc.

There are many problems. First, it is unprecedented for a President to make such an admission in such a manner. Second, no single person in the security forces, or in the judiciary or in the executive arm of the government has been arrested or prosecuted for involvement in these attacks. Yet, the President reveals that he knew them to exist. Thirdly, it is even more troubling because it is likely to be the truth of the matter that the President suspects his closest allies of being behind the bombings. Indeed, the day the President failed to show up at the Eagle Square for the national day events (October 1) after Boko Haram threatened him, it became clear to many that the President did not trust his own security personnel. The case of Anwar Sadat must have been in his mind since that moment. It might not be a coincidence that the President would seek the help of private Israeli security firm for his protection. But to make such a public admission amounted to conceding defeat to Boko Haram.

At this point, the manner, method and message of Boko Haram are no longer in doubt. The gathering and grave dangers are no longer a secret. The only remaining questions have to do with the kind of response that the Government has been capable of, and the implications thereof. There was a two-pronged question of how the Government would respond to punish Boko Haram and how it would respond to prevent the future threats. Many who have watched as the Government failed repeatedly to stop Boko Haram are rapidly losing confidence in the Government. Even such a thing as the standard, but logical, politician-like maneuver to give an impression of a response has not come. One would have expected the President to change the headship of key security agencies. A more serious response could be some reorganization of the agencies themselves and some tactical, if not strategic victories over Boko Haram. None of these has been seen.

The declaration of State of Emergency on December 31, 2011, in some places in the North East was a disaster of multiple dimensions. Many believed this must be the much-awaited response to Boko Haram. But that could not have been the case. The President seemed to have other things in his mind for declaring the state of emergency. First and foremost, a state of emergency is a matter of constitutional due process or constitutional law procedure, and not much of security or military operational protocol. The basic meaning of a state of emergency is based on the recognition that there could be situations where certain orderly operation of some constitutional provisions will not be possible. Two aspects of the constitution that come into view in situations such as what we face with Boko Haram are in relation to certain constitutional freedoms and the powers of a state government in a federal setting. Such individual freedoms as the freedom of movement, assembly, due process, etc are directly impacted each time the soldiers or the police are given power to impose curfew and to search a person without warrant. State of emergency is the process through which such freedoms or other parts of the constitution could be validly suspended according to necessity. Without following the declaration of state of emergency protocol, everybody affected by these curfews or searches could validly be entitled to remedy against the state for violation of his constitutional rights. That is the main purpose of state of emergency – to pre-empt need to be constrained by the constitutional grants of rights in a crisis situation.

Everyone who has watched carefully events in Nigeria since last summer would know that Nigerian solders have been deployed in the cities of some Northern States since August of last year. Those solders had exercised and applied emergency measures, but without a declaration of emergency by the President. In the face of the unlawful nature of such military exercise in the absence of a state of emergency, this writer, in a separate article, warned of the dangers of military deployment without the sound legal basis and urged the President of Nigeria to declare a state of emergency without further delay. To wait until after the military campaigns had clearly failed to deter Boko Haram before declaring emergency is a major political blunder by President Jonathan. You cannot use a state of emergency to retroactively rationalize manifest blunders and failures. It is like placing the cart before the horse. Also, it is clear that the piecemeal fashion in which the emergency was territorially defined was totally inconsistent with the nature and operational methodology used by Boko Haram. The question then becomes; what is the real intention of the Government behind the declaration of state of emergency on December 31, 2011?

As if this Government did not have enough problems in its hands already, it announced on January 1, 2012 the removal of subsidies on fuel. This understandably controversial policy has, within days of the announcement, embroiled the Nigerian society in mass protests, in ways now likely to bring the regime of President Jonathan to an untimely and unpredictable end. It is now clear that this administration did not think it through or have a full understanding of the ramifications of the removal of fuel subsidies. This failure is so readily abundant in the manner in which the top officials have responded to the crisis in the past week. The following are observable instances of this failure to understand or articulate the issues involved:

First, the officials have presented their argument on the subsidies removal from the opportunity cost point of view only. They maintain that the subsidy regime is unsustainable and that stopping it would be necessary in order to save revenues that could be applied elsewhere. So much energy has gone into this line of argument. However, that doesn’t seem to be the central issue. Their argument is like a surgeon who decides to conduct a necessary surgery without anesthesia. To every plea for him to minimize the pain of surgery, the doctor responds by pointing out that the patient would die if the surgery were not done. The question is rather one of how best to go about implementing a necessary policy, rather than the necessity of the policy itself. It is rather disappointing that the Government failed to focus on the how question, and remained solely on the whether-or-not question. There ought to have been a better way to handle the subsidies removal with minimum pain and suffering and disruptions.

Secondly, the arguments of the Central Bank Governor and that of the Minister of Finance in the past week as shown in the respective articles they wrote have equally revealed a palpable failure to understand and articulate the issues. On his part, the Central Bank Governor wrote a piece in which he sounded more like a labor leader or a social critic, pointing out how corruption had marred the subsidy regime. But throughout his lengthy argument, he could not point at any measures taken by the Government to tackle the officials he has identified to engage in corruption. The nagging question, really, is that the corrupt practices that the Central Bank Governor drummed against could not have occurred without the connivance of his men in the banking industry. And he could not point at any measures he had ever taken within that industry to cub the same corruption. Also, as a top official of the Government, he could not point at any investigation he had initiated or referred to the Attorney General in respect of individuals he suspected of being corrupt in the oil industry. What the Central Bank Governor did not realize is that his argument actually supported those opposed to the removal of subsidies. Those who oppose are saying that they could not trust the Government, and the Central Bank Governor is giving them examples of how Government failed in the past. So, rather than using his argumentation to support subsidy removal, this key government official has supplied the opponents additional reasons for adamant opposition.

In similar vein, the Finance Minister, who also goes by the queer term, “Coordinating Minister for the Economy” and hence the poster-lady for the economic failures of this administration, has tried to point at corruption as the reason for withdrawing the subsidies. However, despite the tremendous opportunity she has had to do something to curtail public corruption in this area, she cannot point at even one case of corruption that she has solved or any measure she has taken specifically to curtail corruption. Indeed, the corrupt officials that she refers to are all in tact in their various positions living and moving above the law. Her argument amounts to having the common man pay for the corruption committed by Government officials and their wealthy friends in the private sector. That is why nobody trusts the Government on this.

Also, it is clear that the Government failed to understand the effects of 250% increase in the price of an essential commodity. There is nowhere in the world where such price increase would not bring down the government, with the possible exception of dictatorial regimes. For the Government to fail to appreciate the political implications of its manner of ending of the subsidy regime, it shows a gross incompetence on the part of those who were charged with leadership. It seems that they are just finding out the effects only after the act. The desperate manner in which the government is trying out remedial measures such as setting up committees and talking with the Association of Road Transport Workers all show the lack of advance thinking. Soyinka was right: those palliatives ought to have been in place prior to withdrawing of subsidies.

From all indications, President Jonathan and his top advisors are increasingly being isolated. The House of Representative has in an extraordinary session requested the President to reverse the subsidy removal. This is basically a way of distancing themselves from this unpopular policy and this presidency. And it could mean worse. If the President refuses to go along with the House, the House may commence impeachment proceedings against him soon. Such move could only exacerbate the tensions in the land. The Senate would probably not go along with impeachment, especially because everyone knows that removing Jonathan by impeachment would lead to the Vice President, a northerner, becoming the President, unless both are impeached at once. That is not good enough either because the next in line of succession would still be from the North. And this is the same legislature that could not utter the word, impeachment, during the tough days of Yar’Adua. The removal of the President is more than the end of the leadership of the President. But this is where the ultimate danger lies.

If the political situation in Nigeria remains unresolved in the next one week, Jonathan could become an intolerable burden to the Washington consensus, and there are credible grounds to believe that the Nigerian army could take over power at such point. It must be noted that the concern of the military will not be primarily over the fuel subsidy controversy. Rather, the fragile security situation in the country – the growing successes of Boko Haram, the threats of ethnic and religious bloody confrontations and the ultimate disintegration of the country. In these circumstances, Jonathan’s failure will trigger a major threat to the corporate existence of the nation. And that is hardly going to go down well with the military establishment. Hence the army could strike and there would be no question of the international community resisting such development, as there would have been no alternatives in avoiding a Somalia-type crisis.

What should Jonathan do now to stabilize the situation and maintain power? First, he has to immediately reconsider his position on the fuel subsidy question. At the same time, he must try to regain some credibility with Nigerians. This he may do by firing his top advisers, particularly those who led him to the present point in the fuel subsidy crisis and those at the helm of security who are seen to have failed to tackle Boko Haram. Without some fast-thinking on the part of the regime, the world must prepare for the type of escalation of crisis that have not been seen since the beginning of Somalia’s failure as a state.

Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire

Washington, DC.


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