In January 2014, The Sultan of Sokoto under the aegis of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council (NTRC) decried the mass redeployment of arms by President Jonathan from the north to the south allegedly for the purpose of rigging the 2015 elections. The NTRC used election rigging as cover for its real worry of course. For the north, it has always been about power. The redeployment of arms was somewhat of a last straw in their perceived continuing enervation of the north. Is the NTRC and its four “eminent prominence”; the Sultan of Sokoto, Emir of Kano, Emir of Zazzau, and the Shehu of Borno to be blamed for the ongoing insecurity in Nigeria? Not directly. However, it is likely they do not empathize with President Jonathan’s predicament.
Above all, the NTRC and its subjects don’t believe the President has it in him to do whatever it takes to assert his authority. Any such person (whoever it is) is to them not worthy of their respect. President Obasanjo was a southerner but he was feared. The former President had acquired a reputation for being wily, vindictive and having an almost maniacal bent for following through. Former President Obasanjo would see the end of his enemies or die trying (the supposed rapprochement between Tinubu, Atiku and the former President reminds one of: “I dey laugh o”). If the “eminent prominence” believed President Jonathan would sanction, suspend, or dethrone them when he threatens that they should do more to fight terrorism or face his wrath, they would jump and do the needful. But they don’t believe he has the mettle to do so much as look them in the eye sometimes. When a President’s bluff is called, the long term consequences are lost lives. The body count from the Boko Haram crisis is evidence of this. Need we even look for international examples. President Obama’s refusal to strike Syria is now costing the U.S in the Ukraine. Never mind the long-term perception that has now been created about a black president not having the strength to push the button. The U.S and its president is not the focus here, however, albeit the internationalisation of the Boko Haram crisis has a strong link to the strategic shift by the United States from dependence on Middle Eastern oil to that in the Gulf of Guinea and the militarisation of its neo-liberalism in Africa.
From the point of strategy, the Boko Haram and insecurity crisis in Nigeria can be dimensioned along the lines of those who benefit and those whose fortunes are eroded as a result. Nothing complex. President Jonathan is the target and the Nigerian peoples are just collateral damage. And the occasional attack on a member of the NTRC is just that; strategy! It is a pity how docile and passive Nigerians can be. To quote Richard Dowden in his book “Africa – Altered States, Ordinary Miracles”;
“For outsiders, the passivity of Africans in the face of appalling oppression was depressing…In Nigeria more than 100 million people were ruled for twenty-nine years by an army officially 70,000 strong, of which probably only two-thirds were effective. That meant only 1 soldier for more than 2,000 Nigerians. And yet in all that time there was not one popular democratic movement of significance”. Dowden (2009, 81).
Whether Boko Haram has been internationalised by Al Qaeda elements is secondary. There is a global effort to deal with that dimension of terrorism and the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOMM) is well-placed to help when needed. But since the threat has largely been in the north where there is no oil, AFRICOMM is not incentivized to intervene. The local dimension of the terrorist threat, however, is within our government’s capacity to handle. However, the key element of the crisis, intelligence, requires the full support of its citizens; especially those in Northeastern Nigeria. Terrorism has never thrived anywhere without local support. Terrorists eat, sleep, have sex, call their families; bloody heck, they are not spirits!
The north, however, has a culture of silence. Hausa/Fulanis do not reveal their true sentiments to outsiders. It is a close-knit society. That is why the traditional rulers are so powerful. Their networks are far-reaching. They have district heads (“Hakimis”), sub-district heads, and “Mai Ungwas” (leaders of community blocks; sometimes just five to ten houses). The NTRC could just as well be tagged Nigeria’s “National Security Agency”. Incidentally, Nigeria’s Defence Minister, General Gusau is well aware of this. He is afterall one of the two surviving custodians of the north’s mythic military establishment. But is he likely to want the Boko Haram crisis to completely go away? Like former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida, the NTRC, and the other members of the northern elite, General Gusau wants power to return to the north. If the APC muslim-muslim ticket (which is foolish by the way, just take a look at the Central African Republic) fails, the north may get desperate.
There is also the dimension about honour. President Jonathan likely promised to serve only one term. Politicians renege on agreements all the time. However, when they do, they make it difficult for future conflicts to be resolved peacefully. Those who renege on promises are not people of soft mettle, however. History is replete with the triumph of the ruthless over the mindless. President Jonathan has been mindless and we are paying for it in lives. If he is going to renege on his promise to the power brokers of the north, at least he should have it in him to be ruthless. And that means a no holds barred and irreverent assault on all those who directly or indirectly allow the killings of the people he swore to protect. President Jonathan should do the needful or get the heck out!