Violence, mass murder, abductions, hate, sex slavery and other crimes against humanity are killing Nigeria while the governing class watch with a sense of helplessness, fear, foreboding and paralysis.
The class in power from the local government level to the presidency remains focused on stealing the national wealth and self-aggrandisement. The people look on in disgust wondering why they have rulers they certainly do not deserve. Religious leaders continue their profession of extracting money from their poor followers. Very few are engaged in the necessary struggle of stopping the violence and saving and rebuilding Nigeria. As Yemi Adamolekun and her young comrades in the Coalition say; “Enough is Enough”.
For Nigeria to survive, we must change our attitude and approach and start working together to build the type of society we deserve, a peaceful society led by committed leadership focused on development and the promotion of the welfare of the people. It’s possible.
It has been a terrible week for Nigeria. The Monday bomb blast in Abuja killed over a hundred people. This was quickly followed by the attack on the Government Girls’ Secondary Chibok, in Borno State where over a hundred girls; students preparing for their examinations were kidnapped and taken away in a convoy of vehicles. The same week, two traditional rulers in the same Borno State were assassinated. All these were repetitions of action taken earlier aimed at indiscriminately killing the people, destroying social cohesion, disrupting and eventually destroying the educational system and creating a regime of arbitrariness and terror where a few zealots will dictate to us how we worship our God and live our lives.
The bulk of these atrocities are directed at the poorest fringes of our society but without doubt, we are all targets and we must ask ourselves why we want to remain sitting ducks.
Meanwhile, our leading political figures in the PDP and APC spent the week engaged in a silly quarrel and blame game on whether invitations to a to discuss the deteriorating security situation had been sent or received or subverted. It degenerated into crude insults and name calling with government leaders at the federal level and in opposition states accused each other of being terrorists and mass murderers.
Such irresponsible and insensitive action is very disrespectful of Nigerians who are suffering from the disappearance of public safety in the land. As the editorial of Thisday yesterday argued powerfully; “By playing politics with the tragedy at a time they ought to have come together to soothe a grieving and concerned nation, and find lasting solutions to the knotty challenges posed by the terrorists, our politicians may have inadvertently played into the hands of the insurgents. In most countries of the world, both the ruling and opposition parties rally in times of disasters such as terrorists attacks, for the greater good of citizens.”
Our leaders are clearly not sufficiently visionary to see that what is at stake is the continued survival of all of us, and that when things fall apart completely, they too and their relations and acquisitions would not be safe.
I have argued previously in this column that Nigeria has lacked in its recent history is a leadership with a vision and a sense of enlightened self-interest. The idea of enlightened self-interest is simple, by serving the common good of society, the leadership serves their own interest of getting legitimacy, respect and even the material gains they seek. The alternative approach is approaching leadership on the basis of greed and myopic selfishness.
This approach has negative consequences as the whole community suffers loss as a result of conflict and its impact, as well as decreased efficiency and productivity. The result is costly for the community as a whole as each individual seeks to provide for their own protection without success. A few greedy leaders and their cronies make enormous personal gain to satisfy personal greed but the majority of the members of the community experience net personal loss.
On 18th March, the National Security Adviser Mohammad Sambo Dasuki announced Nigeria’s new soft approach to countering terrorism, which includes adopting a means of de-radicalising extremists and stopping others from being radicalised. It’s a well-conceived and comprehensive strategy and my first thought was why did it take so long to emerge. We however cannot afford the luxury of what could have been had this strategy been developed and implemented over the past three years. What is important is to get on with it.
The NSA explained that the core of the strategy is a “Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)” programme. It’s soft because it is focused on working closely with all tiers of government, traditional, religious, civil society and community leaders in stopping radicalization. It plans to use existing structures within and outside government to deliver targeted programmes and activities that further the overall goal of stemming the tide of radicalization and through families, communities, faith based organizations build resilience to violent extremism.
The central idea is that if religious and community leaders properly educate their followers that religion is totally against the indiscriminate killing of people, we will be on the path to more peaceful relations.
As we are however already in an insurgency, they have the even more important task of countering the radical ideology of the insurgents and exposing those in their communities who are involved in atrocities. This would require trust and a high sense of responsibility among all stakeholders – governments, security agencies, communities and religious leaders. The badly scripted drama we saw last week was clearly an attempt to make this impossible. And yet, we must not give up.
We must strive to continue the efforts to recover our country from extremists. The issues before us are bigger than President Jonathan, they are bigger than APC governors.
Our political leaders must change their ways and show a greater commitment to good governance by tackling the underlying economic, social and political drivers of radicalisation and the insurgency. Even more important, government and opposition must show greater commitment to working together to address the insurgency. It is the trust that emanates from this collaboration that can propel collaboration between security agencies and community and religious leaders proposed in the new strategy.
With trust and collaboration, civil society and community leaders can be more active and successful in constructing the narratives and messages that can counter those produced by the process of radicalisation. It is generally recognised by scholars of counter insurgency that the best way to challenge the narratives of radicalisers and extremists is to put forward positive alternative counter-messages produced by the communities themselves rather than by government. Such work done by communities also strengthen citizenship, integration and a sense of belonging.
It is on the basis of such work that conditions can be created to provide safe spaces for dialogue. The objective here is to build the capacity of communities to create agency in combatting extremism themselves. It is also only communities that can work on improved parenting, the provision of accurate and responsible religious education and build neighbourhood capacity for peace building.
By taking leadership of the war against the insurgency, communities and civil society can open doors to other frontline interlocutors such as the police, security agencies, government departments such as the judiciary, teachers, doctors, sport administrators and social workers who are involved on a daily basis with individuals that might be on the path to radicalisation. This is the way that the proposed counter-radicalisation process can become effective.
At this delicate point in our national existence, all governments at the three levels, federal, state and local government, need to keep politics aside and work towards building faith in the possibility of rebuilding the nation and restoring peace. The security agencies for their part need to weed out rogue elements within them that are engaged in creating more mayhem rather that working for peace. It is in this context that our community and civil society leaders can become active players in the new approach of a collective struggle towards rebuilding Nigeria. Enough is Enough; let’s stop the drift towards the abyss.