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Wole Soyinka Is Dead Wrong By Sam Nda-Isaiah

Responding to a question during a CNN interview on Saturday, Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s only Nobel laureate, said the emergence of Boko Haram was the crude response of the north, having lost power because the PDP did not stand by its earlier arrangement of alternating the presidency between the north and the south.

I do not belong to the PDP, so I cannot speak for the northerners in the PDP. And those that have been following my views will, in fact, agree that I have been against the exigency of power rotation. I have, for a very long time, consistently insisted on true democracy only, devoid of election rigging. I maintained this position even before the PDP was born. Rotation, I have often argued, deprives Nigeria of its best available materials, especially at the very top. And rotation must never be misconstrued as federal character, which I support.

Also, I cannot speak for the north on rotation, but I know enough to know that Professor Soyinka is dead wrong. Soyinka is no ordinary Nigerian and he has done very well for himself and his country by winning the Nobel Prize. Nigerians and indeed the world at large would be right to rely on people like him for mature, reasoned and intelligent viewpoints on issues that relate to the country. On this, the Nobel laureate has oftentimes lived far below expectation. During the same CNN interview, when asked if he was hopeful about Nigeria, the professor of literature used the opportunity to obliquely canvass the break-up of Nigeria as he has done for as long as we have known him.

On the issue of Boko Haram, Soyinka is wrong because Boko Haram is a direct consequence of the failure of government. Boko Haram had existed long before the last election and even their avowed agenda of fighting the Nigerian state and all those against them including Islamic clerics and Christians (in accordance with the hate gospel according to Abubakar Shekau, its self-proclaimed leader) does not make any reference to the issues propounded by Soyinka.

The first thing everyone must know about the Boko Haram phenomenon is that its ideology and belief systems are not shared by Muslims in Nigeria. Ninety per cent of the victims of Boko Haram’s murder expeditions so far have, in fact, been Muslims. And, about six weeks ago in the United States, someone who had misinterpreted the Boko Haram insurrection as a war between Christians and Muslims asked me why adherents of the two religions were at war.

My immediate response to him was that a small terrorist group which had overpowered and flooded out the government was killing both Christians and Muslims. The Boko Haram people must have their grievances. But that does not give them or any other group, including MEND and OPC, the latitude or licence to commit crimes against the Nigerian state including mass murder, which is in fact classified as an international crime or crime against humanity. Today, the whole of the north, Christians and Muslims, including those whom Soyinka accused of renting or organising the Boko Haram as a revenge against the Jonathan government for usurping their right to the presidency, are scared stiff of the renegade sect. This numbing fear is not, strictly speaking, of the sect, but for the fact that it is now clear to every Nigerian that the government cannot protect them from Boko Haram. As it is today, the government officials who should be working their brains out to find out how to protect Nigerians against the terrorist activities of Boko Haram are desperately racking their brains for new ways to protect themselves and their families. The rest of us are on our own, apparently, and must resort to self-help. That’s how bad the situation has become.

Boko Haram is obviously a consequence of the failure of the Nigerian state to live up to its responsibility to its people. In 2002, hopeless youths in Maiduguri started massing around Mohammed Yusuf, who was said to be a brilliant student of another very influential Muslim cleric, Sheikh Jafar Adam. They abandoned their primary and secondary school studies on the grounds that western education was a sin (boko haram). The youths had seen many graduates who had remained unemployed for as long as they could remember. With time, the more militant and violent members of the group took advantage of the growing discontent of the youth and broke away from the main group and relocated to Kanama village at the borders of Niger Republic in Yobe State, the birthplace of Yusuf. By 2004, they had started striking Muslim targets that did not share their doctrine, and it has been said that it was members of the group that murdered Sheikh Jafar, their teacher, in 2007.

Sheikh Jafar was thoroughly against their philosophy. They also killed some of his close associates and several Islamic clerics.
In 2009, 17 members of the group were shot and killed by members of the police force during a peaceful procession. The sect members and their sympathizers said they were killed in cold blood, but a top policeman I spoke with said they were going to bury the bodies of those they had killed. The top police officer said the sect had become accustomed to killing people in cold blood by then. By that time, Mohammed Yusuf had started enjoying an opulent lifestyle and driving around in big cars. This was the point at which some people started suspecting that he must have been receiving sponsorship and funding from outside our shores.

The extra-judicial killing of 17 of the sect members played into the hands of the extremists among them who used that as an alibi to launch a spate of murder operations against Islamic clerics and politicians in Maiduguri who challenged them. Mohammed Yusuf also ordered all his members to gather in Maiduguri as a result. At this point, he had succeeded in reconciling the different tendencies within the sect once again under his leadership. In 2010, an all-out war broke out between the sect and the police. The soldiers were called in to put down the insurrection. The military succeeded in quelling the crisis, killing several hundreds and capturing thousands including Mohammed Yusuf himself. In the war, the sect members killed several policemen including DSP Abdulazeez Farouk, the son of retired police commissioner Usman Farouk, who was the governor of the defunct North-Western State (today’s Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger states) during the Gowon regime. The police force was also accused of extra-judicially killing the former Borno State commissioner of religious affairs, Buji Foi, and the father-in-law of Yusuf, Baba Fugu.

After this incident, a very virulent leader of the sect called Abubakar Shekau emerged. It has even been said that Shekau and Yusuf were never on good terms and that Shekau would have killed Mohammed Yusuf if he had had his way. That would have hardly been surprising, as it was also members of the sect that murdered their original leader Sheikh Jafar. Shekau it was who added Christians to their enemy list.

But Boko Haram has since become a huge franchise for all kinds of outlaw groups. And it will definitely not be correct to blame all crimes on the group. Quite curiously, some Christians were implicated and arrested in connection with the burning of St John’s Catholic Church in Bauchi, said to be masterminded by a certain Lydia Joseph. Another church, God’s Grace International Ministries Church, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, was said to have been burnt down by another character called Wisdom King who was dressed in kaftan and a turban. Obviously, the more you see, the less you understand. Many armed robbers also operate in the name of the group, even though Boko Haram itself had invaded banks with bombs and grenades to steal money for its operation.

A large part of the Boko Haram membership is now composed of foreigners from Chad, Niger Republic and Sudan with their own fanciful idea to break up Nigeria so that they can use the northern stump as their own Somalia.

Of course, these foreigners who have no stake in Nigeria cannot ply their criminal activities in their own countries because the governments in their lands have been more successful in defeating their terrorist activities. Sudan, Niger, Chad and even Libya have been involved in wars for a very long time and the Nigerian government should have known that the very dangerous weapons deployed in those wars could find their way very easily into Nigeria through our famously porous borders, if not checked. They eventually did. The bombing of the UN building is believed to be an opportunistic attack and some people point at the Libyan elements among them, who wanted to avenge the UN’s stand against Ghaddafi. Otherwise, the UN is an unusual, if not an unlikely, target for the Boko Haram, intelligence sources say.

So, a personality of the intellect of Wole Soyinka should not be as simplistic as he often appears to be. He is dead wrong on his analysis of the origin of the Boko Haram. As to his insinuation about the break-up of Nigeria, I do not think that somebody of the status of Soyinka should be talking like an OPC member. Of course, any section of Nigeria that wants to break off should come for a send-off party, but, at a higher level of discussion, all of us should know that the oneness of Nigeria and its indivisibility is worth defending. We are what we are in world affairs today because of our size and population, the same asset that other countries have put to good use. Indonesia, with a population of 245 million people, is the biggest economy in South-East Asia; Brazil with a population of 203 million people is a global economic power; and, of course, India and China with over one billion people each are forcing a shift of world economic power from the west to the east.

Even in spite of our current embarrassing self-inflicted problems, with a population of 167 million people, Nigeria’s economy is faring better than anticipated. This, of course, is because the private sector has decoupled from the government and our large informal economy has existed as if there is no government. This is so largely because of our size and population. The Nigerian economy will, in a couple of years, overtake the South African economy, according to several international economic think-tanks.

I’d rather align with another literary intellectual, Professor Chinua Achebe, who himself is well-deserving of a Nobel Prize, in the analysis of the Nigerian paradox. The problem of Nigeria, Achebe said a long time ago, is squarely a failure of leadership. Nothing more, nothing less.

E A R S H O T

Jonathan And The AU Chair

The government misses the point again by insisting that Jonathan was never defeated for the AU chairmanship position because he never contested. As usual, the president’s handlers are lying to themselves again. Yes, Jonathan did not contest, but that was because it was clear that, if he did, we would have been thoroughly disgraced beyond recognition. We have technically become a problem child of Africa – the problems of Sudan and Nigeria topped the agenda at the AU meeting. And if the AU was going to discuss Nigeria as one of its problems, how would they want such a problem country to lead them? And because of our problems, other countries have been scrambling to fill the leadership vacuum that has been created by our technical relegation.
Ghana is currently struggling to take over the informal leadership of the West African sub-region. Ghana, of course, thinks it possesses the credentials, having outclassed us in their democracy. And, writing in the Sunday Times of South Africa yesterday, Mondli Makhanya, a columnist, wrote that since Africa’s other powers – Nigeria, Egypt and Libya – are in turmoil, South Africa would have no choice but to take over the leadership of the continent and, if possible, be its bully.

Nigeria cannot keep on going like this, and, certainly, we continue to lie to ourselves at our peril.

6 Responses to “Wole Soyinka Is Dead Wrong By Sam Nda-Isaiah”

  1. phil says:

    bh has much to do with zoning arrangement, Sam, you re looking but cannot see. watch ur back

  2. Femi Obiomah says:

    While Wole Soyinka is not totally wrong, I believe Sam made some strong points.
    1. the failure of the government to get the youths productively engaged will give rise to a breeed of idle minds willing to believe anything that seems to explain their frustration.
    2. Unlike other countries in even africa, our borders are so porous that the entire chadian and nigerien hoodlums can enter the country and create havoc with our security agencies napping. I’ve been a victim of such bandits. they nearly killed me in my own country.
    3. to think of the fact that one of the BH financiers was someone seeking refuge in Nigeria and our security agencies only became aware recently is shameful.
    Where Sam bit his tongue is where he admitted that they had become tools in the hands of elements who had an agenda totally different from the issue of govt. failures.
    these people are the one who have given them the strength to carry out the terror we see today. these people are not happy with the present political arrangement and are using BH as a tool to get back to power

  3. Sage prince says:

    Let the fool be. He’s just a product of old age.
    Nobel laureate my foot!

  4. ibrahim says:

    Soyinka is truely living in a frozen era of regional rivalry and petty ethinicism. He believes like every pedestrian southerner do that there is a conspiracy by the North to rule Nigeria as of ‘birth right’ and there are billions stashed out there by the Northern Oligacy and the caliphate etc etc. As of intelligence,perhaps soyinka is intelligent in making stories and fables and folklore. But he definately has no wisdom. And that is why he remains irrelevant to the quest for a better Nigeria.At best,he is what he always is even at 77,..an anarchist with a very restless soul.

  5. Mercy Obong says:

    Sam, you are a child; Soyinka has been in this business for years and you can not dream of having access to the sort of security intelligence he has. He is infinitely better informed than you are. You have no idea what you are talking about.

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