Some countries are good in anticipating and managing conflicts. Others are not so good. The difference could lie substantially in the utilisation of Early Warning, (EW). But EW is a slippery concept in terms of what it refers to. A lot depends on who is defining it and where or what. Although most students of EW would insist that it should not be confused with intelligence, the border line is hardly that clear beyond the point that EW is not a secretive project. It has been a crucial facility in agriculture, disaster and conflict management, particularly of nuclear strategy in international relations, thereby raising the question of how Nigeria missed the early warnings in relation to recent insurgencies. This is more so in the case of Boko Haram. The EW in that case was so plentiful, documented and straight forward.
In 1978, General T Y Danjuma, as a departing Chief of Army Staff, put Nigeria on the alert that the country could go down the way of a religious war and that if it did, it would be difficult to come out of it. There would be no winners, only losers. He was that direct and he spoke in Jaji, the seat of military intellectualism and the northern heartland. Nobody could say he did not hear him. His experience in government had told him of what the late Bala Usman later came to call the manipulation of religion in Nigeria and he was obliging the nation the benefit of privileged assessment. His notion of a religious war might have been referring to a Christian – Muslim type but Boko Haram is no less a religious war. Instructively, the same Danjuma recognized what he feared when he said in 2010: North in the Middle of Civil War” as in the Vanguard bromide.
In 1987, Bala Usman put together bits and pieces and constructed the evidence of his thesis of the manipulation of religion in Nigeria. He went as far as naming names and specific activities where, in his view, manipulation of religion was taking place. The book generated a sharp review by one of his colleagues at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in which Bala’s concept of manipulation was contested but the review did not, in any ways, show that the claim of manipulation was outlandish. In any case, such reviews and counter-reviews ought to have been part of the stuff to be processed by the early warning establishment.
In 1992, the late Sheikh Mahmoud Abubakar Gumi came out with his autobiography which, among others, contains a sentence on page 161 that, from the benefit of hindsight, could be read as a categorical prediction of Boko Haram. Chapter Eleven of the book has the ominous title of “Bottom Against the Top” and the book was the cover story of a fairly popular national magazine in 1992 when it was published.
A year after Gumi’s book, a doctoral thesis submitted to the School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS), University of London made it into a book. It was the academic work of a Catholic priest already known across the country as Father Kukah. So popular that even when he has gone much higher up, many still find it more real to call him Father Kukah instead of Bishop Kukah. He went farther than Bala Usman by seeking to demonstrate the claim of manipulation of religion at the level of a class fraction in northern Nigerian politics.
Each of these books and public declaration contained interesting nuggets that should have attracted the attention of the national early warning establishment in terms of nipping Boko Haram in the bud. As we all know, that did not happen, a conflict management failure for which the country has paid dearly in the horrors of 2009 to date. How might we account for this terrible reality as to be sure it would never happen again?
To respond to this poser, Intervention sought the views of some of the country’s most well heeled conflict management scholars. Dr. Ochinya Ojiji is a Psychologist by training but a conflict management scholar as well as practitioner. He traversed the universities of Jos, Uyo and Nasarawa State. Before joining Nasarawa State University, he was a Director at the Nigerian government owned Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, (IPCR) for several years.
Dr Musa Aliyu, the second interviewee, teaches media and conflict at Coventry University in the UK. Okey Ibeanu, the third respondent is a professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has worked as a resource person at the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), MacArthur Foundation and as a Special Rapporteur of the United Nations. A widely travelled and highly published academic in the fields of civil society, human rights, violent conflicts and the political economy of small arms, Ibeanu was once Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he currently teaches.
It is interesting there is consensus among the interviewees on the question of attitude, the problem of the weak state as far as the management of the population, the question of Nigeria’s rating in the African EW firmament and the whole issue of the quality of leadership. Read on!
Dr. Ochinya Ojiji:
What do you think happened that EW did not translate to nipping Boko Haram in the bud?
Generally, I think EW tends to have a problem worldwide. There is a prevailing attitude that doubts it. When the Americans warned us that Nigeria could disintegrate, there were a number of things that were done. Now that it didn’t come true, you would rarely hear anyone link what were done with the prevention of what was predicted. What you hear people say is something like, they said we would crash, have we broken up? It is like having a security guard in your house. While he is there, no robbery takes place. The day you sack him, there is robbery. Instead of you to say the thieves succeeded because there was no sentry, you say it is he who went and organised the thieves to come. What I am saying is that there is a general difficulty in people’s mind to accept that EW works. But, of course, there is the element of fatalism that is peculiar to us in Africa. There is a certain endemic disbelief in causal relations between two or more developments. I am referring to a tendency to explain things in terms what will happen will happen. There seems to be something in us that finds it difficult to accept that nothing just happens. At the time we started hearing about Shekau, I remember a small proposal I did, suggesting the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution do a profile of him. We might not have been able to talk to him directly but useful background details could be pieced together from scraps. We were told it would amount to projecting him, that it was necessary to ignore him, that it would fizzle away. Unfortunately, Boko Haram did not fizzle away.
So, part of the problem is EW itself?
Yes, EW has a problem. EW generally is not so popular. Part of that comes from the fact that the prediction may not come to pass. Even when some actions are taken and a particular prediction did not come to pass, people do not link the de-escalation to the actions taken. This is not the attitude in the Western world where they depend on experts and explanations. And that leads me to whether we had the capacity. It is only a few years ago we started having EW experts. That is the people who are supposed to interpret the materials you mentioned – complicated books and statements made by senior military officers and such materials. Bala Usman, for example, was seen by the establishment as a radical and that perception could come in the way.
EW was supposed to be the job of people who have overcome their own perceptions by training.
The assumption may not get through. If that assumption is true, we would not have been hearing stories of people who couldn’t be killed even in war because the bullet would not penetrate them. These are common place stories, including that of the professor of mechanical engineering who was putting charm in front of his vehicle so that he wouldn’t get accident. You hear these stories and you wonder but you are not in a position to prove it or not. So, you are right in thinking so but even the most educated persons can still have blinkers.
What is the state of Nigeria’s EW now?
Scoring Nigeria’s conflict EW now can be difficult. Potentially, the capacity exists. There are the professionals scattered all over the place. At the Institute of Peace, we started very well. We started experimenting on EW in the 2003 elections and the various institutions connected to it were coming to the institute. Before long, we even started getting requests of countries that wanted to come and see what they thought we had. There was a concept paper I was asked to do and when I finished, the institute put it in the internet. From there, the Ugandans saw it and thought we had something heavy on the ground and they wanted to see it. But we didn’t go far, for some reasons.
Would you like to score Nigeria in relation to EW around Africa?
What I already said above indicates we are not high up there. When we went to the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa, we found that government officials were going to the private institute for briefing which supposes how well established it is. The National Disaster Centre there is sophisticated. Our own National Emergency Management Centre, (NEMA) also had some of the technology. I wouldn’t know how much of that is being used. IGAD, (The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) has a functional EW system then. It doesn’t belong to one country but you can see that it somehow measures the individual countries in the sub-regional network. I don’t know what it is now but it was helping the countries of that region in many respects.
What general comment would you make?
My general comment is to say that EW is still rudimentary, even where the technology is there and the awareness is high. It has its own problems, some of it perceptual and some cultural. It is not only in Africa but perhaps we have a peculiar dimension when we are compared to some other parts of the world. We need to look at how these interact and see what perceptual and cultural peculiarities we must do away with in other to fully deploy the potentials of EW.
Dr Musa Aliyu:
In your opinion, what might have happened between these examples of predictions and the fact that the predictions were not nipped in the bud?
I think there are a number of factors. Our attitude and our institutions are part of the problem. Whenever there is an epidemic is where we start preparing, never before. After the Maitatsine crisis, Bala Usman did warn that there was clear manipulation of religion. After that warning, what did the state do? Our institutions are not insulated from bias. And we wish away problems but only for them to haunt us. Even people who say that Buhari dealt with Maitatsine are missing something. They are not pointing out the fire brigade nature of the approach used. What of the economic depression (the belt tightening and later the austerity measures that preceded the crisis) that prefigured it? In analysing Boko Haram, a lot of people have argued the circumstance in which some people could manipulate other people. You need to go far back to the 1970s when a lot of ideas started finding their ways into the country and we began to have Sunni/Shiite division, the slogan of “return to source” as one of the key problems of the time and these are what these books you are referring to were warning against. Then we had Maitatsine and the language of infidels started coming into open usage, followed by incidence of burning of beer parlours. The state did not address these manifestations and people started getting the idea that they could be a state within the state.
If you read Gumi’s book, he gave a comprehensive insight into attempts to resolve some aspects of the internal schisms within Islam. It seemed the efforts failed.
During the Cold War, the conflict pattern was anti-imperialism. Now, it is different. Boko Haram did not originate from Nigeria. It was imported from Yemen. Of course, something had to happen in Nigeria to trigger the connection. That is the local versus global aspect. But there is the local dimension. The Police has become so centralised it has lost the capacity to nip anything in the bud. From what my dad told me and what I see in the literature, the Mai Angwa, (ward head) and the Dan Doka, (Hausa language for the police in northern Nigeria then) in those days must know about any new arrival in any settlement. The moment you arrived, there are people who will know. Now, throughout Nigeria, anybody can move in and move out anyhow. This laid the basis of what we are facing today in addition to what I think was a particular failure of the northern elite with particular reference to Boko Haram. I am a strong supporter of Buhari but I think I must say this. The wide perception in the north about the way the Jonathan regime was handling Boko Haram was like, well, this is a northern problem, let them go on killing themselves. Whether this is the truth or not is another thing entirely. But what did the northern elite do? Within them you find retired police officers, military officers, people with the wealth and the sophistication to make a move by way of the way forward. This didn’t happen until Boko Haram got completely out of hand.
When you look at our EW establishment, what do you see as the definitive explanation for its failure in respect of Boko Haram?
There is something inherent in the system. Nothing ever happens after every crisis. We do not connect these things together. It is a very Nigerian thing. We do not learn from history.
What is to be done?
There should be the development of a clear EW System. There are lots of EW. Look at what is happening in France. From that moment, you should start asking questions: what is actually provoking it; can it happen here; what if it happens, how do we handle it, both on the short and long terms. Why are we not having this? In the past, the government had the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, where is it in all these?
Can you look at Nigeria in terms of the African standard?
I wouldn’t place Nigeria at the top. Nigeria has not been able to address that. Nigeria is not anywhere in this respect, I must say. It is really at the bottom right now if you just look at Maghreb Africa. As of last year, was it not Chad coming in to help us? We are still burying our head in the sand like the Ostrich with our attitude of wishing things away.
Any general comments?
The way Nigeria is, I don’t think it is a bad idea to have a referendum on the way forward. We cannot go on like this. We have to have an idea on the potentials for conflict. Otherwise, it could just be a matter of time before we see a different outcome. And we should be bold enough to say that Rwanda is an example of a country that has been able to overcome this sort of situation. Nobody thought that Rwanda will get behind its crisis. But they had people who decided to be selfless. I don’t agree now with Kagame but he turned down the opportunity to grab the presidency much, much earlier than he got it. He chose to be the Vice-President to a moderate Hutu first before he eventually became the president. By doing that, he sent a message that went beyond him, he set the atmosphere for reconciliation, he facilitated a healing process because people could see that the restoration was not about punitive but corrective process. And to set the ground for it, they brought in all sorts of scholars from far and wide to look at the genocide. This is what we don’t have- the ability to look at a problem in the face as a problem. Instead of looking at a problem as a problem, we must tie it around somebody or some ethnic group. But, there in Rwanda, they looked at the genocide which they experienced squarely in the face, from all angles – culturally, militarily and so on. As such, they identified certain features. For instance, they banned any statement that dehumanises and it is punishable. The country is united. Let us start talking about the problems too.
Professor Okey Ibeanu:
What do you think that EW did not enable Nigeria to nip Boko Haram in the bud?
I would say the most obvious is the arrogance of the people in power that they can always crush every attempt and therefore deny themselves the benefit of thinking through vital indicators. The reckoning is just not there. There is also the whole lot of ungoverned spaces, seriously speaking. There are many parts where no security provisioning exists and people are left to their own fate. And this includes even right in the middle of urban spaces. I mean ungoverned spaces in terms of public force providing protection for everybody in the real sense of the public force. Go to parts of Mushin in Lagos – the government there is OPC, (Odua People’s Congress). Even the police and other regular forces defer to them. Some parts of Aba, at a point, were completely ungoverned and one could say that the consequence was the emergence of the Bakassi Boys in the town. The north-east is similar. It has been posting negative socio-economic indicators. If all the figures coming out for a long time are like that in terms of health, education, nutrition and all that, then it constituted a tinder box bound to catch fire at some point and someone ought to noted that. I don’t know if you agree with this. There has also been a long history of millenarian movement around that axis, from Bornu, Cameroun to Chad. I do not know why but it seems to follow that path as we can see from Maitatsine and all that. Before Boko Haram, there was the Talibans. It shows nobody was really paying attention. But the most critical explanation for EW failure must be that the Nigerian State does not know its citizens. They know and only deal with towns, communities and ethnic groups but the Nigerian State does not relate with the citizen as a citizen. In other countries, you get a civic number at birth and that number is tracked. It becomes your identity at school, in the hospital, in the bank and it enables you to be reckoned with as you, as a known entity in yourself to the state.
The classical ways by which the state manages the population
Yes. During the colonial times, they had records of births, death, who arrived in a new place and from where. They had those details. Today, if a government wants to provide boreholes, they do not care how many people are going to use the borehole, they just say one borehole for every local government. That is meaningless. We need to take more seriously the essence of the state. Everywhere you go, the state should know you as Adagbo. And the state can only do that by matching that number with your biometrics. It is not just to track people for security purposes, it is also for development.
You identified the arrogance of the people in power as one explanation for EW failure. How does that relate to our failure to burst Boko Haram?
Take the way the Yar’Adua government handled the Boko Haram situation. It could have been handled better. The warnings were all over the place. In 1999, I raised a paper in which I was contemplating some of these tendencies, not only in Islam but also Christianity. I saw they were not only revivalist and millenarian but they all accept holy wars as divinely ordained. Is there anybody who monitors these, who looks at low intensity intelligence? You would have thought there is a section of the DSS that does so and does so effectively.
It is difficult to know from outside
The way we see it is like they put a lot of emphasis on those overtly opposed to the state or opposed to the people in government. It looks like they are wired to think about who is threatening the president rather than collecting intelligence. Somebody has to be documenting low intensity intelligence.
I am still on the arrogance explanation. How widespread might that be to be a factor?
That arrogance is there and it is expressed in the feeling that over time, something would fizzle out or that every threat can be crushed, even when there has been no analysis of where it might be coming from. And even where there is no structured mechanism for tracking information or even when a crisis boils over, there is no analysis based on linkage. So, we have a problem of over confidence in conflict management.
Where would you put Nigeria by the African standard in those terms?
Most of the French speaking countries, apart from Cote D’ Ivoire which has suffered institutional collapse, have very strong gendarmerie system. That system is a little bit more up and doing. You eat banana and throw the peel casually, they will call you back and ask you to pick it and drop it in the proper place. It shows to you that somebody is watching. Whenever I am in one such place, I feel that, right from the airport, I am being watched. There is need for that. I am not advocating a police state but how does the state secure everybody if it doesn’t watch? It is not the same thing as hard core intelligence but evidence or indicators that the state is palpable so that nobody can mess around and endanger others. Perhaps, the Nigerian spirit is so democratic that even under the military, you got the sense that they too knew the line that could not be crossed in terms of security and privacy. Perhaps that is how we are all wired.
How do we overcome this?
What they do everywhere is have a strong data base and have links with universities and think tanks who helps with the analysis on a regular basis. The old civil servant with only a degree in Classics or Philosophy but who can do all these are no longer there. What is there now are people who rose to their position of Directors and so on without much attention to their work. The money the DSS spends on hard intelligence could go into establishing relations with Departments of Political Science and Sociology and they can take it and run it. The EW is there but it is the analysis and harnessing that we need to pay attention to.
Any general comments you wish to make?
As the socio-economic conditions bite harder, people would take refuge in religious sects and ethnicity. The more they do, the more you get conflicts. The conflicts are even becoming intra in nature. Intra-ethnic conflicts now are even more explosive. For me, these are all coping strategies. And that is why I find it funny that some people are criticising what they call stomach infrastructure. I would say that is probably the most rational thing a hungry man would fall for than being expected to fall for promises. It should be clear that the more difficult the situation becomes, the more conflicts you are going to get, from clan to communal to ethnic to religious and so on. Let no one deceive anybody about this linkage.