Editorial: Can Northern Behemoth Rescue the North From Itself at This Meeting?
The northern behemoth (governors, traditional rulers and choice civil society) is scheduled to meet on January 23rd, 2017. The territorial size of the region which it struggles to reflect makes this behemoth an unmistakeable actor in Nigeria. That has not changed much. Can this meeting help the behemoth put its house in order?
It is a matter for regret that the meeting is not holding a week before the violence in Southern Kaduna, the latest flashpoint in the laps of the behemoth. If that had happened, it would have signposted an elite with a semblance of control of its celebrated territory. That notwithstanding, the impending meeting is certain to be welcome by many, including the elite themselves who risk the emergence of fascism if the existing tension continues. For, fascism can wear the garb of an elected civilian regime. It is possible that the northern behemoth and its managerie understand this risk by calling for this particular meeting. Else, the northern ruling elite have much to lose in the national formation.
Not much sense is served in talking exclusively of a northern behemoth in the context of a world that has become too diffuse. Still, the north was administered as one unit within larger Nigeria for nearly 50 years (from 1914 to 1966) during which some level of integration has occurred. There is, therefore, a sense in which a regional behemoth exists and whose meeting at a time of acute anger and uncertainty such as now should be considered a serious matter.
At the heart of the tension is insecurity of lives and property, specifically within the north and generally within Nigeria. In the north, Boko Haram has stolen the thunder. Herdsmen and allied militia are now visible in other parts of the country. While Niger Delta militants are operating in the south-south, the MASSOB/IPOB continuum holds sway in the south-east. This list is far from exhaustive.
It is puzzling that a country experiencing conflict pandemic as Nigeria at the moment has no overarching explanation for the reality. Instead, each conflict is explained in itself, unrelated to the other. Rather like the tusk, ear or the hump of the elephant as separate parts used to describe the whole. In the end, the spate of violence is differently understood by different segments of the populace, conflict parties, shadow parties, the media, elite groups and sundry actors. Within the commoner claims, some people emphasise oil price fall in the global market; others argue ‘the mistake of 1914’ and the unviability of Nigeria while yet others point at the eroded state; the exclusionary and incompetent presidency and at traditional imperialism. There are those harping on Structural Adjustment and the crisis of globalisation just as the Fulani/Islamisation agenda is what fascinates a lot. What has been called Battleground Africa, not only in terms of the struggle of great powers for Africa’s resources but also the exploits of criminal networks in that battle is what other analysts fancy.
The greatest surprise in the above assorted notions of why Nigeria is experiencing violence all over is the way the northern behemoth failed to stand out in reading the situation. It should have stood out because much of the violence is taking place in the territory of the north. It is unclear whether this failure is a case of shying away or refusal or incapability. Whichever one it is, it is a major failure which must be overcome before it can deliver any promise of saving the region and Nigeria, acting along with others.
Going by the origin of upheavals in Nigeria, history does offer a clue. The pressure of slave trade in Africa became more intensified by outsiders, East and West, just as the war to abolish it also came largely from outside. That is the same with colonialism and neo-colonialism. Even the struggle for independence was triggered from outside in so far as the world wars contributed to undermining the ideology of racial superiority which sustained colonialism. The Cold War which was largely operationalised in Africa has external origin just as the structural adjustment which created the material and psychic disorientation being resolved in the numerous violent ethno-religious and regional sparks today across Nigeria and much of Africa. That is also the story of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘Global War on Terror’ coinciding with the rise of China and the troubling prospects about that in Africa. Can the current spate of violence in Nigeria, therefore, be understood outside of the global geopolitics?
There is no question about it that several actors in the Nigerian scene have taken advantage of the spiral of violence to make their own gains by couching the crisis as simply ethnic, regional and even religious. To that extent, everything about the conflict situation can no longer be understood as coming from the global geopolitical root. However, the leaders of the northern behemoth, like their counterparts in other regions of Nigeria, cannot restrict their understanding of a major upheaval in Nigeria to this level. Neither History nor logic supports such a direction of thought. While the Fulani identity of the militia that violently confront local communities in Jos, Agatu, Nimbo and Southern Kaduna is empirically undeniable, we must ask whether these militiamen are also the real masquerades behind the masks. Are the Boko Haram fighters the sources of the money and the arms they use? Are these the sort of people who can afford those arms and technology aside from the training? It is unlikely. If it is unlikely, then can Nigeria and Nigerians resolve the current spate of violence without seeking to unearth the question of who gave them those facilities?
Notwithstanding the danger of definiteness in the analysis of human actions, can any other variable count more than power in trying to determine where the facilities and grand strategy might have come from? What sort of power might we be talking about in explaining how the Nigerian State could have been so overwhelmed? Some members of the northern behemoth have made the interesting comment describing the perpetrators of violence in Nigeria as criminals, thereby indicting the Nigerian State. The question, however, is whether the Nigerian State is as powerful as the plausible actors behind Boko Haram or Niger Delta militancy or Fulani militias.
Such powers might not be known to all of us but without looking at the current spate of violence that way, the violent attack on all points in Nigeria blessed with plentiful land, water, solid minerals and oil will be repeated everywhere and no matter the amount of meetings the elite in such societies hold will save those societies, be they Agatu, Nimbo, Zamfara and even Niger Delta. Boko Haram came in Islamicist garb which might have coincided with what some Muslims might have wanted all along but what is unique to Southern Borno where Boko Haram is located? It is certain kinds of strategic natural resources. Is Southern Kaduna also not where global quality nickel has been found in quantities reported to be of commercial rating recently? And is that not similar to Zamfara in many ways? Artisanal activities have attracted and will continue to attract this sort of violence all over. People who talk of Fulani agenda in this violence are not wrong, empirically speaking. As long as Fulani militia are those acting out chasing out people from their land, water wealth, mineral resources and oil, that is a plausible argument. But those who are leaders need to go beyond that level of explanation. And they should have the courage to speak to their findings about these conflicts. That is why they are leaders.
Without doing so, the January 23rd, 2017 congregation of the northern behemoth will hardly go far. And the region will erupt in even deeper inter-group violence shortly afterwards. This is because, without elite consensus on what centrally explains the upheaval, even many members of the behemoth will continue to be part of the current crisis, either by way of who they blame or exonerate, what they do in terms of conflict management.
It is not possible for these conflicts to have arisen as disparate entities. They are connected. They collectively fall into the logic of ‘Battleground Africa’ as might have been aggravated by climate change and then local differences. The totality is the security crisis now. It is disastrous that the northern behemoth has allowed the emergent security situation within the region and larger Nigeria to be appropriated by ethno-religious and regional warriors. The amount of work it would take to reverse conscientiousness along these fault lines is better imagined than mentioned.
The task for the northern elite is to take the lead in the case for reconstructing the narrative of violence in Nigeria. Without doing so, they would be unable to resolve anything. Should they fail to lead such a case, the rest of Nigeria would be unable to understand the north beyond a region forcing itself on the rest of the country. If that happens, the agitation for restructuring will gather momentum, not because restructuring in itself will transform Nigeria but because its promoters think that is the most convenient way of shaking off the massive laggard called the north from continuing to constrain it. Nobody will stop to think at the moment that mechanical restructuring will play into the hands of detractors of Nigeria undermining its great power potentials by offering Nigerians the beautiful handkerchief with a snake moving inside it about their country. That is how nations crash. They do not crash by being bombed out in all cases.
Of course, while taking a position on finding an integrated explanation for the spate of violence in the country without which a durable resolution can never be possible, the northern behemoth has a distinct regional challenge. A component of the contradiction is perhaps best captured by the fact that, two northerners, Nasir el-Rufai and Audu Ogbeh are championing the importation of grass and sundry ecological aids from Kenya, Brazil, Argentina and whatnot. Yet, the north writes itself in Nigerian politics in terms of agricultural primacy. There lies the tragedy of a 21st century behemoth! Without food, any society would, ordinarily, lie in turmoil just as the north is today. As things are now, even comments on religion made in far away Sweden or Kazakhstan or even the sighting of an eclipse of the moon is enough to provoke violence in northern Nigeria.
It would, therefore, be a welcome development indeed if the various fractions of the northern behemoth are able to unite by bringing all voices together and finish the January 23rd, 2017 meeting successfully. That is if they would not become too big and too solid to come out of the same door through which they entered the same meeting!