Unemployment is the primary target of every sensible nation’s economic policy, but our policy makers seem quite content trumpeting and celebrating our jobless growth. Nationally, at least two in every five able-bodied Nigerians willing and able to work has no job.
Income inequality is another serious problem. According to the National Bureau of Statistics NBS, in 2010 65% of Nigeria’s wealth is owned by just 20% of the population. This effectively means that 80% of the population share between them only about one third of the nation’s wealth. This income inequality manifests itself in conspicuous consumption by a few side by side with abject poverty experienced by the many.
Income inequality, unemployment and poverty have been shown to correlate strongly with increases in violent crimes in societies. This cocktail is what US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson referred to when he stated that Nigeria’s Boko Haram was capitalizing on popular discontent with bad governance in Nigeria in general and the North in particular. The fact that virtually all indices of development and progress have been deteriorating from 2007 in spite of being a period of high oil prices and production should make every thoughtful person to question what is happening.
The Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration inherited about US $50 billion in foreign reserves, USD $27 billion in the excess crude account, and only USD $3 billion in foreign debt. Yar’Adua-Jonathan inherited a country that was liquid and had a strong balance sheet, with BB- sovereign credit rating by rating agencies. The economic prospects were bright if the political economy was managed well. The twin deficits of electricity and rail transport were being addressed through the award of contracts to build seven new power stations and the Lagos-Kano dual-track, standard gauge railway line.
Over the ensuing four years, the federation earned another USD $180 billion from oil and gas, import duties and taxes. By 2011, all these resources had been wasted with little to show for it. The excess crude account had been run down to less than USD $1 billion, the reserves drawn down to about USD $35 billion and none of the rail and power infrastructure projects completed. What is significant is that since February 2010 when he became acting president, Mr. Jonathan has been borrowing an average of USD $1 billion monthly, mostly by issuing bonds, thereby doubling our total debt levels to nearly USD $42 billion and counting. The federal government is fast accelerating towards insolvency!
In April 2007, Sheikh Jaafar was murdered in cold blood while praying in his mosque in Kano by assailants that years later turned out to be suspected members of a sect to be known as Boko Haram, operating out of Bauchi State. However at the time the Sheikh was killed, an attempt was made to link the murder to the state governor Ibrahim Shekarau. This as we shall see, became a recurring pattern of behaviour by the security agencies in cases of this nature – the politicization of terrorism.
In July 2009, Yar’Adua deployed the Nigerian Army to “crush” Boko Haram. The leaders of the sect were captured alive, or arrested from their homes and extra-judicially executed by the Nigerian Police. The sect believes that Ali Modu Sheriff, then governor of Borno State and the Commissioner of Police took the decision to wipe out its leadership. They regrouped and went on what was essentially a revenge mission targeting the Police, the Borno State Government and other uniformed services of the Federal Government. That is how Boko Haram evolved from a largely peaceful, fringe Islamic organization to a vengeful sect and currently an anarchist threat to the Nigerian nation.
Initially, Boko Haram’s targets were symbols of authority (Police, Borno State Government, etc.) and limited geographically (Borno State) in scope. The attitude of authorities to the sect’s activities(e.g. Northerners are killing one another, so we do not care, etc.)emboldened them, and when the first bomb was exploded by MEND in Abuja on October 1, 2010, the sect learnt a thing or two about how to grab national attention. As the media gave the sect attention, it mainstreamed its activities to first attack Yobe State then the Federal Capital Territory.
The watershed in the sect’s activities were the June 2011 bombing of the Police Headquarters and the August 2011 attack on the UN Headquarters. By these actions the sect established the capacity to operate in the nation’s capital, outside its original geographic location thus attracting national and global attention. Sadly, between 2009 and 2012, more than 1,000 people have lost their lives as a result of Boko Haram’s attacks in Maiduguri, Potiskum, Damaturu, Jos, Kano, Gombe, Kaduna and Abuja. In 2011 alone, Boko Haram attacked 115 times with 550 deaths resulting.
According to the World Investment Report of UNCTAD, the Nigerian economy recorded a reduction in foreign direct investment from USD $8.65 billion in 2009 to USD $6.1 billion in 2010 due to the fear of Boko Haram. The Nigerian tourism sector which is worth some N80 billion annually has lost more than half of its value due to fear of terrorist attacks. The domestic aviation industry which generates some N3 billion annually has been hard hit by flight cancellations to destinations in the north, with nearly half of the revenues lost.
In Borno State, schools have been closed. In other affected parts of the north, normal social life is unlikely to return soon. In places like Jos, the city is so neatly divided along ethnic lines that the vibrancy and inclusion that has been its heartbeat has been lost for a long time to come. The recent attack on media houses and Bayero University has opened new areas and targets of the sect that should worry the authorities.
The north has been the hardest hit with the leading commercial centre, Kano being under military occupation since January 2012. Kaduna, a leading industrial centre has also been repeatedly attacked by the various shades of what is known as Boko Haram. Many of us believe that there are at least four variants of Boko Haram – the real BH and three other fakes – sponsored by the government, politicians and criminal groups – that use the brand to advance their own self-centered agendas.
Many in the North see the patent inaction of the authorities as the advancement of a sinister agenda to destroy an already near prostate northern economy through occupation, militarization and disruption of socio-economic activities. The federal government has done nothing to deny these or indicate otherwise, and the state governments have acquiesced to the cavalier attitude of the Villa.
Terrorism and corruption are big issues with no easy solutions. There are no silver bullets and no country has been able to eradicate corruption or be totally immune from domestic terrorism. I will make some suggestions here as a basis for discussion and way forward.
I do not think our anti-corruption strategy attacks the roots of corruption. In addition to the unsuccessful ‘arrest-and-charge’ approach that we have focused on, I believe we must reduce cash transactions to the barest minimum. If all transactions are electronic, it will be harder for untraceable, illicit payments to be made. If CBN’s push towards cashless banking is complemented with a national ID system that can identify, monitor and audit every resident, and his or her financial transactions when a court order is obtained, it will be harder to take bribes and launder the money.
We also need to strengthen institutions by appointing decent people to head them, respect their tenures and appoint successors from within rather than bring in political hacks to do jobs that they are neither qualified nor trained to do. Our judiciary needs revamping.
Terrorism is a harder nut to crack. I am of the view that a multi-track approach is necessary to increase the chances of its success. First, the prevailing narrative in the Jonathan camp must be discarded. This narrative is what the national security adviser tried to communicate at the Asaba summit of south-south leaders, but was misunderstood by the media. Jonathan and his inner circle believe that Boko Haram is a northern conspiracy to prevent Jonathan enjoying his presidency.
This narrative is believed by most Niger Delta leaders because of their own experience in organizing, training and arming the militants and providing funding for MEND during the period of ‘resource control’ agitations of the Obasanjo administration. Because theirs was a conspiracy of the political elite, they think the North must have done the same. They also feel that Boko Haram largely kills northerners or “parasites” as one Jonathan aide Reno Omokri once tweeted; so the more they are killed, the lesser the burden on the ‘oil-rich hosts’.
With this narrative wired in the brains of Jonathan’s inner circle, they spent their first year trying to link some of us in opposition to Boko Haram instead of honestly facing the real culprits. While wasting time on us, the sect grew stronger, bolder and better trained. The first step therefore is to unwind this narrative and honestly ask the right questions.
It is of course disingenuous to believe the narrative, but I assure you that they believe it. Boko Haram’s first bloody confrontation with the authorities was under a northern, Muslim president in 2009. And Obasanjo is not a northerner and a muslim but governed without Boko Haram. Anyone can see that it is indeed northerners and Muslims that constitute the bulk of the victims of the insurgency. And I think the insurgency escalated not because Jonathan became president by whatever means, but because the government did not care to address it early enough. Now things have spiraled out of control.
Secondly, I believe the fundamental roots of the insurgency challenge – rewarding those who take up arms against the state with the cash hand-outs called amnesty program has to be reviewed. Any society that rewards bad behavior with cash creates a moral hazard that may consume that society. Those giving out the cash should know that they are doing no favors to anyone. Indeed, they are fostering an entitlement culture that would ultimately be the undoing of that part of the country. Boko Haram does not appear to be motivated by money, so those thinking of an amnesty-like program may need to go back to the drawing board.
Thirdly, the corruption, inequality, poverty and unemployment cocktail that gave birth to violent crimes and terrorism need to be addressed through well-thought out and targeted programs of investment in education, healthcare, skills development and training, and infrastructure building that will provide employment opportunities in various communities. In addition, the authorities must criminalize the existence of political thugs by whatever name and of whatever description, and ensure elections are free, fair and credible. The political parties need reforms, leadership selection be guided largely by merit, while the electoral institutions need to be alive to their responsibilities.
Fourthly, as a medium term, structural measure, we must work to restore our federalism to the broad outlines embedded in the 1963 republican constitution, devolving more powers and responsibilities to the states and making the federal government less of a busy body. This would require that states like Bauchi whose annual internally-generated revenue is N7 billion should not run a government costing N58 billion because of monthly hand-outs from Abuja. Each state should learn to live within its means and seek to actively develop its comparative endowments. State governors will then be compelled to use their resources better and not point fingers at the federal government.
Finally, in addition to reviewing the failed military strategy now in place and scaling back what has become the militarization of the north, the government must work with community leaders in Borno, Yobe, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna States to identify interlocutors that would enable honest discussions with Boko Haram to establish what they REALLY want. The arrest and prosecution of those that murdered their leaders would certainly be one demand, but there may be others that the government knows but would not want us to know. The Maitatsine sect was easily defeated in the 1980s because the surrounding communities despised them and their methods. The current situation in Kano and Borno States is one in which the military occupiers are killing more innocent people than Boko Haram, which injustice is creating resentment against the Army. Unless the reckless killings of unarmed men, women and children stop, these communities would revolt sooner or later.
There is nowhere in the world where insurgencies like Boko Haram have been defeated purely through military force and occupation – ask the Americans about Afghanistan and Iraq, or the British about Northern Ireland. Those saying “crush them” should know that recent history of the war on terror is not on their side. We want a country that works for everyone, and this senseless loss of lives must end soon. The government that has the responsibility for our security must bend over backwards to deliver it. If they continue to fail in this regard, they will not be in government for too long.