Playing With Fire – Ahmed Musa Hussaini

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria is at war and our leaders do not understand the gravity of the security situation around us. Either because they feel ensconced in their Abuja villas and therefore so disconnected from reality, or they are living in some sort of scandalous denial, or both.

But as bandits’ campaign of terror runs amok from Sokoto to Niger, northern Nigeria – nay Nigeria – is facing its moment of truth: those who buy peace by appeasing criminals are only fueling war.

Northern Nigeria has for long been dancing on the head of snakes, not knowing which ones will rise and bite it first. From mass illiteracy to extreme poverty, diseases and underdevelopment, all the indicators of human misery are domiciled in this unfortunate corner of the earth.

But that shouldn’t be the case, more so for a region so endowed with tremendous human and material resources, strategic geography and a proud history. Fate didn’t intend for northern Nigeria a future that’s so steep in contradiction. We are the architects of our own misfortune.

The current Buhari administration, just like its predecessors, keep making two fundamental mistakes in its appraisal of the evolving security situation:

One is that this is a normal crisis, the type that Nigeria is accustomed to. And just like every other Nigerian crisis, it will wear out and fritter even by doing nothing. Thus, we approach it like every other problem, where government is only compelled to take action when the situation is getting out of hand and public outcry is becoming too loud.

The second error is in thinking that if criminals are ‘our own people,’ we can appeal to their sense of decency or reason or any value we hold dear as a people. That’s the basis behind Dr. Gummi’s misadventure and also the thinking behind different peace overtures to criminals by some northern governors.

The fact is, the banditry and kidnapping in the north are not your normal Nigerian problems. They are another metamorphosis of the Boko Haram insurgency, a different set of challenges requiring entirely different approaches. The fact also is, this is no longer the north of Ahmadu Bello. Northern Nigeria has changed beyond recognition and therefore the old approaches, the old system of political and traditional authority are no longer relevant.

The first step towards finding a solution is by having the courage to call criminals by their names irrespective of who they are. Boko Haram and their bandit-accomplices are not our people. Their vision of society is incompatible with ours by every stretch of compromise. And that means, those who seek to romanticize those criminals under whatever guise should be equally condemned.

No doubt, our condemnation must draw a distinction from those who seek to criminalize an entire ethnic or religious group just because of the actions of few. Because our concern is not what others say about us, our concern is what we actually are. In the end, we will not de defined by the characterization of our enemies but by the lived realities of our people.

The second step is by treating this situation for what it is, a war! This is a war and it should be fought like a real war. If it means suspending civilian rule in affected states, declaring them as war zones and sending in the military, by all means let’s proceed with every ounce of our energy. There’s no price too big to pay to prevent our country from sliding into irreversible chaos.

Granted that sending the military may come with it’s own risks, chief among them are military corruption, coup politics and the tendency to create a war economy that would perpetuate the conflict. But we can set realistic timelines and objectives upon which the whole operation will rest and security spending can be put under strict local and international supervision.

Government alone has the sole monopoly of violence and must guard this monopoly jealously. By allowing criminals to operate with impunity, government is not only failing the people it pledges to protect, but also failing itself by its inability to preserve its exclusive monopoly of violence.

These are only short and medium term solutions to ensure stability and restore normalcy. In the longterm, Northern Nigeria must embark on a revolution, the kind of social, political, economic and cultural revolution that could propel this backward region forward!

Because as it stands today, Northern Nigeria is on the crucible of history. Externally, the world is changing and we must adapt to a changing Nigeria by choosing between restructuring or disintegration. To choose either option, the north needs internal stability and cohesion. It is internal cohesion that breeds external strength. No country succeeds at the global stage while it remains internally fragmented.

That’s why the issue of insecurity in the north is an existential problem, with far reaching implications on our today’s reality and future vision. Our leaders are playing with fire and dancing on the heads of snakes, oblivious of the consequences involved.

Perhaps our current crop of leaders do not have what it takes to address our myriad social, economic and political challenges. If the objective of every generation is to bequeath to the next generation a country that’s better than the one they met, then our current leaders have done a very bad job and my generation has a big task ahead. And if there’s ever time when silent is complicity, that time is now!


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