By Ladi Thompson*
Every right-thinking Nigerian would welcome the broad suggestion made by the United States Ambassador, Mr. Terence McCulley to the Federal Government.
In the course of an address delivered at the Distinguished Public Lecture during the 50th anniversary of the University of Lagos, the Ambassador campaigned for a change of tactics in the current fight against terrorism.
Tapping into his nation’s experience, he cautioned against the heavy-handed approach and went on to suggest that community policing was one of the directions in which to go.
The envoy was quoted to have drawn a parallel between New York in the 1980’s and Northern Nigeria of the modern day. While Nigerians must appreciate his genuine concerns, we must however make available the African opinion about his surmise.
Something about the presentation reminds me about a setting in the primary school that I attended in the early 1960s. There was a particular school friend of mine whose reputation for dullness in Arithmetic was legendary. Every time the teacher asked him a question, the entire class would mouth different answers in attempts to help save his face.
Silent and helpless, the poor chap would twiddle his thumbs and curl his toes with sweat dripping down his face, as diverse answers would fly around and leave him more confused than ever. But he turned out a different person on the sports field.
In many ways, African nations are subconsciously handled like that on the global stage. The envoy started out by inadvertently admitting the existence of a terrorism problem in Nigeria, but he went on to compare the experience of an American city with that of a sovereign nation.
Aware that the resurgent terror problem is a documented global affair, McCulley’s historical foray into the New York experience and the ideological war that is being conducted on Nigerian soil leaves one in a daze.
Both global and local patterns clearly show that the ideological conflict takes advantage of negative economic climes, as well as government’s lapses. If the Nigerian opinion counts for anything, we would rather have US backing for solutions that de-emphasize the lines of division between Northern and Southern Nigeria.
If we want to pursue solutions that will not create greater problems, it is our patriotic duty to announce to our allies that this colonial North-South demarcation has been the root of many national problems.
More than anything, the unskillful suturing of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of 1914 promoted the Boko Haram policy that created the imbalance in industrialization and development. It is undeniable that the cultural clash between the Arabic bent of Northern Nigeria and the colonial interests of Britain was the reason for the indirect rule policy.
We were joined together at the hip but kept apart by the social engineering skills of our colonizers and there will never be any real progress until an exercise in consensus building is undertaken.
Africans have learnt to bear hardship and poverty with dignity. It would be tantamount to a slap in the face for anyone to insist that terrorism is a product of poverty instead of the other way round.
The poverty quotient of Northern Nigeria is not any different from that of most parts of our federation, except that the Boko Haram has created its stronghold there because of an ancient strain of Islamism that was revived by the global quest. The letters of El Kanemi, an Islamic scholar to the Sokoto Caliphate in the early 1800s will lay all doubt to rest. The terrorism that sponsors bloodshed by waging war against non-Muslims and fellow Muslims alike is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. Ideological corrosions thrive on full stomachs as well as empty ones!
The failed terror attack undertaken by the scion of the wealthy Mutallab family of Northern Nigeria was no fluke and there are millions of such boys waiting in the wings to be recruited but for want of the means.
The preponderance of Osama bin Ladin stickers on motorbikes, carts and walls is a pointer to the pandemic proportions of this corrosive influence. We think that the US ambassador’s suggestion about community policing is a great idea, but the dynamics of Nigerian politics and the architecture of governance will not accommodate it except compelled otherwise.
Finally, the US has to be made aware that many Nigerian citizens have been exposed to life in the Gulf states and the political arm of terrorism is showcasing the modern development in the Emirates as proof positive that Nigerians do not need a cumbersome democracy to enjoy the fruits of modern living.
The ease of visa procurements to the emirates compared to the western nations means more and more Africans are being influenced towards an alternative form of governance. Now that Nigerians have finally come to the place where we know that no one can build a lasting structure on shaky foundations, it would be tragic if our democratic republic goes under because we do not face the Islamist threat for what it is. The domino effect in Africa would be something else and the globe would not want to see what an Arab-Africanised continent will be in the hand of fundamentalists.
*Rev. Thompson, a conflict resolution and anti-terrorism expert. This piece was also published at www.punchng.com