– Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor Tell Magazine on developments in Nigeria
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Attacks from Boko Haram, elections, the deregulation crisis with strikes which almost grounded the country et al, Nigeria has continued to make headline news. As the Boko Haram continues to run riot in the country, politicians have spent time trading blames. President Goodluck Jonathan who came in with a lot of promise has been under criticism from the break down in security that almost made the country helpless in the face of the Boko Haram. Nigerians are however united against terrorism says Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor of the authoritative Tell Magazine. Approached by PAV in a bid to get an unbiased assessment of the situation in Nigeria, Ayodele says the ease with which the Boko Haram unleashes its mindless attacks has created palpable fear in Nigerians. It may take a while for the Nation to overcome the nightmare but Nigerians are united on the fact that terrorism will do the nation no good. A highly respected voice in African media circles, Ayodele answered questions from PAV’s Ajong Mbapndah L on the Boko Haram, the deregulation crisis, corruption, concerns on whether Nigeria will survive as one Nation and more.
PAV: A United Nations Office was bombed last year, On Christmas day a Christian facility, many public offices have been targeted and many innocent lives lost, as a result of the Boko Haram which has continued with its attacks unabated and even ordered Christians in the North to move back to the South and Muslims in the South to move back to the North, is Nigeria under siege from this sect?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:There is no doubt that with the mayhem they have unleashed in the last several months, the nation is certainly under siege from the Boko Haram. Their mindless atrocities have created so much palpable fear, especially with the seeming ease with which they strike at their targets. While the nation was caught unawares, the good news, however, is that the security agencies are beginning to counter them through intelligence gathering. It is true some Christians who are southerners are relocating, even if temporarily; but where will Christians who are northerners relocate to?
There is no doubt the militant sect wants to plunge Nigeria into a religious crisis. But many patriotic Nigerians have realised their unwholesome intention, and are not about granting them their wish. It may take a while before the nation overcomes this nightmare, but millions of Nigerians are united on one fact that terrorism will not do the nation any good.
PAV: Religion is a sensitive nerve on the politics of Nigeria, when this Muslim sect targets Christians and Christian facilities, how does the broader Muslim population in Nigeria distinctly distance itself from the Boko Haram and its activities?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: The broader Muslim population has condemned without reservation the mindless activities of Boko Haram. Members of the group are mere impostors hiding under the guise of religion to perpetrate evil. Islam abhors violence. Anybody who says anything to the contrary simply does not know the religion and such a person cannot be a Muslim, no matter his claim to being one. And that includes the Boko Haram
PAV: What is the reaction of Nigerians on the way the Government of President Jonathan has handled the crisis thus far?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:Well, the reactions have been mixed. Many people think President Goodluck Jonathan has not come down heavily on the sect. Others believe, however, that he is trying considering the constraints there are. Do not forget that this is a guerrilla war unleashed on the cities by a faceless group. What the Jonathan administration needs most is cooperation of the citizenry, especially those living in the North of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram is based.
Furthermore, the crisis has confirmed one thing many Nigerians have been calling for quite some time, an overhauling of the nation’s security agencies. And that should include community policing, which will ensure that criminals can be easily identified.
PAV: In previous administrations, little was heard about the Boko Haram, is the surge in their activities a as a result of Christian Southerners at the helm of the country?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: From the little we know so far, the Boko Haram did not just spring up overnight. This is a group that has been recruiting members quietly over the years. Many of their members had been arrested in the past under previous administrations only for them to be released for “no want of evidence”. And because the security agencies were not only careless, there was no synergy between them that would have created the necessary platform to interpret properly the” monster” that was growing right under their nose. The issue is beyond just a Christian being at the helm of the country’s affairs; the Boko Haram first came into national consciousness in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was a Muslim from the north. We have been told Boko Haram has links with Al Qaeda Maghreb and even the Taliban. The countries where the latter groups originate are basically Islamic. And we have witnessed Muslim-on- Muslim violence in those places.
PAV: The USA, and the other members of the International Community have expressed interest in helping Nigeria to fight the sect, does Nigeria need international help?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Nigeria surely needs all the support it can get from the international community. However, such assistance should be limited to sharing information with security agencies on how to combat terrorism. The United States has been fighting terrorism for years both within and outside its shores. Nigerian security agencies will benefit greatly from counter-insurgency trainings. A physical deployment of foreign troops to Nigeria for the purpose of combating the Boko Haram menace may be counter- productive. I think the nation has enough security outfits and personnel who if well equipped can stop the terrorists in their tracks.
PAV: Nigerians were in the streets expressing anger over deregulation, may we understand what deregulation is all about and who has a stronger case the government which made the decision or the people who are against it?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: This deregulation of the downstream sector has been going on for years. To the common man on the street, deregulation means removal of fuel subsidy. The issue of subsidy arose because we import refined petroleum products for local consumption, an irony for a nation, which is the sixth oil producer in the world. Therefore Nigerians could not understand why our own refineries would not work; why we import fuel from other places thus creating employment in those countries while millions of Nigerians are unemployed. The deregulation was in public discourse for several weeks and Nigerians wanted to be educated properly by government on why they have to pay more for premium motor spirit. That debate was still in progress when the government announced the removal. Many thought the government was deceitful and uncaring by deciding to inflict more pain on hapless Nigerians on the first day of a new year.
PAV: Corruption has been known to be rife in the country, are there any signs that the government is making progress in fighting it?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:There are two agencies charged with fighting the war against corruption. It will be uncharitable to say they have not done well. There are still so many constraints blocking the war. There is a Code of Ethics for public officers in Nigeria. The Code is being observed in the breach. The failure to follow due process in the execution of public contracts prepares a fertile soil for corruption to thrive in. The private sector is not left out too, as recent probes of the banking sector and even the on-going probe of the petroleum sector have shown.
Many of our leaders in both the public and private sectors are not transparent and accountable in their handling of their responsibilities. The nation will turn the bend for good in the anti-corruption war the day a leader who is determined and has the political will emerges. It is such a leader who can deal with all the sacred cows who are stealing the nation blind, thus mortgaging the future for generations yet unborn.
PAV: In all fairness and for the same of some objectivity and honesty though is there anything the Jonathan administration has done that deserves credit, just anything no matter how small?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Except for his deployment of troops to the streets of Lagos and some other cities in January to frighten anti-fuel subsidy protesters off the streets, Jonathan has tried in the area of rule of law.
PAV: Are the crises that Nigeria is facing today not an invitation for the military to start nursing political ambitions again?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: The military laid the foundation of these crises during their 30-year rule. If any group of soldiers becomes adventurous and tries to stage a putsch, it will be a serious error of judgment. I
think the nation can surely do without politicians in military uniform. This democracy should be seen as work in progress. Therefore it should be allowed to grow and get a taproot so that it can thrive.
PAV: Last question Sir, is Nigeria capable of remaining one, strong and united and what will it take?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Millions of Nigerians do not entertain any doubt that their country can remain as a strong, indivisible and united nation. Although we are just 51 years old as an independent country, the journey to nationhood began nearly 100 years ago. The 250-odd ethic groups have become so interdependent that it would be chaotic if we now declare “to your tents oh Israel”! Considering the position of Nigeria as the largest black nation on earth, a balkanized Nigeria will not only create turmoil in the sub-region, but the ugly ripples will be felt all over Africa. To avoid such a development is why many eminent Nigerians across the ethnic divide have been calling for a national conference. That call is against the backdrop that the 1999 Constitution is not “a people’s constitution”. They believe that constitution was fashioned by a cabal in the military for a hidden agenda. Thus at the moment the country which is supposed to be a federation is being run like a unitary government. A national conference in which all the ethnic groups are represented will discuss the fundamentals of our co-existence as a nation. There are many who are opposed to this conference in the belief that it may pave the way for disintegration. They are being told, however, that to continue to postpone this national dialogue by shying away from it is to perpetually bind us to discord.