Nigeria’s coming apocalypse, 1 of 2?: “Dapchi and the Northern Question – the most flagrant assault on the secularity of Nigeria”: Tátalọ̀ Àlàmú

March 25, 2018



This essay first appeared in The Nation on Sunday & The Pathfinder International  March 25, 2018 as –

Dapchi and the Northern Question by Tátalọ̀ Àlàmú


According to an Arab proverb, to flee your fate is to rush to find it. Whenever weighty historical problems are swept under and hermetically sealed, they have a way of popping up in the least expected places. Let us congratulate the federal authorities for the release of the Dapchi girls. At least the Buhari administration has shown more focus and seriousness than its predecessor when it comes to dealing with hostage crisis.

But beyond the jubilation and ululations many things do not add up and there many questions unanswered which raise grave doubt about government credibility and its fundamental ability to deal with the most pressing national emergency of our time. Taken together, these questions raise justifiable concern about the ability of the nation to survive in its current architectural format, and they hark back to the harsh conundrum that is the Northern Nigerian Question.

Nigeria, in general and the north in particular, face a serious political, economic, social and spiritual emergency. There is a hint of frustration and authoritarian distemper in President Buhari’s decision to criminalize the politicization of abduction. Any sane person should know that this is not the time to take partisan pot shots at the government. But General Buhari must appreciate the reason why many of his compatriots have become querulous and incredulous about the dark tragi-comedy that the Boko Haram war is fast turning out to be.

When the general from Daura was given the nod ahead of the incumbent, it was because Nigerians thought that he could deal with the security nightmare unfolding in the northern fringes of the nation. Nigerians remembered with enduring nostalgia and admiration the Major General Buhari who ignored official orders to halt as he chased marauding Chadian soldiers deep into their sovereign territory.

There can be no doubt that the old Boko Haram sect is weakened, disoriented and factionalised. But this has led to the emergence of a splinter group that appears to be far more sophisticated, more focused, more ideologically driven and hence far more dangerous than the savage bloodthirsty sect led by Abubakar Shekau and his crazed cohorts.

While Abubakar Shekau and his gang rely on murder and mayhem, their emergent rivals appear more tame and temperate. While Shekau favours a scorched earth policy which devastates the entire landscape, its competitors are more thoughtful and strategically humane which accounts for the considerable local support and popular buy in. The Abu al-Barnawi group is bent on suborning the old order through a combination of military force and political cajoling. These people are here for the long haul, and it is a sign of state exhaustion to offer them amnesty.

The question is: how did we get into this spot? How is it possible that an ill-assorted militia can enter and re-enter at will swathes of Nigerian territory without any challenge whatsoever? The first thing denizens of Yobe state tell you is that this break- away faction occupies a recognizable and identifiable chunk of the state. In effect, it means that Nigeria is sharing territorial sovereignty with a rogue militia and its break-away faction in at least two states of the nation.

The profoundly destabilising and humiliating implication of this dualized state sovereignty was obvious last Tuesday as the Abu al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram rode into town in a triumphal convoy before depositing their precious human cargo near the site of abduction. The Nigerian security forces wisely kept out of sight. The question should not be why this was so, but how we ever got into the dreary pass in the first instance.

It was like a scene out of some epic movie. The al-Barnawi people had plenty of time to spare. They did not forget to bring on a certain horror charm offensive and swashbuckling daredevilry, admonishing the entranced populace to be of good behaviour and to refrain from sending their girls to school. The whole exercise was to teach them a lesson. In a bizarre finale, they even found the time to preach for about twenty minutes before sweeping away in the same manner they came, hailed and cheered on by the bewitched populace. Could this be part of the truce?

Lest we forget, the break-away faction told the world that they were holding on to Leah Sharibu, an abducted girl who had failed after repeated drilling to renounce her Christian faith. Those jubilant about a happy ending to the Dapchi debacle seem to miss an important point. As long as that girl remains in lone captivity, this is the most flagrant assault on the secularity of the state that we have witnessed since independence and the advent of the modern nation-state in Nigeria.

Those who believe that this cannot be going on in contemporary Nigeria have already concluded, a tad unkindly, that what we are witnessing is nothing but an elaborate hostage-driven hoax to fleece the federal exchequer; a cynical security war-gaming to boost General Buhari’s re-election plans and to make fast bucks on the side. As proof, they point at the predictive ease and facility with which some principal state actors and Boko Haram ambassadors at large insisted that the abducted would soon regain their freedom. And it turned out that they were right.

Where then do we go from here, in a situation in which a heretic sect appears to be in clandestine collusion with the state to fatally undermine the fundamental raison d’etre of the same state? By insisting that the government did not pay a dime as ransom, the federal authorities fatally undermined their own case by resorting to what is known in old legal parlance as overstatement of insecurity. This is the same government which claimed that Abu Musab al-Barnawi and his confederates came in the dead of the night even as the social media was awash with daylight snapshots of the entire operations.

As for sabotage, there seems to be plenty of this at play. It is obvious that there are rogue elements in the military, the security services and innermost sanctuaries of government actively bent on bringing the government to heel. It was not long ago that it was rumoured that an advance military unit was on the verge of overrunning the Boko Haram operative headquarters in Sambisa forest before the operation was suddenly called off.

Despite the tremendous improvement in the fighting quality and pluck of the Nigerian military machine since the advent of the Buhari administration, this covert destabilization makes it very vulnerable. When combined with the attitudinal shift of an increasingly receptive local populace, they give the Boko Haram sects a superior power of surveillance which makes the Nigerian army a sitting duck for its adversaries.

Not to be discounted is the international dimension to the conspiracy to dismember Nigeria. The Maghreb is awash with arms from ISIS/ISIL, the implosion of Syria and stateless Libya. For starters, President Buhari needs to step down the needless confrontation with the Shi’tte sect in Nigeria. The point has been made. They are an urbanized group without the power or capacity to overrun the nation.

Nigeria is a secular state with a multi-religious society. To allow it wittingly or unwittingly to be branded as a satellite Sunni state is to invite savage reprisals from a formidable array of Shi’tte states and sympathisers from Iran to the Levant. No one is sure how far rogue elements from these countries have penetrated Nigeria and its porous borders.

It is obvious that with the Boko Haram crisis and the herdsmen imbroglio, the north is sitting on a keg of gun powder. It has been nine years since the Boko Haram rebellion began with the murder of its leader, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. Rather than abating despite all the noise about degrading, it has mutated into the worst, low-intensity war the nation has seen in its existence.

Like an unattended sore, Boko Haram has now metastasized into a festering wound of the nation. To compound matters, it has now spawned a sect far more dangerous because of its political savvy and ideological surefootedness. The objective remains essentially the same and equally repulsive and reprehensible, but the al-Barnawa variant is far more potent because it is more systematic and politically inspired in all its theocratic malignancy. Two centuries and approximately two decades after the Uthman Dan Fodio rebellion, the north is playing host to another theocratic insurrection.

This is worse than a hegemonic struggle. It is a crisis of knowledge production and modernization driven by religious fundamentalism on all sides and fuelled by the fear of human capital and its capacity to drive change and genuine transformation. Without capitalizing on human capital, on the forlorn multitude of the north, all other reforms are naught and nil.

It must be admitted in retrospect that there were many Nigerians, this writer included, who put their bet on General Mohammadu Buhari as the only man with the charisma and prestige to nudge the north in the direction of modernity and modernization without provoking a social implosion and an apocalyptic meltdown of the social order.

That prestige, tragically enough, is beginning to disappear, as the president in who much hope and faith was placed seems to have other things on his mind. But so far, it has been a somnambulist sortie with unintended consequences upstaging consequences of inattention. In the circumstances and since statist messianism does not appear to work, it behoves on the president to address his mind to the widespread clamour for restructuring in the country as it allows the north to solve its own problems with its own template, time-line and time-table.

These are the stark choices before us. To imagine that a state-assisted resolution of the Northern Question can be postponed any further is to live in a fools’ paradise. Fortuitously, a military spokesman has disclosed that Nigeria is too vast to be centrally garrisoned. As it has been repeatedly stated in this column, you may ignore history but history will not ignore you. The Northern Question is the most critical aspect of the National Question.

When your neighbour is eating a strange insect and you do not offer words of caution, you are likely to suffer the collateral damage. Already the vultures are gathering and the killing field in the north is gradually beginning to find its way down south. It is going to be mayhem on an unimaginable magnitude. The Nigerian project has gone beyond an ill-assembled rabble bogged down by primordial fixations.

The Dapchi tragedy is a warning signal of the looming apocalypse. The real sheriffs finally arrived in Dapchi town last Tuesday. Yet without any sense of irony, Ibrahim Coomassie, the chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, could flatly declare that Nigeria could not do without the north. He could only provoke pity and pathos in genuine Nigerian patriots. It is not funny when a person who should be unhappy feels so smug and happy with himself. Let the Sardauna of Katsina go to Dapchi or Sambisa to proclaim that. He will be unpleasantly surprised.

SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2018.



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