Any time I recall scenes from that video showing security officers of the Nigerian state ferret men, young and old, able and disabled, from behind closed doors in their homes and efficiently shoot them to death in the streets of Maiduguri in 2009, I find myself thinking: If that had been a nightmare, and not an event in actual history, it would still have had the power of occasioning some form of insanity. I ask myself: What manner of people would view such scenes of cold mass murder, executed by agents of the state in the country whose citizens they are, and still carry on as though there were something like human society in Nigeria? But apparently we all did carry on that way—and yes, there is human society in Nigeria; maybe not quite humane, or maybe just humane and inhumane by turns. We all watched that video and expressed our shock—I still feel the bile in my mouth when I think of that old man in crutches, escorted out of his house, made to lie face-down in the street, and finished off with a bullet. We all spat out our shock or held our mouths open in disbelief, and afterwards we carried on as if nothing strange, nothing disturbing, had happened. Perhaps nothing strange, nothing disturbing, indeed, had happened. There had been Ogoni, Odi, Zaki Biam, etc., etc., before Maiduguri. The Nigerian state does not only underwrite our citizenship, it also has the right and power to overrule our life and issue us with death, even on a large scale. That, for you, is the Nigerian state under which we organize what may be taken as Nigerian society.
In 2009, there was genocide in Maiduguri. I am not being sensational in making that claim. I am not even being as ‘sensitive’ as Wole Soyinka or as ‘insensitive’ as OBJ. I am only stating the fact as I saw it captured in that video. I do not recall that the dead in the Maiduguri genocide were ever memorialized in a public ceremony or even much remarked in the media and public discourse. For us, sensitive and insensitive Nigerians alike, life went on. We reduced it all, at most, to the extra-judicial killing of one man—Muhammed Yusuf, the leader—or as I believe—the front or fall guy of the Boko Haram.
Part of the tragedy of the matter is that we were not the only ones to forget the dead in the Maiduguri genocide. They were also forgotten by the Boko Haram, the terrorist group whose attacks on the police and the populace provided the pretext for that murderous police action. The people have never mattered to the Boko Haram. Their wellbeing was never the issue; otherwise such a moneyed and globally networked group like the Boko Haram would have used its resources to establish a socio-economic enclave, an alternative to the Nigerian ‘shitstem’, wherein the people may feel a sense of ownership of and participation in governance. Rather the people themselves are the hostages and victims of the Boko Haram, their human shield and cannon fodder, their pawns and counters in the enterprise and gamble of violence. The Boko Haram have never included the dead in the Maiduguri genocide in their bill of grievances. Rather, they supplanted the massacre of people with the murder of their figurehead, making the latter the only issue that requires reckoning on the part of the police force.
Many in the Naija commentariat and even in official quarters have argued that the Boko Haram are reacting to decades of unjust and corrupt governance in northern Nigeria. Nothing could be more untrue. The Boko Haram do not represent that kind of reaction. How can throwing bombs in beer parlours and churches be a response to bad governance? How can threatening to bomb universities across the country be a reaction to corruption? The Boko Haram are a terror formation that wants to institute its version of Islamic rule in the north and elsewhere in the country. Their official name gives the game away: Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awatiwal-Jihad. Their aim is to found a theocracy by means of naked force, a theocracy which they will rule in accordance with however they wish to interpret Islamic scriptures. They want power for themselves, and they use religious ideology to galvanize and justify their lust for power. They have found the perfect launch pad in the northeast of the country where millions of Muslims live in terrible abjection. Such conditions of life suit the project of the Boko Haram because they make recruitment of foot soldiers easy and because the state has all but collapsed there and can therefore be very easily overpowered in that theatre.
We must learn to distinguish between causative factors and conditions of possibility. Poverty, corrupt and unjust governance are not the causes of Boko Haram terrorism but the conditions of possibility in which that terrorism has been able to rear its head. A group that allegedly offers N10 million per suicide bomber is not a group that is concerned about and interested in alleviating the poverty of its recruits for suicide-bombing missions. It is a group that is manipulating the poverty of the suicide bomber and his family to achieve the end of its own will to power. Many governors and traditional rulers in the north know this: they have given their tacit support to the Boko Haram because they know that such support is enough to buy them a place in the good books of the assassins. They have even released Boko Haram terrorists handed over to them for debriefing and rehabilitation by operatives of the State Security Services (SSS) in accordance with a most bizarre agreement reached between the SSS and the Caliphate. Perhaps what the northern elite fail or fear to acknowledge to themselves is that the success of the Boko Haram will spell a cataclysm for them and the structures of power and privilege with which they unwittingly created the conditions of possibility for the emergence of the Boko Haram. Perhaps they think that none of this will ever happen, that the evil wind that brought the Boko Haram will one day pass, naturally lose its momentum and dissipate.
Wishful thinking. There has been no sign of dissipation, no let-up; only escalation. The northern elite, content to derive prebendal largesse from the Nigerian state which they augment by sucking up to oil princes in the Middle East, never reckoned that one day the exports from Arabia will be infiltrated by Islamic extremism. Mutallab of the bombed-balls infamy was the first sign. The Boko Haram provide us with sure evidence that those channels of dependence have become the route for elements of terror to enter into the bloodstream of Islam in northern Nigeria. And fatalist members of the underclasses who used to be the pawns and hatchet men of the potentates, the ranka dede, of the northern oligarchy, doing their dirty jobs gratis, are now being enticed away with the offer of mouth-watering sums for a small task like throwing one’s abject life away. This is the context in which we should place the timidity of the responses of the northern political class to the Boko Haram terror. Their silence has been well-nigh perfect because they know that they are the Frankenstein in this case.
Some of them, losers in the last elections, even see the evil work of the Boko Haram as a godsend to wipe the smile off the face of President Goodluck Jonathan, as though were Nigeria to suddenly collapse owing to the Boko Haram terror Jonathan would be the only one to lose or the one to lose the most. Thus all Buhari says these days is: Jonathan cannot handle the Boko Haram or Jonathan should unmask the people behind the Boko Haram. No responsible politician behaves this way. No responsible politician seeks to score cheap political points with a social problem of this magnitude and severity. Rather than blame the Nigerian ‘shitstem’ they gleefully laugh in the face of a president who, sadly enough, doesn’t even know his left from his right otherwise he would have ordered the immediate investigation of traditional rulers in the north suspected of collusion with Boko Haram terrorists. What is more, rather than the northern elite to a man (yes, they are almost always men in that oligarchy) coming together to tell the Boko Haram that their demands and methods are illegitimate, all they can think to do is pass the buck to the federal government under Jonathan. But as I have argued above, it is the elite in the north that created the conditions of possibility for the emergence of the Boko Haram. It is the northern elite that cultivated the class of lumpenproletariat from which the Boko Haram now draw their mindless recruits. It is the northern elite that initially opened up the channels to the Middle East now being used by terror specialists to infiltrate Islam in northern Nigeria.
The escalation continues. A confession is made at the highest level of security in the country that the state apparatus does not have the means to tackle the Boko Haram, they were never prepared for this kind of thing. Lives are being lost on a daily in the northeast of the country, and they are never memorialized in any sort of public ceremony. The Boko Haram gleefully claim responsibility for these murders and assassinations. The northern oligarchy pretends not to see anything or barks up a tree transplanted from the ‘south-south’ to Abuja. The government folds its arms and makes believe that there is a country to be administered. The Boko Haram bombs the UN compound in Abuja. The government becomes even more flustered and confused. The ostrich of the northern oligarchy sinks its head deeper into the sand of denial. The wolves in that oligarchy chuckle in complicit self-satisfaction. The Boko Haram, completely inebriated with the poison of terroristic success, threaten to bomb universities across the country. A memorial is held to commemorate the dead in the UN bombing. Meanwhile there is palpable terror everywhere in the country as nothing is being done to secure universities and other named targets of the Boko Haram. Then OBJ suddenly appears in Maiduguri in a visit to the family compound of Muhammed Yusuf, the late figurehead of the Boko Haram, on the same day the memorial is being held for the UN dead.
Was OBJ’s visit an ‘ego trip’ a ‘self-ingratiating act’ ‘gross, indecent, worse than pornographic, an obsequious consecration of violence, a groveling, simpering inauguration of submissiveness in the face of aggravation’ etc., etc., etc., as claimed by Wole Soyinka? Soyinka brought all the force of his rhetorical ability to bear in the write-up he penned to castigate OBJ for going to Maiduguri to visit Yusuf’s family when he ought to have joined the rest of the country in mourning those who were killed in the UN compound. But really, does anybody believe that OBJ went to Maiduguri with the express intention of undermining and mocking the memorial service being held in Abuja for those who were killed in the UN building attack? Soyinka wasn’t at the Maiduguri meeting and I am not willing to credit him with clairvoyance and mind-reading powers, even though his writing has proved to be ‘prophetic’ down the years. Soyinka didn’t accompany OBJ to Maiduguri so he couldn’t have known what transpired there. He couldn’t have used telepathy. What I know is that Soyinka has the ability to use language to dramatize and, for that matter, overdramatize a situation, to forcefully present his own reaction in such a manner as to make it appear as the only reaction possible to homo loquens. But what if another rhetor accuses Soyinka of overreacting, or even worse: of wailing louder than the bereaved? After all, he had to exhaust the arsenal of his rhetoric to paint OBJ in colours worse than those of Neville Chamberlain. What if that rhetor tendentiously points out that Soyinka had not embarked on the same ‘sensitive’ exercise on behalf of the unmemorialized dead of the Maiduguri genocide of 2009?
OBJ is a man whose reputation in Nigerian politics is as bad as they come. He is known for his uncouthness and rashness, and has hatched and overseen outrage after outrage in the socio-political experience of the country. Whatever good he does, he carefully undermines and obliterates with plenty of bad. He shifted the ‘centre’ in his two-term presidency commencing in 1999, and, by both hook and crook, stymied the self-entitlement of some of the more arrogant politicians from a certain bastion of political arrogance in Nigeria—men like Buhari, IBB, Atiku will never forget and forgive what OBJ did to their political careers. OBJ has questions to answer over Odi, over Zaki Biam, over how he turned the anti-corruption crusade into a witch-hunt of his political opponents, indeed, over his careful suborning of all those technocrats and advisers he appointed into his cabinet and state organs. The pattern is like this: OBJ would take a good man and press him into service for dubious ends, as happened with Ribadu. And there is more OBJ has to answer for—perhaps including what he did with his son’s wife, or am I going too far there?
However, I am persuaded that OBJ’s visit to Maiduguri is not what Soyinka paints it to be. Agreed, the visit, ill-advised and badly-timed, is not the best approach to adopt with a terrorist group like the Boko Haram murderers. But given the ineptitude of the state and the political class in Nigeria, especially the northern department of that elite, it goes without saying that there is a total absence of the best strategies (e.g. intelligence in terms of both security work and ideological confrontation) and the best personnel (e.g. astute police and intelligence officers as well as courageous and committed leaders of thought especially among the Muslim Establishment in the north) to execute any such strategies. It has to be highlighted that OBJ’s visit somewhat succeeded as an indictment of the northern elite for having kept silent in the face of the Boko Haram evil. Suddenly men like Tanko Yakasai are all a-flurry, thinking of ways to get the big men of the north to team up with and support OBJ. Too late, too little?
Soyinka didn’t have to chide OBJ. Some of us had felt that slightest soupçon of relief that perhaps with OBJ’s visit to Maiduguri something—whatever, anything—might be initiated by the political class to tackle the Boko Haram assassins and stem the alarming rate of escalation and impunity. And it was relief that wasn’t comic at all even though OBJ our national clown was the agency that supplied that dubious feeling. Soyinka didn’t have to chide anybody for clinging to the straw of dead hope in a sinking ship of state like Nigeria’s. All he needed to do was wait for the mad assassins to remind us that they are not the kind of people to start any kind of conversation with. By killing Babakura Fugu just because he held talks with OBJ, the sociopathic Boko Haram have eternally proved that they have no capacity to be redeemed by dialogue, that all they stand for is unrelieved tragedy, and that palaver with them is futile and, indeed, fatal. We didn’t need Soyinka this time to lay bare the tragic import of the Boko Haram. They are their own best interpreters.
It appears that OBJ did puncture a tiny hole of penetration into the evil structure of the Boko Haram. That hole might have grown larger. But no; it won’t. The tiny chink has been furiously sealed up with mortar and concrete when they murdered one of their own for organizing the talk with OBJ. They have been able to effectively deal with whatever weakness the visit exposed within their fold—or have they?
Really, it is a shame that OBJ’s trip to Maiduguri further perpetuated the silence that enshrouds the dead of the Maiduguri 2009 genocide and the daily victims of the Boko Haram in that blood-soaked city. But it was not an ‘ego trip’. Whatever else it was, it was also a journey taken at very great personal risk. The aftermath of that trip proves that OBJ was again at his most foolhardy—he could have been murdered by that ‘lone gunman’ who later killed Fugu. But I didn’t need that aftermath to confirm anything. I, Mao Kaci, would never have dared to go on such a trip, for, among other things, I would have arrived there reeking heavily of beer and been exterminated on the spot by the Boko Haram in whose book beer-drinking is unpardonable, diabolic haram. OBJ has tested the waters for us—what the Boko Haram need is not dialogue of any form. It is dictation. And if the power formations in the polity are serious, then that dictation will have to start from the northern elite and the Islamic Establishment in Nigeria. They have so far failed to rally and galvanize the majority of Nigerian Muslims for whom the Boko Haram are a sore embarrassment and a mortal threat. Those evil people eliminate moderate Muslims—and even members of their own fold, e.g. Babakura Fugu—with the same glee that contorts their faces when they murder non-Muslims. Dictation and sincere denunciation against the Boko Haram have to come first from the northern elite. Then the rest of the country—from the people of Maiduguri, to the students in, say, UI and Uniben, to the weakling government in Abuja, etc.—will feel bolstered in their confrontation with this evil project.