2 weeks to go before my latest book “Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune: the Abacha to Obasanjo Years” hits bookshelves. Over the next 3 weeks, I will be announcing the title of each chapter, one chapter title per day. The fifth chapter title is…
“He said, She said“…
You can buy the book from these places.
Less than 2 weeks to go before my latest book “Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune: the Abacha to Obasanjo Years” hits bookshelves. Over the next few weeks, I will be announcing the title of each chapter, one chapter title per day.
The title of chapter 2 is “Stepping Aside”… #NIGSOF
If one told Nigerians about a country that has experienced terrorist attacks or large scale insecurity in over 60% of its states in the past decade, they would probably think the country in question is Afghanistan or Iraq rather than their own.
Yet every single one of Nigeria’s six geo-political zones has experienced serious violence and insecurity in the past 20 years; from the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, clashes between farmers and cattle herders in the middle belt and south, ethnic, communal, and religious violence in the middle belt between the Tiv and Jukun, and the Fulani and Birom, the Niger Delta insurgency in the south-south, kidnapping and extortion in the south-east, to political violence, and clashes between Hausas and Yorubas in the south-west. Even Nigeria’s offshore waters are not safe and have experienced piracy. What is the cause of all this? Let us examine each in turn…
The Boko Haram insurgency has received more attention than any other conflict in Nigeria’s history, so I will not dwell on it here. Instead I will focus on two other conflicts that have not got as much attention. These are the spate of kidnappings around the country, and the conflict between nomadic cattle herders and farmers has killed more than 3600 people in the last three years.
A POLICING PROBLEM
This security issues to some extent reflect a failure of Nigeria’s police system. Although Nigeria has approximately 380,000 police officers, about 150,000 of them are engaged as escorts or on guard duty for VIPs (AKA nearly 40% of the NPF are not actually protecting the public, but instead are protecting VIPs FROM the public).
Secondly, Nigeria is under-policed. It has a ratio of one police officer to every 526 civilians. That is well below the United Nations’ recommended ratio of one police officer per 400 citizens. Training and equipment is also sub-optimal. 11 years ago, a presidential committee report on police reform bluntly stated that the police is “saddled with a very large number of unqualified, under-trained and ill-equipped officers and men many of whose suitability to wear the respected uniform of the Force is in doubt”.
Recently the BBC streamed an interesting video documentary about kidnapping in Nigeria. Kidnapping for ransom has become a serious security issue in Nigeria with kidnapping gangs making huge sums of money by kidnapping people, and releasing them only after large ransoms have been paid. Prominent victims who have been kidnapped include Michael Obi: the father of the captain of the Nigerian football team John Obi Mikel, and Kamene Okonjo – the mother of Nigeria’s (then) Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Norum Yobo, the brother of Nigeria’s former football captain Joseph Yobo.
In response the police has set up an anti-kidnapping unit called the Intelligence Response Team under Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari. This BBC documentary is an excellent expose of how serious the kidnapping issue has become in Nigeria. Recently there was a long Twitter thread where kidnapping victims and their families shared stories of how well organised the kidnapping gangs are, the huge sums of money they demand as ransom, and how the families of hostages have to borrow or crowd-source money from friends, family, employers, and their community to pay ransoms to get their family members released. After the release the money they raised is then converted into a loan which they must repay. This sends them into a spiral of economic vulnerability where they are simultaneously financially burdened by debts they have to pay, and also vulnerable to more kidnaps since the kidnappers are now aware that they can and have paid.
How and why did the kidnappings start? In 2009 Nigeria’s government ended an insurgency in the oil producing Niger Delta area in the south by doing what Nigeria normally does: use money to solve problems. What originally started as a protest against economic exploitation and pollution in Nigeria’s oil industry also included a campaign of kidnapping oil industry workers. The workers were usually released after their companies or families paid ransoms. 10 years ago I asked on this website, whether the amnesty programme would reward violence by setting a “Cash for guns” precedent by paying militants to not be violent. Not everyone supported the amnesty. The former Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi said of the militants: “80% of them are criminals”. That amnesty programme has set a precedent of paying ransoms for hostages that Nigeria has found free to break from.
THE FARMER VERSUS HERDER CONFLICT
This is a regional problem that has presented a growing trans-national security threat in West Africa (especially in Ghana, Nigeria, and Mali). In March 2016 herders attacked and killed 300 people in Agutu, Benue State in Nigeria. Then last month they killed over 40 people in Enugu State. They have also attacked the Agogo community in Ghana and shot several farmers dead. The herders state that they are acting in self defence and revenge against farmers who attack them and kill or steal their cattle.
The non-human catalyst for the conflict is ecology. The Sahara desert’s southward expansion at a rate of nearly 50km a year has dried up grazing areas; causing nomadic cattle herders to head further south and west in search of new grazing and water sources for their cattle. Desertification has simultaneously shrunk farmers’ crops and grazing sources for herders; thereby making green land more scarce and valuable to both.
Farmers have accused herders of cutting down trees, and allowing their cattle to eat their crops and destroy farmland. Farmers also bitterly complain about herders’ marauding attacks during which they murder farmers, and rape their wives and daughters. Herders contend that farmers plant crops on established grazing routes, steal, and kill their cattle. The fact that the herders are mostly Muslims of Fulani or Tuareg ethnicity, and that farmers in the areas they migrate to are mostly Christians of other ethnic groups, introduces a lethal sectarian context to the conflict.
To avoid the Boko Haram insecurity in Nigeria’s north-east, herders from Niger and Mali adopted new cattle grazing routes, migrated further to southern areas of Nigeria and to Ghana; which brought them into contact with communities that are not accustomed to their presence. Boko Haram and cattle rustlers are also acting as agent provocateurs in the conflict. Boko Haram get their meat from stolen cattle provided to them by bandit cattle rustlers. The rustlers often attack herders, kill them, and steal their cattle. Herding communities often assume that resentful farmers are responsible and take misdirected revenge against them. Although the Fulani and Tuareg are geographically dispersed across several west African countries such as Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, strong kinship networks and solidarity between them means that their revenge can be deadly.
So how can the conflict be stopped? Containing it by closing borders is not an option due to the herders’ nomadic nature and the open borders of the ECOWAS region. The Nigerian government’s proposed solution to the conflict threatens to pour fuel on the already burning fire. It proposes to set aside land as Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) for herdsmen and their cattle. Already, many states in southern Nigeria have condemned the plan and announced they will not participate in it.
Insurgency, kidnapping, terrorism, and communal violence are now occupational hazards of daily life and Nigeria must plan accordingly by dedicating a special security force to these issues. Specialist units such as the Intelligence Response Team are likely to become more frequent.
After 20 years of democracy in Nigeria, and the recent elections and swearing in of the president and National Assembly members, how has Nigeria’s democracy developed? What do the 2019 election results tell us about the country?
First is that the country is effectively a two dominant party duopoly with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controlling all 36 states of the country.
Moreso, there is a regional slant to the parties’ dominance. The APC won in all 18 states of the north and in 5 of the 6 south-western states. Conversely the PDP won in all states of the south-east and south-south, as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
Otherwise the country has become deeply polarized over the last 20 years by ethnicity, unemployment, income, education, and literacy. Additionally there is worrying political apathy in the south, where all-time low voter turnouts were recorded in some southern states.
This month marks 21 years since the deaths of General Sani Abacha and Moshood Abiola in 1998. Just before their deaths, Nigeria’s situation was as follows:
- Nigeria was being ruled by a reclusive military dictator called General Sani Abacha
- General Olusegun Obasanjo and over 50 other army officers were in jail on trumped up charges of coup plotting.
- Nigeria had become a pariah nation after being expelled from the Commonwealth for executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists who were campaigning for a fairer share of Nigerian oil revenues and against the environmental damage caused to their lands by the drilling and spills of big oil companies.
- Lt-General Oladipo Diya, Major-Generals Abdulkareem Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and several other officers were on death row awaiting execution for their role in another coup plot.
- The winner of the acclaimed June 12 1993 election Chief MKO Abiola had been in jail for 4 years, kept incommunicado from the outside world.
- General Abacha was on the verge of transforming himself from a military ruler to civilian President having strong armed all the 5 political parties (“five fingers of the same leprous hand”) into adopting him as their presidential candidate.
- Genuine democracy seemed far, far away.
Plus a lot of the “pro democracy” activists shamelessly abandoned Abiola to join Abacha (Olu Onagoruwa, Baba Gana Kingibe). Even ministers in Abacha’s regime were not safe. The Guardian Newspapers (owned by Abacha’s minister Ibru) was proscribed by a newspaper proscription Decree and shut down after it criticised the government. It was the paper’s continual criticism of Abacha’s regime that led to the near fatal assassination attempt on Ibru.
The Abacha -v- Abiola power struggle was holding the entire country hostage. Abacha’s thirst for power and Abiola’s unrealised mandate. Even if Abacha is removed, what to do about Abiola who won a credible election? Then the following cataclysmic events happened in the space of 30 days:
On June 8 1998 Abacha dies of a heart attack and is hurriedly buried without an autopsy by the time the news filters through to most Nigerians. Nigerians publicly celebrate the death of a reviled leader with wild jubilation. General Abdulsalam Abubakar quickly replaces Abacha and announces that Abiola will be released but that he had to realise that his mandate had expired. A lot of chicanery was used to get Abiola to renounce but he refused. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sent to talk to him and explain that his “term of office” had expired since 5 years had passed since the June 12 1993 election. All to no avail. Exactly one month after the death of Abacha, Abiola suddenly dies of a heart attack on July 7 1998.
With Abacha, Abiola and the June 12 issue out of the way, General Abubakar announces a swift 10 month programme for a return to civilian democratic rule. Just 10 months after Nigeria seemed doomed to perpetual military rule under General Abacha, the military steps down and a new democratic government is elected under President Obasanjo. The speed with which Abacha’s infrastructure was dismantled just seemed too contrived. With Abacha alive and Abiola incarcerated, most people thought democracy was years away in Nigeria. Just 10 months after his death everything he did was undone: his killer squad was dismantled, coup convicts and pro democracy activists released, Nigeria back in the Commonwealth, democracy restored, and the army back in the barracks. Note that a lot of Abacha’s cronies survived in office and resurfaced in subsequent dispensations (Sarki Mukhtar – NSA, Jerry Gana etc).
Somehow exactly 30 days apart, both men die of heart attacks. Abacha is prevented from becoming a civilian ruler, from executing the condemned men like Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and a recalcitrant Abiola (who refuses to renounce his mandate) also dies. Problem gone, debate over, fresh start. All rather convenient isn’t it?…. How easily we forget….