Friday, 10 May 2013

Drawing the battle lines

The battle lines have been drawn. On the one side, the Niger delta militants – or is it ex-militants? - threatening mayhem if Jonathan is not re-elected in 2015; on the other, northern youths threatening mayhem if Jonathan is re-elected. First into the fray was Alhaji Asari-Dokubo, former president of the Ijaw Youth Council: ‘I want to go on to say that there will be no peace, not only in the Niger Delta, but everywhere if Goodluck Jonathan is not president by 2015… Jonathan has uninterruptible eight years of two terms to be president, according to the Nigerian constitution. We must have our uninterrupted eight years.’ This was immediately countered by a shadowy northern group (no website even) calling itself African Youth for Conflict Resolution. According to their spokesperson: ‘We want to tell the whole world that we are not afraid of anybody and if it is violence, we are more violent than Asari-Dokubo;’ and added: ‘...we will not vote for President Goodluck Jonathan come 2015 and therefore, in his own interest, he should not even make any attempt to vie for the presidency come 2015 because he is going to meet a strong opposition.’

Both the House of Representatives and the Nigerian Labour Congress immediately called on the Inspector-General of Police to arrest Asari-Dokubo for treason, although they were silent on whether his northern counterpart should also be questioned, in his case for incitement to violence. The police are unlikely to do anything to either of them in order not to ratchet up the tension, especially since the hitherto silent Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta quickly added its own voice: ‘On behalf of the hapless Christian population in Nigeria [MEND] will...embark on a crusade to save Christianity in Nigeria from annihilation. The bombings of mosques, hajj camps, Islamic institutions, large congregations in Islamic events and assassinations of clerics that propagate doctrines of hate, will form the core mission of this crusade code-named “Operation Barbarossa”.’

It should be said that the Christian community – north and south – has been remarkably forbearing given the murderous activities of Boko Haram in the three years that Jonathan has been president. I am not aware of any reports of mosques being blown up in retaliation for the bombing of churches, although if a group were to initiate such a campaign – and as MEND has now threatened – few would be surprised or even particularly outraged. Whether MEND would actually do so is a moot point. Some commentators believe that the group is no longer the force it once was since it accepted the amnesty deal. Their statement might even be a ploy to secure the release of their former leader, Henry Okah, who was convicted of terrorism in South Africa and sentenced to a long prison term, as indeed MEND canvassed for in their press release.

It is tempting to see all this as proof that Nigeria is in fact two countries yoked together by the British for its own administrative convenience, the centenary of which we are about to celebrate (and for which the inevitable contracts have been awarded), and that the country has only managed to hang together for as long as it has because the south colluded in the fiction – also promoted by the British – that the north has a monopoly on power, hence the northern sense of entitlement that suffuses so much of its rhetoric, in the process camouflaging the mundane facts of its relative backwardness it refuses to address. That particular jinx has now been broken, hence the fury at Jonathan’s ascendancy. There is no intrinsic reason why Jonathan should not serve a second term if the populace is convinced that he deserves it and not simply because he happens to come from an area of the country deemed unworthy of the presidency, as many northerners evidently believe.

That said, the sense of triumphalism one hears repeatedly from the south-south, and evident in Asari-Dokubo’s outburst, is hardly helpful, partaking as it does of the ‘It’s our turn to eat’ syndrome. The fact that ‘their’ oil largely pays Nigeria’s bills doubtless gives them leverage, and few would deny the injustices suffered by its inhabitants over the years, but merely having one of your own as top dog doesn’t by itself deliver the development that is long overdue. On the contrary, Jonathan’s presidency to date has been to make a few people stupendously rich – including, it is said, Asari-Dokubo himself - while the region continues to suffer neglect, as I saw for myself when I visited parts of Rivers State last year. Worse yet, the mechanisms of repression are still very much in evidence. On Bonny Island, for instance, an armoured personnel carrier with fully armed soldiers patrols the streets twice a day, once in the morning, once in the evening, and in the village I stayed at on the mainland I witnessed a detachment of soldiers round up okada riders following a minor scuffle and whisk them away with a speed that was impressive if disconcerting. Military rule may have ended in some parts of Nigeria but evidently not in the Niger delta, presidency or no.

In fact, there is no such thing as a monolithic ‘north’ eyeballing a monolithic ‘south’ for ascendancy, which is merely a convenient fiction exploited by a venal political class for its own advantage. But the real question is why ‘ordinary’ Nigerians – for which read the overwhelming majority - continue to buy into it as if a poor man in the one was somehow different from a poor man in the other. Both are poor, period, and with little prospect of being anything other in a country which stopped working a long time ago. Nor need one blame the politicians themselves for exploiting the atavism of them and us to their advantage even as one longs for just one example of the species to show evidence of thinking beyond their bank account. Ultimately, our problem is not our politicians but ourselves.  

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. Correct analysis of the current crises...

  2. Odia Ofeimun told me that he didn't only voted for Jonathan but campaigned for him.I don't know much of the reason, but it still borders on "South-South" son getting into the presidency which 'they', the majority had held for a long time.Meanwhile, GG Darah had taken time off, and coming back again to join the rank of progressives with another lecture of "Revolutionary Nigerian literature" in the home of a revolutionary-Kole Omotoso to mark his 7oth.

  3. well said!