Friday, 31 May 2013

Drones over Nigeria

‘The excesses of Boko Haram must stop. That is the decision of this present government now. It must stop, whatever it will cost the government, it must stop.’
                                                                                        President Goodluck Jonathan

Speaking at a press conference during the latest African Union jamboree in Addis Ababa, President Jonathan sounded an optimistic note concerning the government’s latest assault on the Boko Haram insurgency: ‘The military going well. I am optimistic that with the level of success already being recorded, the emergency rule in the affected states may not last up to the six months stipulated by the Constitution.’ He also took the opportunity to reassure us on the safety of the civilian population: ‘There is no human rights abuse and there is no collateral damage with regard to security of individuals.’
It’s possible that Jonathan believes his own ‘optimistic’ prognosis, although, as I argued in an earlier blog, it’s questionable whether he believes in anything beyond the unlikely fact of his presidency, which perhaps still seems like a daydream and would explain his fundamental lack of seriousness. So it was, for instance, that even as he found the time to reassure the world that all was well on the terrorism front and that Nigerian soldiers had suddenly understood the necessity of treating Nigerian citizens with courtesy, it was also reported that Mr President failed to deliver his address to his fellow African rulers, ostensibly because he was too drunk. Nor was this his first no-show. He did the same at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Auckland because he was too busy celebrating his wife’s birthday.
But not to worry. This, after all, is the War on Terror and the US Secretary of State was close at hand to endorse the latest development – ‘Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation, and they have killed wantonly and so we defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists’ – at the same time as he assured that he had ‘talked directly about the imperative of Nigerian troops adhering to the highest standards and not themselves engaging in human rights violations and atrocities’. Given the scandal surrounding the drone attacks by the Obama administration on suspected terrorist hideouts in faraway lands, along with the continuing outrage of Guantanamo Bay, Jonathan – to say nothing of the army - clearly has plenty of latitude. Who knows? We might even yet see drone attacks on suspected mountain hideouts in Adamawa State, and anyone accused of terrorism will have a difficult time proving their innocence.
Boko Haram, for its part, was not slow in refuting Jonathan’s claim that the military had made any significant inroads with this new, more muscular approach; according to their leader, ‘My fellow brethren from all over the world I assure you that we are strong, hale and hearty since they launched this assault on us following the state of emergency declaration.’ He also claimed that ‘in some instances soldiers who faced us turned and ran away,’ and promptly invited Islamists from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to join them in creating an Islamic state in Nigeria: ‘We call to us our brethren in these countries I mentioned. Oh! Our brethren, come to us.’
It’s impossible to believe who is telling the truth in any of all this given that the military has cordoned off the affected areas – no mobile phone access, no free movement of people – but there is no reason to think that an insurgency now entering its fourth year without any appreciable results will suddenly collapse within six months because a few more troops are on the ground for a limited period of time. Moreover, the administration’s conflicting signals about how best to deal with the problem - now sabre-rattling, now appeasing - continues even under the emergency, with the President’s peace committee still touring parts of the north seeking dialogue with a group which has told them point-blank that it couldn’t be less interested. Or, as recently reported, releasing fifty imprisoned suspected insurgents from detention as a goodwill gesture. It was for this reason, perhaps, that the same peace committee was snubbed by the Commandant of the Jaji Military Cantonment, which was itself attacked last year by Boko Haram members in one of its more daring operations. Either fight them or settle with them.
The nightmare scenario, of course, is that Jonathan is in effect overseeing the final disintegration of Nigeria as we approach the centenary of what was never anybody’s baby. That this should be so is not directly his fault given the deep fissures in the state he inherited after decades of misrule, but there would seem to be some sort of irony in the fact that it should happen under a person many believe to be the most incompetent head of state the country has ever laboured under, military or civilian. Reports emanating from Aso Rock paint a picture of an administration which is paralysed by the myriad problems facing it, and which perhaps accounts for the persistent stories concerning Jonathan’s drinking problem. Moreover, he is particularly badly served by his special adviser on media and publicity, the ubiquitous Dr Reuben Abati, whose increasingly intemperate language against his master’s detractors – ‘medieval-era ignoramus,’ ‘mental indolence’ - is itself a sign of an administration which has lost its grip.
Given all this, it seems unlikely that Jonathan will survive even his current first term, never mind getting himself re-elected in 2015, although, as I also argued in a previous blog, the opposition is hardly inspiring. This, too, is the result of the deadly politics we have been playing this half-century of an independence which has merely been an extension of indirect rule by other means, in large part because we have allowed it to be so, hence the importance paid to the opinion of the US Secretary of State, but that is another matter entirely.

© 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 comment:

  1. Good piece.I now return here, every other Saturday