Friday, 17 May 2013

Heart of darkness

President Jonathan recently announced the imposition of a state of emergency in three states of the federation. For the next six months, Nigerian troops and ‘other security agencies’ are permitted to ‘take all necessary action, within the ambit of their rules of engagement, to put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists’. These actions include ‘the authority to arrest and detain suspects, the taking of possession and control of any building or structure used for terrorist purposes, the lock-down of any area of terrorist operations, the conduct of searches, and the apprehension of persons in illegal possession of weapons.’ Given the recent activities of the Joint Task Force in razing a village in Borno – itself one of the affected states - in retaliation for a soldier killed by the Boko Haram insurgents in whose name all this is being done, we can only guess at what the affected inhabitants are about to endure.
Unlike the two successive states of emergency declared by the Obasanjo administration, which many saw as politically motivated (and perfectly in keeping with Baba’s style), Jonathan has left the democratic structures intact even as he has urged the affected governors and their (largely) rubber-stamp state houses of assembly to cooperate with the new dispensation. Quite how this will actually work out in practice is not altogether clear. Among the many anomalies of our lopsided federal arrangement is the constitutional absurdity of making the governors the chief security officers of their respective states while vesting control of the police – and never mind the army – in the federal government, i.e. Jonathan himself. 
There is also the continuing question of the role of the police. It is not my intention here to join the chorus of those who make a profession of denigrating them. The culture of impunity they daily exhibit merely reflects the system they represent and we all saw the conditions they endure in the police colleges they begin their working lives in; but calling out the army to do what is properly their job in a democratic setting is an indictment of the very democracy we are supposed to be enjoying. If it is in the logic of military rule that the police should be rendered impotent, it is equally in the logic of civilian rule that the police should be given the wherewithal to maintain law and order. That they have not been is testimony enough to the way in which they are viewed as the convenient tool of whichever gang happens to be in power, most notably at the polling booths that are supposed to guarantee the democracy they are supposed to be protecting. But it was ever thus, all the way back to their formation in 1861 as the prospective instrument of the colonial power a full half-century before the actual birth of the nation, and which continues under a different mask half-a-century again after our ‘independence’. No wonder the authorities are not keen on the study of history, of which more in a future blog. 
But the question this new development raises is whether Nigeria as conceived by a foreign conquering power for its own administrative convenience can exist other than rule by decree, which after all is how the country began its life, with Lord Lugard as our first military dictator (and, by some accounts, also a mercenary, which seems fitting enough). As I mentioned in my previous blog, even a cursory visit to the Niger delta where soldiers man the many checkpoints will disabuse anybody of the illusion that democracy is the name of the game. That Jonathan himself is an indigene of this same Niger delta is just one of the many ironies inherent in the tragedy of an artificial creation designed purely for plunder; as Conrad put it in Heart of Darkness, ‘reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage’. For all that their cause is just the leading lights of the Niger delta resistance are conspicuous only by their presence in Abuja, where they are busy championing Jonathan’s cause two years before his expiry date on the grounds that it is now their turn to eat, this being the sum total of politics Naija-style. Boko Haram, on the other hand, appears to have no other agenda than to dip the Holy Book in the Atlantic, just like Buhari said he would do before he became a born-again democrat, but that is another story in the continuing nightmare that was recently visited on a fishing village in the same Borno where the soldiers have now been given carte blanche. 
The three affected states have undoubtedly witnessed huge levels of violence – Borno especially, reputedly Boko Haram’s birthplace - but then so have Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Taraba and, latterly, Nasarawa (and not forgetting the bombings of the police and UN headquarters in Abuja, along with assorted churches, newspaper houses and telephone companies). The underlying problem in Nigeria is the fact of too many unemployed young men, a large number of them unable to read and write and therefore useless for anything in a world they nevertheless depend on for the communication gadgets and the firepower manufactured and deployed by the same world which labels them terrorists, which they undoubtedly are – along with their detractors. Moreover, we have been here before. There is nothing new about Boko Haram, otherwise known as Maitatsine in a previous incarnation, the rump of which retreated to Borno when they were chased out of Kano in the military operation against them in 1980, also under a civilian dispensation.
According to recent reports, the emergency has already scored a major victory: ‘The aerial bombardment, involving jets and helicopter gunships, targeted at Boko Haram terrorist training camps in the southern and northern parts of Borno State, continued Friday with unconfirmed number of militants reportedly killed, according to a top officer.’ Goodluck to them.

© 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. At last ! Real political analysis of the Nigerian scene from a real writer. Anybody with even the least interest in Nigerian affairs should be reading these blogs. CJ

  2. E ku ise. Thanks!