When recently a deafening alarm was raised by Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma about the perilous economic condition of the north, it was not the first time that such a distress statement had been made. Someone in the not-too-distant past talked about the insecurity situation in the north setting the region back by as many as 20 years. But a statement takes on importance depending on the stature and status of who makes it, as well as the context and occasion in which it is made. All of these favoured TY’s intervention as one of the most powerful reminders of the precipice at which the nation’s ship is dangling. The man is so rich he decided, a couple of years back, to float a foundation that is reputed to be the most massively-funded private charity on the local scene, putting himself in the company of the Bill Gates and Mauffets and a long list of philanthropists.
And TJ has been everything in public life – in military and civil governance – that anyone would aspire to be, except being a head of state. But he’s played the role of power behind the throne on more than one occasion in recent memory. And who has closed that chapter on the man’s life?
The only thing from his statement was an indication of the way out. But just when people were still digesting the full implications of his grim picture of an economically battered north, another loud intervention came from Sokoto, with the Sultan urging amnesty to the Boko Haram sect.
The immediate response of the President – or the interpretation of same – has given the impression of a sharp divide. Repudiating the option of negotiation with “ghosts” is not to be equated with wholesale rejection of negotiation. That’s the fine distinction that the President’s men ought to have made. And it’s not too late to make – and amplify – this distinction. Come to think of it, given the international dimensions that the activities of the sect have attained, in terms of foreign nationals who have been killed, negotiation is a tall order, similar to suggesting to Barack Obama to negotiate with terrorists. But, as those familiar with the history of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) would attest to, nothing is impossible.
And, to make things easier for everybody, a programme to encourage adherents and supporters of the sect to come clean needs to be promoted.
It is in the attempt to draw similarities between Boko Haram and the militants of the Niger Delta who held the country to ransom for a good part of the second term of the Obasanjo administration and the succeeding Yar’Adua administration that problems arise.
Analysts believe that what the President is encouraging elders in the north to do – condemn the insurgents – is easier said than done. And we have recent experiences to learn from. The emergence of Oodua People’s Congress was provoked by the act of annulling an election won by Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba person. While many Yoruba took exception to the blatant injustice to one of their own, they did not subscribe to violent approach to seeking redress of this injustice. But none had the courage to frontally confront any versions of the OPC – Frederick Faseun’s or Gani Adam’s. Rather, the more militant version led by Adams progressively acquired legitimacy as an alternative, albeit underground, government. There probably is hardly any government in the south-west that doesn’t quietly defer to the leadership of OPC in any of its complexion.
The same point can be made for the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and different Arewa pressure groups vis-à-vis political authorities in the south-east and northern states.
Politicians and persons with extremist tendencies always manage to hit off a relationship. It explains why members of a political party have often been called upon to explain their relationship with the sect.
In moments like this, all those who are not willing to be part of the solution, to the extent that they are unwilling to make concessions to opponents, are usually encouraged to take the back stage. The President and the Sultan should be encouraged to search for common grounds to tackle a common challenge. No one should rally behind one or the other.