Archive for April 2013

Boko Haram, MEND and the road to paradise

April 18, 2013

Casmir Igbokwe
A few years ago, an 18-seater bus was involved in an accident. All the 18 passengers, including a Catholic cleric, reportedly died. The bodies were taken to the morgue and embalmed. But the spirit of this cleric met two beings presumed to be angels. The angels took him to another superior being called the Lamb who was on a throne. The place was so beautiful that the priest did not want to leave again. There was no electricity, but everywhere was bright. No need to bore you with what transpired in this heavenly kingdom. As God would have it, this man was sent back to earth after some days in this paradise. Now, he longs to go back to this beautiful place.
A common saying in this part of the world is that everybody wants to get to paradise, but nobody wants to die. These days, we now have people who want to get there and are ready to die to achieve that. They have not gone there like the Catholic priest who is of the Ikot Ekpene Diocese, but as the scriptures tell us, blessed are those who did not see but believe.
Thus, members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, believe strongly that one major way to get to that paradise is by suicide bombing. Their main belief lies in the supremacy of the Sharia legal system and the foolishness of going to school to acquire western education.
They have killed thousands of people and burnt many churches and public buildings in order to advance their cause. In December 2011, they bombed St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla in Niger State. Scores of worshippers died in that incident. The terrorists have also bombed the United Nations building and the Police headquarters in Abuja.
Most recently, the group attacked a luxury bus park in Kano State. As many as 60 travellers, especially South-Easterners, reportedly perished in that attack.
This group has no respect for anybody. They attack anybody they feel like attacking without showing any remorse. Even school children and their teachers are not spared. The other day, we read reports that the dreaded Islamic sect killed six secondary school teachers in Monguno Local Government Area of Borno State. Last Saturday, the terrorists reportedly ambushed students in the same local government and slaughtered them. What else could drive one to commit this type of atrocity if not a promise of an assured place in paradise complete with an assortment of virgins and other good things of life?
To put a stop to these killings, the Federal Government is contemplating granting amnesty to members of the Boko Haram. It has inaugurated a committee to tackle this, but there are hiccups here and there. Many people are opposed to the idea of amnesty. Many others are also for the amnesty.
Those who support amnesty point to the one granted the Niger Delta militants. In other words, what is sauce for the goose, they reason, is also sauce for the gander. Some also feel that the shedding of blood is becoming too unbearable and the only way to put a stop to it is through amnesty. The Sultan of Sokoto is in this particular boat.
Unfortunately, members of the sect have dissociated themselves from any amnesty. As far as they are concerned, they have not committed any offence. It is the Federal Government, they say, that needs the amnesty.
Just as we are still talking about granting or not granting amnesty to Boko Haram, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has come up with its own route to paradise. A few days ago, the group threatened to attack mosques and Islamic clerics in retaliation for the killing of Christians by Boko Haram.
The question is, when did the meaning of MEND change from Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta to Movement for the Emancipation of Christians? Alhaji Asari Dokubo, an ex-militant leader, and a Muslim himself, has come out to condemn the threat.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. The initial agitation for resource control by the Niger Delta people was genuine. That was why there was need to grant amnesty to the militants. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua granted them amnesty and since then, there has been relative peace in that region. The recent threats to that peace are mere criminality.
Boko Haram and MEND are currently dragging us backwards. We may have survived many battles. We may have coexisted for decades as one country. But the moment religious war erupts in this country, that will be the end of Nigeria. Boko Haram is not fighting for Muslims; neither is MEND fighting for Christians. What they are doing is to use the instrument of Armageddon to get to their own paradise.
The Federal Government should be careful about this amnesty talk. It shouldn’t give the impression that it pays to commit mass murder and to destroy public places. Once that impression is created, many more MENDs and Boko Harams will emerge elsewhere. The consequences will be grave for this country.
If we must prevent the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s prediction that there might not be any Nigeria by 2015, from happening, then we must not give more money in the name of amnesty to groups that will use it against us.
Many Nigerians want to get to paradise too but they don’t want to get there via accidents, bomb blasts and guns. Those who want to go there through these means should realise that they may end up being asked, like our priest, to return to earthly suffering and gnashing of teeth.

Return of Salisu Buhari

April 11, 2013

Casmir Igbokwe

President Goodluck Jonathan dispenses goodwill and good luck in great abundance. His latest act of magnanimity was to grant pardon and give appointments to ex-convicts. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, and the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, are some of the latest beneficiaries of the President’s luck and goodwill. Surely, these two lucky fellows, like Christians, will now be singing, “I can see everything turning around for my good.”

Last Wednesday, Jonathan named chairmen and members of the governing councils of the 21 Federal Government-owned universities. Buhari happens to be among these lucky few. He is a member of the governing council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Buhari, you will recall, had a spell as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999. His young and handsome face radiated the chambers of the lawmakers with hope, great hope for our democracy. He came with high credentials, part of which was a certificate from Toronto University in Canada. It did not take long before the real man behind the mask was unmasked. Pronto, Toronto became synonymous with anything fake in Nigeria.  Amid tears, Buhari said he was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation. He had pleaded, “I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”

Of course, the nation has forgiven him; just like the nation has also forgiven Alamieyeseigha. Though many Nigerians had condemned these perfidious pardons, it is pertinent to note that the wisdom of government, sometimes, verges on abracadabra – the more you look, the less you see.

Lest we are misunderstood, nobody can question the right and powers of the Federal Government or the President to pardon ex-convicts. Or even give them appointments. After all, if there is no sin, there will be no forgiveness. As human beings, we commit sins every day. When we show remorse and ask God for forgiveness, we believe He forgives. Catholics go the extra mile of confessing their sins to God before priests who urge them to go and sin no more. But that is in the realm of faith and religion.

In the secular world, there is need to be more careful, else, we will be sending wrong signals. That is why in more serious countries, holding public office is a sacred thing. Hence, any public office-holder who steals or corruptly enriches himself while in office faces severe sanctions.

In China, such people face death penalty. For instance, a former Senior Political Advisor of East China’s Jiangxi Province, Song Chenguan, got a death sentence with two years of probation for bribery last year. Song allegedly took $2m in bribes from 1998 to 2010. He had offered favours to 18 companies and individuals in exchange for the money. Some other company executives had similarly faced death penalty in China for one corrupt act or the other.

In Peru, former President Alberto Fujimori committed some atrocities when he was in power. He ruled his country from 1990 to 2000. He ran away afterwards. But on his return in 2009, the country’s Supreme Court convicted him of human rights abuses and sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment. Fujimori, now 74, is in a special jail in Lima, the capital city. In some of these sane countries, anybody aspiring to public office is thoroughly scrutinised. Any slight dent is enough to put a stop to the aspirant’s ambition.

Our own standards are quite different. Those who are corrupt are the ones we encourage to rule us. Woe betide that person if he comes back after his tenure without much loot. His kinsmen will vilify him.

We may justify giving state pardon to Alamieyeseigha, Buhari and others. But how do we justify giving any of them another appointment? Today, Buhari is a member of the governing council of UNN. Tomorrow, Alams may be in the senate making laws for us and pontificating on the ethos of our public service.  

Ours is a society that thrives on absurdities and contradictions. The motto of the UNN is to restore the dignity of man. How will the appointment of people of questionable character into our revered institutions restore this dignity? And how can the Federal Government convince us that it is fighting corruption with this type of attitude?

This was partly why the late Professor Chinua Achebe twice rejected the national honours awards the Federal Government gave him. The literary icon just died an unhappy Nigerian. As if to heap more insults on his departed soul, Jonathan chose to make this appointment even when he is yet to be buried.

What the government is telling us is to steal as much as we can when we find ourselves in the corridors of power. The worst that can happen is that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will make some noises and, voila, we go and enjoy our loot in peace. Even if we are convicted, we stay a few months in prison and come out to repossess our possessions.

It is not good enough. It does not speak well of us. The appointees may think they have abundance of luck. But in the fullness of time, we will discover that we are not just living in a fool’s paradise, but will also be seeing everything turning around for the worse.