Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

At a joint meeting between the Special Task Force (STF) and representatives of Muslim communities of Jos and Barikin Ladi in Plateau State, the Muslims yielded to the appeal by the STF not to pray at their usual Eid praying ground at Barikin Ladi. A day earlier, the Izala group has also acquiesced to pressure from the STF not to pray at their Eid ground at Unguwar Rukuba, Jos, where many of its followers were killed and cannibalized last year. Muslim prayer is becoming impossible in Plateau State. The impossibility is aided by a federal government outfit, the STF, which misdirects its appeal at the victim instead of the assailant. But this is not even our point of discussion today.

In my conversation with one of the Muslim representatives just after yesterday’s meeting with the STF, he expressed his distress over the unhelpful behavior of top Muslim functionaries in government in the following words:

“Honestly, our leaders at the top are not helping matters. We could not reach any of them since yesterday; neither the Inspector General of Police (IGP) nor the National Security Adviser (NSA). Their lines have been switched off. One cannot but feel helpless and abandoned in situations like this.”

I have noticed that there is always a deliberate attempt by Muslim leaders and top functionaries in government to distance themselves from their fellow Muslims whenever the latter are faced with a crisis, when they need them most for guidance and advice. One of the leaders the Muslim community in Yelwan Shendam told me the pathetic story of how they were failed by Muslim leaders.

Since 17 February 2004, Muslims expelled from the villages around Shendam started converging to Yelwa for safety. Yelwa itself was eventually attacked on 24 February 2004. The attack did not succeed as intended. The Muslims were able to chase and kill many of the attackers, including some who, the Muslims claimed, were using a church as a hideout. Since then, a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on the town and it remained so until it was attacked for the second time on 2 May 2004.

Sensing the worst might befall them when they are attacked the second time, given the revenge that the then governor Joshua Dariye promised, Muslim leaders of Yelwa took the pain to tour the North for thirteen days after the first attack, appealing to Muslim leaders in the region to persuade the federal government to beef up security in the area. Among the several Emirs they visited, only those of Birnin Gwari and Dutse promised to take their complaint further. The Emir of Kazaure would have been the third, if he were in the country, said the leader of the delegation. The Emir of Zaria out-rightly dismissed them as incapable of living peacefully with their Christian neighbors, as if he is able to live peacefully with his Christian subjects in southern Kaduna. Blaming the victim is his own way of escaping any involvement in the issue. The Emir of Kano consigned the Yelwa delegation to his Sarkin Fada, meaning that the matter did not even qualify for his attention. The Sultan was not in the country. Babangida, according a member of the delegation, “played us his maradona, without committing himself to anything.” Etc.

And the worst came.

When the end of 28 April 2004 approached and the campaign by the majority Christian tribes was about to commence, all policemen withdrew from Yelwa, saying that it has become “Afghanistan.” Only one Muslim police officer remained in the town. He was allegedly shot by a mobile policeman colleague when the attackers returned to Yelwa.

After they were informed that Christian forces were seen heading for the town, the soldiers stationed in Yelwa withdrew on 2 May 2004 – the first day of the second attack on the town – under the pretext that they are going to seek for reinforcement. They never returned. The Muslims were thus abandopned to their fate. Luckily, they suffered only eight deaths on the first day. If the military had stayed or returned with the reinforcement as they promised, the massacre that happened the following day would have been avoided.

Monday, 3 May 2004, the Muslims lost close to 570 lives. Hundreds of their girls and women were captured from their hideout at the house of the Galadima by the Christian tribesmen. They were carted away literally into captivity and slavery. That day, it took the braveness of a youth who drove through the roadblocks mounted by Christian youtand to inform the soldiers at Shendam of the massacre that he left taking place behind him in Yelwa. If it were not for the intervention of one Col. Femi and his troops, the entire Muslim population of the town would have been wiped out. He had to “clear” a number of Christian youths at the roadblocks on his way to Yelwa. Thanks to another brave mobile policeman in the team drafted to the town after the crisis, most of the slave women were retrieved after they have been subjected to weeks of unprintable abuse that has been documented by many human rights groups. As a side note, I must say that nobody was arrested for any of these crimes.

Also, when the Fulani in Riyom and Barikin Ladi local governments were given a quit notice by the STF last month, I immediately got in touch with the Sultan, the supreme commander of the Fulani in Nigeria, to register my disapproval of the order. To be fair to him, he took me into confidence and said he would appeal to the President to withdraw it. Meanwhile, he agreed with me that the Fulani should disregard the order. I conveyed his stand to them.

The Sultan contacted the President, who was attending an AU conference, and the Vice President in the following hours. We kept in touch until when it was clear by the evening of the first day of the quit notice that the Chief of Defence Staff has resolved that the operation must be undertaken. It then became clear to the Sultan that there was no going back. What would he tell the Fulani then? He never got back to me to advise us on what to do. Twice i called my commander, and twice he refused to pick my calls. I have not heard from him since.

As God would have it, Saleh Bayari was released that evening and together with Miyetti Allah leaders in the State we visited the STF the following morning and began to sort out how the Fulani would vacate their homes in the five affected communities. We agreed on a number of things with the STF and headed for Mahanga with a detachment of some soldiers and its deputy Commander that evening to explain matters to them. The rest is now a story which I was updating my readers on throughout the period of the crisis.

The operation has ended without any casualty. We thank God that the plan to use the soldiers to drive the Fulani out of their communities forever or “finish” them when they refuse to vacate was carefully foiled by the vehement outcry of the Nigerian public, especially from the civil rights groups and international humanitarian organizations which instantly responded to the apprehension we expressed online. As a result of that pressure, the federal government backtracked and instructed the soldiers not to kill anyone during the operation.

Throughout the period of that crisis, like in every other one during the past two and a half decades, not a single northern politician, traditional ruler, governor or government official – Muslim or Christian – made any public statement condemning the federal government for its actions. In their silence lies one of our greatest security problems in the country.

Muslims in the country are always left on their own under such situations. Unlike the Christians who would trust the Christian Association of Nigeria to speak on their behalf (though many times its leader speaks only on behalf of himself), Muslims have no voice to echo their grievances. The Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs are practically government mouthpieces because its core members – the Emirs – and their president – the Sultan – are officials of their respective state governments. They dare not say anything unpalatable to government otherwise they will soon be met with the wrath of their emperor-governors. The JNI branches in the states are mostly dysfunctional, made up largely by ulama are that are too weak to stop crises when they are set to happen.

What happens to the ordinary Muslim under such situations when he has nobody to refer to for guidance and no one to fight his battle in the security councils at state and federal levels? Take the case of Plateau for instance. There is not a single Muslim in the entire security council of the state – not among its federal representatives like the Commissioner of Police, Director (SSS), STF commander, Commander of Civil Defence, and, of course, not among representatives of state government like the Governor, his Attorney-General, Permanent Secretary (Security), etc. But if Muslim officials elsewhere cannot come to their aid, how would they expect any of the above officials to protect their interests during any crisis situation?

Muslims, being left on their own, are thus pushed to taking the law into their own hand in many instances. And should they take any move to defend themselves, the security agencies will promptly pounce on them with arrests, torture and prosecution. The press for political reasons will twist their story and blame them. Since the crisis on the Plateau started, many Muslims have been convicted – like the eleven convicted Fulani after Dogo Nahauwa reprisal attack – or are awaiting trial in jails, but there has not been a single Christian prosecution. This kind of injustice does nothing but feeds Muslim anger and complete feeling of estrangement from government.

This takes us to another dimension when government and the Christian leadership in the country would compel Muslim leaders to condemn their followers or appeal to them to remain calm or keep the peace even in situations where Muslims are at the receiving end. The result is a total disregard for the appeals of such leaders. Boko Haram is one such case. So much disconnect exists between Muslim leaders and their followers that their calls for dialogue and their condemnations have woefully failed to persuade the group to stop their attacks for a day. Two Emirs, the Shehu of Borno and the Emir of Fika escaped death from Boko Haram suicide bombers by a whisker. That was a powerful message.

And when Muslims suffer casualties or disaster, their leaders are the most unwilling to help them. In the donations we received for Fulani IDPs and the recent Jos Flood victims, apart from the Sultan sent a paltry sum of N2million to the flood victims through JNI, not a single donation came from a notable Muslim leader, top government functionary or politician even though hundreds of Nigerians including Christians and southerners sent in their donations. What crop of leaders are these who cannot defend the interest of their people, be with them during crisis or assist them during disasters?. How can they command the respect of their followers with this blatant abdication of responsibility? Nobody is asking them to carry any sword as their grandfathers did. We are only asking them to speak out; yet that too is not forthcoming. Kai!

The complacency of Muslim leaders when the rights of their followers are violated has thus become one the greatest sources of instability in the country. It has allowed the boat of our internal security to be pedaled by only one side – the Christian side, while Muslim leaders continue to keep their own pedals on their laps. No wonder the boat is tilting to the safety of one side, albeit temporarily. If Muslim leaders had pedaled their own side too, the boat would have moved straight in the desired direction of our collective safety when he government will be compelled to guard the rights of all citizens equally. Inevitably, the boat will capsize. In the end, the complacency they think is a service to government is turning out to be a great disservice to it. Today, it is evident that most of them can no longer be relied upon by government to calm anybody.

The Muslim communities in Barikin Ladi and Jos are therefore on their own. I doubt if any of them is able to reach the Sultan, the governor, the IGP, the NSA or the President. But for how long would they continue to yield to the STF appeals at the expense of their right to worship, just because there is a "security report" claiming that there will be trouble if pray for not more than an hour on a ground they bought and have been using for decades now? For how long would they continue to remain passive without learning from their Fulani brothers? As I set out to write this article this morning, I was told that the Berom have killed three Fulani and injured one as they were riding their motorcycles home from Barikin Ladi yesterday. I will not shade tears for them. I am sure the killings will not go unanswered.

And to Muslim public officials who toe the line of injustice by their silence and making themselves inaccessible to their Muslim constituency during crisis, we only need to remind them of the temporary nature of their seats. Boko Haram alone has brought down two IGPs and the most connected NSA in the Jonathan administration. With time the occupants of those seats will suffer the same fate. No amount of complacency will save them.

Back to Jos. If the STF commander, Major-General Ayoola, and his team are too weak to secure Nigerians in their place of worship for just an hour, I cannot see the reason why he should not be redeployed. This is incompetence at its worst. Some of the STF sector commanders are even conniving with the very Berom youths who instigate these crises. In the meeting yesterday, the STF commander was told about the connivance of the field commander of Sector 5 in Barikin Ladi, Col. Victor Ita. The Fulani have bitterly complained that he led the team of soldiers who demolished their houses using armoured personnel tanks just after a MOPOL was killed by an unknown assailant. He just could not wait to verify the murderer. Both the Fulani and Hausa accuse him of supporting the Berom in every instance. In the meeting between Muslims leaders and the STF commander yesterday, unknown to the STF Commander, Col. Ita smuggled two Berom youth leaders into the venue. The commander became clearly disappointed. Yet, I will swear by my honour that the sector commander will not arrest the assailants that killed the three Fulani in the area under his command yesterday. I will also not be surprised if he launches an attack on the victims' community soon, should they retaliate in any form. How could there be peace?

Such a person is not needed to command our soldiers. If he wants to fight the Fulani or the Hausa, let him remove his uniform and join the Berom camp. Then, I am as certain as my death that he will get a good run for his money. He thinks his actions are helpful to the Berom while in actual fact it is hurting them. It was his demolition of Fulani houses that led to the escalation of the crisis in many communities in Barikin Ladi and Riyom local governments last month. Many of the Berom have been living in self exile since then. They are too scared to return to their homes. If not for the aggression of Col. Ita, Senator Datung and House member Danfulani who lost their lives in that escalation would have been alive today.

I will appeal to civil rights groups to redouble their effort in fighting for the rights of the minority groups in Plateau State. Denying people worship is going too far: it could be a tipping point. Last year, at the Unguwar Rukuba ground, over forty Muslim worshippers were killed and cannibalized under the watchful eyes of the police. Despite the preponderance of the video clip, nobody is arrested to date. This bias cannot be sustained. It will not yield peace. The trend must be opposed by all well-meaning Nigerians.

The federal government, as I emphatically made it clear before the President at our meeting with him last week, must rise to protect the rights of minority Nigerians wherever they are in the country. It has for too long allowed its personnel to be used in the pursuit of narrow chauvinist agenda, especially in Plateau State. The hands of the chief architect of the crisis in the state – its governor, Jonah Jang – are very clear in every posting of security officials made to the state. The federal government in whose hands is entrusted our entire security and law enforcement apparatus must wake up to its responsibility. Otherwise, it must be prepared to handle crises worse than Boko Haram soon.

And, finally, I turn to you Muslim leaders in your palaces and government offices. Contrary to your belief that your silence is helping matters, it is further subverting the security of Nigerians and allowing the tree of intolerance and hate to grow and blossom. It emboldens the aggressor and pushes the victim to the state of despair where he must, in compliance with the natural law of self-defence, resort to his own devices. That is your despicable contribution to the insecurity of this country. I have come to your defence in the past when your name was unjustifiably dragged into the mud. But not in this. You must wake up and serve the nation boldly by speaking against injustice.

Please accept this article as my Sallah gift to you. And what a pleasant one!

Someone should tell President Goodluck E. Jonathan to please go slow with his Ijaw Nation project. If it is destined to succeed, it will ultimately do without rushing too many things at the same time and causing grievous damage to the mechanics of the nation. Speed kills.

The latest move, among many, is that he has approved a memo that officially auctions our national maritime domain to a company that is alleged to belong to one of the leading Niger Delta Militants. Come with me.

On 5th January 2012, the Ministry of Transport submitted a memorandum to the Federal Executive Council titled, AWARD OF CONTRACT FOR THE STRATEGIC CONCESSIONING PARTNERSHIP WITH NIMASA TO PROVIDE PLATFORM FOR TRACKING SHIPS AND CARGOES, ENFORCE REGULATORY COMPLIANCE AND SURVEILLANCE OF THE ENTIRE NIGERIAN MARITIME DOMAIN.

To cut a long story short, I have quoted, ad verbatim, paragraph 14 of the memo that summarizes it. (Errors herein are not mine, please)

14. Council is, accordingly, invited to;

note that the principal objective of NIMASA’S activities is to ensure that safety and security of Shipping/Maritime Trade in a protected marine environment but Resource constraint has made it difficult for NIMASA to acquire the requisite Operational Platforms which are needed to effectively patrol and carry out surveillance of Nigeria’s entire coastline.

note that the Surveillance Operations will be carried out in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy in line with the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy under the Maritime Command and Structure;

note that the project is aimed at addressing the challenges in the Maritime Industry

(v) note that the scope of works covers Monitoring, Patrol, Enforcement of Conventions and Improvement of Revenue;

(vi) note that the Platform upon completion will enhance effective patrol and surveillance of Nigeria’s entire coastline to achieve total Maritime Domain Awareness

(vii) note that due National Security nature of the project, Direct Procurement was adopted to this procurement under the Public Procurement Act. Section 42 (1) f;

(viii) note that Due Process Guidelines, were followed and the ICRC has approved the PPP arrangement on a ‘no cure no pay’ basis in favour of Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited (GWVSL) with an initial investment in the sum of USD103,400,000.00 Dollar only. Inclusive of all taxes on a contractor financed Supply Operate and Transfer (SOT) Concession for a period of 10 years based on performance;

(ix) note that the BPP reviewed the procurement process and issued a Certificate of ‘No Objection’ for the Provision of Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforcement of Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance of the Entire Nigerian maritime Domain for Ministry of Transport/Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, in favour of Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited (GWVSL), with an initial investment in the sum of USD103,400,000.00 Dollars only, on a contractor financed supply and Transfer (SOT) concession for a period of 10 years and renewable for further 2 terms of 5 years each based on performance as recommended by ICRC and no more to avoid undue monopoly of the service by Concessionaire;

(x)  note that the projected amount accruable to government over the concession period will not be less than N124billion.

(xi) note that the President vide letter Ref. No. PRES/99/MT/61, 9th November, 2011 had granted anticipatory approval for the project;

(xii) note that the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice has reviewed and approved the Draft Agreement.

(xiii) note that this project is contractor financed and does not require any Government Appropriation.

(xiv) note that this project will create 1375 job opportunities to Nigerian professional and non-professionals directly and 1620 jobs indirectly; and

(xv) Ratify the Presidents anticipatory approval for the concessioning of the Provision of Security, Monitoring and Enforcement Operational Platforms on Nigerian Waters to Ministry of Transport/Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). In favour of Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited (GWVSL), with an initial Investment of the sum of USD103,400,000.00 Dollars (One Hundred and Three Million, Four Hundred Thousand Dollars) only. Inclusive of all taxes on a Contractor-financed Supply Operate and Transfer (SOT) Concession over 10 years concession period and renewable for further 2 terms of 5 years based on performance. (End of memo.)

The Presidency sent the memo to the National Assembly last week requesting it to consider it in place of the earlier memo on coastal guards submitted by late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. The essential difference between the two memos is that while Yar’adua envisaged an outfit that is composed by various agencies of government related to maritime functions, Jonathan's memo is contracting the job to a private company in spite the national security implications.

Given the tribal bias that President Jonathan has so far exhibited in his appointments, one could easily see that the expected jobs will largely, if not completely, be composed of Niger Deltan militants. This neatly fits into the Ijaw nation agenda. With the militants manning the maritime domain from Lagos to Calabar, anything can happen.

The promise of joint patrol and enforcement with the Nigerian Navy is mere sweet talk. We know how government agencies and officials subserviently relate to contractors, especially those appointed by the Presidency. The mention of NSA is even more laughable because, he, like the present MD of NIMASA – Mr. Ziakede P. Akpobolokemi – is also from the Niger Delta.

There is the fear among many Nigerians that Jonathan is working hard to secure the entire resources of the region in the hands of his Ijaw tribesmen. So-called ex-Militants are presently manning pipelines in the region.

Now, there are pertinent questions to ask about the contract:

When has Nigeria become so bankrupt that an organization like NIMASA that generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually would not be able to invest $103.4m on something as crucial as its infrastructure that is so essential to our national security?

The contract does not have a total cost. All we are told is that the initial investment would be $103.4million. How would a contractor commit himself to a contract that does not have a total cost?

Equally ambiguous is the benefit that will accrue to the federal government: “not less than N124billion above the existing earnings”, or less than $1billion over a period of ten years! This means in the absence of any sharing formula even if the contractor would pay the federal government only a billion dollars in ten years where he makes, say, $10 billion, he is deemed to have performed satisfactorily. This is dubious.

Who are the 1375 Nigerian professionals and 1620 non-professionals that are going to be employed by the company? No commitment to their composition is given in the memorandum whatsoever. One can clearly see a situation where the entire workforce would be made up of Niger Delta militants. There is nothing in the memorandum to ensure a national spread of the opportunities.

What happens if the contractor does not perform? Nothing except the phrase ‘no cure no pay.’

One really wonders how “the BPP reviewed the procurement process and issued Certificate of ‘No Objection’, and how the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice reviewed and approved the agreement.

Why would the President approve such a sensitive memo in anticipation without waiting for his Council?

Why the attempt to gain the approval of the National Assembly within a day without allowing members to study it?

Who are on the board of Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited? Many are saying that it belongs to Tampolo, the famous leader of one of Niger Delta militant factions.

Finally, we would ask: why is Jonathan walking so fast… why? Does not he have faith in the future of the nation, as did the Presidents before him?

What future role remains for the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta?

Will the National Assembly approve it this week after the failed attempt to smuggle it into its proceedings of last week?

You may ask your own questions, perhaps more crucial than mine. The answers, I assure you, would not be far-fetched.

Friday, 06 January 2012 13:26

Fuel Subsidy: SLS, Please Stay Off Debate

It is difficult to justify the removal of this subsidy. Personally, i believe that the Nigerian government can afford the 220billion or so required to sustain it on behalf of its people. That is just about $1.4 billion or less, just a fraction of the commission (or earnings) it makes from oil companies annually. That the amount has reached over a trillion naira is not our fault, but that of the government that deliberately fails to carry out its responsibility of checkmating them.

Incidentally, two weeks ago I was listening to a friend from CBN who was trying to educate me on the necessity of removing the subsidy. In the end his explanation boiled down to the sad truth that people benefiting from the subsidy cannot be confronted by the government. They are big, he said.

I told him the government is not honest. I then asked him a simple question that sealed the discussion: "Kai Kabiru! If the government would appoint someone like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to head the NNPC, will he be able to check this corruption and maintain the subsidy at the reasonable level of N200+ billion?" He said, "Yes, he can."

"In fact", he added, "the realization of the extent of extortion came when Sanusi started to question the storage capacities and other facilities of some oil companies whose claims were submitted to him for payment. Sanusi refused to pay them."

I said, "there you are. Let Jonathan be more courageous and have more Sanusis in government. If you want government to work, you must have corruption-free people in it. But removing the subsidy will definitely court trouble in this now highly inflammable country, so big that we cannot even imagine. Allah ya sauwake."

While we do that, we must keep vigil on some novice politicians that are now trying to ride on our anger to gain cheap popularity and access power. This is not about PDP. It is about our being. Other parties will do the same, given the antecedents of their leaders. Every past government since 1984 has visited us with its own version of heartless economic policies without consultation, leading to the ruin of so many homes forever. Though he is the present, Jonathan is not the first and if we will allow some manipulators power, he will certainly not be the last. The difference here is that, like citizens of the 21st century, we are now standing up to it, saying enough is enough.

Some of these politicians were the architects of World Bank sponsored privatization policies that were ill conceived and ill managed. They also designed the present deregulation in the early 2000s under Obasanjo in concert with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The records are there and the memory fresh. Like Jonathan today, they were deaf to the criticisms we wrote then. How would they gain our support today when we know they will do worse if allowed power again? They have written their records in our minds with indelible ink. They masterminded our present state of poverty and insecurity. Their children are abroad studying; ours are here wallowing at home. We will be reckless to trust them.

In fact, the mere participation of such politicians carries the fatal virus that will divide us, with the government and PDP members labeling it as a machination of the opposition. Then the government would buy some people to claim that Muslims and Northerners are plotting against their 'God-sent' Jonathan. In Nigeria there are always an infinite number of people that would swallow that argument, hook, line and sinker. At that point, many of us will withdraw and the government will have its way.

The labour is meeting today. Their resolution will determine when the real protests will start. This nonsense must stop.

I will appeal to Sanusi to please stay off this debate. Yesterday I travelled to Bauchi - a distance of just 100km - and had to use the fuel of N6,500.00 on the bus I carried my children back to school. This is madness and sheer wickedness. We the people are really angry. We can go to any length on this matter, and genuinely for that matter.

The only thing that would quench our fire is for the President to back down. Otherwise, we are ready to take the country high and wild. If this is a joke, please stop it SLS. "The people are like a river," if I must borrow from the wisdom of al-Mutanabbi: "cross it when it is calm, but avoid it when it is violent."

 

Friday, 18 November 2011 06:26

The Fuel Subsidy Trigger

President Jonathan represents a paradox. He is always quick to plead for leniency in expectations. "I am not David...or an army general", he declared in a church service two months ago. He only abides by the Hidden Hand of destiny that made him the President, he explained. With this property, one expects him to be passive and less ambitious than his predecessors who attempted to play God.

His actual ambitions, however, defy his unassuming mien. He has so far proposed two projects that have demystified three powerful generals before him. Amidst serious national security challenges that confined him to the Villa, the President proposed to the National Assembly the one-term elongated tenure bill. Though I reliably learned that the proposal was indeed borne out of his long standing conviction that second tenure kills executive initiatives and that he does not intend to benefit from it, the President was just too simple in hoping that his good intention alone was enough to overcome the public skepticism that would kill the bill even before it reaches the floor of the parliament, particularly when the memories of Obasanjo's Third Term agenda are still fresh. Where does the bill stand right now? What made the President hope that he would succeed where the generals failed?

Removal of fuel subsidy is another task that has defeated generals before Jonathan. This ambition has so far survived every President since Babangida, except Shonekan and Abdulsalami Abubakar whose sleeps were too brief to entertain the dream. In the end, those generals consoled themselves with increasing pump price when they failed to remove the subsidy completely. This President is again giving it a shot and his attempt is already greeted with deafening protests from every Nigerian outside the executive arm of government. Nigerians are neither attracted by the pretext of his argument nor lured by its promise.

Telling Nigerians that money 'saved' from the subsidy will be used to advance their welfare is an old tale narrated by previous administrations. It was told by moonlight; by dawn it was gone. Nigerians are not ready to squander their hope on what they perceive as another empty promise, especially given the lightening speed with which the notorious Governors Forum approved it.

The pretext is more compelling to rejection. The teacher in the President exposed him to divulge that the removal is necessary to deny the syndicate of oil importers the bumper harvest of N800billion annually. This invited Nigerians to wonder why a President and Commander in Chief would choose curb a corrupt practice by punishing its victims and pardoning the culprits.

His meeting with members of National Assembly yesterday was an eye opener to the impossibility of his task. They will kill it on the floor of the house as they killed the 'Sad Term' of Obasanjo. Other Nigerians will be waiting. Labour in particular has made it categorically clear that it will fight the increase to the last man. Ordinary Nigerians may take to the streets. The President may not find supporters even among the clergy that dignified every mistake he committed before. The support by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria was met with immediate dissociation from his members. The cleric had to disclaim it unreservedly, realizing that unlike during the elections, Nigerians cannot be persuaded to empty their pockets at the altar of religious sentiment. It seems that the President has crossed the line.

There are unverified reports that the President is even threatening to resign should the proposal fail. I am not worried that much because in spite of his strong conviction on the necessity of removing the subsidy the President will soon yield to abandon it. As he retreats, he may find consolation that even generals have retreated from that front. Or as Abu Zaid would coin it in The Assemblies of al-Hariri:

"If your request is turned down, do not feel ashamed. Verily Musa and Khidr were turned down before."

As they sleep in the cozy beds of the Villa, Nigerian Presidents are bound to have all sorts of dreams, good and bad. That of removing fuel subsidy is a bad one, Jonathan must know. He must also be wise enough to make his ambition a function of his capacity. He must know his limits and abide by them. By this measure, a wise counsel will tell the President to forget removing the fuel subsidy. Instead, he should use the instrument of law to fight the cartel that is feeding fat on the blood of the lean Nigetian masses. It is better to die a martyr of a just cause than waste his time pursuing a bad dream.

However, should the President persist and effect the removal, I am afraid that it may just be the Bouazizi trigger we waiting for so long. In that case the paradox of the President would be a blessing to celebrate. So much fuel has accumulated on the floor of the Nigerian political forest. The spark needed to start its conflagration may just be around. From its ashes a better nation may sprout again.

Watch out

Tuesday, 18 October 2011 05:21

Revolt of the Emirs

It is not in the tradition of a sitting aristocrat to revolt, more so if he is an Emir in an era when the institution is stripped of all its major functions but saddled with the enormous task of ensuring security of life and property. So when some royal fathers decided to breakaway from the tradition of waiting for the Sultan to announce the sighting of the crescent during the last Ramadan and do it themselves, little did they know that we the masses were watching with keen interest.

The revolt, if we may call it so, is more surprising when it came from emirates that are the closest to the Sultan in history, geography and government, given their long standing mutual associations under the Sokoto Caliphate, the defunct Northern Nigeria, Northwestern State and Sokoto State. In all these, the Sultan served as their Chairman. More importantly, the Sultan is their leader under the national Muslim umbrellas of Jama'atu Nasril Islam and Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. If there would be a revolt, we the masses would expect it to come from quarters more distant to the monarch than from these direct cousins of his.

To be fair to the dissenting Emirs, however, the practice of a Sultan announcing the commencement or ending of Ramadan is a recent one. It was not possible, administratively and logistically, for him to carry out that role in the pre-colonial era. The Sokoto Caliphate was a loose confederation of states. The centre at Sokoto did not have direct administrative influence over the periphery. Its authority was largely moral, as an acknowledgement of the founding role played by Usman Danfodio. Hardly did any Sultan dictated who would become an Emir or what expedition would he carry out. Annually, the Emirs would pay him a tribute, represented by a delegation carrying a number of gifts to Sokoto.

It was the loose link between Sokoto and the Emirates or, say, the lack of a strong federation that made it easier for a handful of soldiers under the command of few British officers to bring the caliphate to its knees in the last quarter of the 19th Century before they capped it with the subordination of Sokoto in 1903. If there were a strong federation, possibly – possibly – the contemporary history of Northern Nigeria would have been different today.

But what could not be done during the pre-colonial era became possible after the British conquest. Roads were opened and communication became enhanced. The entire North came under the authority of the British as a Protectorate. The British, for the purpose of indirect rule, decided to reinforce the authority of the Sultan not only by bringing the Fulani Emirs from Kebbi to Adamawa under his ceremonial leadership but also those in the old Kanem-Borno Caliphate and some hitherto independent Emirates like Yauri and chiefdoms that are not even Muslim. The Sultan thus became the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs in the defunct Northern region.

Regarding religious matters, the Sultan's authority was further armored through Jama'atu Nasril Islam, the organ that Sardauna created to oversee the interests of Islam separate from the official administrative machinery of the regional government. The Sultan became its President. When the Supreme Council of Islamic affairs was later created as a sort of an expanded Jama'atu Nasril Islam, the domain of Sultan's influence on religious matters now went beyond the North to include Muslims throughout the federation.

It is from these roots that the Sultan derived his present moral authority on matters of Islam in Nigeria. In all these functions and positions, the Sultan is deputized by the Shehu of Borno, then followed by the Emir of Gwandu, then of Kano and so on.

So the decision of some Emirs to announce the moon sighting independent of the Sultan can be seen as a reincarnation of their jurisdiction during the pre-colonial era, which is supported by the fact that the authority of the Sultan over Nigerian Muslims today is simply moral, not political. When authority is spoken of in terms of rights, one cannot help but conclude that they have the right to do so.

However, a judicious mind will not fail to discern that sometimes exercising a right may not be in the best interest of it's owner. He lends it to someone, if he is wise, in order to reclaim it with profit in the long run. In my view, this is just one of those times.

It is in the best interest of Islam and the Emirs themselves to be seen to speak with one authority, in this case to follow the ruling of the Sultan. Unity is a fundamental principle of Islam. It does not make any sense, no matter the level of disagreement, for different emirates in the same country to observe Ramadan and the Eid on different days in the 21st Cemtury. It was possible under the Sokoto Caliphate only because of the absence of effective means of communication. In fact the entire idea of the Caliphate being a loose federation was a child of necessity. If Danfodio had cars, planes, tarred roads, emails, and telephones in addition to the military hardware that we have these days, he would have adopted a system that accords the centre of the Caliphate greater power. It was just impossible for the ordinary Fulani man he was to effectively administer a territory so vast as the Sokoto Caliphate directly from the centre. He understood his limitations and abided by them. May God bless him!

Today we live in an environment where not only Nigeria but also the whole world is on the verge of becoming a small village. Muslims all over the country, nay, throughout the world, are increasingly becoming aware of happenings around the globe with great ease that was never contemplated by their ancestors. The communication gaps, geographical challenges and military handicaps that allowed the Emirs their independence in the days of the Caliphate have ceased to exist. In their place, a fused community of Muslims stretching from Sokoto to the Atlantic has emerged with a moral leadership that is no longer flat but hierarchical with the Sultan at the top. Nigerians have become used to that notion. Reverting to the olden pre-colonial order brings some discomfort amongst us – the followers.

The revolt especially is coming at a time when the unity among the traditional rulers in the country is needed most. Security is fast deteriorating; discontent among us – the masses – is at record high; yet, belief that the traditional rulers can fix some of the problems, despite their financial and political limitations, is prevalent. A crack in their ranks at this time would certainly be ominous.

So far we have discussed the political aspect of the problem. The religious one is more contentious. While the Sultan is working hard to see that Nigerian Muslims – from both North and South – unite in matters of their religion, there is a tremendous pressure on him and the Emirs that is coming from some ulama who want the status quo to be maintained. On the other when it comes to moon sighting Such ulama do not give a hoot if Northern Nigerian Muslims always find themselves on one side and the rest of the world. This cannot just be correct. The moon is one, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. There cannot be one crescent for Northern Nigeria and another for the rest of the world. This defies common sense. Period.

The problem we have been having in this part of the world for decades now is that of false testimonies. Since Islam bases the moon sighting on the testimony of two people, Nigerians being what we are, there has never been a shortage of people that would come over claiming to have sighted the crescent even when it cannot there. The Sultan would thus announce the Ramadan moon always 29 for over 40 years, until some Emirs started to revolt a decade ago against what appears to be clearly irrational. When he was enthroned, the present Sultan started to introduce caution into the matter and some sanity started to prevail. It is an irony that another set of Emirs is now crucifying him for doing exactly what we earlier called for.

Some ulama use the secular nature of the country to undermine the moral authority of the Sultan. This started during the Sardauna era, given the cold war that existed then between him – a Sokoto prince – and the then Sultan. This year some of the ulama said the sultan should not be obeyed because he is violating the rules of God: "nobody should be obeyed in violation to God." Such ulama and their groups exert pressure on their emirs who then became tempted to abandon the cause of unity and assert their independence from the Sultan.

I have followed the debate on moon sighting that took place this year on an Internet forum called the Nigerian Muslim Network which went on for some weeks after Sallah. There were testimonies from two reliable people that attempted to verify the reports of moon sightings in Zuru for example. One of them said the person he met was not steady in his testimony. The second, upon his failure to get to a specific person that will categorically affirm that he saw the new moon, passed what I regard as indicting statement about the behaviour of some Muslims in this country.

This is with the benefit of hindsight, though. The damage has already been done. People have sworn by Allah before the Emirs that they have seen the crescent and the Emirs announced that the moon is sighted, only for the rest of the universe to report the contrary. Rather than swim in such murky waters, if I were an Emir, I would prefer to enjoy the comfort of riding on the boat of the Sultan.

The issue of announcing the sighting of the crescent in Islamic tradition, like all collective obligations, is the jurisdiction of the authorities, not the ulama. Some scholars of the past insist that even the person who saw the moon must continue fasting until the authorities declare the moon sighted. This has been the practice throughout history and it is reiterated in recent literature – like the scholastic declarations in Fatawa al-Lajnatul Da'imah Lil Buhuthil 'Ilmiyyah Wal Ifta made by reputable Saudi ulama.

Given the difficulties posed by our widespread dishonesty in the contemporary world, many countries have resorted to supporting human vision in moon sighting with astronomical aids in form of calculations and equipment – like telescopes. The calculations give an idea of the days the moon is most likely to be seen while the telescopes support vision directly.

Despite these attempts there are still controversies in those countries, proving that the issue of moon sighting even in the Information Age is far from simple. The dilemma is that, on the one hand, we lack the honesty to unreservedly implement the prophetic tradition of accepting the testimonies of any two "trustworthy" people. Where people are many, knowing who is reliable becomes difficult. On the other, scientific methods themselves cannot be totally – 100 per cent – faultless.

In Nigeria, the Sultan is trying to draw his conclusions from various sources, including common sense. His task can only be made more difficult when other royal fathers decide to go their own ways.

Lastly, we must not forget that Sallah is not only for the Muslims. It is one of our public holidays and the nation can declare it only once. The need for harmony is therefore more imperative. Supporting the Sultan, from the foregoing, will definitely take us closer to the solution, which we hope to arrive at one day. Dissent can only take us backwards, perhaps centuries ago, when we have the capacity to leave that to our ancestors.

Bauchi

17 October 2011

The resolve of Jonathan and his administration will soon be tested in the area of foreign policy. Nigeria's vote will be essential for the recognition of a Palestinian State by the Security Council. If history is anything to go by, Nigeria will side with the Palestinians. However, I am beginning to sense that the possibility of the Jonathan administration to abandon our historical tradition of supporting the cause of freedom across the world is also high. This short essay is an attempt to alert Nigerians who believe in such a cause of the impending danger that their country stands the danger of becoming the tool that would scuttle the noble objective of Palestinian independence.

Jonathan would not have bothered were it not for the desire of the United States to block the Palestinian application at the Security Council when the matter is put to vote possibly later in the month. Blocking it will postpone the establishment of a Palestinian State but it will bring a lot of setback to American diplomacy in the Middle East and question its commitment to the cause of freedom. Having it both ways – preventing a Palestinian state without losing credibility – is the ultimate goal of its ongoing diplomatic efforts.

Right now, the Palestinians said they are sure of eight votes, just one less than the nine they need for their proposal to scale through at Security Council. Nigeria, a long term ally of the Palestinians, is seen as holding that essential additional vote. Working on Nigeria has therefore become essential for the Americans.

Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they are requesting this vote when their long-term ally is in its most vulnerable condition. The Nigerian state is in a terribly weak state where principles are recklessly abandoned and rule of law is the most relegated in policy matters. Under such circumstance, the President becomes a monarch who rules by discretion rather than consensus, rule of law and common good. In addition to the weakness of the state, the President is himself vulnerable, making the country a classical prey of American diplomatic pressure.

The Americans played a role in the ascent of Jonathan to the Presidency. They looked the other way when Jonathan violated the zoning principle. They approved his elections despite complaints of the malpractices that took place. Their support at each of these stages helped win other members of the international community for the President. America, as Wikileaks has revealed, has been a major source of inspiration for Jonathan. Jonathan also looks up to America for support in handling his domestic concerns like the case of Niger Delta and Boko Haram. In short Jonathan is deeply indebted to the Americans. Would they come to his doorstep asking for help, he is likely to be inclined to offer it.

Such a moment is now when America feels isolated in the face the current worldwide support for the Palestinians. A recent poll conducted by Pew Research for People and the Press indicated that 42% of Americans support the Palestinian proposal. Only a minority 26% opposes it, while 32% remain undecided. A BBC-GlobeScan poll across 19 countries suggests that "more people (49%) back UN recognition of Palestine the 21% that oppose it. According to the polls the proposal won 45% support in America, 56% in both Philippines and China, 54% in France, 53% in both Germany and UK, 90% in Egypt, 60% in Turkey, 52% in Pakistan, 51% in Indonesia, and the lowest 32% in India. In none of the 19 countries was opposition to the Palestinian bid found to be up to 30%.

Clearly, the Obama administration, like those before it, is on the wrong side of the divide. If the tenets of democracy were to be strictly followed, the Palestinians will have their way even in Israel. A poll conducted by Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey has shown that 70% of Israelis have indicated their willingness to support the creation of a Palestinian state if the UN chooses to recognize it.

With the above figures, one can clearly see why the Obama administration is desperate to quash the proposal at the voting stage, without being forced to use a veto that is definitely unpopular in the eyes of the world. Nigeria, particularly in its present weak state, is the best tool to employ.

Apart from the moral support that Jonathan would continue to enjoy from the Americans, it will be difficult to see any benefit that Nigeria will get from abandoning the Palestinians whose autonomy it approved of two decades ago. In any case, the Americans will definitely not stop buying Nigerian oil nor would they switch their support in favour of Jonathan's opponents. On the other hand, both the Nigeria and Jonathan administration will have many things to lose. The country will damage its image as an independent nation capable of leading the continent on future diplomatic issues. Already, its premature recognition of the NTC in Libya did not go down well with other AU members, particularly with the southern African states. Failing to support the Palestinians will leave no one in doubt that Jonathan is not the befitting Nigerian President that Africa will look up to for inspiration. A similar risk obtains in relation to OPEC, which is dominated by Arabs. Etc.

If I were Jonathan I would beg the Americans not to weaken my position any further. I will also make them understand that it is in their best interest not to veto the vote because there is definitely a limit to the patience of the world and the American public to continued Israeli atrocities. This is a golden opportunity for the American government to prove that it believes that Palestinians too are worthy of the same freedom that America actively intervened to accord citizens of many other nations.

However, Nigerians cannot afford to wait for Jonathan's chance to convince the Americans. We need to strength him in our own way. Though a Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given an assurance of a sort that Nigeria has decided to take a principled stand on the matter, the ambiguity in his speech has not dismissed the fear of disappointing the Palestinians at the last minute. The position the President promised American and Israeli officials when he met with them in New York last week remains a guarded secret. That is the more reason why Nigerians must not wait until a permanent damage in their foreign policy is done. A pressure from within is required to balance the external one emanating from the Americans and the Israelis.

Extensive coverage of the matter in the media will therefore be apt. But since it is a matter of federal policy, the National Assembly needs to step in and make clear what is the stand of the nation on the issue. Leaving the Presidency alone in its present state of vulnerability is very risky. Not only will our support strengthen the President, it will also provide him with an alibi for declining the American request.

Unless such protection is given to the President, he is surely going to be a small prey in the undeniably powerful jaws of the American crocodile.