Monday, 31 December 2012

(40): Poverty alleviation, good governance and conflict resolution (I)

Saturday, 9th Safar, 1434, equivalent to 22nd December, 2012, was an important date in the history of Nigerians living in the UK. It was the day when the winter conference and the Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Muslim Forum, a UK-based charity organisation with specific focus on Nigeria, organized a conference with the theme of this piece as part of the contribution of Nigerians in Diaspora towards addressing the social, economic and security challenges facing the country. It was unique in the sense that it brought together different people with wealth of experience required to move the society forward. The conference took place at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

The speakers at the conference included a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Abdurrahman Dambazau (rtd), currently a fellow at Harvard University; former FCT Minister, Dr Aliyu Moddibo; President of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad; Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami, a prominent Islamic scholar in Nigeria and currently a PhD candidate in Scotland; the Chairman of the Kano state Council of Ulama, Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil, also attending a course in Cambridge; Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr Mathew Hassan Kukah, and Dr Abdullahi Shehu, a neurologist based in Coventry, who is also the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Muslim Forum.

The idea behind the conference came about during an Executive Committee meeting of the Forum in Leeds earlier in 2012, when Alhaji Bashir Shuwa, an elder based in Leeds, suggested the idea. He said it is a way of coming up with a practical solution towards addressing the challenges facing Nigeria, especially the North that is gradually becoming difficult to govern due to the challenges the above conference seeks to address. Although the idea did not materialize as originally envisaged, nevertheless the conference was a step in the right direction.

The first key paper was presented by Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami, who paid significant attention to understanding good governance from an Islamic perspective. According to Sheikh Isa, good leadership in Islam stems from having a good leader, because when you have a good leader, there is every tendency the rest of the society will accept and follow his good examples. According to him, one of the problems we have in Nigeria is having what he calls “irreligious religious people” governing the affairs of the people, therefore misleading them and giving Islam a bad name. His paper provided a context for the entire conference on the issue of good governance.

The next presentation was by Lt General Dambazau (rtd), who injected a strong intellectual dose to the conference. His paper, which focuses on “poverty alleviation, security and stability,” was presented under the chairmanship of Mashood Baderin, a Professor of Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies and a UN envoy on human rights in Darfur. The paper presented statistics and data about the state of poverty in Nigeria with specific reference to Northern Nigeria. He paid attention to the socio-economic and cultural factors that promote poverty and bring instability.

According to him, while majority of the Nigerian population is in the north according to the Nigerian census, the region is the hub of poverty. He cited example with both social and cultural issues, for example while people tend to be polygamous, “and there is nothing wrong with that,” but what is not right is for a person to marry more wives and have a lot of children, and then run away to Lagos or other places, and his family will not hear from him again. He called on northern politicians holding political offices to come up with an economic blueprint like the southern politicians holding political office are doing.

Dr Aliyu Modibbo`s presentation was more practical when compared to the others. He suggested a lot of areas that can be developed through entrepreneurship which can bring employment to the people. A key area he paid attention to was the issue of remittances which Nigerians in Diaspora send home. According to him, in the last couple of years Nigerians in Diaspora have contributed more than $2 billion to the Nigerian economy. He suggested that with proper strategy this money can bring a lot of change. He concluded by suggesting to Nigerians in Diaspora to consider setting up micro-economic banks.

President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, dwelt on the experience of states that practise Shariah in Nigeria, and some of the efforts towards poverty alleviation. His paper elaborated on the issue of Zakat and its role in alleviating poverty. He equally called on Islamic scholars to live up to their responsibilities rather than frequently visiting the houses of political office holders seeking favours like the opportunity to be sponsored to Hajj or Umra.

To be continued insha Allah.

11:20 pm
17th Safar 1434
30th December 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

(39): Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (III)

One key thing that Chinua Achebe ignored completely in his book was the injustice that created the circumstances of the civil war. The premier of Northern region, the prime minister, all senior military officers from the region except Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon who was on his way back from Britain were wiped out. The civil war was a sad story, but justice should be extended to all.
Professor Chinua Achebe’s contribution to African literature is enormous, and we should give him credit for that. It is also true that his writings and those of his peers contributed in marketing African literature in English and other European languages. But we should never ignore African indigenous literature. Although Chinua Achebe has briefly acknowledged the writings of the likes of Muhammadu Bello, it is clear that before Africans started writing in English, French and other European languages, they have for decades been writing in either Arabic or their indigenous languages. This is common among the different communities that use what is called “ajami” (writing in a native language using Arabic letters). In Mali, Sudan, Sokoto caliphate and the Borno empire literary writing has taken root centuries before the arrival of colonialists.
As for Ahmad Bello University, Zaria being a centre for promoting hatred against the Igbos, that equally requires evidence rather than a swift statement. Right from its formation, ABU had been one of the most multi-cultural and multiethnic universities you can find in Africa. In the days of  Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, Dr Ibrahim Tahir and Dr Patrick Wilmot, it was a centre for public debate and African nationalism. One key area that Professor Chinua Achebe was right was his condemnation of corruption. He has equally used an interview with General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) in order to respond to some of the allegations made in the book. But I believe the best response is for General Yakubu Gowon to write his personal account of the war with a reputable international publisher.
Professor Achebe has alleged that at the moment only Christians and Southerners are killed in Nigeria. The reality is neither side has monopoly of shedding the blood of innocent people; it is therefore the responsibility of each section of the country to come together and stop that mess. I ask Professor Chinua Achebe to investigate all the crises in Nigeria. One of the few cases in which a court of law convicted people for engaging in shedding the blood of innocent people was the Zangon Kataf crises. Find out who and who were convicted by the court, even if the military decided to reverse the decision.
The debate at the House of Commons was both fierce and respectful. What was however clear was that the agitation for Biafra did not die. In one of the speeches by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu during the Biafran War, he mentioned that Biafra will not die as long as he is alive. Ojukwu is dead, but Chinua Achebe has revived its spirit with his book. More than what Ojukwu has done, Chinua Achebe’s book will be a reference point in world libraries. It is therefore important for those who witnessed the war to give their account as well by writing books on the issue. From the content of the book, Chinua Achebe appears to be a Biafran first, although he wears Nigerian clothes.
From the exchanges among the participants at the debate, it was clear that Nigerians need to have an honest discussion about the future of their country. People were clearly divided between the Biafran supporters who still want to part ways with Nigeria, those who want it to remain the same, and those calling for  a restructured country. It was also clear that some members of the British parliament are fed with wrong information about the situation in Nigeria. I was shocked when Dianne Abbot, the Shadow Minister of Health told me that northern elites are the problem with Nigeria. Yes Northern elites have contributed to the current predicament of Nigeria. But they were not alone. The elites from the North and South worked together to bring Nigeria to its knees, and they should be accountable for what they have done. Regarding the way forward, I refer you to an article I wrote few months back entitled “2015: let’s have referendum not elections” available on my blog
As we were walking out of the House of Commons after the debate, somebody called for my attention to see how the Hausas, the Igbos and the Yorubas walked out of the venue, each among his ethnic group. 52 years after independence we are still struggling to sit under one roof. Who is to blame?

23rd December, 2012
Newcastle upon Tyne

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

(38): Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (II)

Other issues discussed by Chinua Achebe in the book include the idea that fighting for Biafra, was fighting for justice. The literary background of Chinua was also part of the book. He mentioned that writers like him were the first generation to introduce African literature to the world. Professor Achebe equally called for revisiting the Biafran war and requested that if the Rwandan and Darfur crises could be seen as genocide, then the first act of genocide in post colonial Africa should be the Biafran war.

Responding to all the issues that the literary icon raised will require writing another book, and the best people to that should be the veterans of the civil war many of whom are still alive. It is important to note that what made the book so prominent and controversial is not necessarily the provocative content, but the personality from whom it emanates. Some of the issues discussed require further reflection and taken seriously as part of our national discourse. But before outlining the important lessons of the book, and suggesting a way forward for our country, some of the issues raised by Chinua Achebe require some clarifications.

On the notion that Sardauna, the then premier of the Northern region lacks political vision; this is either lack of understanding of the vision of Ahmadu Bello or clear mischief. Sardauna clearly understood that for Nigeria to get political independence, the various regions of the country have to be able to compete as equals. Northern Nigeria was certainly not ready for independence before 1960. If paper qualification was the yardstick for managing a country, then not even Sardauna or Tafawa Balewa will be able to compete with the more intellectually accomplished PhD holders like Nnamdi Azikwe or successful lawyers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The key reason why the Sardaunas and the Tafawa Balewas were able to compete was because they were products of an already existing traditional political system that prepared them for the job. A system that unfortunately is crumbling before our eyes.

But the most important vision of Sardauna was his ability to unite the Northern region irrespective of ethnicity, faith or other reasons. The fact that he was able to bring together the likes of Michael Audu Buba, Sunday Awoniyi within the politics of the region to work side by side with the Shehu Shagaris and the Maitama Sules without discrimination is an achievement that the whole of Nigeria should emulate today. If there is one thing that our country needs is a political leader that can unite the people and treat them fairly without prejudice.

The allegation that Tafawa Balewa was built into a statesman by the West requires evidence from Professor Achebe. If speaking English like the native is the sin of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Professor Chinua Achebe can be described as the Williams Shakespeare of Sub-Saharan Africa; which one is more western than the other? Had Professor Chinua Achebe been writing in a language other than English, what are the chances of him becoming a global literary icon? Despite this allegation, Tafawa Balewa, just after receiving political independence continued to treat other world leaders as equals not as a subordinate. I wondered if the current leadership of Nigeria will receive the kind of treatment Tafawa Balewa received from President Kennedy during his visit to the United States in the 1960s, yet throughout the visit, the body language of Tafawa Balewa was that of a leader that is confident and not ready to mortgage the independence of his country.

As for Northerners having a wary religion, and the Yorubas hampered by traditional hierarchy, well, our Yoruba brothers have written enough to counter that assertion, and not all our Igbo compatriots agree with Chinua Achebe. But one thing needs to be made clear on this impression by Chinua Achebe. The British did not bring a new civilisation to Northern Nigeria. They met a society that already has a political structure, with clear leadership, courts of law, security system and all the requirements of a modern state. The British had no option but to use that structure to rule the people through indirect rule.
Chinua Achebe’s thesis was that the Igbo’s were on the path of becoming a great nation, and that is why other regions were envious of them especially the so called Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. No one can deny the fact that Igbos are very enterprising people, but I do not think the Yoruba’s are any different, otherwise ask Governor Babatunde Fashola, and the team of Yoruba people who are working hard to innovate ideas without relying on government handouts. Even the so called Hausa\Fulani that have to make a catch up after political independence are no less enterprising. I am certain that Aliko Dangote is not from Mars or Jupiter. Here in the United Kingdom, most of the people from Northern Nigeria that I know are as enterprising as any serious community. They are pursuing their masters and PhDs in the most important disciplines you can think of. Many are accomplished medical consultants, engineers and computers scientists.

But we should be ready to acknowledge that as enterprising as some Yorubas or Igbos or Hausa can be, there are among them societal misfits who are ready to engage in 419, internet scams, and political hooliganism. Some of them could even form part of the political leadership that failed our country, with or without the civil war.

To be concluded next week insha Allah.

16th December, 2012
Newcastle upon Tyne

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

(37): Open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan

Mr President,

I hope this letter reaches you in the best position of health and wellbeing, and I do hope you will find the time to go through the content of this letter. I feel duty bound as an ordinary citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to draw your attention to some of the critical decisions that your government has taken. These decisions are very critical and could determine the stability of our country. I am aware that you have advisors who have the responsibility to guide you in taking decisions, because as the leader of the country you will have to rely on the expertise of these advisors before you take a final position on issues. But I am also aware that a lot of government appointees are more interested in advancing their personal interest rather than guiding the president in the right direction.

Mr President, after the unfortunate church bombings in Jaji, the Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ola Saad Ibrahim ordered the removal of two senior Army officers from their respective positions in Jaji. The senior officers are, Air Vice Marshal Abdullahi Kure and Major General Muhammad D Isa. As the president and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed forces, I am sure you will agree that this critical decision cannot be taken without your consent. I also believe that you must have acted on the counsel of some of your advisors, but whether this is the right advice is an issue that you need to find time and think about. But the most important thing is the implication of this rushed decision which I would like to highlight.

First of all, the two senior officers were removed from their positions without proper investigation being completed. Professionally, there is need for caution in handling matters like this especially in a country like Nigeria where religion, ethnicity, and regionalism constitute an unwritten form of constitution, and whatever the circumstance, a leader has to take this into consideration if he is to maintain the unity and peace of the country.

Secondly, all the officers that were removed are Muslims, and immediately replaced by non Muslim officers. If you feel strongly, that these senior military officers have to be redeployed from their positions, you have the right to take action as the commander in chief; but looking at the security situation in Nigeria, and the division and lack of unity since the controversial 2011 general elections, you need to be cautious by replacing them with Muslim officers, that may douse the tension such action might generate; at least there should be enough Muslim Army Generals of the same calibre with an unquestionable loyalty to their country.

Thirdly, by replacing them with Christian officers under the current security climate, and if we are to believe newspaper reports that the entire control of Jaji is now in the hands of Christian officers after the redeployment of Air Vice Marshal Kure and Major General Isa, be rest assured that such a move will cause rancour and ill feeling especially from religious leaders, as it will definitely be seen as an attempt to use divide and rule tactics in favour of one religion over the other.

Mr President, beyond the points I have raised, my main concern in writing this letter is actually the wider implication this move could have on the stability of the Nigerian Army. The military institution in Nigeria is in my opinion the most professional, disciplined, and the fit for purpose institution in the country. As imperfect as the army may be, the brave Nigerian soldiers have stood for the country in the most difficult circumstances. They fought a bitter civil war to keep the country united; they have extended their professionalism in brining stability to foreign countries like Congo in the 1950s, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s, and are currently serving in the region of Darfur in Sudan aimed at bringing stability. But their most important contribution recently, is staying away from politics since the return of civilian rule in 1999, and even at the time when cynics thought they could truncate our democracy when president ‘Yaraduwa was sick, they worked hard to remain in the barracks, which enabled you to become Acting President and later President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The composition of the military command at the time, comprising of both Muslim and Christian officers working together must have contributed greatly in stabilising the polity; and I believe you can learn a lesson from that.

Finally, Mr President I advise you to avoid anything that will divide the Nigerian Army under whatever circumstance, because the implication of that will not be good for our country. I strongly recommend that you create time to read more about the political history of Nigeria especially between 1960 and 1970, and try to learn the lessons of what disunity in the Army could cause the country. I also advise that you consult widely with former Nigerian leaders and senior military officers who are still alive on issues related to the military, as they have the experience that current members of the armed forces may not have.

God bless Nigeria. Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria



Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u


11: 53



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

(36): Chinua Achebe: A Biafran in Nigerian clothes (I)

Professor Chinua Achebe is arguably the best literary writer in foreign or more precisely English language that post colonial Africa has produced. He is fearless, intelligent and able to speak truth to power in the most difficult circumstances. Those of us from the younger generation have in one way or the other been inspired by the intellectual prowess of Chinua Achebe. He has never failed to intervene in debates about the future of Nigeria. At a critical time in the history of Nigeria, particularly due to the key challenges that continue to raise the blood pressure of the country; namely the controversial result of the 2011 general elections, the so called Boko Haram insurgency, and the general state of hopelessness and insecurity, ethnic and regional divisions that pervade the country; when things are falling apart for the country, Chinua Achebe intervened with the recent release of his memoirs; There was a country: A personal history of Biafra.
The review of the book by the Telegraph newspaper created a huge reaction. After reading through the debates, I had no intention then of making further comments especially after the series of articles that appeared in both Nigerian and other newspapers around the world. But then came an invitation from the Foreign Policy Centre in London asking me to serve as a panellist in a debate about the book at the British Parliament, the House of Commons, Westminster, London. The centre organised the debate in collaboration with Africa Foundation for Development on Monday 10th December, 2012. 
The composition of the panel is itself partly a reflection of the diversity of Nigeria. The other three panellists were Donu Kogbara from the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, Dipo Salimonu, co-founder of Ateriba Limited, a financial consultancy firm in Lagos and London, and Onyekachi Wambu Director of Policy and Engagement at the Africa Foundation for Development. Without saying it, I believe the organisers wanted to ensure “federal character” in the composition of the panel, or may be call it “UK character” if such thing exists. The event was chaired by Chi Onwurah, the UK’s Shadow Minister for Innovation, Science & Digital Infrastructure. The story of Chi Onwurah is equally relevant to this debate as her parents relocated to the UK as a result of the Biafran war.
The debate is actually not a review of the book. It is a discussion especially from Nigerians in diaspora about the wider issues that the book has addressed, and their implication for the future and stability of the country. It is therefore difficult to avoid making a review even if mildly. There Was a Country is a 333 pages book published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. The hardcopy is sold at £20 (approximately five thousand Naira, depending on the exchange rate).

The book is very provocative especially in a country like Nigeria where religion, ethnicity, and regionalism can easily raise the blood pressure of the country. In summary here are some of the contentious issues that Professor Chinua Achebe has highlighted. That the premier of the defunct northern region Sir Ahmadu Bello has a “limited political vision” (p.46). Chinua Achebe made this assertion in reference to the reason why Malam Aminu Kano decided to break away from the so called northern establishment and join the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU).
That Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa “who has been built into a great statesman by the Western world did nothing to save his country from impending chaos”. Achebe continued by stating that “the British made certain that on the eve of their departure that power went to that conservative element in the country that had played no real part in the struggle for independence” (p.51-52). Chinua Achebe suggested that the Igbos who drove the British out of Nigeria became scapegoats after the January 1966 coup.  The book suggested that there is a deliberate conspiracy to promote the hatred of Igbo people. He added that “a lot of this hot blooded anger was fanned by British intellectuals and some radical Northern elements in places like Ahmadu Bello University. They were aided by a few expatriate population from outside Nigeria, who easily influenced the most self-satisfied and docile Northern leadership to activate  a weapon that has been used repeatedly in Nigeria’s short history-a fringe element known as “area boys” or the “rent crowd types”- to attack Igbo’s in an orgy of blood” (p.69).
One of the most provocative statements by Chinua Achebe which has been quoted by almost every review of the book is his impression about the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba. On page 74 he stated that “unlike the Hausa/Fulani he was unhindered by a wary religion, and unlike the Yoruba he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies”.  Achebe even made an attempt to exonerate Chukuma Kaduna Nzegwu and the rest of the plotters that killed Sir Ahmad Bello in carefully crafted approach, because to him, Nzegwu speaks Hausa fluently and dresses like people of the North (p.79).  While Professor Achebe was more cautious in his choice of language in reference to the predominantly Igbo plotters of the January 15th 1966 coup, he described the mainly northern officers who staged the counter coup in July 1966 as “murderers” (p.95). 
To be continued...


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

(35): Palestine's UN observer status: What next?

After the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel through Egypt, now it is the turn of Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, to join the public relations war by making sure he remains relevant in the power struggle for the support of the Palestinian people. A trip to the United Nations to receive recognition as an observer nation provides that opportunity to reassert himself.
Media organisations around the world have been celebrating the upgrade in status for the Palestinian people. Pundits have praised it as if Palestine had already become truly independent. Certainly the gesture shown by the 138 countries who voted in favour of the Palestinian observer status was a good gesture. At least it has shown that countries are getting tired of the lawlessness of Israel. Even western countries like France and Spain have voted in favour of the Palestinians, while the likes of Germany have abstained rather than thumbing their rejection on the vote. Only the United States and Canada among the economically powerful countries rejected the bid.
But the question we need to continue asking is: what next? How do Palestinians achieve statehood? Here are some important points, though not exhaustive. The first and foremost, in my opinion, is the economic independence of Egypt. If there is one country that is part and parcel of the Palestinian struggle, and in a position to influence the outcome of the conflict, then the mother of civilisations should be at the forefront. Egypt has the advantage of population, it is considered the leader of the Arab world, especially since the ascendance of Jamal Abdel Nasir. Although the rise of Saudi Arabia’s oil economy has snatched part of that role from Egypt, but it continues to provide both moral and intellectual leadership. Egypt is now under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood government, a movement that basically gave birth to Hamas, which at the moment holds the ace for any meaningful peace negotiation on Palestine. And above all, the success of the Arab awakening in Egypt solidified the effort of other countries in the Arab world.
At the moment, the United States provides aid worth $1.5 billion to Egypt annually. Out of this £250 million is economic aid while the remaining $1.3 billion is a military assistance. Other European countries also provide some aid. Now this economic package could explain why the Muhammad Mursi government could not take a tough stand on Israel’s attack on Gaza, rather they cautiously play the mediator role as the case was during Husni Mubarak, but with a dose of diplomatic support to the Palestinian people in Gaza. A visit by the Egyptian prime minister and a strong rhetoric from president Mursi in order to appease the street of both Egypt and the Arab world. At the moment it has worked, but how long will Egyptians accept a mediator role by Egypt in this conflict? This is where the question of economic independence once again becomes relevant.
Establishing economic independence is not an easy task, let alone the kind of mess that President Mursi has inherited. So what is the solution? Here are two proposals on how to address this question. The first is for a combination of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey to establish an economic quartet that can provide the same aid that the United States government provides to Egypt. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have enough resources to provide this assistance, while Turkey can provide more of the military support. But here comes the big challenge: with the exception of Turkey, the rest of the countries are wary of the Muslim Brotherhood government because it is a government that came to power on the shoulders of protesters. This has implication for their countries.
The second route is for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to work towards supporting this cause and encourage member countries to provide this aid. But as long as Egypt remains economically dependent, any recognition of Palestine on the floor of the United Nations will remain a glorified public relations tango.


Newcastle upon Tyne