Two concessions are necessary before I make my points. While advocacy for self-determination is not criminal and is protected by international laws to which Nigeria is a signatory, calls for violence, instigation of violence against security officers, or machinating a plot to violently dissolve sovereign polities are criminal and have no legal protection anywhere in the world. It’s worse if the calls transcend the rhetorical realm and are materialised in actual acts of violence.
Second, no modern country in the world brooks challenges to its sovereignty with listless acquiescence. It’s always the case that countries deploy the instruments of violence to contain or eliminate threats to their territorial, political, and symbolic dominion— and their monopoly of legitimate violence.
In light of these concessions, Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest and repatriation from Addis Ababa on June 29 are neither unusual nor indefensible because there is irrefutable material evidentiary proof of his habitual incitement of mass murder. He instructed hordes of headless, cretinous automatons who worship him and interpret his demented pronouncements as inviolably divine commandments to commit acts of violence.
As far as I know, though, Sunday Igboho has not launched offensive violence against the government, does not instruct his followers, who are comparatively few, to murder civilians who disagree with his methods, as Kanu did before his arrest, and seems concerned only with defending his people against attacks by herders and advocating the emergence of a Yoruba nation out of Nigeria.
Nonetheless, the regime’s speed has tackled Kanu and Igboho has brought up at least two salient issues in bold relief.
First, the intricate bilateral manoeuvres and sleuthing that preceded the arrest of Kanu in Ethiopia is proof that honchos of the Nigerian state have the resources and capacity to end terrorism and banditry in the North—and elsewhere in Nigeria— if they want to. They acted on Kanu—and later Sunday Igboho— only because Buhari’s emotions are involved.
In other words, it would take for Buhari to be personally affected by terrorism and banditry for him to act. If one of his children were to get kidnapped and murdered by bandits, banditry and kidnapping would be history in Nigeria. The security forces exist almost entirely to satiate the impulses of people in power. That’s what happens when a country has no apolitical institutional structures and when power is personalised.
Someone noted in a comment on my Facebook status update on Kanu’s arrest that if bandits in the North were to transition from being murderous leeches terrorising poor, rural folks to being “freedom fighters” asking for a change of government and upstaging Buhari from power, they would be all burned to clinkers.
So, whenever the government sets up a “committee” over any issue, more often than not, it’s an indication that they have no desire to do anything about it. There was no committee and no press release before Kanu was arrested. There was no committee or press release before Sunday Igboho’s home was invaded.
The second lesson is that this regime has shown time and again that it will never transcend ethnoreligious favouritism in its response to common threats. Boko Haram wants to violently dissolve the Nigerian state and replace it with a regressive, seventh-century Talibanic theocracy, starting from the northeast. That’s actually worse than IPOB’s quest to secede from Nigeria, which started peacefully before it devolved into its current spectacles of violence as a direct consequence of the government’s mismanagement of peaceful dissent.
There is no country on earth where no fissiparous groups are wanting to break away from a union. Even the United States, seen by many as the archetype of a cohesive nation, which also fought a Civil War nearly 200 years ago to keep it together, still contends with pockets of separatist agitations from New England and the South. They’re allowed to exist so long as they aren’t violent.
Now, although Boko Haram is infinitely more lethal than IPOB— and actually controls vast swathes of Borno and Yobe states—the regime has not shown the same zeal to annihilate them as they have shown to comparatively benign separatists from the South.
On many occasions, according to reports by the Daily Trust and the BBC, the Nigerian military came close to arresting Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, but “orders from above” always told them to back off. Shekau ended up being killed by a rival Boko Haram faction and not by the government. Not to mention that the government has a program to so-called rehabilitate and reintegrate “repentant” terrorists who often go back to their old ways and cause the death of hundreds of Nigerian soldiers thereafter.
The mollycoddling of Boko Haram terrorists, fully realised in Maj. Gen Abdulmalik Biu’s July 22, 2019 statement that “repentant” Boko Haram terrorists can “become the President of this country and take up any position in this country”—makes it difficult to justify the state-sanctioned assaults on Kanu and Igboho.
Kanu became a priority only because Buhari has a personal emotional investment in getting him. Igboho is targeted because his rage is directed at the Fulani with whom Buhari identifies to the exclusion of others. Recall that the only time Buhari ever visited Zamfara in connection with the horrendously bloodstained security situation was to protect what he perceives to be the interests of Fulani herders whose cattle were reportedly being stolen by bandits. He even donned military fatigues for this expedition. He shows no care for victims of rural banditry, apparently because they aren’t people he self-identifies with.
That tells us that if Buhari had a real personal, emotional investment in ending Boko Haram terrorism and banditry, they would have been eliminated or least weakened to the fringes by now. There’s no question about that.
Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D, is a Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media, journalist, newspaper columnist, author, and blogger based in Greater Atlanta, USA.