Friday, 27 May 2011

Jang's 'Operation Rainbow'

A brand new security outfit, “Operation Rainbow,” has begun an arduous task of bringing permanent peace to beleaguered Plateau State. Set up by the state government with the support of the President, it is made up of 3,250 personnel consisting 10 youths from each of the 325 wards in the state who will serve as “neighbourhood watch men.” These watch men will not, however, carry arms at all; other members of the outfit, about 2,000 men drawn from military and paramilitary outfits, are the ones who will.

There is confidence in the government’s circles that the new arrangement will work. One hopes that it does. However, beyond keeping an eye on neighbourhoods, are there other measures being put in place to consolidate on any gains to be made by the current initiative? The Plateau saga has developed deep roots of animosity in recent years, but the main questions towards finding lasting solutions are just few.
In my piece, “Taking the Devil Out of Plateau,” which was published in my back-page column in the Leadership Weekend on January 1, 2011, I argued that the cycle of sectarian violence in this once-serene state, which has consumed hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives, was caused principally by the personal leadership style of Governor Jonah David Jang. Hitherto, most observers had referred to a nebulous “failure of leadership”. But I wrote: “A wide spectrum of opinion in and out of Plateau is agreed on one indisputable fact: Jang is part of the problem – if not THE problem – in the resolution of the Plateau conundrum. His failure to provide statesmanlike leadership in his domain, by either wilfully fanning the embers of the crisis or from sheer incompetence, has been an obstacle in the way of finding a lasting peace. Many Christian leaders who are not afraid to tell the truth believe that the governor is pitifully incapable of solving this seemingly intractable problem; instead, he has been chasing shadows – such as blaming his opponents within his own political party. This gargantuan failure is responsible for the unending calls from both sides of the divide for the imposition of a state of emergency in the state.

“In more civilised climes, Jang would have resigned from office long ago. Amazingly, he is eyeing another four-year term as governor! But it is imperative for him to quit the Rayfield Government House at the end of his first four-year tenure and not seek re-election. This is because it is easy to surmise that four more years of him as governor could mean four more years of conflict in Plateau State; four more years of hundreds or thousands killed, and four more years of the wild goose chase and failure to end the inter-ethnic and inter-religious divisions in the state...

“If Jang refuses to see the light and decides to carry on at all cost, then the good people of Plateau State must vote him out this year. In a democratic dispensation, and with the promise of free and fair polls, any recalcitrant politician must be shown the door by the electorate in a peaceful manner.”

Well, as it turned out, Jang was able to secure for himself that coveted second term, benefiting from the special status the ruling PDP conferred on Plateau. The question now is whether Jang has learned any lessons from his bloody first term vis-a-vis the security situation in his state. If he has, then, is “Operation Rainbow” a part of his plans to ensure that the murderous killings are not repeated? I sorely want my prediction of a second Jang tenure to be disproved because the killing of a single soul gives me the jitters. Plateau must never be allowed to burn again. And all depends on the manner and style the governor decides to administer the state. If he has learnt to stop blabbing about the ‘indigene’-versus-‘settler’ dichotomy imposed by politicians like him, and if he regards himself as the father of all in the state and rules fairly and justly, then things would fall in place.

Here is wishing “Operation Rainbow” good luck and praying that Plateau will live in peace forever and ever. Amen.


Published in the current issue of BLUEPRINT

Is Sanusi pushing us towards the Stone Age?

Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is a man whose sense of judgement I would not rush to condemn. His anti-corruption crusade in the banking industry has led to the jailing of hitherto untouchable bank executives and the bail-out of the five big banks that were brought almost to their knees by those thieving, irresponsible bank CEOs, among others. Sanusi’s watershed actions have been endorsed by highly regarded international agencies. Some youths are so proud of the Kano prince that they have in recent times begun a SLS-for-President-in-2015 campaign on Facebook; they see in him a credible, formidable candidate the North could present in the next polls.

My faith in the man, however, faltered recently when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced a policy that would limit cash withdrawals by individuals to N150,000 and by corporate bodies to N1 million only per day. “Silly,” was the word that first came to mind, knowing that in our kind of society the policy would surely bomb even before it takes off. The CBN intends to start operating the policy from June 1, next year, in the urban centres of Lagos, Aba, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano. The idea, according to the smart alecks under Governor Sanusi, is to encourage the nation to start moving towards a “cashless economy” such as the ones we see in developed countries.

On face value, the policy is good because it is an extension of the CBN governor’s legendary anti-corruption fight; it is believed by its supporters that most huge chunks of money withdrawn from banks are for corrupt purposes like money laundering and payment of kickbacks. It would check inflation, they say. The policy, according to these proponents, would also discourage the movement of huge sums that should remain in bank vaults. Moreover, it would help modernise our financial system further and bring it closer to those of developed economies.

Granted that these are welcomed ideas. But would they translate into the overnight modernisation of the system? In the first place, the policy is cumbersome; one Facebooker wondered: “So, if I want to use let’s say N750k from my account, does that mean I should start withdrawing from Monday, each day N150k?” This shows that the amounts pegged are too small. This fact is even more glaring when you consider that our economy is not THAT developed; people are still learning how to use simple devises such as the ATM, with many in fact running away from them. Credit card usage is very minimal.

I also beg to disagree with those who claim that most huge withdrawals are for laundering, kickbacks and money politics. Crooks can still do these within the proposed limits as they are going to find ways to circumvent the rules in spite of the CBN’s threat. For instance, individuals would register fake companies in order to be able to withdraw high sums for personal use. I rather tend to look at the mind-boggling cash transactions taking place in our big markets, where grain merchants, cloth dealers, car sellers, etc., engage in mostly gargantuan cash transactions.

The CBN has over 12 months to force the policy down our throats, as such there is time to re-examine it. The first thing the apex bank should consider is the small size of the pegged amounts. One, therefore, suggests that the withdrawal limits should be raised to N500,000 for individuals and N3 million for corporate customers. Two, the bank should extend the take-off date of the policy by another year. Within this period, it should gear attention towards readying the country for an electronic economy, complete with a suffusion of credit card usage nationwide and strengthening of the naira’s value, among others. We should take note that enforcing Sanusi’s new initiative without amendments could virtually take the nation back to the Stone Age where monies were kept under beds or, to put it appropriately, under stones. Needless to say, thieves and armed robbers would find it easier to collect money from persons and families who are forced to keep their cash within reach.


Published in the 1st issue of BLUEPRINT, on May 16, 2011

A Bermuda Triangle Called Gonin Gora

Mohammed Bawa, a colleague of ours in the ‘pen-pushing’ profession, had bid farewell to his family and friends, finished a few chores at the office of another colleague, and drove out of Kaduna. He was in high spirits, especially as he was driving a car he had wanted to buy from his friend. Indeed, he had dropped his old jalopy at the friend’s office and “seized” this one, joking that they would settle on the price when he came back from Abuja. Now his mind was focussed on the business that was taking him to the nation’s capital. I imagine that he was whistling out of joy and sense of fulfilment.

At Gonin Gora, a suburb of Kaduna, the road was suddenly blocked by some youths who were carrying an assortment of weapons and mouthing expletives. Before he knew it, Bawa was being attacked by the youths. He could not save himself. The story we heard later was that he was killed right there in his car just as the vehicle was set ablaze by his attackers.

That gruesome event took place on Monday, February 21, 2000. Bawa, the first managing director of Desmims Independent Television (DITV), Kaduna, which prides itself as the first privately owned TV station to go on air after the liberalisation of the broadcasting industry by the Babangida administration, was not murdered because of any fault of his; it was merely on account of his being a Muslim. Many who heard about the incident wondered why he ventured out of town at that time when there was palpable tension throughout Kaduna State on that day. The tension was caused by the decision of the state government to introduce the Sharia legal system as demanded by Muslim citizens. A 15-member, all-Muslim committee had been set up by the state House of Assembly, which had submitted a report that said it had received 133 oral presentations, out of which only 13 were against the introduction of Sharia in the state. It had also collected 267 written memoranda, out of which only seven were against Sharia implementation.

The conflict, which raged for two days, spread to other towns like Kafanchan and Zaria, and flared in faraway Lagos, Aba and Umuahia. The police claimed that 700 people were killed, but independent sources said it was thousands. The government said hundreds were injured, while 1,950 buildings, 746 vehicles, 55 mosques and 123 churches were destroyed. It was one of the deadliest ethno-religious crises ever seen in this country, with sophisticated weapons such as rocket launchers, bombs, grenades and locally-made pistols freely used.

Gonin Gora, where Bawa was killed, is especially significant because of its position in such conflicts. Its placement on an important thoroughfare which links the nation’s capital to Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states makes it symbolic in the kind of brutal social relations existing between Christians and Muslims in the north. Because it consists of a largely Christian population, Gonin Gora has become a Bermuda Triangle of sorts to Muslims whenever a conflict occurs. During the recent post-election conflict, many unsuspecting Muslim travellers were killed there, and properties belonging to Muslims were destroyed, especially on the first day before security forces were deployed to sanitise the situation. During the violence, Gonin Gora was a no-go area for any Muslim traveller.

But, then, there are many Gonin Goras in the north. There are areas where Christians are trapped and killed as soon as sectarian conflicts break out. They become impassable to Christians. In fact, I know areas in Kaduna where a Christian dares not live, and there are some where a Muslim cannot live.

Such Bermuda Triangles are, however, a recent phenomenon. Kaduna and many other towns used to have mixed populations, with Christians and Muslims living and relating freely with one another -- eating together, celebrating together, mourning together and dreaming together. There is need to bring back such halcyon times, otherwise the search for peace in our communities would continue to be elusive.


Published in the preview edition of BLUEPRINT