PEOPLE AND POLITICS BY MOHAMMED HARUNA
Playing Dangerous Politics With Boko Haram
Few Nigerians may have heard the name, Gordon Duff. I, for one, never did until my attention was drawn to an article he wrote on our country recently which he entitled alarmingly as “Nigeria Targeted for Destruction?”
After reading the doomsday article I Google-searched for
his credentials. Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, described him as
Marine Vietnam veteran, a combat infantryman, and Senior Editor at
Veterans Today.” His career, the source said, “has included extensive
experience in international banking along with such diverse areas as
consulting on counter insurgency, defense technologies or acting as
diplomatic officer of UN humanitarian groups.”
In his article the man himself claimed he is “known in Nigeria as a national security specialist with decades of experience there.” He also claimed to “have close personal friends at the highest levels of government” and that he was writing his piece out of “deep concern” for the country.
The authenticity of his international banking and counter-insurgency credentials and the genuineness of his concern for Nigeria may be open to question, but he certainly lived up to his billing as a controversial pundit in his 2,754 word article in question.
Consider, for instance, his claim that “the security of the presidency and the entire nation has been greatly compromised by the activities of certain individuals very close to the presidency.” Or that “the issues of government by settlement which had long plagued Nigeria are the orders of the day now where certain individuals are asking for colossal sums of money from certain security consultants to provide training and security equipment to the government.” Or that “one individual in particular has been known to collect huge sums of money from these outfits currently parading themselves as security consultants in Abuja.”
Deriving from these and other even more controversial claims, Duff concluded with apparent certitude that “There are no interests to control the activities of Boko Haram because of the vested interests of certain foreign governments in collision with their agents in the present administration and the country. To some in government, this is another tool to control certain individuals.”
“The terror group, Boko Haram,” he said, was real. But in its current formation, it was, he said, “a proxy of outside powers who plan to balkanize Nigeria, simply another domino to fall as have so many others...Nigeria is Africa, the most populace country, the most oil and gas wealth, the greatest economic potential, the biggest potential market. Thus, Nigeria is a target.”
“Christian Nigeria,” he said, “is being set up, not just to fight a ‘terror group’ in the North but to take on all of Islamic Africa, to draw them into a war that will bring more players, America, for one, into another endless cesspool.”
Without doubt many people would contest the man’s claims and contest his conclusions perhaps even more so. And they may have good grounds for doing so. However, before dismissing him as yet another fanciful grand conspiracy theorist, consider the following facts.
First, fast rewind to the 1967 mass killing of Igbos in the North which followed the 1966 Igbo led coup in which virtually the country’s top political and military leadership of the region’s extraction was wiped out. As we all know the massacre of Igbos eventually led to our three-year civil war which ended in 1970.
For the first time since the civil war, Mr Charles Sharp, the expatriate first managing director of New Nigerian, was able to reveal what really triggered the Igbo massacre in an article published in the newspaper’s edition of January 20, 2003 and which I once made reference to on these pages. Entitled “The story that got away,” it revealed the hidden hand of the Americans in manipulating the events that lead to the civil war.
Sharp’s story deserves being told again and again for the lesson it holds on the futility and even the foolishness of relying on outsiders to the extent we do to resolve our differences.
“At the end of May (1967),” he said in the article, “there was serious outbreaks of violence throughout the region and the general atmosphere of fear and distrust was not helped by radio reports from Cotonou of the killing by Ibos of a large number of Hausas. I checked with government sources and all they would say was that ‘reports have been received.’ Eventually, I was informed the Cotonou reports had been confirmed by ‘a (the American CIA) monitoring service in Nigeria,’ which I took to mean the one in Kaduna. (Its head) John Thorne’s response to my inquiries was a non-committal ‘Sorry, old man, but it is something we cannot divulge to the media.’
“The Cotonou reports became a critical factor when the causes of the riots and, ultimately, the civil war came to be discussed. In the meantime the New Nigerian came out with another issue that set the country talking. An issue with four blank pages, but more about that later. Not until years later did I find myself in a position to state unequivocally the rumours were unsubstantiated. Indeed there were no Cotonou reports.
“How am I so sure? Because the man who created and used his skill and professional expertise to spread the rumour told me so. ‘It was fiction, put out by us, nothing more. There were no riots, no deaths in Cotonou.’ So declared the former head of the Kaduna monitoring bureau chief, my old friend, John Thorpe.”
Sharp’s encounter with Thorne took place, Sharp said, in 1978 during his visit to the US with his wife to study the latest trend in the kind of newspaper production technology that had been pioneered by the New Nigerian in the late sixties, and also to visit friends. One of them, he said, was Thorpe and his wife, then living in retirement in Florida.
It was during the visit, Sharp said, that his old friend revealed to him for the first time that the main purpose of the Kaduna monitoring station was to bug and monitor important people and institutions in Nigeria, including foreign embassies. And it succeeded in doing so beyond its expectations.
As proof, Thorne, said Sharp, played back a tape for him in which he heard his own voice clearly speaking on the telephone to the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, then executive chairman of Daily Times, on how he intended to respond to the orders he had received from the military authorities in Lagos, then the nation’s capital, that his newspaper should not publish stories about the Igbo massacre out of fears that it could escalate tensions. Jose had told him he had received the same orders as a result of which, he said, he had had to pulp 50,000 copies of the Sunday Times which had carried the “offending” story.
“I listened to the whole recording in stunned silence,” Sharp said, “recalling every word of (the) conversation 12 years previously in which I told the Daily Times chief that it was my intention to put out a paper that conformed to the letter (of) the Federal Government’s instructions. There would be no reports or comments, no pictures, just four blank pages containing only a simple explanation explaining that we had been forbidden to refer to the editorial content that would otherwise have occupied the blank pages. Babatunde said it was a brave idea and he would consider doing the same.”
The import of Sharp’s story is too obvious to need elaboration. Suffice it to say with friends like Thorpe and his principals who needed any enemies?
Now fast forward to 2005. According to an article entitled “Is Nigeria the Next Iraq?’ in the February 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, the glossy American lifestyle magazine, by its contributing editor, Sebastian Junger, on October 23,2005, a group of “high-ranking” American government officials met in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington DC., to respond to a simulated crisis in the global oil supply.
The event, Junger said, was called “Oil ShockWave” and it was organized by public-interest groups concerned with energy policy and national security. Among the group gathered at the prestigious hotel, Unger said, were two former heads of the CIA, the president of the Council on Foreign Policy and a former member of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The scenario they were handed, he said, was this: “Civil conflict breaks out in northern Nigeria – an area rife with Islamic militancy and religious violence – and the Nigerian army is forced to intervene. The situation deteriorates, and international oil companies decide to end operations in the oil rich Niger delta, resulting in the loss of 800,000 barrels a day on the world market.”
This loss, Unger noted, would be too critical for the US to ignore not only because of its size but also because Nigeria’s oil is “light sweet crude,” meaning it requires “very little” refining.
“Because Nigerian oil is so vital to the American economy,” Unger pointed out, “President Bush’s State Department declared in 2002 that...it was considered a ‘a strategic national interest.’ That essentially meant that the president could send in the US military to protect our access to it.”
In the light of all this it is not difficult to imagine what response our privileged little group gathered at Four Seasons to look at the scenario of a violence-torn Nigeria would have recommended to the American authorities.
Junger wrote his lengthy article after a visit to the Niger delta region in which he met with its militants after he’d secured a right of passage from Gbomo Jomo, the controversial spokesperson of MEND, the Movement of the Emancipation of Niger Delta, the violent militia group which ruled the waves in the region until recently.
Now fast forward still to last month. In its edition of December 2, Thisday, among other newspapers, played up a 28-page bi-partisan report by the US Congress committee on Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism. Among other things, the report fingered Boko Haram as a potential danger to America’s access to Nigeria’s oil.
The report claimed that “recent reports indicate that Nigerian security agencies were searching for Boko Haram members who had allegedly sneaked into the South.”
The report noted that whereas the region’s militias had been “hesitant to inflict truly crippling damage against these facilities because they have some economic stake in them, Boko Haram, which is believed to have no financial interest in the plants, has no such reservations.”
“Given the vulnerability of the Niger Delta oil facilities and the potential powder keg of multiple militant factions squaring off against each other,” the report said, “Boko Haram’s infiltration into this area should be closely monitored by the US and its allies.”
Members of Boko Haram, the report claimed, were being trained by al-Qaida in the Magrib and has been forging ties with the Somali Islamic militia, al-Shabaab. This evolution of Boko Haram, concluded the report, “illustrates it is a group with fast growing ambitions,” and therefore “it is important for the US Intelligence Community to stay ahead of Boko Haram to thwart a potential attack against the (American) homeland.”
The import of the combination of this report, Charles Sharp’s article in the New Nigerian and that of Junger in Vanity Fair is that it is not far-fetched to conclude, as Junger did in his own piece, that Nigeria is being set up by some forces outside as the next Iraq.
And it seems this set-up is with more than a little help from our politicians and possibly our security forces, if Gordon Duff whose article I quoted from at the beginning of this article, is to be believed.
But even if you don’t believe him you will find it hard to explain why it was that on no less than two occasions when Muhammed Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram, slain in the aftermath of its crushing by the military in 2009, was bailed from detention, not by a Muslim, but by Professor Jerry Gana who needs no introduction in this country, and probably abroad, as a prominent Christian.
You will also find it hard, if not impossible, to explain why President Goodluck Jonathan would appoint the sister-in-law of Senator Ali Modu Sherrif, former two term governor of Borno State, home of Boko Haram, as not just any minister but that of state in Finance. Yet Modu Sherriff belonged to the opposition ANPP and consistently leading bona fide leaders of Boko Haram have fingered him as its main financier, at least initially.
Again you will find it hard to explain why only Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume is being prosecuted as an associate of Boko Haram when the former governor also stood denounced by Umar Sanda Ali Konduga, aka Usman al-Zawahiri, government’s supposed plant in the sect.
You will also find it hard to understand why suddenly so many armed robbery incidents in the country, especially in the North East, now begin with attacks on buildings of our uniformed services shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great).
Last Monday at the opening of the Northern Peace Conference organized by the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Senate President, David Mark, queried leaders of the region for what he said was their silence on Boko Haram.
“Are we afraid,” he asked among so many queries he raised, “to openly condemn Boko Haram either for political reasons or out of fear of possible attack by the sect?”
The Senate president is (please pardon the swear word) damned right that politics and fear, but much less so the latter, is behind the seeming silence of the North on Boko Haram.
Some dark forces in and out of this country, it seems, are playing dangerous politics with religion which few Nigerians will ever understand. And only a foolish, man will condemn or, for that matter, praise, what he does not understand.
I said as much on these pages on August 18, last year. Since then the game has only become even more dangerous