Thursday, 24 May 2018

Letter from Africa: Why is no-one talking about the Zamfara conflict?


BBC
Girl in Zamfara StateImage copyrightAFP
Image captionZamfara has been suffering from bad governance for decades
In our series of letters from African journalists, Kadaria Ahmed looks at the brewing crisis in Nigeria's Zamfara State, which analysts say has the potential to become as deadly as the Boko Haram conflict.
Growing up nearly 50 years ago in Nigeria's north-western Zamfara State, I could never have imagined its future of grinding poverty and escalating violence.
The capital of Zamfara State, Gusau, used to be a prosperous town. British company John Holt ran a tannery, which bought and treated hides before shipping them off to Europe. Sugar giant Tate and Lyle had a presence. There was also a textile company, an oil mill, and a ginnery that prepared cotton for export.
As children, our favourite place in Gusau was the sweet factory, run by a Lebanese family who were, for all intents and purposes, locals. There, we could satisfy our cravings at very little cost.
A functioning rail line moved goods out and across Nigeria, and brought people in, many of whom were drawn to the region's thriving industries.
Men on motorbikesImage copyrightAFP
Image captionZamfara used to be a thriving trade hub
In Gusau, there was a sizeable population of ethnic Yorubas from south-western Nigeria, Igbos from the south-east, and thriving Indian and Lebanese communities. This cosmopolitism partly fuelled the region's aspiration for statehood, which it attained in 1996.
Parents also had the pick of decent government schools, or those run by missionaries, for their children's education. The knowledge of untold wealth, in the form of huge gold deposits that lay buried under the soil, guaranteed a prosperous and affluent future for the state.
Or so we thought.
We never factored in bad governance. The impact has been acute in Nigeria's northern states, which have experienced economic collapse, further pauperising its people, whose future was largely dependent on having decent, visionary leadership.
This is evident through the failure to build on the huge amounts of agricultural land, pluralistic populations, and unexplored mineral resources. There has been little attempt to mitigate the impact of climate change. Instead of utilising resources to educate and help its people, the northern political class has simply enriched itself.
According to a recently released Oxford University Human Development Index, the state's poverty rate is 92%.
While the economy declined, ultra-conservatism and lack of tolerance grew, and in 2000 Sharia was introduced in Zamfara State by former governor Ahmad Yerima, which seriously undermined the multicultural nature of the state.

More about Zamfara:

A map of Zamfara State
  • 67.5% of people in poverty (National rate: 62%)
  • Literacy rate: 54.7%
  • Slogan: Farming is our Pride
  • Residents mostly farmers from Hausa and Fulani communities
  • Population: 4.5 million (2016 estimate)
  • Mostly Muslim
  • First state to reintroduce Sharia - in 2000
Source: Nigeria Data Portal, and others

A succession of administrations have resorted to lazy, knee-jerk reactions to problems that require long-term holistic solutions. When cattle rustling became a problem in Zamfara, Governor Abdulaziz Yari created local vigilante groups to fight the thieves in 2013.
It did not take long for residents to start complaining about the vigilantes, who were now extorting and stealing from the very people they were meant to protect.
Villages caught between vigilantes and rustlers started trying to organise and defend themselves, with dire consequences. The cycle of violence escalated with attacks and reprisals. An attempt to implement an amnesty programme has also failed.
Now we have a spiralling, murky conflict in which all lines are blurred. The only thing that is certain is that innocent people continue to die in substantial numbers.
Dozens have died over the past few months during attacks on villages in Zamfara State. Due to a lack of reporting, it is impossible to tell what the total death toll has been in this ongoing six-year-conflict.
On 28 March, at least 28 people were slaughtered by unknown gunmen on motorbikes in the village of Bawar Daji, some 90km (55 miles) from Gusau. The slain were attending a funeral for victims murdered during a previous and painfully similar attack.
Image of a destroyed village in Zamfara StateImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe cycle of violence caused by vigilante groups and cattle rustlers has led to an untold number of deaths in Zamfara
For many years, the killings, kidnappings and rapes were only occurring in rural areas of Zamfara. It was underreported as the victims live on the fringes of national consciousness: they are poor, rural folk, who eke out a living as farmers and herdsmen in an area geographically removed from the centre of governance.
The conflict doesn't lend itself to the binary reporting that the Nigerian media finds very seductive. Christians are not pitted against Muslim, or North versus the South, or Hausa-Fulani against other groups. It can't be reported as evidence of Nigeria's further fracturing along ethnic and religious lines. The cultural and religious identities of both the victims and perpetrators are mostly the same.
This all speaks to a wider, national problem of our failing Federal State that cannot fulfil its most fundamental role of protecting its people. And so the people of Zamfara are left mostly to their fate.
Across Nigeria, there are huge swathes of ungoverned space that lend themselves to lawlessness in the absence of a functional state security apparatus. Rugu forest in the north-west cuts across multiple regions including Zamfara the border with Niger. The forest has been described as the equivalent of Sambisa forest in Borno State, which has become a hideout for Boko Haram in recent years.
Chris Ngwodo, who is an expert on the region, says the situation in Zamfara is exactly where Borno State was in 2009-2010, when Boko Haram launched its bloody uprising. The conditions in Zamfara are "perfect," he says. Perfect for another intractable conflict.
More Letters from Africa:

The past as Buhari’s utopia


The Guardian

Opinion

By Paul Onomuakpokpo


Whenever President Muhammadu Buhari lifts the fa├žade and allows us a glimpse into the convictions that propel him, he leaves no room for doubt that he is out of depth with the demands of his high office. At that moment of supposed candour, Buhari rather recommends himself to us as a relic of an antediluvian era that is far removed from the nuances of democracy and the challenges and possibilities of contemporary life.

Buhari is fixated on the valourisation of the past as an irreplaceable era that was full of glories that neither the present nor the future can yield. Thus, Buhari yearns for that past. He wants us to exhume that past because it held the secrets of an Eldorado that are elusive to the present.Yet it is a past that the majority of the citizens would like to consign to eternal oblivion because it only afflicts them with searing memories. Indeed, the past that in the imagination of Buhari provided a utopian state is in the reckoning of the citizens a dystopia that he is recreating in the present.
The past that Buhari is enamoured of was an era when the citizens chafed under the jackboots of military coupists and their minions. Buhari disdains the present and yearns for the past because he is overwhelmed by the challenges of the present. Unlike the past, he cannot with military fiat wish away contemporary realities. He cannot just reel out commands whose iniquitous object is the incarceration of some politicians because as a self-declared arbiter of justice he has found them guilty in his own court.

As Buhari himself put it, it was easy for him to fight corruption in the past because all he needed to do was to imprison the accused who had the duty of proving his innocence. Of course, this negated the jurisprudential principle that is upheld in sane societies that the rule of law imposes the necessity of the accuser proving the guilt of the accused. It is therefore not surprising that Buhari is enthralled by Sani Abacha who was a cesspool of the impunities of the era that he rhapsodises about. In the Abacha era, he was the law and he dispensed justice capriciously. Anyone who opposed his abuse of state power to silence other citizens or for the perpetration of heists for himself and cronies was guilty. And the grim sentence of death must be executed swiftly. Faced with this prospect, the only route of escape for the accused was in fleeing abroad. This was why Ken Saro-Wiwa, Alfred Rewane and many others Abacha considered as enemies were liquidated.
Since Abacha died, billons have been traced to his illicit accounts in different parts of the world. Even the Buhari government received $322.51 million Abacha loot from Switzerland recently. Yet to Buhari, Abacha is not corrupt. He is emphatic in holding up the Abacha era as a golden epoch that no government, except his own, has rivalled since. Buhari reminiscences about how on account of the honesty of purpose and commitment to the wellbeing of the citizens, Abacha built roads from Port Harcourt to Onitsha and Benin and improved education, medical care under the auspices of the Petroleum Fund Trust.
Buhari considers Abacha as perhaps the only reference point in terms of good governance. And this is why years after declaring that Abacha was not corrupt, he is still puzzled that there are some Nigerians who are repelled by the prospect of canonising him.
Since Buhari was and is still convinced that the past is a utopia that cannot be reclaimed in the present, why has he chosen to afflict us with his leadership? The tragedy is that as a nation, we expect a person who belongs to the past not only to solve our present problems but to provide a template with which to negotiate the future. Worse still, we expect a person who does not understand the price that has been paid for democracy that his so much-cherished past anathematised to appreciate its demands and the overarching need of sustaining it.

Simply because Buhari feels confronted with a utopia of the past that is eternally elusive, he does not fully appreciate the present and its challenges and possibilities. A major functionary of the Buhari government has given us an insight into the thinking of this administration. The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, declared when he led the Buhari Support Organisation to the president that it is only the lazy or rabid mischief-makers who complain of hunger that has been banished from the country by the Buhari government. We must be thankful to Ali for opening for us this vista to the thinking of Aso Rock. In other words, Buhari and his co-travellers just snigger at reports that some citizens have jumped into a river or committed suicide on an electric pole because of their impecunious state triggered by the lack of the leadership genius of this administration. As far as they are concerned, such citizens choose to take their own lives because of their laziness; in spite of the economic plenitude engenderd by the Buhari government.
And this is in sync with Buhari’s position that his spokesmen have attempted to rework to avoid fraying sensibilities – that the youths are lazy and are only waiting for the government to feed them with revenue from oil resources. Buhari is so much marooned in the past that he does not appreciate the fact that even Nigerians who want to overcome the economic failure of the Buhari government are imperilled by a lack of electricity to operate their little businesses.
Such businesses are choking under the weight of the complicity of the government that would not check the impunity of electricity distribution companies. Again, the citizens who want to eke out a miserable living from their farms cannot do that because Fulani herdsmen have vowed to feed their cows with their crops. And since the fear of the Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom, they may not even go to their farms to avoid being raped or killed. Because he is befuddled by the past, Buhari does not know that the nation has been riven by ethnocentrism and religious bigotry.
Since the past is the best epoch of the nation, why must Buhari be bothered about thinking of how to make the nation better? Why must he bother himself about restructuring or any other proposal that would rescue the nation from the brink of disintegration? Buhari does not see the inequity in the distribution of the nation’s resources that has necessitated the calls for restructuring. As far as Buhari is concerned, all the best efforts for the nation’s development were made in the past –in his military government and that of Abacha- thus no more effort can be made as regards progress. For Buhari, that nations that are eager to grow plan for decades and even centuries ahead is not necessary in the case of Nigeria.
Thus, Buhari cannot successfully fight corruption because the methods he used in the past are no longer workable in our democratic context. He can only make allegations and name and shame those he perceives as his political enemies. But if Buhari is sincere about fighting corruption, he still has about a year left to make it holistic by not limiting it to the opposition. More importantly, he should demonstrate his sincerity by setting up strong institutions that would sustain the anti-corruption fight. The citizens are not swayed by the propagandist stunt that if Buhari is not re-elected next year, looters would stage a comeback and recover their stolen funds. So if Buhari is indispensable to the fight against corruption, would he remain the nation’s president after 2024, assuming he secures re-election? Would he be made to live forever so that the anti-corruption fight would not be stymied by the enemies of Nigeria who are identified by his government as looters?
Nothing recommends Buhari as a leader of modern Nigerian with its complex challenges. Contemporary Nigerians owe it as a duty to themselves and the subsequent generations to, through the 2019 presidential election, consign Buhari to the past that he duly belongs.





Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Letter from Africa: Why is no-one talking about the Zamfara conflict?


BBC

  • 19 May 2018
Girl in Zamfara StateImage copyrightAFP
Image captionZamfara has been suffering from bad governance for decades
In our series of letters from African journalists, Kadaria Ahmed looks at the brewing crisis in Nigeria's Zamfara State, which analysts say has the potential to become as deadly as the Boko Haram conflict.
Growing up nearly 50 years ago in Nigeria's north-western Zamfara State, I could never have imagined its future of grinding poverty and escalating violence.
The capital of Zamfara State, Gusau, used to be a prosperous town. British company John Holt ran a tannery, which bought and treated hides before shipping them off to Europe. Sugar giant Tate and Lyle had a presence. There was also a textile company, an oil mill, and a ginnery that prepared cotton for export.
As children, our favourite place in Gusau was the sweet factory, run by a Lebanese family who were, for all intents and purposes, locals. There, we could satisfy our cravings at very little cost.
A functioning rail line moved goods out and across Nigeria, and brought people in, many of whom were drawn to the region's thriving industries.
Men on motorbikesImage copyrightAFP
Image captionZamfara used to be a thriving trade hub
In Gusau, there was a sizeable population of ethnic Yorubas from south-western Nigeria, Igbos from the south-east, and thriving Indian and Lebanese communities. This cosmopolitism partly fuelled the region's aspiration for statehood, which it attained in 1996.
Parents also had the pick of decent government schools, or those run by missionaries, for their children's education. The knowledge of untold wealth, in the form of huge gold deposits that lay buried under the soil, guaranteed a prosperous and affluent future for the state.
Or so we thought.
We never factored in bad governance. The impact has been acute in Nigeria's northern states, which have experienced economic collapse, further pauperising its people, whose future was largely dependent on having decent, visionary leadership.
This is evident through the failure to build on the huge amounts of agricultural land, pluralistic populations, and unexplored mineral resources. There has been little attempt to mitigate the impact of climate change. Instead of utilising resources to educate and help its people, the northern political class has simply enriched itself.
According to a recently released Oxford University Human Development Index, the state's poverty rate is 92%.
While the economy declined, ultra-conservatism and lack of tolerance grew, and in 2000 Sharia was introduced in Zamfara State by former governor Ahmad Yerima, which seriously undermined the multicultural nature of the state.

More about Zamfara:

A map of Zamfara State
  • 67.5% of people in poverty (National rate: 62%)
  • Literacy rate: 54.7%
  • Slogan: Farming is our Pride
  • Residents mostly farmers from Hausa and Fulani communities
  • Population: 4.5 million (2016 estimate)
  • Mostly Muslim
  • First state to reintroduce Sharia - in 2000
Source: Nigeria Data Portal, and others

A succession of administrations have resorted to lazy, knee-jerk reactions to problems that require long-term holistic solutions. When cattle rustling became a problem in Zamfara, Governor Abdulaziz Yari created local vigilante groups to fight the thieves in 2013.
It did not take long for residents to start complaining about the vigilantes, who were now extorting and stealing from the very people they were meant to protect.
Villages caught between vigilantes and rustlers started trying to organise and defend themselves, with dire consequences. The cycle of violence escalated with attacks and reprisals. An attempt to implement an amnesty programme has also failed.
Now we have a spiralling, murky conflict in which all lines are blurred. The only thing that is certain is that innocent people continue to die in substantial numbers.
Dozens have died over the past few months during attacks on villages in Zamfara State. Due to a lack of reporting, it is impossible to tell what the total death toll has been in this ongoing six-year-conflict.
On 28 March, at least 28 people were slaughtered by unknown gunmen on motorbikes in the village of Bawar Daji, some 90km (55 miles) from Gusau. The slain were attending a funeral for victims murdered during a previous and painfully similar attack.
Image of a destroyed village in Zamfara StateImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe cycle of violence caused by vigilante groups and cattle rustlers has led to an untold number of deaths in Zamfara
For many years, the killings, kidnappings and rapes were only occurring in rural areas of Zamfara. It was underreported as the victims live on the fringes of national consciousness: they are poor, rural folk, who eke out a living as farmers and herdsmen in an area geographically removed from the centre of governance.
The conflict doesn't lend itself to the binary reporting that the Nigerian media finds very seductive. Christians are not pitted against Muslim, or North versus the South, or Hausa-Fulani against other groups. It can't be reported as evidence of Nigeria's further fracturing along ethnic and religious lines. The cultural and religious identities of both the victims and perpetrators are mostly the same.
This all speaks to a wider, national problem of our failing Federal State that cannot fulfil its most fundamental role of protecting its people. And so the people of Zamfara are left mostly to their fate.
Across Nigeria, there are huge swathes of ungoverned space that lend themselves to lawlessness in the absence of a functional state security apparatus. Rugu forest in the north-west cuts across multiple regions including Zamfara the border with Niger. The forest has been described as the equivalent of Sambisa forest in Borno State, which has become a hideout for Boko Haram in recent years.
Chris Ngwodo, who is an expert on the region, says the situation in Zamfara is exactly where Borno State was in 2009-2010, when Boko Haram launched its bloody uprising. The conditions in Zamfara are "perfect," he says. Perfect for another intractable conflict.
More Letters from Africa:

Related Topics