On 16th April 2014, the Northern Governors Forum met in Kaduna to discuss the security challenge facing the region at the time. Three days later, Admiral Murtala Nyako (rtd), then Governor of Adamawa State, released a memo he presented at the session titled ‘On-Going Full-Fledged Genocide in Northern Nigeria’. In the poorly written, long-winding memo, Nyako accused the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan of using “mass murderers/cut-throats imbedded in our legitimate and traditional Defence and Security organizations” to carry out ‘genocide’ against the North.
It was shocking that a former Chief of Naval Staff, who had also served as governor of Niger State during the military era, would mix politics with security. But it was obvious at the time that Nyako’s ‘memo’ was a political hack job meant to portray President Jonathan in a bad light less than ten months to the general election. Sadly, rather than calling him to order, Nyako was actually hailed by many northerners.
Meanwhile, two weeks after Sheikh Ahmad Gumi’s toxic statement that is clearly a threat to national security, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and those who recently took turns to shout down Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah, remain deaf and dumb. State Security Service (SSS) operatives who spend valuable time reading Twitter posts and looking for who to abduct and detain also have no issue with a man whose polarising rhetoric undermines the war against insurgency. But before I make my point, I crave the indulgence of readers to go to the substance of my 24th April 2014 column titled, ‘Who is Nyako Speaking for?’, reproduced below.
NYAKO’S CHARGE ONE: Fulani communities in parts of the North who have been in their locations for over 100 years are now being raided and uprooted by paid killers within the Nigerian Army for the satisfaction of the federal administration instead of being protected as citizens with their rights and dignity safe-guarded. This has happened to those communities at Keana L.G. in Nasarawa State and Laddoga and Kachia in Kaduna State. It is presently extended to Benue, Zamfara and Katsina States. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that virtually all the soldiers of Northern Nigerian origin recently recruited to fight Boko-Haram have been deceived in that aspect. They are being poorly trained, totally ill-equipped, given only uniform and are killed by their trainers in Nigerian Army training centres as soon as they arrive in the Nigerian Army camps being used by so-called Boko-Haram insurgents. Virtually all the Nigerian Army soldiers killed/murdered in these operations so far are of Northern Nigerian origin. The Administration has also hired militia from all across especially North Africa who have been deceived into accepting to come because they were made to believe that they would be fighting infidels.
MY TAKE: For a former Service Chief this is intolerable, especially as it is totally false and I say that with every sense of responsibility since I have checked with the leadership of our armed forces. Because it would dampen morale to publish names of the men and officers who have been killed by Boko Haram and where they hail from, I have been advised not to but at least I can confirm that between January this year to date, we have lost three officers, including a Colonel while eight other officers are now seriously wounded. But for the benefit of those who enjoy this ‘North’ and ‘South’ division, the claim that more Northerners have been killed is false. I am sure Nyako can easily get the list of victims if what he desires is fact while I recommend for him the current edition of SOJA (a magazine of the Nigerian military) so he can see reports about the latest casualties of the Boko Haram madness. And if he is that caring about the military, he should take a visit to the 44 Military Reference Hospital in Kaduna to see many of our wounded soldiers and officers who are paying the price for the irresponsibility of our political class that is culpable for the menace of Boko Haram. It is sad that our soldiers who have been called to make sacrifices in the bid to clear the mess created by our politicians in what is dubbed ‘Operation Zamani Lafiya’ are being treated with so much disrespect with wild and patently divisive allegations. For instance, Nyako knows that the Nigerian army today trains its men in three locations (Jaji, Kotangora and Bauchi) and these are northern towns. So, how can ‘Northern trainees’ be killed by their trainers in those towns and there would not have been mayhem all this while? What does Nyako want to achieve with this allegation?
NYAKO’S CHARGE TWO: Clearly the victims of the administration’s evil-mindedness are substantially Northern Nigerians. The administration is bent on bringing wars in the North between Muslims and Christians and within them and between one ethnic group and another in various communities in the region. Cases of mass murders by its bloody minded killers and cut-throats are well known, but it attributes the killings to so-called Boko-Haram.
MY TAKE: What Nyako is saying is that all the killings in the North have been by the federal government. This is not only offensive to the memory of those who have died as a result of terrorism, sometimes in brutal manner, it is also a revisionism that should never be condoned. The Boko Haram insurgency predates President Jonathan so I fail to understand Nyako’s interpretation that it is the Nigerian State that is behind the killings. How? I have been speaking with top people in the military and the security agencies, especially those from the North and they dismiss such theory offhand as mere politics. Incidentally, I recently had a two-hour interaction with the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and he shared with me interesting perspective on the nature of the terrorism we confront. The NSA has a thesis on the violence in the North that is completely at variance with Nyako’s yet he is as Northern as they come. He is a Dasuki, afterall! The current Minister of Defence, Lt General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd) earned his stripes as well as local and international respect not only as a military man but also for his network in the security world. So, if there were any ‘genocide’ going on, there is no way Gusau would not know. If the argument is that the insurgency is being mismanaged by the current administration or even that it has no real commitment to addressing the challenge, I can understand. But to suggest that it is the federal government, and not Boko Haram, that is behind the killings (and the abduction of innocent female students) makes no sense. Neither does the claim by Aso Rock apologists who peddle the equally preposterous proposition that Boko Haram, whose victims are mainly northerners, is an Arewa political construct to checkmate President Jonathan because he is a Southern Christian!
NYAKO’S CHARGE THREE: Thousands of our young girls and boys have been kidnapped by clearly organised militia in the last few years and kidnapping is now a random affair all over the far North. These organized kidnappers must have the backing of the federal administration for them to move about freely with abducted children just as those who convey ammunitions and explosives from the ports to the safe-houses of so called Boko-Haram in the North. Hurrah we are no longer being deceived! We no longer accept let alone believe that our prominent Mallams in the Mosques in Kano and Zaria have been killed by ‘innocent’ Boko-Haram members…We know where we are now pointing our fingers.
MY TAKE: At a time we should all unite to heal the pains of those suffering as a result of the growing violence in our country while seeking solution to the challenge that confronts us all, Nyako is pushing the logic of victim and perpetrator that can only further compromise our national security. Since Nyako seems unable to appreciate the danger of what he is doing, I will strongly recommend for him to go and read “Making sense of political violence in postcolonial Africa”, a paper written by Professor Mahmood Mamdani, an Ugandan and one of Africa’s foremost scholars. What the governor does not understand is that his narrative (the victim’s psychology, as Mamdana calls it), only encourages entrepreneurs of violence to reinforce their propensity for killing as the only effective guarantee against being victimized in future (the logic of attack being the best defence). That unfortunately, as Mamdani argues most brilliantly, is a one-way ticket to Kigali!
NYAKO’S CHARGE FOUR: Dear citizens of Eastern Nigerian origin please note that this federal administration under your son is giving you a very bad name! He takes wrong decisions and seems to be heading us to the abyss. Let’s therefore team up to save our freedom, dignity and rights. The issue now is not between North and South or Northern Nigeria vs Eastern Nigeria or Western Nigeria. We must save our communities, State and Nigeria from the Hitler-like evil-mindedness of a few…We should always condemn any action by any group of people that would set our communities and nation aflame. One is quite sure that if you had condemned the cold-blooded murder of political and military leaders of Northern and Western Nigerian origins in the night of 15 January, 1966 by your sons it would not have led to the subsequent massacre of the innocent and the Nigerian Civil War.
MY TAKE: Even when President Jonathan is from the South-south zone, Nyako had to re-invent ‘Eastern Nigeria’ in a not-so-veiled reference to the circumstances that led to Nigeria’s first and second military coups, the killings that followed and ultimately the civil war. Nyako is not only laying the responsibility for the tragic calamities of the First Republic on people from a particular region but also pointing fingers in their direction as encouraging such tragedy again by acts of omission or commission because their ‘son’ is now the president. Nothing can be more dangerous. But then it fits into a pattern. The general anomalous and divisive trend to which Nyako’s toxic missive belongs is familiar Nigerian politics. Our politicians would generally pull down the house if their interests and survival are at stake. The case of Nyako a.k.a. ‘Baba Mai Mangoro’ is more pathetic because here is a man whom Nigeria has given everything in the past from head of the Navy to incredible wealth in retirement and subsequent political pre-eminence. More disastrously, Nyako has gone against the grain of his basic training and oath as a military man. The defense of national unity has remained the irreducible minimum traits of our ex-military leaders irrespective of their subsequent political travails and differences. Even more embarrassing is Nyako’s rank ignorance about the cause of the Civil War. Unfortunately, he would smuggle this ignorance and mischief into his new found political agenda in a manner that fatally threatens the unity and future of the country as an inclusive polity founded on diversity.
ENDNOTE: The foregoing is a recollection of my April 2014 column when, out of desperation for power, Nyako and fellow travellers could not separate politics from national security. And with that, they laid the foundation for contradictions that have led to the emergence of ‘freedom fighters’ who now populate the country, disturbing our peace. As we inch towards 2023, we are likely to see many more Nyakos, desperate politicians who feed fat on the misery of the people of Nigeria yet do not mind pulling down the roof over all of us. Our challenge is that we have a leadership either incapable or unwilling to deal with this problem.
It is all the more unfortunate that in 2014 a certain Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) made a vital intervention on this issue. Buhari did not directly address the then Adamawa governor, but it was nonetheless significant that his invocation came two days after Nyako’s irresponsible statement. “We all must take close heed at this moment and recognize the severity of what is upon us. A small minority seeks to bring the nation to its knees through terror”, said Buhari before he added: “We may have our differences, but the vast majority of Nigerians stand united against the appalling violence committed in Nyanya and other places…These acts have no place in Nigeria. Those who commit them have no place in our country. The perpetrators may look like human beings. They may have limbs and faces like the rest of us but they are not like us. They have declared war against the people of Nigeria. Yet, with all the energy of their evil and ignorant hatred, they shall fail. The good people of Nigeria shall triumph.”
If as an ‘opposition leader’ Buhari could display such clarity of thought, you wonder why he has refused as president to stand up to the threat facing the country. By outsourcing responsibility to do-gooders like Gumi and others who evidently have their own agenda, the country is now badly divided at a time we need unity of purpose to overcome existential threats. The politicization of security is no longer just the usual north-south game. It is now within the north, within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and between pro-Buhari and anti-Buhari elements in the same region. Most dangerously, the instruments of national security may have been infiltrated. Worse still, some northern governors seem to have forged an unholy alliance with criminal gangs, either in a bid to blackmail the federal government into seeing the menace of banditry as evidence of socio-economic marginalization best solved by throwing cash at it or for self-preservation. But can we continue to run our nation on the basis of subversions that have nothing to do with the welfare of the downtrodden of our society and can only hold us back from achieving peace and prosperity?
With all kinds of claims circulating, nobody knows what to believe anymore. The governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, says he knows those behind the kidnap of the Jangebe school children and that the bandits who carried out the operation were paid not to release them. He has not mentioned any names and one is almost certain he will not. It is a political game. Apparently mocking the federal government for declaring Zamfara a no-fly-zone, Matawalle said yesterday: “Nigerians are waiting to see the outcome of the security council resolution to see if these bandits would be crushed. If the federal government fails to crush them after this resolution, then Nigerians will understand that they only sat and serve themselves tea, nothing more.”
With that, it is very clear that the federal government and Zamfara State are working at cross purposes on the security challenge. Meanwhile, a video from Gumi’s stable is also in circulation where a bandit leader is saying openly that they were being armed by government. “I swear to the Almighty God that the government is the one arming us. We Fulani don’t know guns. We only know cows and how to rear cows. Cows don’t give birth to guns. I swear to God, we just sat down and were supplied AK-47 by the government,” claimed the bandit leader in a video recorded on 19th January 2021 and released by Gumi’s media people. It is on YouTube. There was no mention of which government (federal or state) but security operatives cannot claim not to have seen the video. It provides a good lead to investigate unless of course their preoccupation is regime protection rather than national security.
In its story on Monday, ‘Nigeria’s Boarding Schools Have Become a Hunting Ground for Kidnappers’ the New York Times summed it up in its rider: “Northern Nigeria’s kidnap-for-ransom industry is growing, and it’s not just the well-off who are at risk. The new targets are poor villagers and ordinary schoolchildren.” Unfortunately, President Buhari is not only failing in his primary duty of securing the nation, he is also failing in the politics of the challenge. A president whose political base is the North where he was once regarded almost as a god cannot explain how that region has given rise to terrorist formations constantly embarrassing him. There is also an inexplicable failure to rein in APC governors (regardless of the region they hail from) into a coherent political voice. The consequence is the calamity now befallen the nation under President Buhari’s watch.
In 2014, it was convenient for Nyako and his enablers to play the lazy politics of North versus South under President Jonathan in order to secure political power. Now that a huge swathe of the North is no better than ‘bandit territory’, to borrow a phrase once used by former federal permanent secretary and Northern Elders Forum spokesman, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, everything has blown up in their faces to our collective shame as a nation. If Nyako and people who think like him have any conscience left, let them raise a voice against the current politics of deceit, the mismanagement of our diversity and the scourge of insecurity now undermining the very basis of our national survival.
- You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com