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Soyinka, gravely concerned about Nigeria, warns against slide towards civil war

WOLE SOYINKA

On 10 January, Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, expressed profound concern about recent developments in the country, warning against a slide towards civil war.

Soyinka’s warning came against the backdrop of rising sectarian tensions in the country. In recent weeks, Christians and southerners have been repeatedly targeted in gun and bomb attacks staged by the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram. In reaction to those attacks, hoodlums have attacked mosques and predominantly Muslim northerners in Edo and Delta States, and there have been threats of similar attacks in some other southern states.

These attacks and threats have created tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and sent thousands fleeing back to their states of origin. They have also raised fears of a wider religious conflict.

A report by the French news agency, AFP, said Soyinka, in the interview, blamed this ugly turn of events on political leaders who spread religious intolerance.

Asked to comment on President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement on 8 January, in which he said the security challenges posed by Boko Haram were, in some respects, “even worse than the civil war that we fought” in 1967 to 1970, Soyinka said: “It’s not an unrealistic comparison — it’s certainly based on many similarities. We see the nation heading towards a civil war”.

Also asked whether the current unrest could threaten the stability of the Nigerian state, Soyinka replied that: “It is going that way. We no longer can pretend it’s not. When you’ve got a situation where a bunch of people can go into a place of worship and open fire through the windows, you’ve reached a certain dismal watershed in the life of that nation”.

The Nobel laureate said the Boko Haram challenge had been brewing for some time.

He said: “There are people in power in certain parts of the country, leaders who, quite genuinely and authoritatively, hate and cannot tolerate any religion outside their own. When you combine that with the ambitions of a number of people who believe they are divinely endowed to rule the country and who… believe that their religion is above whatever else binds the entire nation together, and somehow the power appears to slip from their hands, then they resort to the most extreme measures”.

In this process, he said, “Youths who have been indoctrinated right from infancy can be used, and have been used, again and again, to create mayhem in the country”. He added that: “Those who have created this faceless army have lost control”.

In the 1960s, Soyinka took bold steps in trying to prevent the Nigerian civil war (also known as the Nigeria-Biafra war) and he paid a heavy price. In 1967, his  visit to the secessionist enclave of Biafra, in a desperate effort to pull the country back from civil war, resulted in his arrest and imprisonment without trial by the Federal military government in Lagos, headed by General Yakubu Gowon. He spent about two years in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. Unmoved by that experience, he has remained one of the most consistent voices for justice, human rights and peaceful co-existence in Nigeria.

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Mosque and school attacked in Benin, Edo State: 5 feared dead, thousands displaced

Map of Nigeria showing Edo State

On 10 January, a mosque and an Islamic school were attacked and set ablaze in Benin City, capital of Edo State, with five persons feared dead.

The razing of the mosque and school follows attacks on two mosques in the city the previous day, the first at the Hausa Quarters along Sakponba Road and the second – targeting the Benin Central Mosque – on Kings Square (Ring Road). A Red Cross official said 10 people were wounded during those attacks, but other sources reported up to 40. Police had to fire tear-gas to disperse the attackers, whom it described as “miscreants” not genuine protesters.

On the more recent burning of the mosque and school, Police sources had initially reported that one person was killed and 10 persons arrested.  But the Secretary General of the Nigerian Red Cross in Edo state, Mr Dan Enowoghomwenwa, later said five people, comprising both the attackers and their targets, had been killed. Said Enowoghomwenwa: “We have recorded so far five deaths — on both sides, those that have been attacked and the attackers”.

Nigerian Red Cross officials said predominantly Muslim northerners were being registered at police stations and at the army barracks, to which they had fled. A leader of the Hausa community in the city told the BBC’s Hausa Service that 7,000 northerners were seeking refuge in the police and army barracks, but Enowoghomwenwa said the number of internally displaced persons in various places was over 10,000.

One source reported that the police and the Edo State government are faced with what appears to be a growing IDP crisis, and may be making plans to assist the Northerners return to their states of origin until the security situation returns to normal.

There are widespread concerns that the mosque attacks and IDP crisis, coming after repeated attacks on Christians in some northeby the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram in some northern states, could further aggravate sectarian tensions in the country.

Three explosions reported in Maiduguri, but JTF said no casualties

Map of Nigeria showing Borno State

On 30 December, three explosions were reported in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, but military authorities said no one was killed.

Initial reports had said that one of the explosions occurred near a mosque after the Friday afternoon prayers and set off a massive stampede, and that about four people may have been killed. 

BBC had quoted the Director of Army Public Relations, Maj Gen Raphael Isa, as confirming there had been a “major incident” which had caused casualties.

However, the spokesman of the military Joint Task Force in the state, Lt Col Hassan Mohammed, while confirming the blasts to newsmen, said none of them occurred near a mosque. He said the explosions occurred near market areas in different parts of the city but that no one was killed.

The explosions occurred only five days after the Christmas Day bomb attacks on churches in Madalla, a town in Niger State close to the federal capital, Abuja, and also in Jos, capital of Plateau State. Those attacks killed at least 42 people, mostly Christian worshippers at the St Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla. The government blamed the attacks on the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram; a spokesman for the group also reportedly claimed responsibility.

About 24 hours before the latest blast, the group had emailed a statement to some media houses saying: “If God is willing, we will carry out further attacks”.

Mikel Obi’s kidnapped father found, freed by Police

JOHN MIKEL OBI, Nigerian star and Chelsea FC midfielder

On 22 August, Mr Michael Obi, father of Nigerian soccer star and Chelsea midfielder, John Mikel Obi, was found alive in Kano, the largest commercial city in northern Nigeria and about 235 km from Jos, capital of Plateau State, where he was kidnapped 11 days earlier.

The Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr Olusola Amore, reports that police detectives had traced the kidnappers to Kano. He said the police raided the area where Obi was held, freed him and arrested a number of his captors. Amore said the police would disclose further details of the rescue operation soon.

Mr Obi, a Jos-based transporter, was last seen on 12 August, when he left his office at close of work but never made it home. On 17 August, his car was found at a spot in Jos, where it had been abandoned. There had been conflicting reports from members of his family and from the soccer star’s representatives – Sport Entertainment & Media Group (SEM) – over contacts with the abductors and demands for ransom.

After his release, the elderly Obi said he was “very stressed”. Sources in Kano said there were apparently no indications of major physical injury to his body, but the BBC’s Yusuf Ibrahim Yakasai said his face showed signs of the beatings he had endured through his days in captivity.

Boko Haram: We planted post-inauguration bombs, killed Shehu of Borno’s brother

On 31 May, a man who gave his name as Abu Zaid (or Zayd) and claimed to be the deputy spokesman of the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, told the BBC Hausa Service that his group was responsible for the post-inauguration blasts in Bauchi, Zaria and Zuba near the Federal capital, in which at least 17 people were killed.

The man, who spoke via telephone, told the BBC’s Hausa Service that some serving members of the Nigerian army had been used to carry out the bombings in the Bauchi barracks on 30 May. He said the soldiers had approached the sect, seeking to join its ranks, and that they were sent to bomb the barracks, as a test of their loyalty to Boko Haram.

Abu Zaid said the group was also responsible for killing Abba Anas Ibn Umar Garbai, younger brother of the Shehu of Borno, the second-highest Muslim leader in Nigeria, who was gunned down outside his home in Maiduguri, on 30 May. The Shehu of Borno is one of the most prominent Muslim figures in Nigeria – second only to the Sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims.

”We are the ones responsible for the killing of the junior brother of the Shehu of Borno,” Zayd said. “As we always say, these traditional institutions are being used to track and hunt us, that is why we attack them”.

He told the radio station, which broadcasts in Hausa languge in northern Nigeria, that the sect did not believe in the Nigerian constitution and he repeated a call for sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed nationwide.

“We are doing what we are doing to fight injustice. If they stop their satanic ways of doing things and the injustices, we would stop what we are doing,” Zayd said.

However, the Nigerian army spokesman Brig Gen Raphael Isa rejected the allegation of any soldiers planning to desert the Nigerian Army and join the sect.

“It is not correct”, he told the BBC News website. “Let him publish the names of those pledging loyalty to Boko Haram. This is not a banana republic. We are one army united and very, very loyal”.

The BBC could not verify the caller’s identity or his claims.

Boko Haram: Governor-elect Shettima reaffirms determination to make peace

KASHIM SHETTIMA Gov-elect, Borno State

On 12 May, Borno State governor-elect, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, reaffirmed his determination to pursue peace with the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, saying it would be difficult for him to actualize his manifesto if the state continues to suffer from a climate of insecurity.

Shettima, who was speaking after collecting his Certificate of Return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, said he regards his new office as “a call to service for the development of our state and humanity”, but that his administration would not achieve its goals unless it first creates a secure environment for governance and development.

 “The fact is that we cannot achieve anything without peace. We hope to pursue available and legitimate options to reach a consensus with the members of the Yusufiyya (Boko Haram) movement,” he said.

Shortly after he was elected the new governor of Borno State on 28 April, Shettima had stated that his administration would, within its first 100 days in office, hold discussions with Boko Haram towards granting its members amnesty, and restoring peace in the state.

However, on 9 May, a Boko Haram spokesman, Abu Dardam, told the BBC Hausa Service in Kaduna that the group would not accept any amnesty or dialogue because: “First, we do not believe in the Nigerian constitution and, secondly, we do not believe in democracy but only in the laws of Allah”. Shettima’s most recent statement suggests that he is not discouraged by that hard line reaction.

Police will not negotiate with Boko Haram, says IGP Ringim

Mr HAFIZ RINGIM, Inspector General of Police

On 18 February, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) stated it would not enter into any negotiations with the extremist Islamist sect, Boko Haram.

Speaking at the passing-out parade of Cadet ASP 23/2009 and Cadet Inspector 38/2009 Course graduants, the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Hafiz Ringim, said  it was unacceptable to go into any form of negotiation with leaders or members of the sect.

The police chief’s position was apparently a response to the group’s recent demand for withdrawal of soldiers from Borno State, resignation of Borno State Governor Modu Sherrif and reconstruction of their places of worship that were destroyed in earlier clashes with security forces, as part of their conditions for ending violence. Speaking on the Hausa Service of the BBC on 7 February, the leader of the sect, Abu Suleiman, had insisted that these were their major conditions for stopping the killings of security personnel and other citizens in Borno State. But the Inspector General said the position of the police was in line with Federal government’s policy that prohibits any form of negotiation with criminals in the country.

Reiterating the police force’s resolve to bring members of the sect that had been involved in acts of violence to book, he charged the cadets to discharge their duties professionally and diligently. The passing out parade involved 203 ASP Cadets and 211 Inspectors.

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