BY CHARLES IBEKWE
Nigerians were shocked again to listen to the mouthy vituperations of US Congressman, Mr. Chris Smith representing New Jersey. He Chairs House Sub-committee on Global Human Rights and doubles as a Senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Smith went on an unconscionable offensive against Nigeria over the incongruous, multiple armed local conflicts which have assailed the country.
Nigeria was astounded that while accepting the annual report of the US State Department’s assessment of International Religious Freedom, Congressman Smith made utterances which had no bearing with existing realities in Nigeria and thoroughly misplaced.
Only a novice in local armed conflict management and disputes resolution would easily concede to interpretations of the character and management of the manifold armed local conflicts in Nigeria, as espoused by Smith that “…the Nigerian government there, appears too often to be indifferent to attacks by Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian farmers”.
Smith sounds like a stranger in the marketplace or neighborhood groping for compass. The multifarious armed local conflicts in Nigeria, with its delicate ethno-religious cum political blend have not yielded to Congressman Smith’s repulsive understanding and casual position on the matter.
For a start, Smith must necessarily acquiesced to the immutable fact that ethno-religious and political colourations of the armed and violent disturbances have been a perennial problem in Nigeria. It’s a Nigerian problem, time immemorial.
And indubitably, occasional tensions, clashes, violence, abductions, horrifying magnitude of destructions to both private and public properties, thousands of deaths and displacement of natives have been its trait. And it reached an alarming crescendo when President Muhammadu Buhari ascended the Presidency of Nigeria in May 2015.
None is in doubt that the violence and concomitant deaths in Nigeria are precipitated by very determined armed gangs, backed by local and foreign interests bent on the destruction of Nigeria. And they have consistently demonstrated an obstinate resolve towards violence than amicable resolution of grievances or disputes on the dialogue table. It occurs at the detriment of peace and security of Nigerians.
Nigerians lost faith of existing in a secured country. The sanctity of life in Nigeria was mindlessly violated with impunity. And no section or region of the country was spared these barbaric and uncivilized acts, which by every nuance was terrorism or had the trappings of budding terrorism and confounding armed criminality.
Perhaps, Congressman Smith is oblivious of certain facts about the violence, atrocious and other criminal acts which were perpetrated in Nigeria before the enthronement of the present regime and which made the US to predict that Nigeria would seize to be a nation by 2015. The sheer sophistry of arms used by the civilian combatants and the frequency of attacks glaringly overwhelmed civil security like the Police, Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Security Service (DSS) among others.
It necessitated President Buhari’s lawful deployment of the military in aid of civil security. Even with this measure, it has not proved to be an easy nut to crack, notwithstanding the presence of the military in at least 32 out of the 36 states of the federation. It is therefore untrue, complete misplacement of facts and error of judgment for Congressman Smith to postulate on President Buhari’s inaction on the crisis.
In the last two or so, years, the Nigerian military has launched various operations around the country to curb the excesses of armed criminal gangs and terrorists who specialize in tormenting and destabilizing the country. Smith may have heard or read about multiple special military operations such as “Operation Crocodile Smile”, “Operation Delta Safe”, Operation Harbin Kunama 1 & 2” and “Operation Python Dance 1 & 2.”.
Others include; “Operation Lafiya Dole”, “Exercise Ayem a Kpatuma” and “Operation Deep Punch”, among others, executed specifically by the Nigerian Army to tackle identified insurgencies and assisted by sister security agencies to address these mounting security challenges in Nigeria. These are certainly not signposts of inaction by Mr. President as Congressman Smith excitedly postulated.
However, some significant improvements have been recorded, in attestations of President Buhari’s hard knocks on acts of terrorists. Boko Haram insurgents have been degraded and defeated; the armed criminals, cattle rustlers and armed bandits as well as armed militants in the Niger Delta region, promoting insurrections have been significantly tamed.
Of course, US congressman Smith is far off the shores of Nigeria and so, oblivious of the rage and extent of Boko Haram Terrorism (BHT) in Nigeria by May 2015. Briefly put, Boko Haram insurgents had annexed no fewer than 23 LGAs in the Northeast; held over 20, 000 Nigerian hostages and abductees in different secluded camps.
But today, President Buhari has decisively executed the war on terrorism, as no Nigerian territory is under the control of insurgents, whose remnants have been confined to obscure parts of the Northeast and are still being hunted through clearance operations. And at least, over 16, 000 Boko Haram captives including some of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls have regained freedom.
IDP Camps have been secured and the process of resettlement of IDPs back to their villages and communities is evidenced by the rebuilding of ravaged communities, much as thousands of other IDPs have quietly relocated back to their deserted communities with the substantial return of peace and security.
Quite instructive too, the Nigerian military have continued to battle insurgency, insurrections and all such affiliated sects like religious extremists and fanatics,like the Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky led Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) or the Shiites in Nigeria and the violent separatists sects like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafran (IPOB). These are visible records which resists the tag of Mr. President’s inaction, as Congressman Smith seems to propagate.
Similarly, the insistence of Smith that President Buhari has neither condemned with a clear voice nor taken a decisive action on the herdsmen killings in the Middle Belt region negates reality. Likewise, Smith’s tilted labeling of the crisis as “…attacks by Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian farmers”, is another position which is absolutely inconsistent with incontestable reality.
It is pedestrian to harp on verbal condemnations of the herdsmen/farmers clashes and it is the least thing President Buhari has done in the light of the skirmishes. He has initiated and implemented steps far greater than mere verbal condemnations.
Aside, enhancing security, with the establishment of Army Bases and Barracks in violence-prone areas like Southern Kaduna to ennoble rapid military response to security threats, special Army operations have also been conducted.
The Nigerian Army’s “Operation Harbin Kunama II” and “Exercise Ayem a Kpatuma” have been launched at different times to purge these areas of armed militias who are terrorizing the states. Scores of suspects, among them, masterminds have been arrested and charged to court. The trials are in progress, as the people await the verdict of the courts.
Precisely, decorating the herders/farmers crises with the garments of religion is pathetically farcical. It means, to ignore the scramble for lands and water resources between herders and farmers, to cling on the religion of the feuding parties. This is very uncharitable and erroneous.
But confirmed statistics indicate that in Benue, Adamawa, Southern Kaduna, Zamfara, Nasarawa and Taraba states among others, where these clashes have registered imprints, members of both religions are victims. To embark on such overtly malicious campaigns, to say the least, smacks of undisguised attempts to destroy the existing cordiality in a multi-religious country and the coherence of Nigeria.
It is doubtful whether Congressman Smith has ever visited Nigeria in his life time and even now that the call of duty has beckoned for him to personally assess the situation before passing such damning comments. It’s needless to dissipate his energy on worthless and very fluid aspects of the insurgency and allied terrorism in Nigeria.
After a visit, he is sure to have a different perspective and contrary views from what the annual report of the US State Department’s findings on International Religious Freedom flaunts.
It is more plausible and a better posture of assisting humanity live his fundamental freedoms, if Smith raises a motion in congress to draw attention to the serious humanitarian issues in the Northeast of Nigeria for direct support to the thousands of IDPs still sheltered in camps. The acts of terrorism in Nigeria is a serious problem, but the government of President Buhari has manifested increasing capacity to effectively handle its subsisting and nascent manifestations and deserves to be encouraged than vilified.
Accordingly, Nigerians find the remarks by the US Department of State’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Mr. Samuel Brownback also resentful. In spite of anything, it is germane to dispel his somewhat cynical mindset about the operations of the IMN or Shiites in Nigeria.
It may interest Brownback to understand that IMN is not just an illegal organization, which has operated for over 40 years without registration in Nigeria, in consonance with laws of the land. But the tolerance of the sect over the years has been most brazenly and violently abused in recent times, through violence which have caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent Nigerians, including security agents.
Shiites in Nigeria openly brags about their affinity and sponsorship by the Republic of Iran to destabilize Nigeria. Its leaders have publicly proclaimed loyalty to the laws of Iran, rather than Nigeria and vowed never to either submit to Nigerian laws or its government. Sheik El-Zakzaky is lawfully detained by the courts and the issues are still being lawfully sorted out by appellate courts.
Nigeria should rather attract the sympathy and applause for its patience and religious tolerance by the likes of Brownback. It is not in doubt that America would never permit a sect like IMN with such braggadocio and impunity to operate in their country even for a day in the guise of religious freedom.
It is therefore, utopian to expect Nigeria to accommodate this weird sect of Islamic extremists, from Iran with a reputation of sponsoring and spreading terrorism around the world. This inclination would amount to the imposition of indefinable and indiscernible phobia on developing nations by some super countries and other privileged, global personalities.
Ibekwe is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja, capital city of Nigeria.