The bombing of the Nigerian Police headquarters in Abuja in June 2011 sent shockwaves throughout the country. The authorities have blamed the attack on the Boko Haram group based in the north of the West African state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Madunagu: Reflections on Nigerian terrorism
Thursday, 14 July 2011 00:00
By Edwin Madunagu
ABOUT a week after the mid-June bombing of the Nigeria Police Headquarters, in Abuja, a Niger Delta “militant” who has the rank of “general” in his rebel army, was reported as protesting the lumping of him and his comrades with other Nigerian armed rebels like the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents.
The “general”, insisted that Niger Delta militants and ex-militants were not terrorists.
Why? Because, one, unlike the Boko Haram killers, the Niger Delta militants did not target “innocent” people, and two, they were clear in their demands. I believe the “general” would have added, if it was possible and safe to question him, that any lives lost in the course of the Niger Delta insurgency were “collateral damages”, that is, unintended victims.
Not many people outside the ranks of Niger Delta militants and ex-militants are likely to be impressed by the rebel general’s protest and clarification. Victims of the insurgency will not be impressed. And such victims are many: immediate and long-term victims, direct and indirect victims, individual and corporate victims, etc.
Of course, the Nigerian state will not be impressed. Even the Boko Haram fighters from whom the Niger Delta “general” wanted to separate himself and his compatriots will be angry. I am sure the man will not win a public popularity test, except possibly in his own community and within the ranks of some radical political tendencies. Pacifists will definitely regard his protest and clarification as insult.
Although my support for, and solidarity with, the Niger Delta struggle is not in doubt, I do not hesitate to align myself with those who may ask the Niger Delta “general” to shelve his protest and clarification because if he presses them he will anger many good people who may ordinarily be sympathetic to his cause.
But I will break ranks with those who will say that the “general” is talking nonsense. No medal, however, goes to the “general” because my position is in spite of him. What I am doing here is separating an idea from the person who had voiced it.
One of the reasons we study an object or phenomenon, other than merely looking at it or experiencing it, is to be able to discover differentiations within it, the connections between the different parts of the object or phenomenon, and the connections between the object or phenomenon under study with other objects and phenomena in this integrated and ultimately unitary universe.
As we deepen our knowledge, or our knowledge of the object or phenomenon is deepened, and the object or phenomenon itself grows or develops dialectically with other objects and phenomena around it, we begin to see sufficient differentiations within the subject of study to identify new variants or branches of the object or phenomenon. We may even discover objects and phenomena that are entirely new. The discoveries then constitute new subjects of study.
These new variants and branches of the “old” or “newly independent” areas of study then begin a life of their own, but at a higher level, since they are benefiting from the nourishment they had received in the “wombs” of their “mothers”. In fact, many new variants and branches of an existing area of study, or entirely new areas of study, come into existence almost as adults. And the same dialectical progression is repeated, ad infinitum.
Parallel with the development of objects and phenomena, and the development of our knowledge of them through study, and the development of differentiations as well as associations, is - of course - the development of new names, new categories and new concepts.
Let me try to illustrate this “differentiation and association” thing. Suppose at a stage of development of our knowledge of an object or phenomenon A (which is also a state of development of the object or phenomenon itself), we identify five of its main elements, say, A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5.
Suppose at a latter stage we discover that A5 is sufficiently different from the other four elements to be separated from them – not to form an independent subject (that is, differentiation) but to become an element of another object or phenomenon B (association) which we had for long believed was different from A.
Students, scholars and intellectuals will have to effect the necessary changes. Either this, or they become adherents of sorcery and mysticism, instead of science.
But, beyond that, unless this is done, our professionals, practitioners, policy makers, executors and enforcers will continue to wonder why, setting out from Calabar, they have failed to get to Makurdi in Benue State, not knowing, or accepting, that they had all the time been on the road to Libreville in Gabon.
A distant teacher of mine rudely told me very long ago that “you do not develop new concepts and categories only to turn round and lump everything together”. To this admonition I added my own: “You do not continue to apply the same treatment to everything if even when it had been shown that some aspects are different and should be treated differently”.
In “lumping everything together” and “applying the same treatment to everything” one is, in fact, committing two crimes: refusing to apply an available, and more effective solution to a particular problem, and simultaneously, preventing the development of our knowledge of the particular problem.
Another distant teacher also reminded me of what some people had called the elementary responsibility of social analysts: In dealing with a critical social problem on which urgent actions are being taken or contemplated, it is essential, after the introductory remarks, to zero in on a definitive historical period and a definite geopolitical space.
This admonition may be paraphrased and domesticated this way: “The categorical requirement in investigating any social question is that it be examined within definite historical limits and, if it refers to particular country, that account be taken of the specific features distinguishing that country from others in the same historical period”.
The subject is terrorism and the immediate concern is Nigeria. It is therefore necessary, after the general global survey, to focus on Nigeria in a definite period, say, since 1960 or 1970 or 1979, or indeed since September 11, 2001.
The emphasis is on definiteness of historical time and geopolitical space, and not on the length of the period or the geometry of the space. We should know, for instance, whether we are dealing with Nigerian terrorism or terrorism in Nigeria or indeed American terrorism or terrorism in America or global terrorism inspired by anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism. In the latter perspective, what is happening in Nigeria appears as collateral damages.
I am not playing with words. I am as serious as the Nigerian situation is serious. “Terrorism in Nigeria” and “Nigerian terrorism” are two different formulations which, when inserted in the contemporary Nigerian situation, produce two entirely different perspectives on what the nation is currently experiencing and hence different perspectives on how to tackle it.
The two sets of perspectives cannot both be right at this point in time. The bottom-line, however, is that one set of perspectives will indicate where to strike the main corrective blow, and how.
My argument then leads me to the following proposition: We are dealing with Nigerian terrorism since the end of the Civil War. By Nigerian terrorism I mean terrorism whose seeds were sown in Nigeria and which germinated and is now flourishing in Nigeria.
This terrorism has several forms which should not be lumped together. But all can be defeated, and will be defeated. But the terrorism and the “terrorists” cannot be “flushed out” the way you flush out foreign invaders. While some forms of Nigerian terrorism follow the Shakespearean maxim, “that distribution undo excess...”, some others are now an integral part of the political economy and new fronts of political struggle.
Nigerian “business community” now invest in Nigerian terrorism as they invest in, say, the oil sector. The “foot soldiers” in those forms, the people who actually throw the bombs or pull the trigger, are like casual labourers in the oil sector - poorly remunerated and easily dispensable.