IDEAS Radio 21 August 2020

Terrorism & Religion/Belief-based Violence

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, a fine, fine afternoon in the city of Lagos.  This is the Public Square.  And we have a big show today!  The show is  packed in like sardine.  But  by the way how’s it going with you?  Are you going through the traffic out of the Island, or are you getting into the Island from the Mainland?  Whoever you are just fasten the seat belts, because we are in for the journey of our lives!  I hope you’ve enjoyed all our programming all the way from the morning Crossfire until Hard Facts with Sandra.  And I take you all the way together with Rotimi Sankore till seven pm.

So let me give you a rundown of what is on the menu today.  We have a three hit combo.  World Humanitarian Day was on Wednesday, the Day of Remembrance & Tribute to Victims of Terrorism is today, and then the Day Commemorating Victims of Violence Based on Religion and Belief is happening tomorrow.  

Happening right tomorrow.  And we have … okay … we have a packed out guest list here today beginning with IDEAS which opens the Square, Ayo Obe … is going to be with us in a moment.  And after Ayo Obe is done with us we’ll have Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group, in a while I’ll speak with Nnamdi Obasi.  And then we have the rep, Nigerian rep of the United Nations Development Programme UNDP Mohamed Yahya at the top of the hour, and then Rotimi Sankore joins us with a wide spectrum analysis.

But let’s head over to Ayo Obe first, and Ayo will be giving us some insight where we’ll be looking at the IDEAS element, which is Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.

Hello Ayo.  Ok, just as she gets in to us, I’ll just give you some … well we’re going to be looking at a number of things and angles, because of all the three subjects we’re discussing today, all of them …

Ayo Obe: Hello?

AgO: Excellent, so we have Ayo Obe with us now.  Hello Ayo!

AO: Good afternoon Aghogho.

AgO: Good afternoon.  I hope it’s been a splendid week so far?

AO: So far so good.  As the man said as he passed each floor when he fell out of a tall building.

AgO: Okay.  Nowadays we have elevators that can take you back to the top in a jiffy.  

Okay.  So like I said earlier, we have a three hit combo today looking up at what is going on with the Nigerian situation.  There’s humanitarian crisis going on, in the north, especially in the north-eastern part of the country.  And we are looking back at three days: World Humanitarian Day, Day of Remembrance & Tribute to Victims of Terrorism as well as the International Day Commemorating Victims of Violence based on Religion.  So quite a lot of things we’re looking at today, but first and foremost, like we always do, looking at the IDEAS element of these issues.  What are your thoughts Ayo?

AO: Well, as you know Aghogho, at IDEAS radio … I mean you know IDEAS stands for Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, and we are often having to speak about the Accountability component in these matters.  And Accountability is really about  the obligation of government to provide security for Nigerians … at the most basic level that means securing their lives and property, but it also covers issues relating to health, education, employment and shelter, by which I mean that government has an obligation, and is Accountable for providing those things or the means to obtain them if they are absent.  And you know Aghogho, I’m a … I remain a participant in the Bring Back Our Girls movement, and the very foundation of that movement is that our government is accountable for the lives of – not just the Chibok Girls – but all the other victims of terrorist violence, and in particular kidnapping, including not only the named ones such as Leah Sharibu or Alice Ngaddah (you know, the humanitarian worker) but also the hundreds and thousands of victims whose names we don’t know, the numbers we don’t even know.  So it’s a wholistic issue when it comes to talking about government accountability.

And then again, if we talk about commemorating the victims of violence based on Religion and/or Belief, we understand that as not being merely about people who are identified for violence on the basis of the victim’s own religion or belief, but also, as being about being the targets of a religion or belief-inspired violence.  In other words, if a Boko Haram or an ISWAP (that’s Islamic State West Africa Province) terrorist, if such a person sets off a bomb in the market place, it is the terrorist who is inspired by his or her religion or belief, but their victim could be anybody!  And of course, what we’ve seen, particularly in the case of much of the violence in the north east when it comes to terroristic or religion inspired violence (so-called), is that the victim is as likely to be a co-religionist as anybody … as anybody else.

But Aghogho, I also need to also bring in the issue of Democracy when we’re talking about this, because Democracy is another element of IDEAS.  And our democracy in Nigeria is based on a Constitution.  Now of course, we know that section 39 provides for freedom of expression, but also – and this relates to the topic that we are discussing today – in section 38, it provides … and … allow me to quote from it a little bit, because we often just say “freedom of religion” without really understanding what that means in real life.  So section 38 says that:

Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 

And that:

“No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction and so on, or to take part in a religious ceremony if it’s not approved by their parent or guardian, or if it’s not their own. 

And then also, that:

“No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination” . 

… and so on.  Now again, this doesn’t mean that … it doesn’t just mean that the government should not interfere with the exercise of these rights.  When we discuss the freedoms in the Nigerian Constitution, we talk about rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  So when a guarantee is given, then the implication is that proactive steps have to be taken to uphold that guarantee, otherwise the guarantee is meaningless.  

AgO: Very true.

AO: So if a guarantee of freedom of religion is given by our Constitution as part of our democratic rights, then it means that the state has to be Accountable and to take active steps to allow people to exercise their guaranteed rights.

I should to also say Aghogho, that we often run into problems because in Nigeria, particularly in the parts that used to constitute the Northern Region, religious differences often echo ethnic divides.  So … if you are trying to wake up the world and say: Look, I’m facing violence, I’m facing danger, I’m being threatened because I’m a member of an ethnic group!   You’re going to get a lot more support– for example, if you are in Plateau State and you say you’re being attacked by a Christian, you’re going to get much more support than if you say that I’m being attacked because I’m a Birom or a Jawara.  … the fact is that there more Christians who are going to take up your issue than there are Biroms or Jawaras.      So … and unfortunately you get with that not just some extremist Christian propagandists, particularly in the United States, but you also attract opposite attention from extremist religious Islamic fighters from the Middle East.

So both as relates to Accountability of government and Democracy and the democratic ideals that are embedded in the Constitution, I think those are just two of the IDEAS elements that today and tomorrow need to throw into focus.

AgO: Hmmm, hmmmm.  Alright, in case you’ve just joined the discussion on 99.3 Nigeria Info, we are on IDEAS in the Public Square.  And you can join the conversation on WhatsApp 08095975805.  You can tweet at us on,  @PublicSquareNG, @NigeriaInfoFM @ideasradiong, @naijama.  Any of these handles on Twitter will get through to us and we can have some discussion around it.

So Ayo, also, very importantly, I was saying earlier that all of these days are tied directly to what is going on with us.  We have at some point discussions with the Nigerian head of the United Nations Development Programme, as well as Nnamdi Obasi  (who I know you’re familiar with) with the work they do especially in the … crisis-ridden north east of the country.  What are your thoughts in terms of the IDEAS elements, in terms of what some groups are doing together with the government in terms of how Accountable they’ve been over the years, with respect to the resources that have been put in, in making sure that we have less and less of the violence that’s played out  in the north … especially in the north-eastern part of the country?

AO:  Well Aghogho, you aren’t going to be surprised if … I think that the … it’s on more than one occasion that I’ve said that the government suffers from a trust deficit, and of course, that relates to the IDEAS issues of Integrity and Ethics.  And the truth is that once you have that deficit, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s because that deficit has arisen just in the last, past few days, or whether it’s building on a kind of ingrained default position that many Nigerians have, that we don’t trust our government.  Whether it … whichever it is, if you don’t have it, you have to go beyond words when it comes to trying to build up that trust.  And when we talk about the things that our government is doing, whether they are doing it by themselves or whether they are doing it in conjunction with other agencies, the fact is that the transparency issue is – how do I put it? – the transparency issue is always a challenge or a question.  I mean … and I think that we often have a situation where our government … expects us to … it’s almost as if we’re told: This is the … what we’re doing and you just have to take it.   They may say “Trust us or not trust us” but the point is that they act as though whether we trust them or not, that’s the way it’s going to be.  And … you have that particular situation if you look at the fact that since the Buhari administration came to power, we’ve had the same people heading up Nigeria’s military response to terrorist violence and to religious or belief based violence, the same service chiefs.  Now yeah, it’s true that there were some initial successes – not just driving the terrorists out of Nigeria – or at least, stopping them from claiming that they are running formal governments on Nigerian territory when those governments are not the result of activities under the Nigerian Constitution; but also, even in terms of the non-violent negotiations for the release of some of the Chibok girls and bringing back some of the hostages held by the terrorists.  But … since then, there’s been this spread of violence.  They’re not planting their flag, or at least, so far, but there’s been this spread of violence.  I mean, if you are in a community in the northeast, Boko Haram or ISWAP may not be saying they are ruling you, but if you’re a farmer, and they come and threaten you that you must hand over part of your yield, or … actions like that, and the farmers know – or the farmers believe – that if they are bold enough to resist, help is either going to be slow – very very slow in coming, in fact too late, and that’s if it comes at all.  So you are … so it may not be a visible, overt: We are ruling this place, but nonetheless, the terrorists are holding sway.

So, and … it’s against that background that Nigerians say that: Ok, these people have tried, but not only have they tried and they are not necessarily succeeding, but their term of office has expired.  And the response of the … so the Senate said military chiefs should  ‘step aside’ and let new people with new ideas tackle the issue.

But the response of the presidency – I mean of course, it’s a statement that came from the Presidential Media aide –  and their response is always to spring into combat rather than look for understanding or explanation, and so the response was: “the Presidency notes the resolution, and reiterates that appointment or sack of Service Chiefs is a Presidential prerogative.”

But what is the basis on which the prerogative is being exercised?  And so that when we talk about transparency, and then we just get this blanket statement, it becomes difficult to even understand, or even take on board what it is that the presidency’s reasons for keeping these people on are, when …    nobody can live for ever in any event, so the kind of presentation that: It’s these people or nothing  and … we saw it with the EFCC as well, you insist on somebody as if the institution cannot produce successors. 

AgO: Very true.

AO: It’s … it’s a problem, and to me I think it does go to Integrity and Ethics  and if we look to what the government does with its partner organisations, international partner organisations, we’re still in a situation where Nigerians may not love the partner, the international partner organisations, but … they kind of cling to them as being at least not subject to the same questions of trust and Integrity that our own government has.

AgO: Very true, very true.  So Ayo, bringing the discussion to a close, help us understand whether IDEAS issues have a role to play in making these international days matters of commemoration and remembrance, rather than remaining present and immediate challenges facing Nigeria.  We’ve had this debate now and again.

AO: Well I think that IDEAS issues are important.  The difficulty that we face is that there’s a point at which you have to move from talk to action,  and you know, I mean I’ve given the example of the service chiefs, and the action of the government is to say: We are keeping these people  whether you like it or not, we don’t have to explain to you why.  But I think that also, we are in a situation … I mean … I just look at … I was thinking in this context about the question of the violence in Southern Kaduna.  Because there’s no doubt that the violence and killing there has increased.  There’s also no doubt that that increase has taken place on the watch of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State.  But to me, even though … in the way that we do now, in this digital age – we go through everything that they said and bring out previous statement us to remind us that he made intemperate statements in the past, it’s actually difficult to say that correlation is causation.  But what is true is that because – as I said – some of these disputes have their origins in the whole indigeneity versus settler issue, there was a good reason for the Nigerian Bar Association to have invited the Governor to speak to it about citizenship and national identity, because the violence that we see in the country – not just in Southern Kaduna but elsewhere – they coincide, and if we’re talking about victims of religion-based violence, it’s an issue.  And I belong to the school that says “jaw jaw” is better than “war war” so it is better to talk things out than to fight them out.  So for me, I think it’s a pity that because it decided to accept a petition that was presented under the guise of upholding the Rule of Law (or rather, not allowing a particular person whom some accuse of not respecting the law, rule of law to speak at its online conference), the Nigerian Bar Association denied itself the chance to hear from – and indeed, to challenge – somebody at the front line regarding violence based on religious belief.  But I think that, as has been said, the important thing is that the discussion has to continue.  But the discussion continuing by itself is not really going to solve the issue because … unless there are actions.  And you will know that particularly in the case of Southern Kaduna, the Governor had decided to run for re-election and he won, with a running mate who … kind of broke the unwritten rules of Kaduna State that there should be a religious balance on the ticket.  And that’s all very well, but if the … if the end result is that there is that increase in violence, then people are bound to look back at the fact that the ticket – as far as they are concerned on the issues that are of concern to them are not …  was not balanced.  Of course, we can also say that when you have women involved in a peace process, that peace process is likely to be more long lasting than one where the only answer is to meet violence with violence.  

AgO: Absolutely.  Absolutely.

AO: And so, if we … in the end Aghogho, it kind of all goes back to the whole issue of: How do we prevent our corrupt desires, the ones that we use to line our pockets, from impacting the other requirements, as I said: education, housing, jobs and so on.  If we don’t provide those because we are not being transparent in the way we spend money, then we are not … we are going … instead of dealing with commemoration and saying: “Oh, it was terrible in those days”, we are going to continue in a situation where we are saying: “It remains terrible even today”.  And that’s really not good enough.

AgO: Not good enough.  We’ll have to leave it at that Ayo Obe.  IDEAS happens same time next week, and we’ll have a great discussion again.  Always a pleasure Ayo.

AO:  Ok Aghogho.  Greet Nnamdi for me.

AgO:  I will.  And I hear he’s already waiting on the flanks.  Alright, and so it is with IDEAS opened the gate to the Public Square.  And just like Ayo said, Nnamdi Obasi, senior analyst International Crisis Group and he will be talking on number of issues relating to north east, north west and the security situation generally in the country, all relating to  the three big days we’ve had this week, one still to come.  It’s the Public Square!  Be right back.