I became a law student at Zaria before knowing for sure why I wanted to be a lawyer. I came to my convictions crab-wise: first it was reading classical Greco-Roman histories, primarily Plutarch, then came a love for Latin maxims. What first drew me was the phrase ubi jus ibi remedium, which translates to “where there is a right, there is a remedy”. A lawyer works for Justice, the blind lady holding the scales. But this Justice remained a nebulous thing until the late Chukwudifu Oputa (JSC) defined it. Oputa’s definition comes to mind in light of the reality, last week, of Senator Ibrahim Gaidam’s introducing a “Bill for an Act to establish a National Agency for the education, de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration of repentant insurgents” on the floor of the Senate, thus proposing a pathway to peace.
Justice Oputa said: “Justice is not a one-way traffic. It is not justice for the appellant only. Justice is not even only a two-way traffic. It is really a three-way traffic – justice for the appellant accused of a heinous crime of murder; justice for the victim, the murdered man, the deceased, ‘whose blood is crying out to heaven for vengeance’ and finally justice for society at large – the society whose social norms and values had been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of.”
The nature of the social network, and by this I do not mean the computer systems and simulations such as Facebook and Twitter that have appropriated that term, is such that there is always a push-and-pull, a demand-and-supply, intercourse of ideas. In a sense, Gaidam’s bill was the Nigerian political system’s response to my essays “Releasing Boko Haram into Society” and “Insecurity: The Spider is the Problem”. Read them. I was very curious to understand the thinking underlying the senator’s roadmap. Ibrahim Gaidam was forthcoming and in media engagements reported variously in The Daily Post, The Nation Online and elsewhere, the justification for his proposed agency is “for reconciliation and to promote national security” as well as a list of talking points that could have come from a 100-level university student written briefing paper.
What is clear is that this bill is borne from a very surface-level understanding of violent extremism and radicalization as devastatingly demonstrated by the Boko Haram insurgency and conflict. Conflicts are not made by a monotheistic god. They are not sacrosanct like the principles of a religion. Conflict contains fluid, moving parts and is, in fact, a response to socio-systemic problems. Where conflict persists, it is a thermometer to measure how poorly a society has failed to manage its ideals, diversity and complexities. At the centre of every conflict are not people fighting people, blowing up markets, slaughtering students and burning busses full of travelers stranded at a military checkpoint outside a major city. All these, terrible as they are and traumatic as their targeted effect is, are merely symptoms. At the centre of all conflicts is the push and pull factors, without which there would be no conflict. In the case with Boko Haram, these are the drivers of the insurgency.
The Boko Haram insurgency rests primarily in the extreme lack of socioeconomic opportunity across Nigerian society and the northeast particularly. The combined population figures for the northeast, based on 2006 census figures, is 18,984,299, but the internally generated revenue from the entire six-state region was N30bn (2017). Lagos State alone, with a 2006 census population of 9,113,605, generated about N340bn internally in 2017. No matter how you dice and slice this, figures do not lie.
Poor quality of governance is also a key push factor in opening up societies to become susceptible to violent extremist ideologues. The northeast, case in point, even with Federal allocations factored in, is crippled by massive external and local debts. So, less and less good governance gets to the people, especially in the hinterlands, where the population of young people is plentiful—where the insurgents recruit. The lack of quality, balanced educational curricula in the northeast, where superstition and historical collective grievance has created an ethnic caste system of reciprocal victimizations, informs a pull factor that sees individual young men and women heed the call of Boko Haram.
Where have all these been factored in in Ibrahim Gaidam’s bill?
Now, putting it all together. If there is no justice, there can be no peace. This sense of justice must start from the underlying conditions that make a functional society. If people are extremely poor and live in oppression and indignity, they have nothing to lose and all to gain from heeding the call of extremists. If they feel aggrieved by the knowledge that their children have no future, no way to better their lot in life through hard work and learning, being sympathetic to the destruction of such a status quo, by various means, is easily justifiable. Where there is no concerted effort at a public education that inculcates civic responsibility and shared nationhood, common humanity, one that prides the contributions of all in a cosmopolitan federation, we leave our young exposed to the predators that prowl in the dark. This is exactly what we should not have done. This is exactly what we have done.
If we are to be serious about dealing with the threat profile that Boko Haram presents, we must quit this wishy-washy, surface-level engagement with the symptoms of the conflict and go deeper to address the underlying issues that fuel conflict. The rights of society and the primary victims of the conflict have been abused and must be remedied. This remediation can only start from a political mindset that creates solutions guided by justice for perpetrator, victim and society, as set out by the late Supreme Court Jurist. Single-track solutions, knee jerk tokens for “peace”, are akin to Hitler’s “last territorial demands” in the 1930’s. They are a path that will lead to no peace. Ibrahim Gaidam’s road will lead to no ending of the Boko Haram conflict.
Richard Ali was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2010 and has worked in private legal practice, consulted in a policy-shaping role at the Ministry of Interior (2015 to 2017) and has run a preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) programme. His expertise is in soft approaches to PCVE. He is an alumnus of the US National Defence University’s Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) and of the State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Programme (IVLP). He is also a novelist and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]