Rescue workers recover human remains from the site of the blast at the Nyanya Motor Park, outside Abuja in Nigeria. Picture: Gbemiga Olamikan

The Nigerian government seems able only to verbally condemn the extremist violence, writes Mausi Segun.


The bomb explosion in Abuja last Monday provided one of the most gruesome images yet in Nigeria’s battle against extremist violence in its northern region.

The pieces of metal from exploded vehicles and patches of human flesh had hardly settled when the spokesperson for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) released a media statement blaming the attack on political opponents, but without publishing a single piece of evidence to support this grave accusation.

About 1 000 people in north-central Nigeria have died since December in inter-communal violence, while close to 6 000 more have died so far in insurgency and counter-insurgency attacks in the north-east since 2009.

But rather than pursue a solution involving real accountability for the crimes, the government seems able only to verbally condemn the attacks or exert disproportionate force.

It has on its hands what many regard as a human-rights crisis – a cycle of killings spurred partly by disenchantment with governance and a lack of accountability for past crimes – but is using the wrong tools to address the wanton abuses.

You would think that, in the midst of such a crisis, where thousands of lives are at stake, logic would prevail, the parties would get together and there would be a concerted attempt to halt the violence through some means other than deflection or abuse.

But that appears not to be the case in Nigeria, and this magical thinking has indeed delayed a credible and rights-based response to the crisis.

Three states in the north-east region – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – have been under a state of emergency since the middle of last year.

They are governed by the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) in a country where state governments allocate funding for security, but have no control over the security forces in their states.

Showing his displeasure with the federal government, Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako defected from the ruling party to the APC, which was formed through a merger last year of two other parties.

Nyako has criticised the federal government’s decision to impose a state of emergency on Adamawa State as a political move against him, insisting that insurgent attacks in the state had been negligible.

The ruling party has alleged that the opposition and its leaders are behind the north-east violence and are reacting out of spite, because they did not win the national elections in 2011 and want to undermine the authority of the president as commander-in-chief.

The APC contends that the federal government has deliberately failed to effectively contain the insurgency, to make the local APC government in those states look ineffective. And so it goes.

Meanwhile, as residents grapple with the profound insecurity of their lives and the seeming lack of redress for the ongoing abuses, the chairman of the independent national election commission has said he doubted whether the February 2015 elections could be conducted in these states because of the level of violence.

This statement generated more political mudslinging, as APC members declared it to be part of a grand plan to stifle the opposition in one of its strongholds and to silence residents who believe that the federal government has botched the handling of the security situation.

When the insurgents appeared to overrun Borno State villages in the first three months of the year, the military cited insufficient personnel and inadequate arms as reasons for its inability to effectively halt the attacks.

But in response to similar concerns by the Borno and Adamawa state governors about the ease with which the insurgents seemed to overwhelm security forces, the president threatened to withdraw military troops from these states.

Corruption and mismanagement lurk in all of these discussions. In February, the government suspended a key figure – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria – on allegations of financial impropriety.

The APC immediately cried foul, saying Sanusi was being punished for blowing the whistle on corruption at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.

Shortly thereafter, an article circulated over the internet improbably linking Sanusi with terrorism and the financing of Boko Haram.

The claim was repeated by the Department of State Security when defending its decision to seize Sanusi’s passport before a federal high court.

But the court decided in favour of Sanusi, dismissing the allegations of terrorism financing him, and also awarded him a handsome sum as damages for his arrest and detention.

Nigerian officials have been shameless in deflecting responsibility for the political and economic crisis in the country.

While Nigeria is being congratulated for its economic growth, it is all on paper.

The army of the unemployed continues to grow – 19 people died recently when a national agency interviewed over 520 000 people for just over 4 000 vacancies

Meanwhile, thousands of Nigerians are being killed by violence that is probably preventable, or at least manageable.

For example, in the north-central region, the government has yet to address the cycle of violence emanating from tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic herdsmen.

Nor have officials there investigated the crimes or prosecuted any of those responsible, even as the spate of attacks escalates.

It is believed Boko Haram is responsible for abducting scores of girls and young women from school hostels and taking them away to the insurgents’ hideouts in the northeast, but the government has yet to deliver an effective plan for their rescue.

According to the records of the national emergency agency, more than three million Nigerians have been displaced from their homes, largely in the north-east, to squat in open spaces and abandoned buildings in safer towns and across the border in neighbouring countries.

Local and international human-rights groups have raised concerns about the high-handed and abusive response of security forces to the north-east violence.

But the government has been quick to dismiss allegations of violations by its forces, without even ensuring proper investigations.

When the National Security Agency rolled out a commendable plan to prevent and combat terrorism focused, among many other things, on respect for suspects’ rights and conditions of detention facilities, military authorities rejected it as “unworkable”.

We need some new thinking in Nigeria about how to confront a violence that has engulfed most of the north-east and other parts of the northern region.

We need effective plans to rehabilitate the millions of displaced citizens, and rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods destroyed in the northeast and north-central communities.

We don’t want political games and denial.

With another round of national elections in a few months, what we want is an honest conversation about how to end the profound insecurity in the north on the basis of protecting the rights of all.

Oil is valuable in Nigeria, but, right now, given the seemingly endless abuses, the truth is an even rarer and more desirable commodity.


* Segun is Nigeria Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.

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