The Problem With El-Rufai’s Gonin Gora Demolition Threat, By Moses Ochonu

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The problem with El-Rufai is not that he is a bad Governor. The problem, rather, is that he tries so hard to be seen as a good governor, so hard that he ends up undermining his own good works, causing unnecessary controversy, and exposing his bigotry and lack of executive governing temperament. He is a much better technocrat than he is a wielder of executive authority.

He threatened to demolish an entire community, Gonin Gora, in the middle of an ethno-religious crisis. It is a terrible idea to threaten or to actually demolish an entire community whatever crimes some members of that community may have committed. For one, it amounts to collective punishment, a primitive punitive action incompatible with modern, enlightened notions of justice, correction, and recompense. Second, it is a rather lazy, knee-jerk, thoughtless, and ultimately counterproductive response.

If members of a particular community threaten the peace of a larger community, in this case, Kaduna State, the logical thing to do is to use old-fashioned intelligence work to identify and arrest the suspects. The next thing is to deploy adequate security to the area as a short term measure and to establish institutions of peace-building and community vigilantism in the long term. This is conflict management 101.

If demolition were a solution to conflict, many communities in EVERY state of the Nigerian federation would be in the line of El-Rufai’s or Buhari’s bulldozer.

So, the idea of threatening to demolish a community — any community — as a punishment is wrong on many levels.

But if El-Rufai must threaten demolition in the middle of a crisis, why not do it in an even-handed manner to reassure citizens that you’re an honest, fair, and just arbiter and not a partisan, bigoted interventionist? Gonin Gora is a Christian dominated area. In the current crisis, the area has actually not experienced any upheaval. I know people there. I rang them to make inquiries and they all said the area has been peaceful, including the Kaduna-Abuja expressway, which traverses the community. In fact as we speak, the same administration of El-Rufai has deployed soldiers and policemen to the expressway as a preemptive measure, which is the right thing to do. So why threaten to demolish the community if not to punish your perceived political enemies or to spew egotistical bombast as a way of reinforcing your omnipotent fantasies?

El-Rufai was probably acting on complaints emanating from previous ethno-religious crises in Kaduna. He might have been pandering to a script written on the premise of previous conflicts.

In these previous ethno-religious crises, Christian youths from the neighboring community of Gonin Gora blocked the Kaduna-Abuja expressway and killed innocent Muslim travelers, a heinous crime of unspeakable brutality. Christian youths along the Sabon Tasha axis may also have attacked Muslim travelers plying Kaduna-Kachia-Keffi road.

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But in those same crises, Muslim youths from neighboring Muslim dominated areas blocked the Kaduna-Zaria expressway in Kawo, killing innocent Christian travelers. Muslim youths blocked the Mando road leading out of and to Kaduna, killing Christian travelers, including those who used to travel from Lagos to Kaduna on that road. Muslim youths similarly blocked the Mararaban Jos loop on the Kaduna-Zaria-Kano expressway during previous crises and killed innocent Christian travelers. Additionally, Muslim youths from neighboring communities blocked the Lagos bypass expressway at Nasarawa, Unguwan Mu’azu, Tudun Wada, Badiko, and Panteka, killing innocent Christian travelers.

That has been the pattern in Kaduna, with Christian and Muslim youths blocking entry and exit roads. As a Christian, I know that to be caught in the Kawo section of the Kaduna-Zaria expressway or the Mando exit or entry road, or any of the aforementioned points of the bypass during an ethno-religious crisis could be a death sentence. Ditto for a Muslim caught on the Gonin Gora section of the Kaduna-Abuja road.

I remember the crisis of 2000. I flew to Lagos for my annual summer visit to Nigeria. My plan was to then fly to Kaduna immediately. In Lagos, I was informed that Kaduna had erupted in ethno-religious conflict. I spent almost a week in Lagos waiting for the crisis to subside. Eventually, I flew to Kaduna and had to take the Mando road and the bypass from the airport to the southern part of the city where my family lived. I saw several roadblocks of burnt out tires and even burnt human parts that had not been removed. These were victims of these illegal, murderous roadblocks in Muslim dominated areas. Presumably, these were Christians. When I got home, I learned that one of my best friends, John Suleiman, had been killed. He was traveling back to Kakuri in a commercial bus that made the tragic mistake of passing through a Muslim dominated area. He and other passengers were in the wrong place at the wrong time and paid with their lives. This was one of my worst visits to Nigeria.

Given this reality, if the chief executive officer and chief security officer of the state must threaten to demolish the community of origin of murderous, roadblocking youths without adding to the tension and worsening a crisis he is trying to manage, he should therefore mention all the communities bordering exit, entry, and bypass roads where such killings tend to occur.

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If El-Rufai is so undisciplined and unrestrained and cannot keep himself from exacerbating the prevailing ethno-religious tension then the least he should do is to make an effort not to single out one troublesome area to the exclusion of other areas. If he does not do that, he is merely adding to the tensions and deepening the ethno-religious fissures at the root of the crisis. That, unfortunately, is what el-Rufai has done here with his ill-advised threat.

It fits the pattern of el-Rufai. He is an ethno-religious bigot and supremacist who cannot help himself. His interventions and pronouncements on recent crises in Kaduna have worsened matters because they are one-sided. During the Southern Kaduna killings, he made matters worse by paying compensation only to the killers but not the victims, by forcing the people of Southern Kaduna to erect billboards to apologize to their killers, by going on national TV to accuse Christian Southern Kaduna leaders of killing their own people and/or tolerating the killings and decimation of communities in order to make money from international agencies.

When he caused a law to be passed against hate speech, only people from Southern Kaduna were arrested and prosecuted. Audu Maikori, Luka Biniyat, and John Danfulani, were arrested and arraigned under said law. Conversely, several Hausa-Fulani people who made incendiary pronouncements on the crisis walked freely after making these statements. Notably, when a group of Hausa-Fulani Muslim extremists addressed a press conference in Kaduna calling Igbo people unprintable names and threatening them with violent expulsion if they did not evacuate from Northern Nigeria by a certain date, el-Rufai threatened to arrest them but never did.

It is this double standard, this one-sided exhibition of toughness that is the problem of el-Rufai, and which stands in sharp contrast to his seemingly proactive actions that some people are praising. It is what has turned Kaduna state into a dysfunctional, crime-ridden, and chaotic state. El-Rufai only tends to find his mojo, his toughness, when it comes to the Christian and Shiite sides of the state. Kaduna today is the kidnapping headquarters of Nigeria, with Katere, Jere, and Birnin Gwari being the epicenters of kidnapping and rural banditry. The first two towns are located on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, perhaps the most dangerous stretch of road in Nigeria. Yet I’ve never heard el-Rufai threaten these communities with demolition or any such lawless, counterproductive action.

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As things stand today, El-Rufai is a big part of the Kaduna security problem. He has almost irretrievably divided the state in both political and ethno-religious terms. He has deepened the preexisting divides — Sunni/Shiites, and Muslim/Christian. He lacks the tact and wisdom to govern a complex, ethno-religious state such as Kaduna and as a result has sown and worsened mistrust between different primordial constituencies, undermining the gains of previous peace efforts in the state.

Speaking of past peace efforts, the administration of Ahmed Makarfi is adjudged by all fair-minded people as the best one in terms of peacebuilding in the state. He mobilized security resources to flashpoints, paying for a robust, semi-permanent security presence in these areas to serve as deterrent. In addition, and more crucially, he encouraged community peace efforts, bringing religious and community leaders into a sustained dialogue that doused the tensions and kept relative peace in Kaduna for almost a decade until the 2011 post-election violence punctured that hard-won peace.

Yet it was not these gestures of Makarfi’s that brought peace to Kaduna. Rather, his most effective asset, which won the peace, was that people across all faith and ethnic communities saw him as a fair-minded, balanced, and unbiased arbiter and mediator. That’s what caused him to succeed. Makarfi was not flashy. He did not make noise, and he did not make divisive, threatening, or controversial statements. He was quietly effective and was able to restore relative peace to Kaduna through tact and fair-mindedness.

El-Rufai, on the other hand, is regarded, with good reasons, by Christians in the state and by Shiites as an ethno-religious supremacist and bigot who takes sides and who acts out his bigotry instead of managing crisis dispassionately and responsibly. He has fractured the state and divided it into areas he sees as politically friendly and demographics he sees as enemies. His response to crisis follows the contour of these demarcations.

Nigerians love the razzmatazz of showy, if ineffective, governance. They love people who make a show of being on top of situations, who appear tough, and who make pronouncements that portray them as bold and courageous. We hardly stop to ask questions about the propriety, wisdom, or danger of such pronouncements in the heat of crisis. Nor do we recognize how, sometimes, such knee-jerk pronouncements mask and or are intended to mask an inability to craft and pursue the hard, dirty, patient, less glamorous and less visible work of peacebuilding.

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