There is only one way to defeat somebody who is determined to blow himself up – isolate him in a dungeon where blowing himself up will not intimidate others.

Long term plans entail reorienting thousands of young people who have been brainwashed into believing that their lives are worth wasting for an idea or a god who cannot fight for himself.

On June 16, 2011, a suicide bomber drove a car wired with bombs into Edet House, the Nigerian Police Force headquarters in Abuja. The bomber was reported to be aiming at the then Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim. It was the first reported case of suicide bombing in Nigeria. On a final count, six people died in the attack.

Immediately after the incident, Nigerians went into denial. To avoid confronting the reality facing us, some postulated that it wasn’t a suicide bombing, as if the legs and arms of the bomber on the ground were pieces of art works. Some who conceded that it was a suicide bomber argued that it was done by a foreigner.

After scores of bombing and hundreds of deaths, bombings of that nature anywhere in Nigeria has become a new norm. In just one year, Nigerians are already desensitized. We have defaulted into our usual escape cave – handing it over to God in prayers.

Though churches are the favorite target of these bombers, nobody remembers when the first church was bombed. Nobody is counting how many churches have been bombed. Even the Christian Association is tired of issuing their final, final, final, warning after each bombing of a church.

One year after, the debate has shifted from why Boko Haram is determined to rid Northern Nigeria of churches to whether some of those bombing the churches were Christians. That debate became necessary not because some Christians were twice arrested with bombs near churches, but because it is important to some people to show that it was not just Muslims who bomb churches.

Before we embark on any of the short term or long term plans out there, it is very important to understand what is really going on. Despite what you have read, we did not get here because President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ordered an attack that led to the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf in 2009. Maybe it escalated things, but that was not the original sin. We also did not get here because President Goodluck Jonathan discarded PDP’s hereditary plan and assumed the presidency following the death of Yaradua.

We got here because when Nigeria was cobbled together by the British in 1914, the people of Nigeria were not asked to contribute to the decision on the nature of the country they would like. That was not the fatal error. What was fatal was that when the fault lines emerged, these lines were either wished away or covered up with rugs. Few times they were simply patched up. Nobody cared to use the opportunity to dig deep and reinforce the foundations. That desire to avoid the hard and difficult work continues till this day.

When in 1945, some Northern elements in Jos killed people from Eastern Nigeria, it was the first warning that all was not well in the structure of Nigeria. When in 1953 they struck again in Kano, this time with a massacre, a British Administrative officer warned, “No amount of provocation, short-term or long-term, can in any way justify their behavior…the seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of recurrence.”

The Euphoria of Independence in 1960 quickly died away when in 1966 northern elements unleashed a pogrom that killed tens of thousands of people from Eastern Nigeria. The killings under different guises continued in Kano in 1980, in Maiduguri in 1982, in Jimeta in 1984, in Gombe in 1985, in Kaduna & Kafanchan in 1991, in Bauchi, Kastina, & Kano in 1991, in Zango-Kataf in 1992, in Funtua in 1993, in Kano in 1994. Since 1999, no year passes without killings somewhere in Northern Nigeria. On January 10, 2001 a riot broke out in Maiduguri because the Luna eclipse occurred. Churches and hotels were destroyed. When America bombed Afghanistan on October 15, 2001, crowds stormed the streets of Kano to protest. They also used that opportunity to kill more Southerners and burn their homes, businesses and churches.

During the First Republic, Northern Nigeria was hostile to Easterners. A paramilitary organization called the Sardauna Brigade acting as a private army of the then Premier of Northern Nigeria was used to intimidate Easterners, especially after the controversial National Census of 1962-1963. In speeches after speeches at the Northern House of Assembly, antagonisms against the Easterners were building up. Northern political elite made calls to revoke all Certificates of Occupancy from the hands of the Igbo resident in the region. In a 1964 speech in the House, Alhaji Usman Lima declared, “Mr. Chairman, the North is for Northerners, East is for Easterners, West is for Westerners and the Federation is for all.”

The House applauded him.

And so was Alhaji Mustafa Ismaila Zanna Dujuna who declared that “First Northerners, second expatriates and third, non-northerners.”

These outbursts, prelude to the pogrom were not simply dissident voices. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E, Minister of Land and Survey, told the House the following, “I would like to assure Members that having heard their demands about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of Members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all these should not be disclosed. In due course, you will all see what will happen.”

At every opportunity the Northern elite unleashed their hooligans to move on the plan. Those sentiments against fellow compatriots, conveniently called foreigners, did not die away with time. They remained in the minds of many who still do not want churches, hotels and non-Muslims in the North.

During the Third Republic, when political Sharia law was introduced in the North, it inflamed these sentiments by again subtly promising to get rid of all the symbols of the adulteration and defilement of the North- churches, hotels, homes and businesses of non-Muslims in the North.

That is exactly how we got where we are today. The bombing of churches in the North did not start today. It is simply a continuation of this deliberate effort to wipe away anything considered “foreign” symbols in the North.

Having said that, there are no boilerplate answers to the questions these bombings raised. But there is something we can learn from how Israel responded to the spats of suicide bombing that came during the Second Intifada. Hamas and Islamic Jihad began to attack in 1988. In 1989 there were sixteen bombings, in 1993, one; in 1994, thirty-eight bombings; in 1995, thirty-nine bombings. By 2001, it had climbed to eighty-five, 2002, two hundred and forty, 2003, one hundred and forty-five. It started to go down in 2005 at 35 bombings, 15 bombings in 2006, 3 bombings in 2007 and one in 2008.

How did Israel respond? Israel used border guards, police patrols, sieges, security cordon, targeted assassination by Israeli agents that took out the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Separation Wall.

The discussion to build the wall started in 1992 while the Oslo Accords was being negotiated. The government was reluctant to pursue it. By June of 2001 as suicide bombers killed more and more Israelis, Fence for Life Movement was set up to encourage the government to build the wall. By 2002, some localities that have suffered from Palestinian terrorist attacks used their own funds to begin work on the wall. The government finally embraced the idea in 2002. With only 60% of the wall completed, suicide bombing attacks have decreased to near zero because potential bombers cannot freely walk into Israel anymore.

The cause of the Palestinian suicide bombings have been attributed to despair, misery and frustration of the Palestinian people who live in occupied land. Some called suicide bombing an asymmetric warfare syndrome – recourse for those facing an imbalance of power. But there has not been less despair, misery and frustration since Benjamin Netanyahu came back into office in 2009 and intensified the building of the wall and military operations inside Gaza and West Bank. In fact, one can say that there are more despair, misery and frustration, including moving the wall away from the Green Line- the 1947 UN partition line. Yet, the incidents of suicide bombings have all but ended.
In Iraq, suicide bombings also became a weapon of choice during the American occupation. In 2004 alone, there were 400 suicide attacks with over 2000 casualties. It continued until Sunni leaders working with Americans built a wall between Al Qaida elements doing the bombings, their Sunni sympathizers and the rest of Iraq.

Deep inside, Boko Haram members and their sympathizers believe there is an ongoing political, cultural and religious occupation of Northern Nigeria. Nigeria cannot pray its way out of the Boko Haram problem. Group thinking and sacred belief have all but assured us that there would be a constant supply of fighters for Boko Haram. Waiting for volunteers who want to be suicide bombers to fizzle away will amount to waiting for eternity while suicide bombings continue to soar.

The only option is for Nigeria to build a wall – a psychological, physical and emotional wall in Northern Nigeria. The wall should separate the two people in Northern Nigeria – those who want to remain in secular Nigeria and those who want to opt out. The wall will be high enough to make it impossible for those who do not want a secular Nigeria to cross over to the other side with their bombs.

If I was from Northern Nigeria, I will begin a movement to build a Fence for Life. I will demand a National Conference where we must renegotiate our terms of association with the rest of Nigeria. I will do anything to isolate the suicide bombers in their dungeons. I will do so because I know that if I fail, Nigeria will eventually be forced to build the wall. And it may be along the 1914 Amalgamation line.





caption: Maimuna Anyene was killed with all her kids in the ill-fated flight 992

Some people who know me well very often ask me why I lost my religion. I don’t yet know why, but I will tell you when.

After many years of being cajoled and dragged and mandated to go to church, one of the few things I learned was that once you die, you are dead. Your report card is sealed. Nothing can change it. I was taught that after death what comes next is judgment. It doesn’t matter if you cool off a little bit in Purgatory. You next court appearance after death is on Judgment Day.

So it baffles me when people pray for the dead. What would such a prayer accomplish? Would it change the grade the dead scored based on his or her life on earth? Would prayers alter the evidence accumulated against the dead? Would it change the judge’s verdict? How would our supplication for the dead to rest in peace be fulfilled if his work on earth had earned him a place without peace?

I believe the only use of mourning after death is for the living to reflect on their lives. It is okay to recall the life of the dead and the impact the dead made in the lives of the living. But as far as influencing what happens when the dead gets to the Great Beyond, I believe that is what is called ‘medicine after death.” If there are people who need prayers after a death, it is the living and not the dead.

I hereby pray for Nigerians who are still living following the deaths that occurred due to the Dana plane crash of June 3, 2012. I pray for those Nigerians who will board a Nigerian plane today and tomorrow. I pray that the technicians who will work on the plane will not choose a short cut in their maintenance work. I pray that the pilots will have the strength of character to refuse to fly a faulty aircraft. I pray that the government officials charged with supervising and inspecting airlines and making sure that they are maintained and are fit to fly do not collect bribes and just sign off on works they did not see.

Of course, prayers are not enough. Rather than prayer, people who really wish to help can take concrete steps to ensure that the technicians do their job; that the pilots fly only air-worthy planes; and that the government agency overseeing airlines diligently monitors what the airlines are doing. It is needless to say that a whistleblower is more valuable than a prayer warrior.

I know that before I finish this prayer, many more Nigerians would have died unnecessary deaths. Whatever day it is that you are reading this, ten times the number of deaths in the plane disaster occurred this day. Some kids died in Nigeria from convulsion due to fever their parents could not control because they had no money to buy children’s Panadol. The Nigerian roads, ever in bad shape, took their own share of Nigerian blood today. Those who had accidents, who would have lived had our hospitals been well equipped, died of their injuries. There are always those women who died daily during childbirth. Kids killed by water borne diseases due to a lack of clean water.

You may not know about these people because they are not under your radar. They do not run the banks. They do not speak for corporations. They do not lecture at your universities. They do not appear on Nigerian idol. They have never sat inside a plane that you have sat in. They are ordinary men and women, children and teens, in villages and small towns across Nigeria. Your life has not intersected with theirs. When you drive across their rural abode, you often ponder why people still live the way they live. You shake your head and move on to your fenced mansion.

You don’t have to pray for them when they die. You don’t even know how many of them die everyday. The president does not fly down to their villages to visit the hospital where they died. The governor of their state does not declare three days of mourning even though the story may get to him about the beautiful twins killed when a fire consumed their home. Their local government chairman does not shed tears for them. Of course, the Lagos newspapers will not put their pictures on the front page. If ever their story filters into your ears it joins “one of those things that happen to unfortunate people.”

But death they died. And if my religion taught me anything, judgment will await them too. The same way it will await the president when he dies. And the governor when he dies. And the general when he dies. And the police chief when he dies. And the civil servant when he dies. And the government contractor when he dies. And the other leaders who have failed to provide for the welfare and well-being of the people when they were in position of authority. Death is the common denominator that ultimately levels the playing field.

We live as if the prayers we would receive when we die could wash away our sins. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. It couldn’t. It’s like saying that prayers can change your grade after you have turned in your examination paper. If it did, the whole purpose of the examination is defeated. If, however, you are convinced that prayer washes away the sins of the dead, then, we are not doing enough of it.

Just as prayers cannot shield us from punishment, so can it not do for us the work we are supposed to do for ourselves. The goal of prayers is not to cajole and drag and mandate God to come and interfere on our behalf. The limit of prayers begins where your responsibility starts.

How did that son of a Kenyan student put it? “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

We – taking action. Not prayers, muttered on our knees.

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