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Afghanistanism and Talibanisation of Nigeria

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By Sola Ebiseni

LAST week, l recalled how I came across the term Afghanistanism as an undergraduate and student’s activist at the then University of Ife in the 1980s, during the Major-General Muhammadu Buhari/Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon military rule. The regime had reasoned that the problems plaguing Nigeria was the indiscipline of the citizens.

The War Against Indiscipline, WAI, was so elastic and nebulous in definition but the enforcement was with military precision. It included staying patiently on the queue in public places, observance of monthly environmental sanitation and barring women from wearing trousers in public.

The penalty against transgression was either summary trial in WAI courts or instant corporal punishment of flogging or combined with some aerobic exercises, particularly frog-jumping, enforced by the ubiquitous soldiers and WAI Brigade officers.

Fundamental issues of the economy, and particularly a programme of return to democratic rule, were not part of the regime’s agenda which also outlawed political parties and all associations considered to harbour opposition or radical tendencies against military dictatorship.

Lecturers perceived to harbour or inculcate radical thoughts were dismissed from the university system “for teaching what they were not paid to teach”; top journalists were jailed and newspapers barred from reporting any event which the government considered embarrassing, even if it was true. Laws were made with retrospective penal sanctions where the accused was presumed guilty with the onus of proving his or her innocence.

 Many Nigerians woke up to the knowledge of the existence of hard drugs, like cocaine, when the regime arrested Bartholomew Owoh (26), Bernard Ogedengbe(29), and Alhaji Akani Lawal (29) tried, found guilty for trafficking in such drugs and killed them by firing squad under Decree 20 of 1984 for the offence they had allegedly committed before the promulgation of the decree. The Taliban rule which took off in Afghanistan, much later in 1994, was not more draconian. 

Human rights groups and civil society community in general took up the challenge in diverse ways. Newspapers adopted several creative means of writing and presenting informed criticism of the mindless dictatorship. Some public commentators also resorted to analysing and criticising events and leaders in foreign lands as euphemisms of happenings at home, while others, in frustration or fear of persecution, deliberately shifted attention to mundane issues at home or became emergency experts in international affairs.

The somewhat cowardly style of minding the specks in the eyes of distant lands and oblivious of the logs in our own eyes, as deprecated by Jesus was then labelled Afghanistanism, a term, which, according to Wikipedia, was “first recorded in the United States in 1948.” Talibanisation, is also not a new concept and for our purpose, “a term coined following the rise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan referring to the process where other religious groups or movements come to follow or imitate the strict practices of the Taliban.”

Diverse reactions greeted Talibans’ takeover. One of  such reactions was by the Director of Muslims Rights Action, MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola who, in an interview with The Punch, on August 18, lampooned Nigerians  who, he said, were wont to run to and “relying on foreign powers to get what they do not deserve”, to learn a good lesson from this.

Taking a swipe directly at Bishop Matthew Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese, the Professor of Islamic Eschatology quipped thus: “Matthew Kukah just returned from America to speak at the American Congress, of course, on invitation. They are deceiving themselves; America will not come to Nigeria to benefit Nigerians. America will not go to Afghanistan to benefit Afghanistan.”

From the interview, Akintola seemed to suggest that if the Taliban, with their relatively low firepower, could so hold America down and frustrate it out of Afghanistan, anyone imagining that America or the international community generally would be relevant in finding solutions to Nigeria’s problems is merely wasting his or her time.

In other words, we are stuck with a fait accompli of the whims and caprices of Buhari and his administration or take our collective destinies in our hands.

MURIC, as usual, could not resist the temptation of using any occasion to descend on perceived enemies of the Buhari administration. He was, however, stoically ignored by Kukah, just like most Nigerians essentially because there is no correlation between his perception of the events and the lessons he felt we should learn therefrom.

The organisation, which sees every issue from the religion perspective had once berated the Afenifere as being blasphemous for comparing Sunday Igboho’s flight into exile with similar actions by religious personalities, for security reasons. He also once agreed that the next President of Nigeria should be from the South but considered it inconceivable that it should be a non-Muslim, question mark on his understanding of Yoruba culture which effectively keeps religion out of our public life allowing all, particularly the two of Abrahamic progeny, to find expressions and adherents, peacefully and in equal proportions.

There are other Nigerians, so many of them, who fear that the victory of the Talibans, which they considered a defeat of America and its allies, could boost some terrorists, bound by sectarian ideology, to take over and Islamise Nigeria.

There are so many similarities and differences between Nigeria and Afghanistan which, in our views, make the Afghan situation impossible here. Afghanistan has a population of about 39 million inhabitants not more than an average number of  people living in any of each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria which total population is about 240 million people.

Afghanistan, just like Nigeria, is made up of diverse ethnic nationalities which  include the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Aimak, Pashayi, Baloch, Pamiris, Nuristanis and others. The Pashtun account for over 42 percent of the population and the ethnic nationality of Mullah Muhammad Umar, who, according to Wikipedia, founded the Taliban group in September 1994 in his hometown of Kandahar and within months garnered over 15,000 students among Afghan refugees and Islamic schools.

The Afghan, though an ancient people which civilisation predated Christianity or Islam,  are today, like most people of South East Asia, almost 100 percent Muslims. The country has been colonised, ruled or overrun by several of their neighbours until 1978, when it became a socialist state which spurred the war with the Soviet Union against the Mujahideen rebels.

The Taliban took over in 1996 and  ruled for over five years until they were removed by the US in 2001 following the 9/11 attack on the US. The  American campaign lasted 20 years until its recent withdrawal and the ascent of the Talibans once again. Rationalising recently the US campaign which took place during the time of President George Bush Jr,  President Joe Biden said: “We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that.

“We severely degraded Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden and we got him”. To America and its pride in the world, it does not matter how many lives were lost or if the trillion dollars committed to it was enough to end hunger in Africa.

We have embarked on the historical, ethnic and demographic excursion to show that the fear of Talibanisation of Nigeria is most unfounded. In the first place, no ethnic group singly commands the percentage of Nigerian population as the Pashtun does in Afghanistan, not even the lie of an Hausa/Fulani tribe. Nigeria is balanced in the strength of religion and not even any of its geopolitical zones has a homogeneous Islamic population to stimulate any significant Taliban uprising.

Even in the North West with, arguably the largest Muslim population, sectarian considerations is an issue. Since the beginning of the Buhari administration, the Sunnis who constitute the ruling class, both in government and traditional institutions, have been at loggerheads with Zakzaky’s Shiites minority.

The Nigerian ruling class are so intertwined that only lip service is paid the issue of religion. When he desperately craved legitimacy for second term in year 2000, Sanni Yerima, governor of Zamfara State, mobilised the people for Sharia law and about two other states in the North West followed suit. Of course, they were ignored by the Obasanjo administration and no single execution by amputations ever happened.

The Sharia police and courts have since been reduced to instrument of oppression of the hoi polloi in hypocritical sexual and alcohol offences where it overlooked Yerima’s unlawful marital affairs with a 13-year-old minor. Governments which hypocritically outlawed alcohol, takes VAT and consume its products.

In any case, if our fathers were perspicacious enough to halt jihadist movement at Ilorin and in the Middle Belt since the 19th century, before Nigeria was contemplated, the decision to be bound by the common destiny in a federation, cannot be used as the subterfuge to give us the hemlock our fathers rejected. On a final note, mark my words that the Taliban’s emerging Islamic state will rather have most ingredients of democracy. Nigeria, we hail thee.

Ebiseni is Secretary General, Afenifere.

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