By Nteranya Arnold Sanginga and Tetsekela Michael Anyiam-Osigwe
On the 11th of December 2020, over 300 boys in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state, northwestern Nigeria, were abducted during an armed attack at their all-boys Government Science boarding secondary school – a place that is supposed to be a secure environment for children to gain the tools and knowledge needed to pursue their future aspirations.
A gang of armed gunmen on motorcycles reportedly stormed the school on Friday evening. In the midst of the chaos that saw the attackers and security forces exchange open fire, hundreds of students fled and hid in the surrounding forest. While some students managed to escape and 17 have been rescued so far, at least 300 are still missing. Although there is some doubt over who the perpetrators of the attack and kidnapping are, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist terrorist group operating in the region, claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, the Katsina state government has ordered the closure of all schools in the region and launched a rescue operation. A lingering question is whether efforts will be both effective and sufficient in retrieving the abducted boys, and preventing another abduction from occurring in Katsina or neighbouring states.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (2019), Nigeria is the third-worst nation prone to terrorism, with no improvement since 2017. This is despite having an annual defence budget that is the highest in the West African region. What happened on the evening of the 11th of December is a devastating example of the consequences of a security sector characterised by this irony – seemingly resource-rich but still ill-equipped to manage Nigeria’s security realities.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Nigerians have experienced such devastation within this decade. The abduction of schoolboys brings back harrowing memories of the abductions of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state and 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe state, in 2014 and 2018 respectively. Most of the girls are yet to return. These events occurred in different states, but the same circumstances were still very much at play: the scourge of insurgency and armed banditry and the inability of the Nigerian government to put in place a robust security architecture that can, if not eliminate, at least contain, the chronic state of insecurity.
The need to effectively address the underlying socio-economic shortcomings that continue to motivate young men to opt into armed banditry and insurgency remains a primary challenge for Nigeria. Although Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video claiming that the terrorist group was behind the attack, witnesses alternatively attributed responsibility to a group of bandits, who are active in the region where ransom kidnappings are commonplace. Regardless of whoever was behind the attack, what is clear is that disenchanted Nigerians – mainly young men – have become vulnerable to recruitment into what is now a multilayered network of terrorism and organised crime – operating at the local, national, regional and global levels. For many, this should not come as a surprise. Nigeria just entered its worst recession in three decades, but the socio-economic challenges that have left many people in abject poverty and with no viable prospect for future opportunities – circumstances ripe for recruitment into these networks – have long characterised lived realities in Nigeria.
Complicating this already precarious situation was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, which saw an increasing number of Nigerians without basic necessities. Eye-witness accounts from the schoolboys that escaped reveal that the gunmen were asking for money and phones and even broke open lockers to take soaps, creams, milk and biscuits. In fact, whilst the President’s Office has revealed that ransom demands are now being made by those responsible, others have suggested that the perpetrators have also sold some of the boys to Boko Haram. Clearly, the motivations for the Kankara kidnappings were more opportunistic than religion-centred. This monetary element at the centre of the abductions suggests that socio-economic inequalities fostered enough grievances to mobilise violent crimes for profit.This is not the first time, and unfortunately, might not be the last time an attack like this occurs if Nigeria does not prioritise structural challenges, especially the lack of basic social amenities and meaningful job opportunities, as primary public policy concerns.
Concurrently, the immediate concern of confronting the present reality of insecurity requires a robust security architecture in order to ensure that attacks like the one in Katsina, Yobe and Borno states do not become commonplace. Complex security situations and the possibility of unexpected attacks like these require the implementation of long-term policy and infrastructure to not only equip security forces with superior military capacity, but to also create effective deployment strategies that identify and monitor existing and potential security hotspots. It also requires effective awareness campaigns for civilian populations, especially in rural communities, in order to effectuate community-centered collaboration such as community reporting and informing as part of the strategy to contextualize and prevent attacks.Though it is important to acknowledge the previous efforts and attempts at confronting the terror of Boko Haram and other forms of organised crime groups, the fact that these groups can confidently repeat a near parallel act of violence and abduction demonstrates the importance of demanding, designing and developing policies, strategies and security structures with the purpose of longevity. Reactive policies and strategies, like post-attack rescue operations, only provide some use in responding to these situations. They do not dispel structural weaknesses, such as under-developed security infrastructure, which allow for groups like Boko Haram to thrive.
Beyond Nigeria, the Kankara kidnapping is yet another unfortunate incident that makes demands for African leaders and institutions to begin to take more seriously the danger to children in areas where there are renowned rebels, militia or violent groups, even more urgent. Nigeria is certainly not alone in witnessing children being placed directly into violence whilst convening at educational institutions. In the past few months alone, children in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have faced similar situations. In August, armed militia attacked Congolese examination centres in Haut-Uélé and Sud-Kivu provinces, where final-year female students were raped and hundreds of students were forced to flee from their school premises respectively. In late October, gunmen also raided a school in Koumba, southwestern Cameroon, killing at least 6 children. On a continent where education is arguably the main pathway to securing better futures for African youth, it is imperative to ensure that security strategies incorporate a needs assessment element that visibly targets threat management surrounding educational institutions. This is especially more significant given that African countries remain signatories to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – specifically SDG 4 – which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
This may be difficult to achieve in the current climate, but these are not impossible undertakings if there is an active commitment to increasing both intellectual and economic investment into the process and implementation of transformative policies on local, national, regional, and even continental levels.
With this in mind, how then can Nigerians demand that their leaders bring back the boys, and by extension bring stability and security? How can Africans join this call to action so that leaders across the continent can also pursue integrative and transformative measures with long-term impacts on national and regional stability?
It is important to note that this article was written on 17 December 2020, prior to the announced release and return of the abducted boys. Whilst this is a welcome development, there needs to be more transparency regarding the negotiations that facilitated the return of the schoolboys, including what exactly informed the speed at which the boys were retrieved – just less than a week after their abductions – especially in light of the girls who are still missing six years on from the Chibok kidnappings. At the same time, the state government needs to address the uncertainty regarding just how many schoolboys were released and just how many were abducted in the first place. Beyond this immediate need to offer clarity to all stakeholders involved, including the parent of the schoolboys and the general public alike, the Kankara kidnappings must spur on the long-overdue renewed focus on the still-missing Chibok girls and the efforts that are being made (if any) to establish a proactive early warning system and a robust security infrastructure to both prevent and respond to possible similar attacks. Thus, the core of this article still stands true – African states, Nigeria included, must move beyond reactive security policies to combat terrorism and establish peace. Instead, more proactive, cross-cutting and long-term policies and actions on national, continental and international scales are called for, in order to maintain peace across time.
When Botswana’s 18-day old President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said while delivering the Oppenheimer Lecture at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, that Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo had stayed longer in power than the time that was expected, he was neither making an untrue statement nor a surprising statement, but it came from a shocking source: a fellow president. Hardly ever, even in the face of extreme crisis, has an African president called out another president, purportedly to maintain respect for sovereignty or to avoid the semblance of hypocrisy, but Botswana bucks the trend.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Source: Reuters
Botswana has long been regarded as a successful democracy, with its founding president, Sir Seretse Khama widely revered for his pioneering work in setting the stage for long-term democratic leadership in the country; its Kgotla system recognized for its centuries-old success in enabling participatory democracy; and its 3rd president, Festus Mogae, a recipient of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. President Masisi follows in the footsteps of not just these great leaders, but also those of its most recent president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, whose tenure was largely peaceful and successful. In actual fact, it was President Khama who, in January 2018, first called Kabila out in no uncertain terms. He is quoted as saying: “We have one of the leaders in the SADC region [Southern African Development Community] who is not willing to obey the rule of law. He has been delaying elections for his self-interest which is a bad thing.” Such unequivocal words from an African leader about another, are symptomatic of strong leadership, of which Africa is sadly bereft.
However, President Masisi was the one who took this message to the international community and declared with boldness that while it is on record from Kabila’s Minister of Information, Lambert Mende, that Kabila will not seek re-election in December, the world needs to hear it from Kabila himself. If the December 2018 elections in DRC go ahead as announced, it will be two years after his tenure was constitutionally over, even though he has exploited a legal ruling to stay in power until new elections are conducted. Critics have long assumed that Kabila would explore a constitutional review to extend his hold on power for much longer. It is also instructive to note that the presidents of neighbouring countries, Rwanda, Burundi and the Republic of Congo, have recently extended their tenures by such means, and at the age of 46, Kabila is much younger than the typical age at which most African presidents commence their tenures. Having now been in power for 17 years, he must feel that he has much more left in him.
So while we celebrate Botswana’s virtuous leaders, Ian Khama and Mokgweetsi Masisi, we equally call out other African leaders for their ineptitude and lack of courage in promoting respect for the rule of law and good governance on the continent. If the African Union has failed to declare Kabila’s stay in power as illegitimate and its constituent member states have equally failed to speak up in support of the many Congolese who have been killed and displaced in the resultant political conflict, it begs the question of the strength of mandate and legitimacy of leadership on the continent. For now, we are happy for Botswana to lead the way and for other African countries to learn.
Watch President Masisi’s full lecture and Question & Answer session below:
When the news broke in September 2017 that the Ugandan Parliament was considering a bill to eliminate age limits for presidential aspirants, it sounded incredulous. After all, it was only a year before then that the sitting president, Yoweri Museveni, had won an unprecedented fifth term in office, having controversially scrapped the limit to presidential terms in 2005 to permit an elongation of his stay in power. Since taking control of Uganda in 1986, 73-year old Museveni has demonstrated time and again that he has no intentions of relinquishing his stranglehold on the country’s future, and he does so with the enthusiastic support of his cronies in parliament.
Ugandan legislators brawl in parliament during debate on the bill. Source: James Akena/Reuters
Enacted in 1995, the Ugandan constitution had stipulated that anyone younger than 35 or older than 75 will be ineligible to serve as President. That was purportedly to prevent political neophytes or aged and jaded parasites from ruling the country, but Museveni seems intent on negating all of that. Despite the protests of activists and the gallant efforts of opposition politicians, 317 legislators voted in favour of the controversial bill on December 20th, 2017, against the wishes of the 97 opposing legislators and the majority of citizens and religious leaders who made their voices heard. In his year-end address, Museveni said “Parliament enabled us to avoid the more complicated paths that would have been required. We cannot under-cook the destiny of Africa”. He eventually signed the bill into law on December 27th, 2017.
While it cannot be argued that Museveni is justified as a citizen in wanting to retain his presidency, and that there is some logic in the statement credited to MP Moses Balyeku that “age should not be a factor that hinders the rights and freedom of any Ugandan to vie for the post of a President”, it belies common sense that such narrow-minded constitutional amendments are being driven against the demographic realities on the continent. By the time the next elections are due in 2021, Museveni will be 77 years old. In a country where the median age of citizens is 15.8 years, Museveni is clearly swimming against the tide of nature. Shamefully, he is being paddled along by politicians who are more interested in their own personal aggrandisement than they are in the future of the country. Like Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Museveni has taken the irresponsible path and further dimmed the hope for responsible leadership in Africa.
Conclusively, it disgusts the senses to realize that the elongation of Museveni’s political ambition seems to be his preoccupying thought less than two years into his current term, when there is so much work to be done to lift Uganda from being one of the poorest countries in the world. If five terms of Museveni’s leadership has brought Ugandans no closer to economic freedom, what hope is there that a sixth term will make a difference? It might have been hoped that the “Mugabe treatment” will prove instructive for other geriatric African rulers, but perhaps it will take the “Mugabe outcome” for the message to sink in.
When it was reported on July 7th, 2017 that Ghana had successfully launched its first satellite into orbit, there was wild celebration among the more than 400 watchers present at the All Nations University College, Koforidua, Ghana, where three enterprising students had built the satellite over two years and at the cost of more than $50,000. Media sources celebrated the groundbreaking achievement as the result of collaboration between the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency which provided support, the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which helped to launch it into the International Space Station, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX team whose flight 11 carried the satellite. Few news sources bothered to mention the names of the students responsible for this daring project, and fewer highlighted the underlying stories behind this success.
Take a bow, Benjamin Bonsu, Joseph Quansah and Ernest Teye Matey. Future Africa celebrates you for daring to dream and to create a reality that puts your country’s flag, its national anthem and other patriotic song among the stars where they truly belong. If GhanaSat-1 succeeds in its mission of monitoring the country’s coastline for mapping purposes, it will be because three university students took the road less travelled and did what they could for their country. It will also be because Rev. Dr. Samuel Donkor chose to build a private university only 15 years ago in 2002 with just 37 students.
Benjamin Bonsu, Joseph Quansah and Ernest Teye Matey. Source: www.africanews.com
Ghana’s first satellite was not launched into space courtesy of a government programme; it was not the result of a strategic move by the country’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation; it was not the outcome of research through a public-funded university, it was the outcome of the vision of a private citizen. When Dr. Donkor sought permission to build the university in 1988, he might not have imagined that it will take 14 years before the university would open its doors, but that patience and perseverance has put Ghana into orbit today. Future Africa also celebrates Dr. Richard Damoah, whose role as Project Coordinator inspired the next generation of Ghanaian innovators to achieve such a remarkable feat.
Achievements like this help to reinforce the call for active collaboration between citizens, governments, educational institutions and the civil sector to build desirable and sustainable societies in Africa. We believe that our countries are much better off when each citizen is empowered to make their unique contributions to solve our common challenges. Ghana celebrates today; where does the next big African innovation lie?
Future Africa was founded to redesign political, economic and social discourse in Africa by bridging the gap between public policy leaders and proven approaches to address current and future development needs on the continent. Learn more at https://futureafrica.net/why-we-exist/.
Within the past week, there have been a number of scandals and mini-scandals that have emanated from the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to warrant the collective disgust and ire of all Nigerians. Firstly and most prominently, news emerged that a Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye, had falsely presented his academic qualifications, including seven degrees purportedly earned from Harvard University and London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE) among others. When challenged on the matter, Melaye in his bombastic style, refused to present credible evidence to defend his academic credentials, but resorted to death threats against his accusers, despite being publicly denied by both Harvard and LSE. On Tuesday March 28th, 2017, Melaye attended Senate hearings wearing an academic gown and cap in an apparent boastful challenge to his accusers.
Dino Melaye attends a Senate sitting in defiant academic regalia
During the same week, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who has barely had a scandal-free week since assuming office, was once again the subject of an investigation: this time, it was about the fraudulent importation of a Sports Utility Vehicle with fake documents. In response to both Saraki’s and Melaye’s scandals, another senior Senator, Ali Ndume, had asked the Senate to conduct proper investigations into the issues, but was rather faced with an immediate six-month suspension from the Senate for “subjecting the senate to ridicule”. Despite mounting public interest in the issues, the Senate Ethics Committee instantly absolved both Melaye and Saraki of any wrongdoing, leaving Nigerians wondering where the truth lies.
As though on cue, it was reported during the same week that another Senator, Andy Uba, had doctored his secondary school graduation certificate issued by the West African Examination Council. All these have emerged at the same time that a spirited group of Nigerians has mounted a campaign to scrap the Nigerian Senate on account of the exorbitant cost of operating a bicameral legislature and poor evidence of the Senate’s relevance.
On Saturday April 1st 2017, it was reported that the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, had led a delegation of top politicians and monarchs to plead with Senator Bukola Saraki for leniency on Senator Ali Ndume’s suspension. If indeed Senator Ndume was suspended from his duties for a justifiable reason, it is curious that Senator Saraki would entertain other politicians in his residence to plead on his behalf. The entire situation reeks of a blatant disregard for the established institutions of governance and points towards vendetta.
Future Africa is extremely concerned about the shameful manner in which the Nigerian Senate has conducted itself this past week. At a time when the country needs strong moral leadership with clear dedication to resurrecting the weak economy and restoring public confidence, it finds itself crippled by a group of inept men and women whose desire for personal aggrandisement and wanton display of braggadocio supersedes their interest in governance. For aspiring public sector leaders, there are no positives to be taken from this utterly shameful display of the Nigerian Senate. Nigeria must do better. Nigerians deserve better.
Future Africa was founded to enable long-term political and economic stability in Africa by entrenching a robust system of citizen collaboration with governments, and preparing future generations of high impact public sector leaders. www.futureafrica.net
“Not how long but how well you lived is the main thing” – Seneca
Salome Karwah only lived 28 years, but her name must never be erased from the memories of all who value good quality life, for it was all she sought to entrench in her home country of Liberia.
When the Ebola virus broke out in 2014 and eventually killed 11, 310 people, including her father, mother, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins and a niece, Salome survived and dedicated her life to working as a nursing assistant with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), treating elderly people and nursing feverish babies. In her own words, “If a patient doesn’t want to eat, I encourage them to eat. If they are weak and are unable to bathe on their own, I help to bathe them. I help them with all my might because I understand the experience—I’ve been through the very same thing”.
Salome Karwah at work with Medecins Sans Frontieres. Courtesy: MSF
Salome’s role as a mental health counsellor proved pivotal to the success of the fight against the virus, as she exuded deep empathy and always gave a smile. When the world was afraid to approach Liberia, Salome stood in front of local and international media to speak about the challenges faced in combating the disease. She would eventually be named one of TIME’s Persons of the Year 2014.
Salome on the cover of TIME magazine. Courtesy: TIME
After the virus was successfully combated, everything returned to normal until Salome had a son on February 17, 2017 by caesarean section. It is reported that within hours of returning home, she begun to convulse and foam at the mouth and was eventually rushed back to the hospital. Because of the stigma of the virus, no one would touch her or give her critical medication due to her bodily fluids for more than three hours. Salome was left alone to die. It is shameful to note that the same failed healthcare system which she worked to save is the one which let her down. To have lost everything to the Ebola virus only to die due to its stigma, is completely beyond imagination. May her soul rest in peace.
Future Africa is saddened by the loss of such a brave young African citizen who gave her all to save her country. We know that there are millions of others across Africa who are being let down every single day by the same countries to which they pledge their allegiance. It is a responsibility for the living to respect the memory of the departed and work conscientiously to transform our systems. Every life lost for a preventable cause is one life too many.
Future Africa is a pan-African leadership organization founded to enable long-term political and economic stability in Africa by entrenching a robust system of citizen collaboration with governments, and preparing future generations of high impact leaders for the public sector. www.futureafrica.net