Also, the widening of the scope of the legislation in the face of complex and diverse parties' involvement in any act of terrorism is idea for our situation. But, will the Nigerian factors not constitute roadblocks on the processes of enforcing this law? The beauty of any law is not in the materials or language with which it is written, its volume or size but its general acceptance by the people concern and its operational effectiveness.
Besides, terrorism is not a static phenomenon but rather dynamic, multidimensional and multifaceted, subject to multiple interpretations. One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. Different states also use different terminologies to describe the same acts and actors of violence. For instance, Russia views Palestinian Violence as legitimate armed struggle, but Afghan resistance as terrorism. The United States of America, on the other hand describes Afghan violence as legitimate armed struggle, but condemns Palestinian resistance as terrorism.
Few local examples will suffice to drive home the point. When Isaac Adaka Boro led a 12 day revolution in the Niger Delta that resulted in the death of some promising young Nigerians, he was called a freedom fighter and compensated with automatic commissioning into the Nigerian Army as a sworn officer where he rose to the rank of Major. When the Ikemba, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu led the stillbirth Biafra secession which exterminated the lives of about 2 million Nigerian youths and women, the “no victor no vanquish” philosophy was adopted to paint the executors of the 30 months genocide heroic freedom fighters.
If Muhammadu Marwa popularly known as Maitatsine had survived the 12 days (December 18 – 29, 1980) Maitatsine uprising in Kano which he led, (in which 4, 177 persons were killed; 1, 652 families and 656 individuals were displaced; about 10,000 others injured; property worth over 12 billion Naira destroyed and the economic life of Kano City completely paralyzed) perhaps, who knows, although a Cameroonian, he would have been given Nigerian National Honour for embarking on and leading such a large scale legitimate armed struggle. The Niger delta militants today are christened “Militants for Negotiation for Development” with special Amnesty Empowerment Programme (AEP) and oil pipeline security contract to cap it in appreciation. The press is known to make or mar heroes and heroines. No wonder an elder statesman was quoted recently to have cautioned the press not to “break the news that may break the country”. Good as the warning is, it is the people and events that makes the news the press breaks. The leaders are opinion drivers. Their actions or inactions constitute the writings on the wall.
Thus, if a nation’s leadership supports the objective of an aggrieved group, it uses positive labels to describe its radical members and their acts of violence, while on the other hand, if it is against the demand of an aggrieved group, it employs negative labels to condemn both the actors and the acts of violence.
Perhaps, you have now come to term with why our Political leaders are finding it extremely difficult to call any violent group as terrorists group and their acts as terrorists’ acts. The politicians who created these groups out of their desperation for political office are afraid to call the groups and their acts by its true name. Rather they have turned to legislation but, as Equity must always demand, “Clean Hands”. How clean are the hands of our political leaders in issues of insecurity in Nigeria? So many laws in this country do end on the legal bookshelf and in the public library. Is the Anti-Terrorism Act going to be one? Are we really serious about combating terrorism with the Anti-Terrorism Act which is possible, or we simply wanting Nigeria’s name to be among those nations that have anti-terrorism legislation in place?
Our diversity, as usual, will be an important deciding factor in the operation of the Anti-Terrorism Law. Nigerians are good at using conflicting terminologies to distinguish between acts of violence of different aggrieved regional groups based solely on ethnic and tribal considerations and connections. By describing the activities of one armed group as legitimate armed struggle and the other as terrorist activities we are merely setting the stage for national disaster.
Our leaders have persistently resorted to the ethnic, tribal, linguistic, political and religious differences to cause ill feelings, mistrust and disaffection among Nigerians. The effect is that citizens irrespective of status, intellect, and background now live in perpetual fear, suspicious of control by others and general insecurity of lives and properties.
Are there terrorists in Nigeria? Or, only gangs of criminals? Can the tribal, religious and political considerations that have eaten deep into our blood allow us to see any armed group in Nigeria as terrorists group?
There is urgent need to go beyond legislation, to embark on aggressive grassroots awareness campaign on the importance and benefits of the Anti-Terrorism Act. All citizens, traditional rulers, religion leaders, professional bodies, NGOs and CBOs, opinion leaders, women and youth leaders and politicians should be involved. The people must be carried along in the attempt to properly enforce the Anti-Terrorism Act so as not to further over-heat the already fragile unity and stability of the country.
Secondly, making death penalty or life imprisonment punishment for terrorism is not enough to make the people sleep with their two eyes closed. The Federal Government must be seen to be committed to solving those issues that continually give rise to insecurity in the first place before it could talk about maintaining its policy of zero tolerance on violence and criminality. I am calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to address the problems of unemployment, underdevelopment, social decay, rights abuse, separation of power and the rule of law, and true federalism, among others. These are attainable goals if only we can expunge corruption.
Thirdly, we must join hands to fight the pockets of skirmishes and strive that have culminated in massive looting, destruction of lives and property, which have greatly affected the socio-economic advancement of the country. Nigeria must be rescued from the cabal who instigate citizens against themselves to their own selfish gains. I see a Nigeria that is a country of the people, for the people and by the people. Power must return to the people!
The existence of peace, harmony and co-existence amongst citizens of any society is paramount to sustainable growth and development of such society. Conscious efforts aimed at bridging gaps of ethnicity and tribalism as well as the elimination of religious bigotry and destructive political maneuvering will propel the socio-economic transformation of the country. All hands must be on desk to promote peaceful co-existence, unity and development without which no law no matter how stringent can control the behavior of frustrated idle citizens.