Nigeria and the Islamic coalition against terror
The presidency’s doublespeak on Nigeria’s membership of the Saudi Arabia-led anti-terror Islamic coalition is unfortunate in the extreme. In the beginning, an aide to the president on media and publicity issued a statement to the effect that the president had declined Nigeria’s membership of the coalition and therefore did not attend its meeting while on a diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia.
But barely two weeks after, President Muhammadu Buhari himself confirmed Nigeria’s membership of the coalition in an interview with a foreign television station, Al- Jazeera. Buhari, who never tabled such a sensitive matter before the National Assembly, said there are terrorists in Nigeria who have claimed to be Muslims. So, according to the him, “We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria who claim that they are Islamic. So, if there is an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism.”
This explanation is simplistic, to say the least and does not do any good to expected political astuteness of President Buhari. In the main, membership of any such coalition is unacceptable for it offends the sensibilities of Nigerians in their diverse inclinations and should be reversed.
Buhari further disclosed to the television station that he discussed Nigeria’s membership of the coalition with King Salma Bin Abdul-Aziz during their meeting in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia when he visited the country. Curiously, Buhari refused to state the benefits of Nigeria’s membership, saying that it would be inappropriate to disclose such to the media. This attitude is of course, quite unconscionable in a democratic society.
The people of Nigeria have the right to know as sovereignty belongs to the people and the president derives his powers from them. If there are benefits from membership of an organization, it stands to reason that the people who would be the beneficiaries, not the governing party and the president alone, should be apprised of such.
Therefore, government should come out clearly and tell Nigerians why the country should be part of the coalition and the National Assembly should be notified for approval.
Nigeria should follow global best practices. The United States President cannot commit the American people to any alliance or coalition without Congressional approval. In the same vein, even in Europe, there is no leader who can commit his or her people to such a club without parliamentary approval. What is more, the Nigerian constitution in Sections 217-219 states the relationship that should exist between the executive and legislative bodies in the event of command and operational use of Armed Forces of the Federation. The clear constitutional provision is that “the National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the regulation of (a) the powers exercisable by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.” Besides, Nigeria, a multi-religion country already has more than a fair share of religious crises actual and latent.
Already, the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria have been reported as saying that they have a link with the global terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Nigeria’s involvement with Saudi Arabia therefore is likely to engender more active interest of ISIL in Boko Haram operations, thereby compounding the local problems.
In this event, Nigeria should be guided by reason and wisdom. In the first instance, Nigeria does not have any state religion as Saudi Arabia and its allies do. There is freedom of religion and respect for Nigeria’s complex diversity even in religion has guided the nation’s peace-building efforts and mechanisms. The relative peace Nigeria enjoys should not be truncated through a misguided membership of an Islamic organization.
Already, there is a clear Christian-Muslim divide on one hand in Nigeria and on the other, there is the evidence of Sunni Muslim- Shiite Muslim divide with the Sunnis patronized by Saudi Arabia and the Shiites under the influence of Iran. The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran even in diplomatic engagements need not be brought into Nigeria.
Indeed the decision to join any coalition whatsoever can be too expensive. This is one time in the history of the world when the super powers are in a quandary over what to do with religious fundamentalism, which has considerably threatened the world order.
While joining coalitions to deal with the deadly insurgency in the Northeast may seem attractive, Nigerians at least need to debate the nation’s involvement and merits if any. The negative sentiments that this kind of membership of an Islamic coalition triggered even during a military era when it was discovered that the then Nigerian government secretly joined the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) should chasten the Muhammadu Buhari administration. A dangerous road littered with landmines should be avoided in a dubious quest for cooperations in the fight against terrorism.