Knowing that controversy would swirl around his controversial allegations last week, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia tried to confer them with legitimacy by saying he has a PhD from Oxford University and was also a Central Banker. Rather than bring dignity to his claims however, Mailafia brought instant indignity to both Oxford degrees and to Central Banking.
Not for nothing do Oxbridge graduates hold most of the 100 top jobs in the UK except for the Queen, as compiled annually by The Economist. If, during their history spanning hundreds of years, Oxbridge graduates had regularly made eye-popping charges with serious national security implications, hurriedly mobilised ethnic and religious sentiment to back them up, only to later attribute the information to pastoral market women, they would never been the nerve centre of the British Establishment.
Bankers too are known to be circumspect in everything they say, since they are custodians of society’s most sought after commodity, which is money. Central Bankers, who bank the bankers’ money, are supposed to be doubly so. Mailafia was a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank for two years. He ran into trouble with his boss Prof Charles Soludo for reasons we never knew publicly. Maybe it is time for Soludo to speak out; was it over unsubstantiated figures?
Mailafia’s invoking his Central Bank stint to give credence to his remarks did a lot of damage to central banking. From now on, we will take all the figures that CBN posts on its website about inflation rate, economic growth, money in circulation and remittances from the Diaspora with a pinch of salt. CBN must prove to us that its economists and statisticians are not of the same stuff as its former deputy governor.
Of Mailafia’s many sensational allegations, the one that found the greatest media traction was the charge that a Northern Governor is a Boko Haram commander. That was very serious because the North is the main theatre of insurgency and banditry. Perhaps if he had said a Southern governor was the Boko Haram commander, it would have been slightly more logical. Many of the Northerners now bashing Mailafia would have instantly agreed, themselves being experts in conspiracy theory.
Allegation that a Northern governor is a Boko Haram commander is extremely sensational because Northern States Governors’ Forum [NSGF] is thought to be in the forefront of fighting bandits and Boko Haram. Mailafia didn’t name the person but when asked, he said it is a current governor, not a former one. It would have been safer to say a former governor, not only because they are more numerous, but because one of them was loudly accused of having a hand in the sect’s rise because he allied with it politically, before it resorted to arms struggle.
By saying it is a current governor, Mailafia instantly painted 19 men with a dirty brush. Or maybe not 19 because the three of them who are Christians may escape suspicion. Now, in all probability, Mailafia’s target is the governor who was once quoted to have said that he paid off bandits in order to avert their staging a reprisal attack over their loss of cows to rustlers. That public statement was unfortunate but upon reflection, it was not as sinister as propagandists later made it out to be. Governments do all kinds of things underground that are not for public consumption. Besides, what that governor said, apart from the poor choice of words, was exactly what another Northern state governor said, that he told pastoral community leaders to always come to him for payment whenever their cattle are rustled, instead of mounting reprisal attacks.
I was even surprised that those pastoral leaders agreed because revenge and reprisal are deeply embedded in the pastoralist’s psychology. Not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere. In 2006 when my colleague Modibbo Kawu visited southern Sudan, he wrote about a notion he learnt there, that a pastoralist can spend the price of six cows in order to find one lost cow. This is not an economic calculation; pride, dignity, revenge, face saving and deterrence all factor into his equation.
Among other sensationally outrageous things, Mailafia said “some of us” have private intelligence networks through which they get sensitive security information. Very interesting. I am not a lawyer and I do not know if it is legal for any person or civil society group to have a private intelligence network. I know for a fact that security agencies in Nigeria overlook some types of intelligence network. For example, many wives in Nigeria have private investigators that monitor the activities of their husbands.
Political parties and politicians also have private intelligence networks. Soon after the local government elections of 1998 for example, Alhaji Garba Dandiga told me that they were monitoring the financial health of their opponents and they learnt that the last cow in their opponent’s father’s barn had just been taken to the market. Apart from these two types of private intelligence networks, I don’t think DSS, NPF, NIA, DIA and NSA will tolerate any citizen running a private intelligence outfit.
Anyway, Dr. Mailafia said he spoke to some repentant bandit leaders and they were the ones that provided him with the information. They told him, he said, that Boko Haram has already infiltrated Southern Nigeria and will precipitate a civil war in 2022. The security agencies were highly agitated by this claim because Mailafia found out what DSS and NIA never found out despite the billions spent in their annual budgets. They need not bother, as it turned out, because Mailafia later told BBC Hausa Service that his private informants were traders in the market where he went to buy acca.
Even this most stunning of all climb downs in Mailafia’s claims had loopholes in it. The Fulfulde-speaking bandits that are likely to have security information are the men. No woman was ever identified in any bandit attack against villages and towns. However, if Mailafia went to buy acca in a market, he would never have encountered Fulani men because they do not sit in the market to sell anything. Sure, you see plenty of Fulani men in village markets, but they are there to buy, not to sell. You then ask, where do they get their money? From selling cattle, but you don’t see them dragging huge bulls to the market. They sell them to middlemen and butchers right there at the rugga, who then ship them to the markets.
The Fulani folks you see sitting for hours in village markets are the women who sell sour milk called nono, as well as balls of mashed sorghum called fura, which in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara we call dawo. Now, since they don’t farm, the pastoralists have no sorghum of their own. They must buy it from farmers. If indeed Mailafia got his security information from Fulani traders at the market, they must be women, not men. How these women, so engrossed in selling sour milk, will ever know that a governor commands Boko Haram, beats my imagination.
Mailafia also said that Boko Haram and bandits are one and the same thing. Insofar as they both kill mercilessly, that is probably true but their goals are different. Unlike Boko Haram, the bandits don’t have a central command structure, only pockets of feuding, ruthless bandit leaders such as Dogo Gide, Buharin Daji and Shaho. Then also, unlike Boko Haram, the bandits have no political agenda, much like the Janjaweed of Sudan’s Darfur region.
Most of the people now bashing Mailafia have no moral right to do so because they were conspiracy theorists themselves. Not me, however. Patchy records show that I have been an equal opportunity basher of conspiracy theories nearly all my journalistic life. In 2014 when Governor Murtala Nyako voiced out many Northerners’ thoughts and alleged in Washington that Boko Haram was a Jonathan Administration conspiracy, I said in a March 2014 column article that his charge was baseless. My flanks are therefore well covered when I bash my former colleague on the Daily Trust Editorial Board, Dr. Mailafia. With an Oxford degree like his, who needs illiterates?