The day I met the Queen | Features News

I bought right into a taxi one afternoon in November 2007 — a type of black cabs London is known for. I used to be all dressed up, a flower in my hair, and was carrying two yellow roses tinged with pink that I had taken from a flower association.

“You look pretty,” the driving force stated to me, glancing in his rear-view mirror. “You going someplace particular?”

“Really, I simply got here from someplace — I met the queen,” I stated. He checked out me, longer this time, and advised me how fortunate I used to be.

“Some individuals reside to be 100 and by no means meet the Queen.”

That’s when the magnitude of the day actually hit me; Queen Elizabeth II, then aged 81, had already been on the throne for 55 years. She had steered the UK from post-WWII poverty and devastation, by the transformation from an Empire to a Commonwealth, by the tip of the twentieth century and into the twenty first.

The Queen was the patron of the London faculty I had attended the earlier 12 months and was coming to go to, and I used to be one of many fortunate alumni invited.

Queen Elizabeth at the Royal College of Defence Studies
Commandant of the faculty, Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, takes the queen on a tour of the grand institution in central London in 2007 [File: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images]

We have been advised to reach early for a protocol briefing.

We have been positioned in small, pre-determined teams organized by the faculty with the structure communicated to Buckingham Palace workers, as was the norm for such occasions.

The faculty secretary went by the record of dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t contact Her Majesty until she presents her hand
  • Don’t communicate until spoken to
  • Name her ‘Your Majesty’ the primary time, then ma’am as in rhymes with jam
  • Don’t flip your again on the Queen
  • Don’t ask private questions
  • Don’t speak about politics or information (there was an inquiry into the dying of Princess Diana underway)

After every level, the secretary would look sharply at me, as if I might be the one to embarrass the faculty within the presence of the Queen.

“One factor Her Majesty doesn’t get pleasure from,” he advised the 100 or so of us gathered, “is to have a room go silent when she enters.” He instructed us to please preserve speaking to one another in well mannered tones when she arrived.

I wasn’t involved we’d go silent. This room was skilled — diplomats, navy officers, senior authorities officers, all well-practiced within the artwork of small discuss.

Prince Philip had accompanied the Queen and got here to talk with our group first whereas she was in one other room. I don’t keep in mind a lot of what was stated, besides that it was well mannered, perfunctory, and he was very tall.

Quickly after, the imposing picket doorways main into the room swung open and there she was — Queen Elizabeth II.

The gentleman I had been talking with a second earlier than went silent, so did the remainder of our group.

“No, no,” I stated in a soothing tone. “Maintain speaking — it doesn’t matter about what — discuss to one another about what you had for breakfast, however preserve speaking.”

The faculty commandant, a knighted former admiral, accompanied Her Majesty and commenced to introduce our group. When he got here to a Romanian diplomat, the Queen stated, “Ah sure, didn’t we meet earlier than?” and talked about a earlier perform whose particulars I now neglect. The Romanian diplomat was delighted, breaking right into a smile as she stated “Sure Ma’am” (as in jam).

Queen Elizabeth in 2007
Queen Elizabeth ll meets members and workers as she visits the UK’s Defence Academy on November 9, 2007, in London, England [File: Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/WireImage]

I don’t know whether or not the Queen had been well-briefed or really remembered the assembly, however I recall marvelling at how rapidly she had put everybody comfortable. Tens of hundreds of instances she had been on the centre of occasions like this and he or she appeared curious and joyful, centered simply on us.

She was sporting a tan and cream skirt swimsuit, and somebody got here and positioned a glass of cranberry juice into her gloved palms — cream-coloured gloves. The glass was VERY full, and as she chatted with others in our group, I feared it might spill — nobody had advised me the etiquette for that.

Might I point out it? Dare I? That will be talking earlier than spoken to AND interrupting. What if she spilled and I hadn’t stated something? The commandant saved the day, gently eradicating the juice and changing it with a less-full glass.

As I contemplated the protocol points, the Queen turned to me.

“And I perceive you’re the solely journalist to ever have attended right here,” she stated, earlier than asking me why. “Who wouldn’t need to come right here Your Majesty?” I stated, gesturing to these standing in our semi-circle. “You may have an Indonesian navy officer subsequent to a Turkish diplomat, subsequent to a Romanian one,” I stated, going by our entire group, saying there wasn’t one other course on the earth that would have supplied me this.

She requested me who paid my tuition, as others have been sponsored by their international locations or organisations. “I did,” I stated.

Queen Elizabeth II with Admiral Sir Ian Garnett at the Royal College Of Defence Studies in 2007
Queen Elizabeth ll and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, are taken on a tour of the UK’s Defence Academy by the Commandant of the Faculty, Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, on November 9, 2007, in London, England [File: Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/WireImage]

After which she moved on.

I felt as if I had hit a diplomatic dwelling run — in entrance of the Queen no much less. I had remembered everybody’s particulars, bought to incorporate the entire group in our chat — no gaffes, no embarrassment.

Later, we watched as she and Prince Philip descended the grand onyx staircase and took their go away.

Nonetheless feeling fairly happy with myself, I went to the eating room for lunch. As I used to be nearly to select up a sandwich, the commandant got here in and stated, “What did you say to Her Majesty?” within the booming authoritative tone of a former navy commander.

“Me? I didn’t say something about something,” I stammered, wracking my mind about how I may have tousled. “As I used to be escorting her out, Her Majesty requested about why you paid your technique to come right here,” the commandant stated.

I advised him she had requested me the preliminary query and I had answered.

“Does that imply I’ll get a refund?”

“No,” he answered emphatically.

The Queen had spoken to at the very least 100 individuals after our transient encounter — I used to be astonished that she remembered that element.

There are photographs of that day, however none of me talking with the Queen. Possibly it’s higher that manner.

For a couple of moments, I used to be within the presence of a lady who had seen greater than most of us would see in 100 lifetimes. I appeared into her curious and smiling eyes, watched as she laughed together with a few of my colleagues, and I felt her real sense of responsibility and obligation.

She left an indelible mark.

Are Nigeria’s bandits a new Boko Haram cell or rival ‘terrorists’? | Features

Anka, Nigeria – On December 11, 2020, greater than 300 boys were abducted from a boarding school in Kankara, a small neighborhood within the northwestern Nigerian state of Katsina by gunmen on bikes.

The incident match Boko Haram’s modus operandi, and the group’s chief Abubakar Shekau claimed accountability for the assault in an audio message, earlier than releasing a video of the kidnapped youngsters.

This additional lent credence to the idea by Nigerian politicians and pundits that the group which has waged struggle within the northeast for more than a decade, was the orchestrator of the brazen assault.

Inside a month, the victims have been launched.

However in March 2021, Auwalun Daudawa, a infamous kingpin of one of many gangs answerable for abduction sprees within the northwest, claimed accountability for Kankara. “I did that in Katsina as a result of the governor [Aminu Masari] got here out to say he won’t dialogue once more with our folks,” he instructed the native Every day Belief newspaper.

In keeping with native media studies, the kidnapping had been a joint operation by seven totally different gangs who had despatched a video to Shekau asking him to assert accountability. They knew that the federal government “feared Boko Haram greater than them” and could be prepared to satisfy the calls for shortly.

The plan labored. According to the schoolboys, an unspecified quantity was paid as ransom inside days, although the federal government repeatedly denied this.

Mislabelling and underestimation

Since 2010, gangs of bandits have run riot in huge swaths of northwest Nigeria however solely in the previous couple of years has the disaster ballooned into nationwide prominence in Africa’s most populous nation.

Information from the Armed Battle Location & Occasion Information Undertaking (ACLED) exhibits that bandits were responsible for greater than 2,600 civilian deaths in 2021 – much more than these attributed to Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the identical yr – and virtually thrice the quantity in 2020.

However debate has been raging on many particulars concerning the bandits, together with their capability to shock the state and whether or not they have been petty criminals or extra superior gangsters. In January 2022, the federal government proscribed them as “terrorists”.

On March 28, an unknown variety of closely armed males attacked a moving train between Nigeria’s capital Abuja and neighbouring Kaduna state. They detonated an explosive system to cease the practice earlier than capturing into the carriages, killing a minimum of eight folks and abducting a nonetheless unspecified variety of passengers.

This occurred a few days after an assault on a world airport and preceded one other attack on a military facility – all in Kaduna.

The practice assault was one of many highest-profile assaults to this point in northern Nigeria and triggered a debate. However throughout social media and even within the corridors of energy, the episode is being broadly attributed, as soon as once more, to Boko Haram.

Because the Kankara faculty kidnapping, Nigerian authorities officers and public commentators have been fast to assign blame for main bandit operations to “jihadists”.

However consultants say this fixed mislabelling represents a longstanding underestimation of the northwest armed bandits and the complicated dynamics of the area’s evolving battle.

Two bandits sit under a shade at the outskirt of a controlled community in Zurmi, Zamfara State, Nigeria
Two bandits – one in army camouflage – sit underneath the shade of a tree on the outskirt of a managed neighborhood in Zurmi, Zamfara, Nigeria [Credit: Yusuf Anka/Al Jazeera]

Deadlier than Boko Haram?

An in depth examination of the actions of those teams means that they pose a singular and maybe, much more complicated risk than Boko Haram and its factions, together with ISWAP.

Key to their growing notoriety and multiplication is more and more easy accessibility to classy military-grade weapons, principally by way of the various porous borders of West Africa and the broader Sahel.

However the excessive variety of civilian casualties can also be because of divergent modus operandi between armed bandits and the so-called jihadists.

For instance, ISWAP, arguably nonetheless probably the most influential armed group in Nigeria right this moment, focuses on attacking authorities forces and installations. Its commanders additionally tax and govern rural communities reasonably than terrorise them, mentioned James Barnett, a analysis fellow on the Institute of African and Diaspora Research, College of Lagos.

However the bandits comprise dozens of unaffiliated teams typically competing for territory or spoils from raids and haven’t any unified chain of command or single goal, complicating state efforts to conclude disarmament offers.

“There isn’t any single chief or group of leaders that the state can negotiate with who has actual management over the 1000’s of armed bandits working in northern Nigeria,” mentioned Barnett.

Not like the armed teams working in northeastern Nigeria, the bandits of the northwest who’re additionally extra in quantity, are principally pushed by financial opportunism and haven’t any clear political ideology, mentioned Fola Aina, a fellow on the Royal United Providers Institute for Defence and Safety Research (RUSI), in London.

However the opportunity of them adopting one quickly – and even synergy between each teams – can’t be dominated out.

Many of the bandits are ethnic Fulani and have grievances stemming from perceived marginalisation in a state of predominantly Hausa folks.

Consequently, they’re “potential prime targets for manipulation and being co-opted by jihadis working throughout the area, who’ve extra clearly outlined political aims and are eager to extend the variety of their foot troopers, following the deaths of many by the hands of Nigerian safety forces,” mentioned Aina.

A layered battle

And now the federal government could also be recognising the indicators, too.

After the Abuja-Kaduna practice assault, sources throughout the Nigerian authorities blamed Boko Haram for these assaults and urged that armed bandits didn’t possess the coordination and energy to plan such an assault.

However in a latest interview, Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna, one of many states most affected by the disaster, mentioned the assault bore the hallmarks of a collaboration between armed bandits and Boko Haram parts.

This view was bolstered on April 13 by data minister Lai Mohammed who said there was “an unholy handshake” at play.

Seven nights earlier than the assaults on the airport and the practice, a middle-ranking bandit based mostly in Aja in Zamfara forest obtained a name from a prison boss in one other forest nearer to Kaduna.

The previous instructed Al Jazeera that it was an invite for a job in Kaduna however he turned it down as a result of he “simply had a brand new bride” and needed to spend time together with her and revel in Ramadan at dwelling.

He implied that the assault in Kaduna was financially motivated and executed by a number of armed bandits from Zamfara, the epicentre of the disaster, alongside a number of members of Ansaru – one other Boko Haram splinter group.

However it was additionally “as a result of the army raided a settlement of the armed bandit chief who’s the closest good friend of Ansaru some weeks in the past, killing eight of his males, taking near 30 bikes and recovering 11 rifles,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

The bandit additionally mentioned his comrades have been prepared to let the Ansaru members “take credit score to create the Boko Haram impression and make the federal government extra scared however the Fulani there are solely within the cash”.

Past reprisals for army operations and air strikes resulting in the arrest of a few of their very own, the bandits are additionally motivated by vengeance towards ethnic Hausa vigilantes who they accuse of killing their wives and kids. This has led to assaults towards host communities of the vigilantes.

Al Jazeera additionally realized that there have been a number of efforts by Ansaru to transform the bandits – however a distinction in ideologies has annoyed these strikes.

From 2019 to 2020, Ansaru members held a collection of preaching workouts in cities like Munhaye and Dandallah, each in Zamfara. Throughout these sermons, they directed the bandits to desist from stealing, smoking, consuming, adultery, and to embrace fasting and prayers.

The bandits ignored this, resulting in the deaths of 5 armed bandits and the planting of an explosive that detonated, ensuing within the loss of life of a high-profile bandit chief.

This severed relations between a number of armed bandits and the Ansaru, with the previous even giving the latter an ultimatum sooner or later. This may occasionally jeopardise any future collaborations, apart from business functions.

A January study printed by america Navy Academy’s Journal of Terrorism Research, based mostly partly on interviews with armed bandits and “jihadist” defectors, concluded that: “Nigeria’s armed bandits have grown so highly effective that they don’t seem to be in determined want of cooperation with jihadis, not to mention a must convert to jihadism.”

For the Nigerian authorities in any respect tiers, understanding the layered dynamics at play could possibly be helpful for any counterinsurgency operations.