The infamous video of a turbaned Nigerian spotting a camouflage and brandishing a Kalashnikov has become a global eyesore. Even foreign peace advocates want an end to the stereotype — either stemming from altruistic interest or because of the implications a war-torn Nigeria would have on the rest of the world.
According to US-based Council on Foreign Relations, militancy, theft and sabotage in the Niger Delta reduced Nigeria’s oil output by 25-35 per cent and caused spikes in worldwide price of crude. As America’s fifth largest supplier of oil, the reduction was a noticeable dent on Washington’s bid to cut dependence on imports from the Middle East.
A Silent War
At the heart of the new war is the Boko haram Islamist sect. It is turning Nigeria into Africa’s armpit of contemporary religious extremism and terrorism. Since its emergence in 2009, the sect has ruthlessly executed countless insurgencies with gun and bomb attacks on Christians. The Muslim, North-based sect pursues a three-prong agenda of exterminating all forms of western education, dislodging democracy and enthroning Islamic Sharia as the instrument of public governance, and as well Islamising a country so famed for its multi-religious and multiethnic composition. In those four years, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people have been killed. In one of its biggest attacks on Friday 22nd January 2013, 165 people died in bomb blasts directed at government buildings in the north-western city of Kano.
Information on the origin of Boko Haram is conflicting, but the arrest of federal legislator, Mohammed Ndume for having close ties with leaders of the group validates postulations of a political connection. It is believed that the grassroots of the sect largely comprises thugs used by politicians in the past to intimidate voters and rig elections. From starting out as an indigenous group, it went jihadist in 2009 and subsequently created links with foreign terror groups, such as al-Aqaeda. In 2012, erstwhile Chief Intelligence Officer of the State Security Service (SSS) testified that Mallam Mohammed Ashafa, a terrorism suspect, confessed to have received terrorism trainings from Chief of al Qaeda for West Africa, Adnan Ibrahim. Also, in May 2013, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau circulated an online video during which he urged his “brethren” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to support the sect’s fight. “We call to us our brethren in these countries I mentioned,” he said. “Oh! Our brethren, come to us.”
The start of a military response to the sect’s activities initially offered millions of defenceless civilians high hopes. But they were petered out. The killing of several thousand Christians (most of whom are originally from the South) residing in the Islam-dominated North spawned mass exodus to their states of origin. This happened despite tokenistic Federal Government declarations on the right of a citizen to live or work in any region of the country.
In April 2013, the Federal Government inaugurated a panel to ensure dialogue with Boko Haram adherents and develop modalities for dispensing amnesty to them, as it happened in the Niger Delta in 2009. This move called to question the capacity of the Joint Military Task force (JTF) to quell the killings.
The Ensuing Debate
Nigeria’s battle with religious extremism has thrown up interesting debates. If robustly handled, it can prevent future emergence of bellicose groups. At the solution end, there is widespread public discord over the two ways that the government has responded. There’s scarce concord on the efficacy of an all-out war against terrorists, despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s 14th May 2013 declaration of a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. The Army has been boasting high unverifiable terrorist casualty but civil society groups are worried by growing suspicions of murder of innocent civilians.
The inauguration of the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North was expectedly harangued and pilloried by the public. For those who had been directly or indirectly hit by Boko Haram’s bullets and bombs, an amnesty represented the most inexplicable and unjustifiable let-off to terrorists. A more thoughtful worry, though, was the nearly irrefutable fear that initiating an amnesty process in the middle of a military clampdown evidenced rather disappointing government confusion on managing the crisis. And whatever hope government had of winning dissidents over was frittered away months later with the emergency declaration. In the eyes of the people, emergency plus amnesty equalled confusion!
One Unquestionable Consensus
Everyone agrees: it is impossible to separate the Boko Haram crisis from the North’s low literacy, high poverty and low unemployment levels. According to a 2011 report of Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Yobe, a state in the North-East, leads the country’s unemployment figures with 39 per cent. Next are Zamfara and Sokoto in the North West, with 33.4 per cent and 32.4 per cent respectively. Naturally, these idle hands, most of them youths, are easy recruits for terrorists.
In May in one of the many ongoing terrorism-related court trials, Mustapha Umar, the terrorist accused of a masterminding the bombing of some newspaper offices in Kaduna cried that he did not die in the attack. He lamented that by escaping death, he missed out on paradise. Obviously, selling the kill-for-paradise theory to an illiterate will be more rewarding than to a learned fellow. Clearly, that same education the sect seeks to exterminate is the ultimate solution to its blind militancy. The Nigerian government must tackle poverty in the North. But first, it must develop a long-term plan for making education attractive to the northern youth. By giving them education, they are less prone to falling for the paradise deceit and they are too useful to be available for preying terrorists.
By ‘Fisayo Soyombo, Nigeria