[ ] A na­tion at war with it­self

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

The re­cent bomb at­tack in a bus ter­mi­nal at Nyanya, a bustling out­skirts of Abuja, by a sui­cide bomber sus­pected to be a Boko Haram ter­ror­ist or sym­pa­thizer, was one too many. Per­haps more than any of the pre­vi­ous at­tacks by the sect, the Nyanya in­ci­dent, which tar­geted people hus­tling to get to work in the city of Abuja, aroused a col­lec­tive sense of sorrow and ou­trage. Es­ti­mates of the dead and in­jured vary – depend­ing on whom you want to be­lieve. What ap­pears ob­vi­ous is that any­where be­tween 75 and 130 people lost their lives in that mayhem, with some 150-200 oth­ers sus­tain­ing var­i­ous de­grees of in­jury. Prop­er­ties and means of liveli­hood lost in the car­nage are yet to be es­ti­mated. The psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma in­duced by the in­ci­dent will live with many of the res­i­dents of Nyanya and be­yond for a long time.

Barely 24 hours af­ter the Nyanya at­tack, came an­other re­port that some uniden­ti­fied gun­men sus­pected to be mem­bers of the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, ab­ducted more than 100 fe­male stu­dents from a Govern­ment Girls Sec­ondary School at Chi­bok Lo­cal Govern­ment Area of Borno State – the epi­cen­tre of the Boko Haram chal­lenge. Re­ports of deaths in Bornu state have be­come a daily sta­ple such that for many, those deaths, re­ported daily in the me­dia, no longer shock or awe them – a clas­si­cal in­di­ca­tion of the ‘nor­mal­iza­tion’ or rou­tiniza­tion of evil.

Our chal­lenge as a na­tion is to refuse to al­low such im­puni­ties to be ‘nor­mal­ized’ by the fre­quency of their oc­cur­rences or the longevity of their ex­is­tence. Re­tain­ing a sense of ou­trage against such im­puni­ties is the strong­est state­ment that they are un­ac­cept­able and can­not be ‘nor­mal­ized’ like other acts of im­punity in the coun­try.

But why will other­wise ‘ nor­mal’ people de­rive sadis­tic joy in the mass mur­der of people who have done them no wrong?

The Ger­man-Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist Han­nah Arendt tells us that the great evils in his­tory are not ex­e­cuted by fa­nat­ics or so­ciopaths but rather by or­di­nary people who ac­cepted the premises of their ac­tions and there­fore par­tic­i­pated in them on the grounds that those heinous ac­tions were nor­mal. She used this to ex­plain why evil deeds tend to be every­where in a so­ci­ety. She called this the ‘ba­nal­ity of evil’. For her, those en­gaged in bar­barous acts such as the Boko Haram ter­ror­ists ac­cepted the premises of their ac­tions as just – even if the rest of the so­ci­ety thinks other­wise. Acts of im­punity against in­no­cent Nige­ri­ans un­for­tu­nately re­flects the federal – vi­o­lent armed rob­beries across the en­tire coun­try, kid­nap­ping es­pe­cially in the South-east and south-south, turf war by mil­i­ta­rized cults and gangs in Bayelsa State, rit­ual mur­ders every­where, sense­less in­tra and in­ter com­mu­nal ‘war­fare’ across sev­eral parts of the coun­try and of course ter­ror­ism couched in re­li­gious re­vival­ist rhetoric in parts of the North.

De­spite the ‘ba­nal­ity of evil’ or the ‘nor­mal­iza­tion of the un­think­able’, in sev­eral parts of the coun­try, there are rea­sons why the im­punity pur­veyed by Boko Haram and groups act­ing in its name, or sym­pa­thetic to its cause, pose a spe­cial threat to the coun­try:

One, though im­punity couched in re­li­gious re­vival­ism has been an in­te­gral part of the con­flicts in Nigeria, es­pe­cially in North­ern Nigeria, Boko Haram and An­saru were the first driv­ers of con­flicts in the coun­try to be de­clared ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions by the United States and the United King­dom. Two, both are also the first pur­vey­ors of vi­o­lence in the coun­try to be strongly linked to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist net­works, es­sen­tially Al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb (AQIM) and pos­si­bly the Move­ment for One­ness and Ji­had in West Africa, (MOJWA),- also known as Move­ment for Unity and Ji­had in West Africa (MUJWA). MUJA was formed in 2011 al­legedly be­cause of the marginal­iza­tion of Black Africans in AQIM.

Three, Boko Haram was also the first group to in­tro­duce sui­cide bomb­ing in Nigeria. Use of sui­cide bombers had been un­known in West Africa be­cause sui­cide is re­garded as cul­tural anath­ema - un­til two high-pro­file at­tacks in Abuja - the June 2011 po­lice head­quar­ters bomb­ing and the Au­gust 2011 United Na­tions head­quar­ters bomb­ing. Since then, sui­cide bomb­ing has be­come part of the tools in the ar­se­nal of the two groups. Four, the two ter­ror­ist groups were also prob­a­bly the first pur­vey­ors of im­punity in Nigeria with both in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions. For in­stance while in 2011, Boko Haram’s ter­ror­ism was largely con­fined to Nigeria’s north­east by the end of last year (2013), Boko Haram- driven at­tacks oc­curred in most of the 19 States in the North, in­clud­ing the Federal Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory of Abuja. Boko Haram sus­pects have also been ar­rested in La­gos. The group was equally linked to the kid­nap­ping of the French Catholic priest, Ge­orges Van­den­beusch, in Camer­oun in Novem­ber 2013 and to an­other kid­nap­ping of a French fam­ily in the same area of Camer­oun in Fe­bru­ary 2013. Flow­ing from the ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions of the two groups, the con­flicts they trig­ger have wider na­tional im­pli­ca­tions and by virtue of their links to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist net­works, also wider in­ter­na­tional im­pli­ca­tions than the tra­di­tional con­flicts that the coun­try is used to.

Fight­ing the new ter­ror­ism has been prob­lem­atic not only be­cause of their meth­ods but also be­cause of dis­agree­ments on why such a group came about. The con­spir­acy the­o­ries that seek to ex­plain the phe­nom­e­non tap into the fears that are edged in our tra­di­tional fault lines:

There are sev­eral con­spir­acy the­o­ries about Boko Haram. One, which is pop­u­lar among com­men­ta­tors from the South­ern part of the coun­try, is that the sect is spon­sored by key

SNorth­ern politi­cians to make the coun­try ‘un­govern­able’ for Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan, a Chris­tian from the mi­nor­ity Ijaw eth­nic group. One of the weak­nesses of this ‘the­ory’ is that much of the mayhem car­ried out by the sect has been in the North and against North­ern Mus­lims. It is in fact dif­fi­cult to see the nexus be­tween desta­bi­liz­ing gov­er­nance in some North­ern states and mak­ing the coun­try ‘un­govern­able’ for the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion. But there are sev­eral who be­lieve in such, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to mo­bi­lize that sense of col­lec­tive ou­trage needed to tackle the men­ace. Ob­vi­ously there are cer­tain lo­cal grievances that re­vival­ist move­ments tap into but that must not be con­fused with de­lib­er­ate spon­sor­ship.

An­other con­spir­acy the­ory is that Boko Haram is ac­tu­ally be­ing spon­sored by the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion to make Is­lam look bad or give the im­pres­sion that the North was out to pull it down as a way of mo­bi­liz­ing the sup­port of his ‘South­ern brethren’ and Chris­tians be­hind his ad­min­is­tra­tion. A vari­ant of this is that Boko Haram is ac­tu­ally spon­sored by the govern­ment to weaken or de­stroy the North. Those who be­lieve in any of the vari­ants of this con­spir­acy ‘the­ory’, es­sen­tially people from the North, point out that dur­ing the Abacha days, the govern­ment de­lib­er­ately bombed some places and then blamed it on NADECO, which was cam­paign­ing for the re-val­i­da­tion of the June 12 elec­tion won by Abi­ola but an­nulled by the mil­i­tary regime of Ibrahim Ba­bangida. This vari­ant of the con­spir­acy ‘the­ory’ there­fore be­lieves that the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion is bor­row­ing a leaf from the Abacha regime.

One of the weak­nesses of this the­ory how­ever is that noth­ing in the con­fes­sions of some of the ar­rested Boko Haram mem­bers sup­ports any of these con­spir­acy the­o­ries. Also it de­fies logic why a Pres­i­dent should set part of his do­main on fire, es­pe­cially where one can­not de­ter­mine the di­rec­tion of such con­fla­gra­tion - just to weaken a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion or part of the coun­try

While there are a num­ber of other ef­forts at schol­arly ex­pla­na­tions of the rea­sons for the emer­gence and sub­se­quent rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the sect, I have al­ways be­lieved that a more com­pre­hen­sive ex­pla­na­tion will be to see the sect as a re­flec­tion of the cri­sis in our na­tion-build­ing pro­cesses. The cri­sis in our na­tion-build­ing con­flates with the cri­sis of un­der­de­vel­op­ment to cre­ate an ex­is­ten­tial­ist cri­sis for many Nige­ri­ans. There­fore for many young people, a way of re­solv­ing the con­se­quent sense of alien­ation is to re­treat from the Nigeria project and con­struct mean­ings in cho­sen pri­mor­dial iden­ti­ties - of­ten with the Nige­rian state as the en­emy. This must not be con­fused with sup­port­ing or con­don­ing Boko Haram and its ways but the need for us to dig deeper, in­clud­ing find­ing the lo­cal grievances that they tap into. We will need to fight both the symp­tom of the prob­lem and the root cause si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Fight­ing ter­ror­ism is never easy or straight for­ward any­where in the world. Vic­tory can hardly come eas­ily or quickly. Of­ten the chal­lenge is to con­tain the group such that the so­ci­ety can con­tinue to func­tion nor­mally de­spite the episodic im­puni­ties they pur­vey – the way the so­ci­ety has learnt to live with other im­puni­ties car­ried out in­ter­mit­tently by other groups. The key chal­lenge we have with Boko Haram is that the mayhem by the group is not only spread­ing across the coun­try, but also be­com­ing ‘rou­tinized’. And while this is hap­pen­ing, politi­cians are play­ing silly blame games while their foot soldiers com­pli­cate mat­ters with their ab­surd con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

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