Re-think­ing Boko Haram

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

On 20 Septem­ber 2015 co­or­di­nated bomb at­tacks in the satel­lite towns of Nyanya and Kuje, near Abuja, claimed about 20 lives while over 40 oth­ers sus­tained var­i­ous de­grees of in­juries. At about the same time another set of co­or­di­nated blasts rocked the town of Maiduguri, claim­ing about 80 lives with sev­eral oth­ers se­ri­ously in­jured. Just to­day (Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 7 2015), 18 peo­ple were re­port­edly killed in Da­maturu, Yobe state. The at­tacks by sus­pected Boko Haram ter­ror­ists have con­tin­ued with reg­u­lar­ity, de­spite the con­sen­sus that one of the ar­eas Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has shown great re­solve so far has been in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to end the Boko Haram ter­ror­ism. Buhari in fact gave the mil­i­tary three months to de­feat Boko Haram and end their in­sur­gency and ter­ror­ism.

The con­tin­ued re­silience of Boko Haram un­der the Buhari regime - at a time when the sol­diers bat­tling them are be­lieved to be well mo­ti­vated and welle­quipped - call for a re-think­ing of some of our ear­lier no­tions about the sect:

One, the con­tin­ued re­silience of the ter­ror­ist sect negates some of the con­spir­acy the­o­ries that for long helped to un­der­mine any con­certed ac­tion against the group. For in­stance, among the pre­vail­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries was that the group was be­ing spon­sored by em­i­nent North­ern politi­cians to make the coun­try “un­govern­able” for for­mer Pres­i­dent Jonathan be­cause he is a Chris­tian and from a mi­nor­ity eth­nic group in the south. Buhari had been ac­cused un­der this the­ory of be­ing one of the spon­sors of Boko Haram and the only ev­i­dence of­ten ad­duced by the ac­cusers was that he was ‘nom­i­nated’ by the sect as a ne­go­tia­tor when the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion was ex­plor­ing the op­tion of di­a­logue with the group. If this ‘the­ory’ is cor­rect, Buhari’s vic­tory over Jonathan in the last elec­tion would have mel­lowed the group. But it hasn’t.

Another ver­sion of this con­spir­acy the­ory was that Boko Haram was be­ing spon­sored by for­mer Pres­i­dent Jonathan –ei­ther to de­pop­u­late the north ahead of the 2015 gen­eral elec­tions or to make Is­lam look bad in or­der to en­able the for­mer pres­i­dent to use re­li­gion as a tool of mo­bi­liza­tion for his can­di­dacy. That Boko Haram has con­tin­ued to cause may­hem de­spite the fact that Jonathan is no longer in power again negates any sug­ges­tion that he was spon­sor­ing the group –or that he de­lib­er­ately did not do enough to stop them be­cause it was a “north­ern prob­lem”. In fact, rather than Jonathan be­ing the spon­sor as the con­spir­acy the­o­rists claimed, the army re­cently ac­cused some el­ders in Bornu state of de­lib­er­ately un­der­min­ing their ef­forts to de­feat Boko Haram be­cause they were prof­it­ing from the sit­u­a­tion.

The above two con­spir­acy the­o­ries were so strongly be­lieved that it made many Nige­ri­ans in­di­rectly com­plicit in the mur­der­ous ac­tiv­i­ties of Boko Haram. For in­stance when a state of emer­gency was first de­clared against Boko Haram in May 2013, some em­i­nent North­ern el­ders de­clared that the mea­sure amounted to a dec­la­ra­tion of war against the north. In the same vein, when the Chi­bok girls were kid­napped, some key sup­port­ers of the Jonathan regime openly doubted the kid­nap story and be­lieved it was part of a grand de­sign by the noth to bring down the for­mer pres­i­dent’s gov­ern­ment. The belief in this con­spir­acy the­ory pre­vented the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion from mov­ing quickly to lo­cate the girls af­ter they were kid­napped.

Two, the re­silience of Boko Haram at­tacks in the face of in­creased on­slaught by the Nige­rian sol­diers and in­creas­ing loss of their mem­bers would sug­gest that we have all along un­der­es­ti­mated both the nu­mer­i­cal strength of Boko Haram, the level of mo­ti­va­tion and so­phis­ti­ca­tion of its mem­bers as well as the mem­bers’ fight­ing spirit. I be­lieve such un­der­es­ti­ma­tions largely ac­count for what will ap­pear to be ex­ag­ger­a­tions on the nar­ra­tives of in­ad­e­quate equip­ment for our sol­diers and poor morale as ex­pla­na­tions for why our ‘oth­er­wise gallant sol­diers’ were un­able to fin­ish off the sup­pos­edly rag-tag and ill-equipped snipers in a mat­ter of days.

Three, giv­ing the mil­i­tary a dead­line to crush Boko Haram has a role to play in mo­ti­vat­ing the sol­diers and re-as­sur­ing the civil­ian pop­u­lace. How­ever there could also be a wrongly-in­putted cost if the sol­diers fail to meet the dead­line – out of no fault of theirs. If the sol­diers are un­able to meet the dead­line given to them, will that amount to a de­feat? Put dif­fer­ently can we re­ally talk of an end to ter­ror­ism?

It will be wrong to think of ter­ror­ists as some en­e­mies massed on the other side of a con­ven­tional war. Ter­ror­ism is merely a tac­tic of­ten em­ployed by a weaker side in an asym­met­ric war. The ter­ror­ists use ‘terror’ meth­ods to shock and awe and to com­pen­sate for their rel­a­tive weak­ness in both num­bers and ar­moury. True, ter­ror­ism is a favoured strat­egy of in­sur­gency groups. But just as you can have in­sur­gency groups which do not use terror tac­tics so can you also have ter­ror­ists who are not backed by any in­sur­gency groups. A good ex­am­ple of the lat­ter was the Ok­la­homa City bomber Ti­mothy McVeigh who on 19 April 1995 det­o­nated a bomb that killed 168 peo­ple – the worst ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent on Amer­i­can soil be­fore 9/11.

Four, the pos­si­ble tra­jec­tory of global ter­ror­ism, in­clud­ing the one pur­veyed by Boko Haram, could be gleaned from the history and evo­lu­tion of ter­ror­ism it­self. Scholars these days talk of the four waves of ter­ror­ism – the Anar­chist wave be­lieved to have started in Rus­sia in the 1880s, the Anti-Colo­nial wave which be­gan in the 1920s and lasted for more than 40 years, the ‘New Left wave’, which be­came greatly di­min­ished with the col­lapse of Com­mu­nism in the Soviet union, and the cur­rent re­li­gion-inspired wave, which started in 1979, and which some scholars pre­dicted may last un­til 2025 to be re­placed by another wave. In other words, ter­ror­ism is rooted in mod­ern cul­ture. If history is a guide, then we can talk of de­feat­ing ter­ror­ism only in the sense that we talk of elim­i­nat­ing cor­rup­tion and crime. Com­plete elim­i­na­tion of ter­ror­ism is utopia but re­duc­ing it to the barest min­i­mum is fea­si­ble and should be the goal.

If the above sounds de­press­ing, then let’s re­mem­ber that fol­low­ing the at­tack in the USA on Septem­ber 1, 2001, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush de­clared a war on ter­ror­ism with a boast that the war “would not end un­til ev­ery ter­ror­ist group of global reach has been found, stopped and de­feated”. About 100 years ear­lier, when an anar­chist as­sas­si­nated the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Wil­liam McKinley in Septem­ber 1901, McKinley’s suc­ces­sor Theodore Roo­sevelt called for a cru­sade to ex­ter­mi­nate ter­ror­ism ev­ery­where. More than 100 years af­ter the An­ar­chists started the mod­ern wave of ter­ror­ism, it re­mains un­de­feated, only mu­tat­ing in its form and choice of ar­eas to man­i­fest its ugli­est sides.

Grow­ing up in Onit­sha, Anam­bra state, in the 1970s, when­ever I came to the scene of a fight I would team up with the weaker party with­out even try­ing to find out the cause of the fight. De­spite be­ing oc­ca­sion­ally ter­ri­bly bruised by such ir­ra­tional choices, I have not fully weaned my­self of that bad habit. And this ex­plains why I have some sym­pa­thies for Mrs. Diezani Ali­son-Madueke, the for­mer Min­is­ter of Petroleum Re­sources in her cur­rent tra­vails. Is she able to catch any sleep these days?

Apart from be­ing de­tained and granted bail by the Lon­don Metropoli­tan po­lice on sus­pi­cions of money laun­der­ing, she has also been linked to mind­bog­gling sleaze and out­right theft of hefty sums of money. We var­i­ously read that $700m was found in her house, that she bought a man­sion in Lon­don worth £12.5m, was look­ing to buy a £13bn apart­ment in Hyde Park Lon­don and so on and so forth. While I am of­ten mind­ful that sto­ries can be planted and that any­one can level any al­le­ga­tion dur­ing media trial, I am also livid like many peo­ple at the level of cor­rup­tion linked to her – none of which she has de­nied.

Diezani is fac­ing trial both in the court of law in the United King­dom and in the court of public opin­ion in Nige­ria. She needs to de­fend her­self in both courts. If these dam­ag­ing al­le­ga­tions against her in the media are not true, she needs to come for­ward im­me­di­ately with her own side of the story. Si­lence is not golden in this cir­cum­stance.

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