Re-thinking Boko Haram
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.