Is oil the true ide­ol­ogy of Boko Haram?

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

The curse of nat­u­ral is ap­par­ently real or more ac­cu­rately, cursed in­ter­ests in re­source ex­plo­ration are real. This evil of­ten goes about masked as some­thing less sin­is­ter. Take for in­stance the in­san­ity that is to­day’s Afghanistan, which be­gan in a fash­ion not too dif­fer­ent from what Boko Haram is act­ing out in Nige­ria to­day. Some­where in the con­vo­luted mix of tran­si­tions and mish­mash of Mu­ja­hedeen, Tal­iban and al-Qaeda was UNOCAL, an oil multi­na­tional and its ef­fort to con­struct pipe­lines through Afghanistan from the petroleum-rich Caspian Basin in Cen­tral Asia. By the way, that guy that went on to be hand­picked as Afghan Pres­i­dent upon the rout­ing of the Tal­iban in 2004, Hamid Karzai was a con­sul­tant to UNOCAL be­fore that ap­point­ment, some­thing he and the com­pany con­tinue to deny and the records have been purged to make the de­nial easier. He hap­pened to have also been a deputy for­eign min­is­ter for the Tal­iban.

A pipe­line dream set an­other coun­try on fire. Syria is to­day the scene of mul­ti­ple proxy wars, which is sense­less if only for the bizarre al­liances that are en­gag­ing on in­dus­trial scale hu­man slaugh­ter. It might have been given dif­fer­ent names to hide the true in­tent but noth­ing can sub­tract from the fact that the cri­sis re­volves around two pro­posed gas pipe­lines that would tra­verse Syria; some have re­ferred to that ugly sce­nario as “Pipelines­tan”. Afghanistan re­mains fresh in the mind.

In April of 2012, Tuareg rebels over­ran north­ern Mali un­der the name of the Na­tional Move­ment for the Lib­er­a­tion of Aza­wad (MNLA) , French state broad­caster, France 24 ran ahead of others to give ex­tended air­time to Mossa Ag At­ta­her, a spokesper­son for the rebels, with a chest cap­tion that stopped short of rec­og­niz­ing Aza­wad as a coun­try. France 24 con­tin­ued its at­tempt to re­port Aza­wad as a sov­er­eign na­tion for sev­eral days. It even chris­tened an am­bas­sador for the en­clave at some point. In a volte-face France later sup­ported the gov­ern­ment in Ba­mako to con­tain the rebels. The then French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande sold the story of how his coun­try’s in­ter­est was about stop­ping the rebels in West Africa be­fore they be­come a threat to Europe.

It has never been about ter­ror­ism for France. “In the long term, France has in­ter­ests in se­cur­ing re­sources in the Sa­hel - par­tic­u­larly oil and ura­nium, which the French en­ergy com­pany Areva has been ex­tract­ing for decades in neigh­bor­ing Niger,” said Ka­trin Sold of the Ger­man Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions (DGAP) one year af­ter in 2013.

There was ad­di­tional in­cen­tive for France to give up the Aza­wad mis­ad­ven­ture at that time. It merged that group was not act­ing in iso­la­tion but was part of a larger am­bi­tion to fuse modern day Mali, Al­ge­ria, Libya, Chad, North­ern Nige­ria, North­ern Cameroon, Cen­tral African Repub­lic and Su­dan into one vast waste­land con­trolled by fa­nat­ics.

What France has not given up, how­ever, is the ob­ses­sion for the en­ergy pos­si­bil­ity in the Sa­hel and Sa­hara. It held a se­cu­rity sum­mit to dis­cuss Boko Haram which re­sulted in the launch of Sa­hel Force in June this year. If that force is of any use it was to cat­alyze the near re­birth of a ter­ror­ist group that Nige­rian mil­i­tary had dec­i­mated to the point of de­feat. Nige­ria’s mili­tia fight­ing Boko Haram - the Civil­ian JTF, In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons and sev­eral sur­vivors of Boko Haram at­tacks had re­counted in the past how they wit­nessed air­drop of sup­plies to the ter­ror­ists across Nige­ria’s bor­ders with fran­co­phone neigh­bors - Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In 2015, eight French na­tion­als were ap­pre­hended by Cameroo­nian forces for fight­ing on the side of Boko Haram. They were promptly handed over to former colo­nial master France once the then French For­eign Min­is­ter, Mr. Lau­ren Fabuci, who sim­ply or­dered for the trans­fer of the sus­pects. Noth­ing was heard af­ter­wards by way of trial.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Boko Haram fight­ers that ear­lier fled into these neigh­bor­ing Fran­co­phone coun­tries have slinked back to re­new at­tacks in Nige­ria shortly af­ter the French sum­mit that was sup­posed to have fash­ioned a so­lu­tion to their mad­ness. If the au­thor­i­ties in Nige­ria get their home­work right they should have ob­served by now that some­thing has changed. The true in­tent of Boko Haram is emerg­ing and do­ing so fast. A pointer to this is the July at­tack on the team of re­searchers that went prospect­ing for petroleum in the Lake Chad Basin area (the name does not sig­nify Chad own­er­ship).

Some things stand out. One, the at­tack was ma­jor, not one of those skir­mishes where Boko Haram fight­ers want to in­flict dam­ages, in­still terror and flee back into their hide­outs. The in­ten­tion was ap­par­ent an­ni­hi­la­tion on a scale that will en­sure no sci­en­tist would be willing to re­turn to the area for any prospect­ing. Se­condly, the in­ten­sity of the at­tack was pos­si­ble with a com­bi­na­tion of so­phis­ti­cated weaponry and ac­cu­rate in­tel­li­gence that made the am­bush deadly. Both con­sid­er­a­tions sug­gest state back­ing for the ter­ror­ists and only one coun­try has demon­strated in­ter­ests that cor­re­spond to such ca­pac­ity in the past. It has the re­sources to match. Fur­ther­more, not much is heard any­more of Boko Haram’s de­sire for strict im­ple­men­ta­tion of Sharia, which im­plies that the crux of the mat­ter is about cor­ner­ing re­sources and not the creation of a theo­cratic state.

A pos­si­bil­ity that has not been openly dis­cussed is that the same Fran­co­phone trio that have not done enough to com­bat Boko Haram would eas­ily over­run the planned theo­cratic state, in­stall a proxy gov­ern­ment, sta­bi­lize the re­gion and then turn over the real es­tate to their colo­nial master, France, for the ex­plo­ration of crude oil and Ura­nium to be­gin in earnest. Advances in frack­ing tech­nol­ogy make oil ex­ploita­tion vi­able in this area once com­mer­cial quan­ti­ties are con­firmed.

The Nige­rian gov­ern­ment must there­fore en­sure it is not caught nap­ping. Afghanistan and Syria are warn­ings it must pay heed to since things can stay bad for a long time once they are al­low to de­gen­er­ate be­yond cer­tain points. The era of think­ing it is fight­ing only Is­lamic State (ISIS/ Daesh) backed Boko Haram ter­ror­ists is past. These ones are propped up by an­other sov­er­eign state and this is even more glar­ing now that the cover of re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism no longer holds.

It is time to con­front the rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional groups and supra­na­tional bod­ies with facts. France must not be al­lowed to cre­ate its own ver­sion of Afghanistan or Syria in West Africa and Nige­ria is def­i­nitely the worst place to ac­ti­vate such in­san­ity not in the least us­ing Boko Haram, made up of so­ciopaths and psy­chopaths. The toll would be high not just on the re­gion but on Europe as well. As it was with the Mid­dle East desta­bi­liza­tion and the refugee cri­sis it un­leashed on Europe, only the Sa­hara Desert and the Mediter­ranean stand to fil­ter the refugee flow to Europe and Africans are get­ting bet­ter at beat­ing these hos­tile bar­ri­ers. Nige­ria can­not burn for an­other coun­try to light its ci­ties and the world would think there would be no con­se­quences.

Mur­phy, a con­flict res­o­lu­tion ex­pert writes from Mary­land, USA.

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