Boko Haram and the Politics of Terrorism in Nigeria

By now the entire world has heard about the terrorist group Boko Haram which has been operating in North-east Nigeria and its environs actively since 2010. The first full scale attack on civilians was a car bomb detonated across the road from the Nigeria 50th Independence Anniversary celebration at the Abuja Eagle Square on October 1st 2010. Then followed the New Year’s Eve bomb blast at the Abacha Barracks in 2010. This hit very close to home as I had gone to Abacha Barracks several times to have a meal of grilled spicy fish and cold drinks with friends on many occasions. Several people lost their lives in those attacks. Boko Haram which literally means “western education is a sin” has since carried out further brazen attacks including one on the Police headquarters and the United nations building in Abuja. The group has left thousands of people dead, more injured and many more displaced and running for their lives.

Boko Haram leader Shekau. Photo source:africaisacountry.com
Boko Haram leader Shekau. Photo source:africaisacountry.com

This group has been politicised with many claiming they are funded by opposition, while others insist that the government is using the terrorist group as a weapon to cause countrywide disdain to the North and the opposition. The group has kidnapped many women and children in its past 5 years of active operation, Transparency International has accused it of using child soldiers including boys as young as 12 years old. The human rights watch group has also accused the Nigerian government of human rights abuses with reference to the death of many suspect Boko Haram members in a detention facility.

For a while, the Nigerian government resisted the move by governments of G-7 countries to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group, and one wonders why this resistance? Could it have come from pressure from certain quarters of the country whose involvement with the group may have meant restrictions on them? The US department of state ignored this and went ahead to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group in 2013. However, in May 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan finally declared the group a terrorist group and the United Nations Security Council followed suit, placing restrictions which would make travel and funding difficult for this group. Has this worked? The group seems to have been the most active in the last few months since it was declared a terrorist group and the world began to condemn its activities as a result of protests ongoing to “bring back our girls” following the kidnapping of over 200 school girls from their dormitory. It is now over 100 days since the kidnap and the girls are yet to be found.

#bring back our girls
#bring back our girls

In the midst of all these terrorist activities, there have been several debates around the best way to tackle the terrorist group and bring it to its knees. The government has not utilised heavy handed military bombardment perhaps because of the collateral damage which could possibly take place. One wonders, however, if any parts of the North are sympathetic to this group; Northern elders, chiefly the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad has called on the president to grant unconditional amnesty to the leaders of the Boko Haram group. Recall that another militant group in Nigeria’s past; the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had previously been granted amnesty and training by the Federal Government.

However, as many have argued, MEND’s goals of fighting for a greater share of Nigeria’s oil revenues to go to the impoverished Niger delta region where the oil is drilled from, and for better environmental and corporate practices by the oil companies, is certainly different from the goals of Boko Haram which include a call for islamisation of Nigeria. According to the many videos on youtube in which the group leader Abubakar Shekau speaks, the nation cannot be governed by infidels, and indeed anyone who does not convert to islam, or is muslim but associates with the infidels, must be destroyed. In the spirit of these goals, it has carried out attacks on mosques and churches alike, social entertainment centres including bars where football games were being watched.

Members of Boko Haram
Members of Boko Haram

In recent months, Boko Haram has been at its most active, causing more mayhem and deaths of civilians and soldiers in Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Borno and Bauchi. Its latest attack took place in a Cameroonian border town close to Nigeria where it kidnapped the wife of the Cameroon’s Vice-prime Minister. This is why the world needs to be involved in global problems. It no longer ends within one country’s borders; it spills into the next country and on and on it goes, spiralling into a bigger global platform that causes mayhem in the world. Between refugees and internally displaced people taking refuge across borders, and terrorists and criminals crossing borders, one country’s headache turns to another’s migraine. But I digress.

Nigerian Soldiers
Nigerian Soldiers

The Jonathan government has since accepted help from several G-7 countries including the UK, the US and France, to support its efforts towards finding the kidnapped girls and dealing with the terrorist crises. it is left to be seen how this plays out. The elections are coming up early 2015 in Nigeria, it is left to be seen how popular or unpopular the president is, but your guess is as good as mine. I think that this group continues to give muslims and Nigerians a bad name. One senses a certain sympathy for this group in some quarters and I wish more energy was being invested in calling out this group and their funders/sympathisers, and making signs and carrying out protests and marches, declaring them non-muslim, diabolical, evil and outcasts.

Northern elders have scarcely called this group out publicly and declared them evil and non-islamic (although I recall the statements to this effect made over 3 years ago by the late Emir of Kano Alhaji Bayero). General Buhari, one time military head of state of Nigeria and lead opposition only released a statement to this effect after the kidnapping of 200+ girls. Even this is a difficult feat, people are afraid for their lives as Boko Haram has been known to visit homes and behead people and wipe out entire families. Instead, most of the campaigns have gone to calling out the Jonathan government and declaring it inefficient and unable to contain the crises. This might very well be true; the Jonathan government did not respond (publicly atleast, they insist they were working behind the scenes) for two weeks following the kidnapping of over 200 girls. The response came only when Nigerians began to protest and clamour for action.

Invariably, this is a very difficult time for Nigeria. This will set us back decades and will no doubt affect the economy, the infrastructure and the growth of the nation. It is affecting quality of life and provision of services in the North-east; nobody wants a job in those areas, the hospitals are losing health care workers, the schools are closed down, people who have spent their entire lives in the region and have built their livelihoods there are packing up, abandoning their old lives and moving their families to start afresh, ethnic and religious groups are accusing one another unfortunately, and quite ignorantly, in some quarters, every Northerner or muslim is Boko Haram. There is a state-of-emergency in that region at this time. It remains to be seen whether there can be end to this, and whatever the case, this is time for Nigerians to unite and abandon ethnic and religious sentiments and differences and come together in complete condemnation of this group. These are a few bad eggs causing far reaching problems. This is time to support our military and campaign for better working conditions and family care for them. We must unite against this scourge for a better future for us and the generations to come.

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