|Thursday, June 20, 2013|
* NO COUNTRY PAGES FOUND FOR THIS ISSUE
NIGERIAPowerless Against Terrorists
06/09/12, Isaac Umunna
Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Asha-Rose Migiro (2nd Left) and Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru walk through the UN compound in Abuja, August 28, 2011, two days after it was bombed by Boko Haram.
Terrorist activities of the Boko Haram sect is not only turning Nigeria into a graveyard of sorts but also raising questions about the country's existence as one united entity.
In Nigeria, life has become cheap especially in the northern parts of the country. Reason: Boko Haram, the violent Islamic sect seeking to enthrone Islamic rule in the multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, has stepped up its campaign of terror and appears not to be in the mood for dialogue.
In about three years, Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people, according to unofficial sources (the government puts the figure at only 308), displaced tens of thousands and destroyed property worth several millions dollars. Rather than find a solution to the crisis, an obviously overwhelmed President Goodluck Jonathan has turned into a chief mourner who quickly churns out a condolence message after every Boko Haram attack, assuring perplexed Nigerians that his administration is "on top of the problem."
Based largely in Nigeria's northwest, Boko Haram was founded in 2009 by Muhammad Yusuf, who resigned his appointment as a commissioner in the Borno State cabinet to concentrate on growing the sect, whose official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad. Boko Haram seems to have been inspired by the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose dressing and grooming the members copy long sleeve robe, shortened trousers, a turban and long beard.
Yusuf, who hailed from Yobe State, which shares a common boundary with Borno, was a fiery preacher who, however, did not initially promote violence. He got into trouble with the government a few times and was arrested and prosecuted in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, in January 2009, but secured bail and returned to his base in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Worried Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, embattled by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Boko Haram (Hausa for "Western education is sin") transformed into a violent sect in July 2009 following the killing of 17 of its members during a minor disagreement with the joint military task force in Borno. The Boko Haram faithful had been on their way to bury a dead colleague when they were accosted by men of the task force for alleged violation of traffic laws. Days later, an irate Yusuf vowed during his regular Friday sermon in Maiduguri to retaliate over the killing of his followers. He also issued notice that Boko Haram was ready to confront the secular authorities and their security agencies, describing them as enemies of Islam.
Boko Haram made good its threat days later on July 26 when about 30 of its members, armed with machetes, bows and arrows, daggers and Dane guns launched an early morning attack on a police station in Bauchi, capital of Bauchi State in the northeast. The police opened fire killing five of the invaders.
Next, Boko Haram launched similar attacks in Maiduguri, targeting police stations, the prisons and government offices. The Nigerian government lost its patience after the sect killed more than 150 people in Borno, Yobe and Kano states. In a lightning fast operation, government troops over-ran the sect's strongholds in Maiduguri on July 30, killed several adherents and captured Yusuf and handed him over to the police. A few hours later the police announced that Yusuf had been killed in a shootout while attempting to escape. It, however, turned out that he was killed extra-judicially, a development which angered his supporters, who threatened to exact vengeance and make Nigeria ungovernable. They have since made good that threat, clearly identifying government at all levels, security forces, Christians and anyone deemed to be supporting their enemies as their targets.
Boko Haram, according to Nigeria's Police Minister Caleb Olubolade, has successfully carried out 118 attacks in Abuja and six northern states, namely, Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna, Niger, Yobe and Plateau. He disclosed that 33 suspects connected to the group have been arrested.
Dialogue with the group has been difficult because it is demanding an end to secular rule, which is not possible in a culturally and religiously diverse country of about 160 million where Muslims and Christians have about the same number of adherents. This is unlike what happened in the case of the Niger Delta militants, who were fighting against economic and political marginalisation and were placated with an amnesty programme as well as the election of their son, Jonathan, as president.
Borrowing from the Niger Delta experience, which gave birth to a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the United States has advised Nigeria to create a Ministry of Northern Affairs to tackle poverty in the north as part of the solution to the Boko Haram menace. That advice has, however, failed to find much support even in the north.
Nigerian National Security Adviser Retired Army General Owoeye Azazi made the controversial statement blaming politics with the ruling party for the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Dismissing the suggestion, Babangida Aliyu, chairman of the forum of governors of the northern states, said: "If the government was to create a special ministry each time there was a problem in any part of the regions in the country, at the long run it would not achieve any desired results. If people are making a point because Ministry of Niger Delta was created because of the militancy in the Niger Delta region, I don't think we need any special ministry for the north. All we need do is that we should articulate our position so that each government should know what to do to alleviate poverty of their people."
Aliyu sees Boko Haram as a consequence of bad governance. To him, "Where there is good government, there will be fewer problems and where there is bad government there will be many problems. Our leaders in Nigeria have a role to play in fighting corruption if truly we want to fight against terrorism and insecurity in the country."
During their last meeting on May17, the northern state governors lamented that the problem had worsened since their previous meeting of March 8 but they promised to intensify efforts to find a solution to the problem.
An attempt by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to mediate ended abruptly when Boko Haram killed Yusuf's brother-in-law hours after he hosted Obasanjo. Another attempt by Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria which had Yusuf, the late Boko Haram leader, as one of its leaders also collapsed after Boko Haram claimed that the initiative was leaked by a government negotiator contrary to the group's demand for the negotiations to be kept secret.
Though Boko Haram claims to be fighting a religious war, many Nigerians, especially southerners, prefer to see their campaign as political. Reflecting this view, Uche Chukwumerije, one of Nigeria's vocal senators, said: "The issue of militancy in the Niger Delta has yielded them the presidency. If you watch what is going on now, the politicised illegal activities of Boko Haram are a proper determination to win the second round of presidential election in 2015."
Dr. Babangida Aliyu, governor of Niger State, is the chairman of the Northern Governors' Forum. He has been very critical of the Boko Haram insurgency and has branded their use of suicide bombing as un-Islamic.
This opinion that Boko Haram is a political tool is shared by the National Security Adviser, Patrick Aziza, who in a lecture delivered late April said: "The extent of violence did not increase until the declaration by the current president that he was going to contest." Blaming the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), Azazi, a retired army chief, said: "PDP got it wrong from the beginning, from the outset by saying, 'Mr. A can rule, Mr. A cannot rule' . . . according to PDP's convention rules and regulations and not according to the constitution; and that created the climate for what has manifested itself."
Though President Jonathan promptly distanced himself from Azazi's claim, many southerners continue to identify with it based on threats by aggrieved northern political leaders who during the struggle for PDP's presidential mandate threatened to make Nigeria ungovernable if Jonathan emerged president. Their grouse was that a northerner should have been allowed to emerge and complete the "turn" of the zone since Jonathan's boss, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who died in office in May 2010, would have likely secured a second term of four years if he had been alive.
As if to confirm the political motive theory, Boko Haram's attacks have increased in intensity following the 2011 general elections that produced Jonathan as the first president from the oil-rich Niger Delta. To the embarrassment of the Jonathan administration, Boko Haram has successfully attacked even the Police Headquarters and the United Nations building (both in Abuja) in addition to churches, newspaper offices and university campuses.
Inadvertently lending credence to the allegation that Boko Haram has a political motive, several northern political leaders refrain from condemning the sect while some even speak in its support. The latest example is PDP's national Chairman Bamanga Tukur, who on May 15 declared that members of the notorious sect are fighting for justice. According to him, "Boko Haram is fighting for justice. Boko Haram is another name for justice. People feel aggrieved. They are angry because they are hungry. Unless we remove the hunger, we too may not be able to rest."
The argument of Tukur and co, however, does not appeal to Nigerian Christians, the main victims of the attacks. "They said it is the issue of poverty, but they have not attacked any government infrastructure of note," said Rev. Sunday Oibe, spokesperson of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the north. "If it is the issue of power, then they should go and fight government; why is it that it is Christians that they are fighting? The truth about this is that they have carefully put a plan in place to eliminate Christians total annihilation of Christianity from the north; that is their target. And it seems that the government of this country led by Goodluck Jonathan is helplessly looking on; always telling us that security is on top of the situation."
Christians, from all indications, are running out of patience. Northern Christian elders confirmed this after a meeting in Kaduna on May 6, saying: "The reason Christians do not retaliate is not because we are cowards but because that will be a sin. It is unfair to go and attack, kill or maim people that are innocent, that may not even know the attackers or may even hate what the attackers are doing. What offence did the worshippers in the churches commit against the sect? . . . Our patience is running out."
Issuing what he called the final warning to the Nigerian government, CAN President Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor said in a statement: "I will make a final call I repeat, a final call, to the Nigerian government to clearly refine and neutralise the problem as other nations have done. The Church leadership has hitherto put great restraint on aggrieved millions but can no longer guarantee such co-operation if the trend of terror is not halted immediately."
Should Christians retaliate, the result would likely be second war when the country has yet to fully overcome the effects of the first war fought from 1967 to 1970 to prevent the Eastern Region from seceding. "The country is at the verge of collapse," said a troubled Oibe. "Nobody has ever survived two wars. We had survived civil war. No country has survived religious war."
For the first time in a long time, questions are being asked about the continued existence of Nigeria as one united country. The "country is on fire," former defence minister, T. Y. Danjuma, said recently. "In the last two months, I began to wonder. Our house is on fire. Nigeria is becoming Somalia. The Somalianisation of our country is going on now."
Lamenting the sad turn of events, labour leader Peter Esele said: "We have become a country that is under threats. Life no longer means anything." Calling on government to rise to the occasion, he said: "We want people brought to book. We want sponsors to be arrested. We want those behind these heinous crimes against the Nigerian state to be brought to justice. That is how you can attract foreign investments. Every day, we see governors, president travelling all over the world asking for investment. No businessman will invest in any country where there is no security. If the environment is conducive making money for business is like an ant and the sugar. They will naturally gravitate."
As a possible solution, Northern Christian elders have called for the convening of a National Conference to discuss Nigeria's future. As they see it: "We need to restructure Nigeria. We want the six geopolitical zones to become regions with a little alteration here and there according to the wishes of the people.
"Each zone will manage its resources and pay tax to the Federal Government as it was in 1960 and 1963 constitutions. The Federal Government will take off its hands from education, agriculture, water resources, industries, mineral resources, research and technology, health, power generation, women affairs, youths and sports, works and housing. The Federal Government will be solely in charge of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Customs and Aviation."
This agrees with the position of the six Niger Delta states which have come together under the umbrella of BRACED States meaning Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta. "The federation," said the six BRACED governors at the end of a summit late April, "should be restructured and unbundled including the review of the current revenue allocation formula, to give more powers, responsibilities and funding to the states and local government as centres of growth."
There have also been suggestions for the Jonathan administration to formulate effective military strategies to crush Boko Haram. But such an action, according to Chadian President Idriss Deby, has to transcend Nigeria if it is to succeed. Making his valedictory address as chairman of the Lake Chad Basin Commission on May 2, Deby advocated the urgent creation of a regional force to combat the sect as its activities pose a great danger to countries around the Lake Chad basin which include Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Niger and Nigeria.
"Our basin is exposed to insecurity because of the permanent threat posed by Boko Haram," President Deby said at the meeting held in N'djamena, the Chadian capital. "I am demanding the creation of a joint deterrence force. We have to make this decision here today. If we don't eradicate them, we won't be capable of saving our Lake Chad."
Some experts have warned that Boko Haram might be in contact with al-Qaeda, which is believed to have established a foothold in the Islamic Maghreb, especially across Niger, Mali and Algeria. It has also been speculated that the sect might be sourcing its explosives from Niger Republic, the world's largest producer of uranium.
But President Jonathan, who cuts the image of a dove, appears not in a hurry to undertake any comprehensive military adventures, either locally or in the sub-region. He has also not shown any interest in convening a National Conference or restructuring Africa's most populous country.
Never before has a Nigerian government been so helpless in the face of obvious threat to the security of its citizens. Even so, Jonathan has assured that the Boko Haram menace would be over in June. His words: "Let me assure Nigerians that our present insecurity is not insurmountable. Our security agencies are being empowered with enhanced modern equipment and technical gadgets in crime prevention."
The problem is that, at least on the issue of tackling Boko Haram, Jonathan's assurances do not amount to much these days.
* NO E K'ABO COVER IMAGE FOUND