KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
THE IMPARTIAL OBSERVER
Boko Haram: The Enemy Within
Sunday 4 September, 2011
“This act provides a new dimension to threats on the domestic front.”
~~ U. Joy Ogwu
There is an unquestionable nexus, even if allegorical, between the culture of maintenance, or lack thereof, that results in cars that consistently breakdown on Nigeria’s ill-maintained roads and how the Nigerian government handles critical national interest issues, including national security. Meanwhile, security remains of utmost concern to every Nigerian.
There is no gainsaying that criminality of any type, especially when it is organized crime, is hardly anything to trifle with, more so when it has security implications and is directed at the state, its institutions, and the civic population. Under such circumstances, the response must be quick, definite, robust, and clearly with punitive and unambiguous agonizing reprisals.
Until now, the Nigerian government has treated the Boko Haram issue with kid’s gloves and unmatched levity. Understandably, it was felt that Boko Haram’s mission was ill-defined and was at best more sectarian than political. If it had any terrorist dimension, that component was consistently played down. Still, the attack on the U.N. Office in Abuja was a game-changer replete with new dynamics, far reaching and imponderable reverberations that dramatically altered the scope, intensity, and focus of Boko Haram’s violence and mission, as well as any consideration of that sect. Three years ago, I warned in this space:
“There is a clear and present danger that international terrorist cells might well exploit security loophole to insinuate themselves into Nigeria and exploit restiveness created by domestic sects such as the Boko Haram.”
Now it has happened.
Boko Haram’s ascendancy and leapfrog sophistication has given rise to broad suspicions of external collusion or domestic professional support. Hence, those who perceive a hidden agenda may be onto something tangible. As one observer rightly remarked in the 25 July 2011 edition of Newswatch, “The bad boys are known to those who matter in the north and government should work with them for useful information on the sect.” However, the root causes of the resort to violence and criminality in order to influence public policy is rather deep-seated and beyond the sectarian.
Whereas one cannot sanction acts of criminality and terrorism, it goes without saying, that broad-based disenfranchisement has its price. Also, recourse to violent acts stems from social and psychological orientation. Limited or dysfunctional education is equally a contributory factor. As a public policy analyst, Eloho Otobo averred in considering Nigeria’s bane,
weak education system undermines national security not only because such a
system will be unable to produce capable national security managers and
planners. But also because by producing people who cannot create jobs or are not
adequately prepared for gainful employment, the educational system sets the
stage for a pool of unskilled or barely skilled people who can be recruited to
all manner of crimes -- drug and human trafficking, political thuggery, banditry
and robbery come to mind."
To this, one can now add sectarianism and the dastardly acts of terrorism. Paradoxically, Boko Haram is opposed to any good and formal education, specifically Western education.
The security challenge posed by Boko Haram is huge. The challenge becomes almost insurmountable, considering that the perpetrators, until proven otherwise, are Nigerians. The enemy within dynamics –apology to Karl Popper – is even more difficult to detect, crack, and master. Matters are made worse by the government’s benign approach to such challenges, which some seem to think could be ignored or wished away. Such attitude, which is diametrically distant from what is needed, is delusional, defeatist, unproductive, extremely costly, and dangerous as the bombing of the U.N. Offices in Abuja proved.
Several months back, when Boko Haram attacked various entities in Bornu and Bauchi States, the Nigeria government did what it does best: play the ostrich. That disposition allowed Boko Haram to muster the confidence to bring their action closer home to the seat of the government by targeting the national headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force. Still nothing happened in terms of checks and interdiction, even as one suspects that covertly a lot of money was being invested in counter-terrorism activities all in the name of containment.
What is not surprising is that the Nigerian government has handled Boko Haram exactly in the same listless way it handled the Niger Delta militants. Unfortunately, words, promises, and precepts are hardly sufficient solutions in such circumstances. The ascendancy of Boko Haram was also facilitated by the paradox of sectional indifference. Just like the north cared little about the Niger Delta violence and the scourge of kidnappings it wrought until now, the rest of the Nigerian nation cared very little about the rise of Boko Haram. As far as they were concerned, it was a northern problem. This attitude unwittingly slipped into the policymaking realm and the overall lackluster response to Boko Haram.
Farfetched as it may sound, the initial cause and acts of Boko Haram were political and, indeed, open expressions of popular grievances against the northern elite and their establishments. Furthermore, as hard as it is to prove, one suspect that such violent acts of criminality and mayhem were in part meant to make Nigeria ungovernable in the context of present political dispensation. In effect, these acts were orchestrated reprisals against a political order believed by some to be untrustworthy, inequitable, unreliable, and bereft of the decorum and integrity required to uphold a social or political compact.
There are several points worth pondering. Terrorist acts that involve suicide bombing are sophisticated endeavors that also require extensive and time-consuming planning and finances to execute. It requires psychological and mental indoctrination. So, who are the brains behind the efforts to dismember Nigeria and bring to fruition the prediction that having danced on the brink for long and consequently reached its tipping point, the nation must now implode.
Nigeria is already a handicapped and extremely challenged nation. The addition of brazen suicide bombing attacks, that foster fear and palpable sense of insecurity to her many problems, is to gradually asphyxiate the nation, snuffing out what is left of her already emaciated economic life, psyche and overall confidence. As such sense of insecurity grows, so too will capital and investors take flight. The correlation is already evident and real, as evidenced by the reluctance of many members of the Nigerian Diaspora to visit their native land. A corollary to this hesitancy to return home is the dwindling of their collective remittances, which is now only second to the sale of oil as a GDP index.
The issue of how to handle the growing spate of terrorism will suffer immeasurably, if some Nigerians consider, as is obviously the case, the attacks to be mainly a north-on-north or the Talakawas versus the northern feudal oligarchy issue. Moreover, the containment of Boko Haram and its challenge will only worsen, if the northerners, who are in political power and control the national security apparatus continue to play coy and glib, fully aware that the perpetrators are mainly from their own stock.
Indubitably, these audacious terrorist acts will proliferate across the country, as was the case with Niger Delta militants, if Nigerians continue to react and consider this vexing issue to be a sectional concern. To be sure, a flying bullet or shrapnel in a public area does not recognize or distinguish ethnicity, someone’s religion, gender, age or political affiliation. Hence, we are all at risk. The greatest downside of such acts, especially when innocent civilians or foreigners are targeted, is that they are endlessly indiscriminate.
Without question, Nigerian intelligence and policing has failed the nation on this matter. Long before now, the handwriting was visibly on the wall; and the ominous signs evident. Part of the solution, if we may do so honestly, is to allow some heads to roll within the intelligence and security community; then we must commence the revamping of the state tools and institutions required to tackle such challenges assiduously. Fighting any form of crime, especially terrorism, is a twenty-four-seven and no-holds-barred business. Our awkward situation is not helped by the fact that those who claim national security as their remit know that they have not solved one of the earlier cases, the Eagle Square and Police Headquarters attacks included. Such dismal track record only emboldens those who perpetrate these acts.
There are other issues worth considering. The time, skills, and planning required to execute these violent acts are hardly marginal; their scope and efficiency points to multiple and skilled actors. Combating and preempting such acts require that the security establishments also think, determine, and guard those public establishments that are likely targets either on their own or by virtue of their association with the establishment and powers that be. Airports, public and educational institutions, government buildings, etc. are all vulnerable; and that ought to be commonsensical. In the same vein, Nigeria has an obligation to protect international institutions and diplomatic missions. Nigeria has failed the U.N. in as much as the U.N. failed itself by not doing the utmost to comply fully with its own minimum security standards.
It does boggle the mind, nonetheless, that after terrorist acts against African countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Algeria, Nigerian authorities underplayed their at-risk potentialities. The greater risk is that the festering political agitation that employs violence creates room for criminal elements and external interests to benefit from it. In a country mired in poverty, $1,000 could buy, induce, and influence a high degree of criminality. Moreover, in Nigeria, criminality pays off handsomely, as evidenced by the kidnapping scourge which reportedly yielded over $100 million between 2006 and 2008. What is more troubling is the malign and entrenched impact: Kidnapping in Nigeria is no longer a Niger Delta problem as it has spread and become an enterprise that may well have raked in over N 100 billion over the past four years. Curiously, the Nigerian government and foreign operating companies have never responded to allegations that they paid ransoms at different times to obtain freedom for kidnap victims.
Nigeria’s envoy to the U.N., Prof. U. Joy Ogwu spoke power to the truth when she proclaimed that “This act provides a new dimension to threats on the domestic front.” True enough, such serious and violent terrorist acts require the collaborative efforts of the police, the secret service, military, and other arms of the intelligence community, plus the support of a vigilant national population. The latter, however, needs to be aware of what to look out for and how to report suspicious activities without risks of retribution, falling foul of the law, or putting themselves at risk. President Goodluck Jonathan’s order of a review of the national security architecture that will lay greater emphasis on intelligence and citizens' participation in security surveillance is a step in the right direction. Combating terrorism must be the people’s war too!
Hours and days after the bombing of the U.N. Office in Abuja, security around the nation’s institutions remained dismal and laughable, contrary to what the government was saying. Indeed, the only way to address this scourge is to put Nigeria on a war-footing, by deploying every asset available to track down those involved and their associates. Anything less will be a march to a state of perdition without a leeway for turning back. As far as solutions go, it would be great folly to negotiate with Boko Haram and for that matter any group that takes up arms against the State or employs violence for political ends. Whereas such violence may reflect expressions of frustrations that have its roots in the unfettered disenfranchisement, unemployment, and social decay of a broad swath of the national youth population, both in the north and the south, such frustrations cannot justify a resort to or condoning violence.
If tackling Boko Haram has become very complex and intractable, it is a complexity induced in part by the state and its use of the Nigerian military for civilian police duties. When in the summer of 2009 elements from the Boko Haram sect sacked a police station in Maiduguri, its leader Mohammed Yusuf and alleged financier, Alhaji Buji Foi, were both captured by the Nigerian military and handed over to the Nigerian police. Subsequently both were killed in still unconfirmed circumstances. As I noted then,
“Regardless of his alleged crime and role in the alleged mayhem, like all persons, Mohammed Yusuf possess inherent constitutional and human rights that should be respected and protected. Moreover, for him to die while in police custody, even of natural causes, still would have warranted investigation” (See, “Onovo, Law, Order, and State of the Nation”).
If the goal of executing Mohammed Yusuf was decapitation, we now know that it failed. Moreover, the killing of Mohammed Yusuf was not the first or last time there would be such extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. The Nigerian military in November 1999 killed over 250 people on Odi, Bayelsa State, in retaliation of the killing of 12 policemen. Similarly, the military killed some 200 people in Benue State villages in three days (between 22 and 24 October 2001), in retaliation for the killing of 19 Nigerian soldiers. What was lost is that such summary executions militate against investigations and intelligence gathering on the real financiers and supporters of sects like Boko Haram.
In the present context, it would be salient and exceedingly useful for the Nigerian government to publish the report of the investigation ordered by late President Umaru Yar’Adua into the killing of Boko Haram leaders. Somewhere within that report there would certainly be names of their foreign and domestic associates. Nigerians need to know who they are, whom the Boko Haram leaders were talking to, as such information might hold the key to cracking down fully on the sect. Similarly, it is not farfetched that there are some within government establishments that might be benefitting vicariously or even directly both in financial terms and politically, from the rising spate of violent terrorist attacks within Nigeria. Ironically, they too and their families will also be at risk, if Boko Haram is infiltrated by foreign terrorist elements like Al Qaida of the Magreb, as some already suspect that they are.
Nigeria is at grave risk. Like kidnapping, bombs may be here to stay as tools for political ends. Thus, the Nigerian government must be alive to its obligations, especially in matters pertaining to national security. So far, the government’s response to these terrorist acts has been as usual, reactionary, benign, and non-productive. That is fundamentally the core problem, especially since the enemy is domestic and already within the house. Simply, tackling Boko Haram is now the top and most urgent national security challenge confronting Nigeria. Nothing more needs be said.
With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.
Hank Eso is a columnist for Kwenu.com. His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites.
© Hank Eso, 4 September 2011. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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