Daily Trust (Abuja)

5 October 2011

Nigeria: Boko Haram Syndrome - the Way Forward

analysis

Jama'atu Ahlussunna Lidda'awati Waljihad also known as Boko Haram is now to Nigeria what Al-Qaida is to western world. The name epitomises threat, attack and suicide bombing. It is now an anathema that anyone, except few, can easily be intimidated with and also a tool of ridicule to northern Muslims by their southern counterparts. The recent bomb scare that saw the members of the National Assembly fleeing the premises of the Assembly is a classic example of what the group is perceived to be and what it represents.

The group emerged from the doldrums of the socioeconomic and political crises bedevilling the country since the advent of military rule. Prior to their emergence, Islamic Brotherhood Movement led by ABU-trained economist, Mallam Ibrahim Zakzaky emerged in the eighties. The two share similar characteristics ranging from the call for the establishment of an Islamic state to the denouncement of western education. The Brotherhood Movement mobilised significantly a large followers from the young northern Muslims. They, in contrast to Boko Haram, opted for a peaceful and non-violent method to achieving their goal. Though, to a large extent, even the Boko Haram resorted to violence after what they perceived as being pushed to the wall by the security outfit in Maiduguri, hence their targeting of the police force as their main enemies.

The twin attacks, on the Nigeria Police Headquarters and the United Nations building in Abuja, whose responsibility were purportedly claimed by the group has made it appear to be one of the major security threats in the country. This has made public ceremonial events and functions difficult to either organise or to attend by many due to their apprehension on possible bomb attack. People are no longer at ease going to government offices in Abuja or going closer to security outposts. The nation is indeed currently in the abyss of bewilderment on how this menace can be checked. This is no doubt worrisome in view of the consequences and the adverse effects it can have on the nation's economy.

There appears to be many theories explaining the genesis and the way forward to the myriad of socio-economic and political crises facing the country. It is believed, however, that the crises only differ by name, dimension, geographical location and manifestation style but certainly share common cause. Exactly around this time last year, the bone of contention was the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta people (MEND) which claimed responsibility for the October 1st 2010 Eagle Square bomb attack that led to the loss of many lives and left many injured - a situation that poured sand into the euphoria of the nation's 50th Anniversary celebration. These crises appear in various forms ranging from religious/ethnic crises in the likes of Jos crises, the OPC crises in Lagos during Obasanjo era, the Tiv-Jukun crisis in Taraba and Tafawa Balewa crisis in Bauchi State in the recent past. Other forms it manifested include kidnapping and the immediate post-election crisis that followed the 2011 presidential polls.

All these are signals of poor leadership styles of the contemporary leaders we have at all levels in the country. The citizens have gradually become hopeless and have lost confidence in those saddled with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the country and the entire institutions of the state. People no longer trust the police as an institution meant to protect them but that which seeks to extort them of their little earnings and harass them unnecessarily. They have succeeded in reducing themselves to check-point levy collectors. A policeman is now happier to collect ten naira at check-point and wave you off without bothering to find out what is actually in your car. You may be asked for a thorough check up mostly when you intend not to give something. Whenever the preoccupation of security personnel moves away from their primary responsibility to a token incentive, then there is a problem. How can adequate security be provided in a country where the security personnel are ill-equipped and ill-motivated?

Once the citizens lose confidence in the ability of the state to protect them or have certainty that the state would not do justice to them due to either their economic status, religious affiliation or political inclination, then the tendency is for them to seek for an alternative to the state as a last resort which is what is happening today in the country. The Niger Delta youth opted to violent means of making their grievances and demands known to the government, having been convinced that it would be the easiest way they could be heard and attended to; and, of course, that was what happened. The amnesty programme and Ministry for Niger Delta came up simply to end their attacks on the nation's oil installations and other foreign interests in the region, and not on ground of sympathetic consideration to the suffering of their people due to the oil exploration in the region.

The persistence of ethno/religious crises in most part of the north stemmed from the apparent selfish interest of both the traditional and political leaders of the region who deliberately shy away from the fact of the matter. Several commissions of enquiries have been set up to investigate the crises and have all submitted their reports but dumped aside. Once another one starts, another commission would also be set up and state resources be spent on it with their report being kept aside simply because some highly-placed and politically-influential people are mostly indicted in most of the reports. In Kaduna State, for instance, the mastermind of Zangon Kataf massacre of 1991, after being sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction, were shortly freed and went unpunished in spite of the innocent lives they killed. This is typical of the state justice in Nigeria. Your political and economic status in the society determines whether you can obtain justice or not.

The leader of the Boko Haram sect was said to have been arrested by the army and handed over to the police before, under instruction from the anonymous, he was brutally shot to death by the police who claimed that he was shot in a shot-out, having been interrogated earlier, handcuffed. Since then, there was initially no effort to bring to justice the perpetrators of the shameful and uncivilised act until recently when what looks like a stage-managed hearing commences.

It is instructive to note that no ordinary officer in the ranks of the suspects can initiate and execute such an act without instruction from above - the source that remains obscured since 2009 to date. This brings up the question of whether there exists a conspiracy bigger than what the public imagine. Why the haste in the assassination of the leader and those close to him that were arrested? Was it out of fear in some quarters that some prominent personalities could be implicated if they were to be brought to court? I believe the answer to these questions is critical to addressing the crises.

The way forward to, not only Boko Haram, but the entire socioeconomic and political crises bedevilling the country is not farfetched and illusive. There is indeed no shortcut to peace's hometown. The ultimate way forward is nothing more than JUSTICE in the true sense of the word. Unless and until we are prepared to embrace impartiality, divest politics in the issue of national interest and unity of the country and discard the window dressing style of committees, then we are not ready to solve the problem. If the basic needs of the citizens would be provided such as education, good health, clean water, employment and adequate and uninterrupted power supply without any discrimination, I strongly believe that security challenges would drastically subside. Educated and fully employed youth cannot be easily lured into violence. Poverty breeds envy and pave way for division and hatred among neighbours. Illiteracy makes one gullible and a prey for mischief makers and criminals. Religious leaders must champion the cause of unity and avoid inflammatory and divisive comments on issues of national interest. It is high time we appreciate that the elite recognise their tribe, religion and where they come from only when they discover that their share of the national cake is threatened. I pray for Nigeria to have leaders that can work towards saving it from the brinks of collapse, amen.

Aliyu wrote from Kam Salem Road, Kaduna

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