Over the years, Nigerian forces seem to have succeeded in containing Boko Haram terror group. In disarray and having realised they cannot win their war, the group has grown desperate and resorted to attacks on traditional rulers to try and rally local.
The terror group Boko Haram would have been history by now had its bandits been operating in Niger or Chad. This is for the simple reason that security agents in those countries are abreast with terror groups and their antics and could have easily routed them.
The troops in Niger and Chad are battle tested in the real sense of the word. This explains why Ansar-u-Deen chose Mali, not Chad or Niger, two places where it would have been easier for them to converge.
Of course, Al Qae'da clearly avoided Nigeria for very tactical reasons: they would have had no hiding place as the skin colour of most of their fighters would easily give them away. So it was convenient to train local, dark-skinned Nigerians to do the dirty work of the predominantly fair-skinned Al Qa'eda fighters.
One may be right to wonder why terror groups are operating with relative ease in Afghanistan since Afghan troops are, to a large extent, equally battle tested. The answer is simple: since the forebearers of the Mujahideen forced the British to abandon Afghanistan in 1922, to the war against Soviet invasion from 1979 until they too fled in 1989, many Afghans have come to view militant opposition to foreign intervention as a patriotic call to duty.
This is the way many Afghans today view the American intervention. It has nothing to do with reviving Islam; Islam was merely a rallying point, an effective battle cry against the British and the former Soviets and now the Americans. After all, what other brand of Islam is the Taliban bringing to a people who subscribe to the basic tenets of Islam? This says a lot about the failure of the Fulani Jihad of 1804 in the defunct Kanem Borno Empire.
By the time the Fulani Jihadists threateningly arrived the shores of Borno, they met a people deeply steeped in Islamic practices and were accordingly questioned by Borno Ulamas as to their motive since Borno had embraced Islam at least one thousand years before the Sokoto Jihad. Which Islam then is Boko Haram reviving in today's Borno? What on earth is Ansar-u-Deen doing in Gao and Timbuktu?
Back to Boko Haram! All thumbs should be pointing skyward for Nigerian troops who must be commended for rising to the occasion. Unused to counter insurgency and unfamiliar with fighting urban guerrillas, Nigerian troops have, under three years, succeeded in containing and localising Boko Haram.
There should be no surprises on the day Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, is captured. Of course, he will appear sober, as most gangsters are wont to be and probably in disguise: no long, unkempt beard, no over sized chewing stick, no turban and probably spotting a French suit. Despite an increase in serial killings, he no longer appears to be in control of his group which is in complete disarray.
They may continue to target prominent and not too prominent northerners and continue in their unislamic practice of bombing innocent people in their places of worship but truth is that they have come to the grim realisation that they cannot win their misguided war. They have reached the end of the road and are desperately clawing at straws in their bid to avoid the deep blue sea. One instance of clawing at straws is the 19 January attack on the Amir (Emir) of Kano, Dr. Ado Bayero.
Northern Nigerians have serious issues with their traditional rulers and many wish to see traditional institutions abolished. Many see traditional rulers as part of their problems because most of them have been compromised: they do not speak for their people and have teamed up with politicians who mindlessly corner the common wealth. Some traditional rulers are happy playing court to politicians who come calling with bags of ill gotten wealth, and simply turn a blind eye to the many atrocities committed by the politicians.
Some of the juiciest government contracts are reserved for traditional rulers who see nothing wrong with indulging in monthly federal allocations that should be used to provide infrastructure for communities. Of course, their children pick some of the best jobs in the land without having to break a sweat. It is now an open secret in many communities in northern Nigeria that voters remain undecided until traditional rulers decree who they should cast their votes for.
Having failed to use religion to rally the people to support their wrong-headed campaign, Boko Haram must have reasoned that exploiting this genuine anger of the people against their traditional rulers would do the magic. This thinking informed the failed attempt on the life of the Shehu of Borno last year as well as the attack on the Amir of Kano, two traditional rulers who should feel genuinely insulated from allegations of greed.
Like the failed bid to exploit religion, the attack on traditional rulers is a desperate change of tactics, a counter-productive move that has further widened the gulf between the people and Boko Haram. Aside the usual Allah ya isa or God dey, or such invectives as azzalummai which people employ to describe their traditional rulers, very few right thinking Muslims and Christians of northern Nigerian extraction, despite their genuine anger imagine that killing traditional rulers is part of the solution to the many problems of the north.
Of course these are polluted, hateful and hate filled times but despite the madness of the moment, many northerners do not imagine that killing innocent Nigerians, Muslims and non Muslims, in their homes, in market places or at their places of worship or killing policemen, be they Christians or Muslims, is the way forward. Only criminals who read their religious books upside down do.
Like a bad dream, Nigerians will outlive the ongoing madness. The attack on Dr. Ado Bayero was probably intended to be a game changer. A punch drunk boxer will gasp for breath to muster all effort in the hope of landing a killer punch to turn the tables against a better prepared and more determined foe. That is what Boko Haram's daredevilry of 19 January represents.
Abdulrazaq Magaji, writer, journalist and former history lecturer, lives in Abuja, Nigeria.