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Nigeria is at a dreadful precipice. Observers of the country (International and local) and everyone else with any interest in her must be very concerned about what the fallout would be should she be unable to surmount her current problems. The problems are a complex blend of social, political, ethnic, legal and constitutional problems which now bedevil the country in proportions never before experienced in the turbulent and checkered history of this potentially great nation-state.
There is now a dangerous escalation of terrorist campaigns with all the hallmarks of insurgency. Religion may well add to the unending list of Nigeria’s woes, as it appears to dominate the essential character of the current campaign of insurgency.
The indicators are glaring, profuse and ominous. Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani herdsmen menance, political violence, corruption, nepotism, tribalism, indiscipline, abduction and kidnappings, armed robbery, murder and extortion, bombings of places of worship and innocent Nigerians are all the indicators of a failing State.
Think of Northern Nigeria and for most people the name Boko Haram comes up. The hub of an Islamist insurgency, Northern Nigeria has been in a state of conflict since 2001, culminating with the formation of the Boko Haram. Over the past five years, starting in 2009, the conflict has clearly been at its most violent phase. The group emerged in the early 2000s in Maiduguri, in Borno State. ‘Boko Haram’ is really a nickname, their official name translates to ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teaching and Jihad.’ But the nickname is apt as it means ‘education’ or ‘western education’ is forbidden and the group’s origins can be explained, in part, by their strict Salafist interpretation of Islam.
Since 2009 when Boko Haram launched its first attack in Nigeria, the terrorist sect has remained a significant security and economic threat to the countries of the Lake Chad region. While moderate successes were recorded between 2015 and 2016, with the government maintaining that the insurgent sect has been technically defeated, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. This happened almost exactly five years ago when the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari claimed that the government had ‘technically defeated’ Boko Haram. While clearly politically motivated, there was some truth to his controversial declaration at that time.
In the months previously the Nigerian military, with international support and critical operational involvement from a coalition of regional states, pushed Boko Haram out of a huge swath of territory that the insurgents controlled in Borno State at the border regions.
In March of 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS central in Syria and Iraq. Despite the clear ideological common ground between the two extremist groups, it was widely seen as a move made out of desperation as they were being hammered on the ground. Pledging fealty to ISIS led to a leadership struggle and fracture, with Boko Haram splitting into at least two separate groups. One loyal to leader Abubakar Shekau, who had succeeded the late founder Mohammed Yusuf, and the other to Yusuf’s son, Abu Musab al-Barnawi. The Shekau faction, generally referred to as Boko Haram, is viewed as more brutal, killing civilians and soldiers indiscriminately and making heavy use of suicide bombers, particularly young women.
Mr Barnawi’s Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction is backed by ISIS and has focused on winning over Muslim civilians while targeting the military. The recent killing of a top Iswap leader by his own commanders has led to some speculation of a rapprochement.
The loss of territory and infighting significantly reduced the threat of open combat, and the military freed countless kidnapped girls and women as they regained control. Boko Haram then shifted even more to brutally unconventional tactics like suicide attacks, sometimes carried out by kidnapped girls.
Nevertheless, in recent times, it has been shown that the sects have received more funding because of the brazen way in which they now engage the Nigerian Army. Last year, they raided a military base in Metele near the border with Niger and Chad where there were 100 soldiers dead and more than 150 missing, though the army insists the death toll was 23. They have also taken to ambushing and massacring military personnel in pure guerilla combat styles. With the help of sophisticated weaponry and advanced combat tactics, these insurgents have managed to establish control in several villages in border states like Borno State and Katsina state while shifting their activities away from their base and make-shift headquarters, the Sambisa forest.
They just recently raided a village called Kankara in Katsina state where they comfortably made away with some school boys numbering up to 300. After some private negotiations, the schoolboys were returned in the early hours of today.
Another menace bedevilling the Nigerian Government are the combined inactions of the notorious Fulani Herdsmen and the other ‘Bandits’. Over the past five years, the northwestern part of Nigeria has also become gradually engulfed by violence, with much less media coverage because these attacks have been carried out by groups that have been described locally as ‘bandits’. These are not Islamist terrorist groups with international affiliations which would more easily capture the imagination of global media.
Bandit is used here as a catch-all term to describe numerous groups that have carried out vicious attacks on local communities, killing scores of people, and have also been kidnapping as many as they can for ransoms. Zamfara, Katsina, and Kaduna states are the epicenters of the growing crisis while they have successfully shifted their operations to other States in Nigeria over time.
The genesis of the lawlessness is not as clear-cut as the Boko Haram insurgency as it is a combination of various factors. The Northwest region makes up just over a quarter of Nigeria’s landmass and is composed of seven states, including some of Nigeria’s poorest. Zamfara and Sokoto have high poverty rates like in the Northeast. But unlike the Northeast, the Northwest region is more homogenous in terms of ethnicity and religion: with the exception of the southern part of Kaduna State and parts of Kebbi State, it is mostly peopled by the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, and mostly Muslim.
Most of the actors are Fulani, the ethnic group that spreads across West Africa and is known for being nomadic pastoralists, while the communities being attacked are mostly Hausa farming communities. The current violent dynamic started soon after vigilante groups formed from the Hausa communities for security purposes carried out extrajudicial action against Fulani pastoralists as tensions mounted from increasing competition for land and water resources between the pastoralists and the farmers as the effects of climate change exacerbated. This has all coincided with an increase in cattle rustling in the region by armed gangs, again mostly Fulani, using increasingly sophisticated weapons and staging attacks from nearby forests. It is these gangs that have now been attacking communities and killing indiscriminately in a bid to exact revenge.
The combined activities of these murderous demons in human form have cost Nigeria close to three million souls with millions more displaced. The Nigerian Government should bear all the blame for this.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration have shown that they completely lack the will to fight because of their religious and ethnic affiliations or connections. This is because the Nigerian Government is made up of mostly Northerners and Muslims, thanks to the stark nepotism and ethnic sentiments being displayed by this present administration. Some in government consider Boko Haram members as Northern brothers or Muslims who should therefore be dealt with cautiously. President Buhari has also on a number of occasions shown some sympathy towards the Boko Haram cause by putting repentant insurgents on lifetime salaries and reintegrating some of them into the Nigerian Army.
Another factor which has ensured that the insurgents keep having a field day at their places of operation is the incompetence of Nigeria’s service chiefs and the administrators under them. These service chiefs are made up of underqualified, uneducated individuals who are more concerned about the financial gratifications that their positions can earn them. Some of these security chiefs have also been accused of nepotism and of giving away vital details to compromise the onslaught against the terror gangs. The Borno State governor recently accused the military of sabotage in an attack on his convoy.
Another explanation to this is corruption. Some senior military officers and their civilian counterparts have come to see the war budget as an endless means to draw money for personal enrichment. There are examples of counter-terrorism or so-called counter-insurgency funds stolen by the national security adviser and dozens of others as well as some isolated cases of stolen war money by some security or service chiefs. While some opted for plea bargains, others are still undergoing trial. The recent rise in banditry and demonstrations against it show that the people can no longer accept the circumstances. Boko Haram, Islamic State, bandits and kidnap gangs are threats to Nigeria’s peace, stability, security and economic prosperity. Everyone wants a stop to it.
The Nigerian Government has the responsibility to provide genuine leadership in the war. The statement credited recently to the army chief Turkur Buratai, that the crisis can only be stopped by Nigerians, thus passing the buck to civilians, is irresponsible. It’s only the armed forces that have the arsenals and training to fight Boko Haram and other such groups.
Corruption must be fought and conquered. The Borno governor once accused soldiers of extorting money from motorists where Boko Haram has a strong presence. Such practices, as well as instances of compromised military intelligence, are a big problem the military high command must stop by itself. Dialogue, negotiation, ransom payments, amnesty and integration of repentant insurgents into the army and society are not the solution. They will only serve as the internal seeds of destruction of the army and its efforts against terrorism.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK