Opinion: 10 years of Boko Haram’s war and other conflicts By – AZUKA ONWUKA
This year marks the 10th year since Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership of Boko Haram in 2009 and declared war on Nigeria. Many Nigerians cannot believe that this insurgency has been on for 10 years. Even the staunchest supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari has realised that there is little hope of eradicating Boko Haram and stopping the group from killing people.
Boko Haram showed its strength in September 2010 when it attacked the Bauchi prisons and freed 105 of its members as well as over 600 other inmates. It looked like a flash in the pan to Nigeria’s security forces. But Boko Haram was launching attacks against the Nigerian state.
However, on June 16, 2011, the terror group’s campaign of violence against Nigeria took a strange dimension when Mohammed Manga, a 35-year-old well-to-do businessman with five children, rammed a bomb-laden car into the gate of the Nigeria Police Force headquarters in Abuja and caused the death of five people and the destruction of property. It was shocking to Nigerians that at last suicide bombing that was like anathema to Nigerians had been used by a Nigerian. Since then, Boko Haram has continued to evolve, using different tactics to prosecute its war against Nigeria.
While Nigerians were complaining about the killings and destruction from Boko Haram, the herdsmen became violent and murderous. Whenever there was a misunderstanding between them and the local farmers, they invited their mercenaries to visit the community and massacre the people. While Nigerians were reeling from the bloodshed unleashed by Boko Haram and the herdsmen, the bandits sprang up from the Zamfara axis with their killings too. Then, kidnappers became a law unto themselves, especially in many parts of the North.
The worrisome aspect of this violence is the boldness of the criminals and the seeming helplessness of the security forces. Boko Haram now takes delight in attacking military bases and killing soldiers. The herdsmen would announce their planned attack on a village and still go ahead to carry out the attack, spending more than five hours, according to media reports, in the affected location, with no response coming from the security operatives. Similarly, the so-called bandits would surround communities in Zamfara State and its environs for hours and still attack such communities with little or no opposition. They are said to have even turned themselves into law-enforcers, whom the locals report cases to for adjudication and punishment of those reported. Likewise, the kidnappers now block the expressway and spend hours to abduct as many people as possible for the purposes of ransom. They are so feared that even VIPs including military personnel with police escorts prefer to commute between Abuja and Kaduna on rail rather than by road.
The message sent out by the actions of these criminals and the effrontery they exhibit are such that they are not afraid of the Nigerian security operatives. They portray themselves as a law unto themselves. They do not act as if they recognise that there is a government in charge of Nigeria.
For a nation trying to contain armed robbers, Internet fraudsters, drug traffickers, cultists, harvesters of human organs, etc, it is difficult to add the arduous task of combating Boko Haram, murderous herdsmen, murderous bandits and kidnappers who demand ransom – all at the same time. Matters are not helped by the fact that both the police and the soldiers are ill-equipped and ill-motivated and that the level of patriotism of Nigerians is not high, with many citizens believing that dying for the country is not a wise decision.
In addition, from the President to his ministers concerned with internal security matters and his security chiefs, there is no sign of any certainty of what needs to be done to combat the killings and violence. Rather than outright condemnation or discernible action plan to check these acts, there has been direct or subtle justification. There seems to be an attempt at placating the criminals rather than finding a permanent answer to the crimes. Rather than the perpetrators of these crimes being seen as criminals, there seems to be an attitude from official quarters that they are some “freedom fighters” or “activists” who are fighting a cause because they have been wronged and therefore need to be compensated or placated. This has not helped to combat these crimes.
In addition to those killed, this violence has created millions of internally displaced people and orphans. Many communities in the North have been destroyed and will be rebuilt later with money from the Federal Government and the state governments. The primary business of many of the affected communities, which is agriculture, has also been destroyed, thereby increasing the already existing poverty that is very high.
And most importantly, there is no certainty over when these criminal activities will end. That seems to have helped other criminal elements to emerge in the North. What seems to play out is that when people see that the Nigerian security architecture is finding it difficult to defeat an existing group, some people would come together and start a new line of crime.
Therefore, the fear is that these crimes may get worse as the days roll by and more groups may even spring up. The ultimate aim of these criminal groups is to make Nigeria a failed state, where militias are more powerful than the state. That is frightening.
Without many Nigerians knowing it, Nigeria is embroiled in war. Many Nigerians assume that Nigeria is not in war because one part of the country is not fighting to exit from Nigeria like the country witnessed between 1967 and 1970 when the erstwhile Eastern Region attempted to secede from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. Technically, Nigeria is embroiled in war. Boko Haram’s mission is to carve out a part of Nigeria and make it an Islamic Republic. It may seem impossible to many but the members of the group believe that it is doable. And as long as there is a perennial fighting between our soldiers and police with their own fighters, a war is on. The addition of the murderous herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers has helped to muddle the water.
With Boko Haram pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on March 7, 2015, thereby transforming to the Islamic State in West Africa, the group seems to have invigorated its hope of creating an Islamic State. It may not achieve it but it does not seem to give up hope. The implication is that the group will continue to fight to realise its dream, thereby sustaining the state of war in Nigeria for a long time to come.
It is obvious that whatever strategy Buhari has used against Boko Haram and other terrorist and criminal groups devastating Nigeria has not worked. A new strategy is needed to shorten the reign of Boko Haram and other violent groups. But the billion-naira question is: “Does Buhari have that winning strategy?” Punch
– Twitter @BrandAzuka