Although Nigeria presidency has claimed that Boko Haram’s 10-year-old insurgency has been ‘defeated’, the brazen way the group’s terrorists attacked and looted a village in Jakana town of Konduga local government area last week, it seems the Islamist group poses a growing threat to peaceful life in Nigeria
Boko Haram, Nigeria’s deadliest Islamist group, completed a decade of ghastly terror activities in July. As Boko Haram’s terror campaign has left 30,000 people dead and another two million internally displaced, the most populous country of the African continent has miserably failed to stop the marauding monster.
The Islamist group, based in Nigeria’s North-East, was founded in Maiduguri in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a popular Islamic cleric from the country’s Borno State. An offshoot of the Salafi Movement, Boko Haram’s overarching goal is to set up a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Nigeria, with Sharia criminal courts. Boko Haram followers, known as Yusuffiya (after the name of its founder), are mainly composed of northern Islamic students, scholars and unemployed professionals. It was officially known as the “Association of the Sunnis for the propagation of Islam and for the Jehad”, but it is popularly known as Boko Haram meaning, “Western education is abomination or forbidden”.
In its formative years, Yusuf criticised the northerners, specially the Muslims, for supporting what he widely regarded as the non-Islamic and illegitimate Government. The group started radicalisation amid widespread clashes between the Muslims and the Christians in the country. What drew many towards Yusuf’s fold was harsher tactics adopted by the Nigerian military towards suspected militants in the North-East. In 2009, when Yusuf was murdered in police custody, the movement turned into a full-scale armed struggle against the Government in the region. After Yusuf’s death, Abubakar Shekau took up the reins of the main faction and vowed to fight the Nigerian Government. The other faction is led by Yusuf’s son Abu Musab al-Barnawi. Boko Haram had in 2015 declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), rechristening itself as the Islamic State of West Africa Province.
While rediscovering the roots of Boko Haram, one can easily conclude that the centre of its struggle lies in poverty, corruption, and a very strong sense of localism and religion.
Booming commercial capital “Lagos” can’t offer a solution to the resource-rich nation afflicted with great economic inequality across the nation. In the north of Nigeria, more than 70 per cent of the people live in poverty as compared to 27 per cent in the south and nearly 34 per cent in the Niger Delta. As per Goldman report, Nigeria is a very big and diverse country which has a particular source of wealth that has benefited some areas more than others. The north has been left behind and is more impoverished.
In April 2019, Africa’s richest man Alhaji Aliko Dangote, while speaking at the Kaduna Investment Summit (KadInvest 4.0) in Kaduna (north-western Nigeria), expressed concern over the underdevelopment of Northern Nigeria, especially north-west and North-East part of the country. To him, Northern Nigeria will continue to remain poor unless Nigeria’s provincial Governments collaborate with the private sector to create investments and bridge development gaps in the region. 19 northern States which account for over 54 per cent of Nigeria’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-national Internally Generated Revenue in 2017. Therefore it is required that the regional Governments along with the central Government must create conducive environment to attract massive capital inflow to that part of the country so as to generate employment and charter a route for faster development.
Historical trend indicates that the north region had enjoyed the fruits of Islamic civilisation for centuries. But by 19th century, the Sultanates of the region succumbed to jehad by Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio. Eventually, he created a unified caliphate that became the biggest pre-colonial state in Africa. And it consisted of swaths of what is today known as Northern Nigeria, Niger and Southern Cameroon. The irony is that though the regime imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, it is open for a culture of poetry and scholarship.
The current jehad launched by the followers of Yusuf is an example of a sort of religious rebellion in Northern Nigeria. At the same time, Nigeria is roughly divided into Muslim-dominated North and Christian-dominated South. Even for decades, both the major groups have made an informal arrangement of abiding by a system of rotational presidency. But political friction between the two remains at the centre of this conflict in the North-East. Further, Nigeria’s entrenched political corruption and vivid socio-economic inequality have also contributed to the rise of this malaise in the region. Thus, Boko Haram is not a cause, but it is an impact of long-festering extremist impulses that reflects in the socio-economic realities of this neglected States of the North-East.
In fact, Alexander Thurston in a seminal work, written in 2017 (Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement, Princeton University Press), highlighted that “Boko Haram represents an ugly paradox: its ideas have limited appeal, but significant staying power. The group can be crushed militarily, yet State violence fuels its narrative of victimhood”.
Since, 2002, the radical movement spread more terror, and established almost an institutionalised structure through which it has been continuously fighting the Nigerian state. Further it has become a serious risk for bordering nations around Nigeria. Over the years, it has fuelled instability across the Lake Chad Basin. Besides displacing millions, Boko Haram has pushed these vulnerable people into starvation, and jeopardised some of the basic human rights such as education and most importantly, the health care. And, this mess has fast led to the stalling of global aid activities and cutting of federal Government services to many of the areas wherein the group is active. Due to the presence and macabre style of operation of these Islamists, gradually many of the international investors backed away, indicating more trouble for the North, despite Abuja’s constant military intervention against the group.
The Nigerian security forces have made considerable gains against the insurgent group, with the help of neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger. These nations along with the Nigerian security forces have formed a multi-national force, as authorised by the African Union in 2015, to stamp out the rebels of Boko Haram. The coalition forces have been able to help the Nigerian military to retake much of the areas controlled by rebels and reduced violence to what was seen before 2014. Back in 2013, the US Administration had designated Boko Haram as a terror organisation, but at times Washington has suspended military assistance out of concern over Nigeria’s alleged human rights abuses and counterterrorism strategy. But following the abduction of Chibok girls and uproar over the issue worldwide, the UK, France and the US pledged additional assistance, including intelligence for Nigeria. By early 2018, US President Donald Trump sealed a deal worth $600 million to sell a dozen Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria to support its massive counterterrorism efforts. When it comes to the UN, its Security Council imposed economic sanctions and an armed embargo over Boko Haram way back in 2014. Critics say that this move of the top global body is simply symbolic as the financial transactions and movements of the insurgents are extremely difficult to track at any time. However, these efforts on the part of the international community and concerned developed nations, along with constant support from the African Union, may help Abuja to contain the expansion of the Islamists, if not rooting it out altogether.
Today, the problem at the heart of Boko Haram insurgency is that it is fast becoming a full-scale security challenge for the central government in North-East of Nigeria. The communities in the States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are still at loggerheads despite attenuation in violence propelled by Boko Haram in recent days. Nigerians in general, and those in North-East in particular, must be cognizant of this entrapment and end this internecine war. It is simply deepening the crisis, pushing the impoverished region to the brink of a permanent boiling point.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)
Writer: Makhan Saikia
Courtesy: The Pioneer