The heightened anxiety and fear as I hid in an empty water tanker for several hours on receiving news of an attack some years back in Kaduna state is little compared to what the residents of the bloodied cities in Northern Nigeria experience on daily basis. I remember the fearful silent heart wrenching sobs and pitiful prayer to be spared but at the same preparing myself for eventual death. It was not the best of experiences.
The gruesome murders of defenseless victims cut open and beheaded in the dead of the night and clear open skies makes one wonder if truly the perpetrators are human or just beasts in human form. The killings of students, the bombing of worshipers, the coldblooded murder of newly wed couples…the list is endless. What are they really fighting for? Is this war really going to end on their terms? Remember Biafra…….the government is supreme.
Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, has become a household name and has claimed responsibilities for bombings and killings since 2009 when separatist movement led by a northern Nigerian Muslim preacher, Mohammed Yusuf decried the country’s misrule by declaring western education or un-Islamic learning forbidden. The summary execution of Yusuf by the Nigerian police in 2009 is said by many to be the cause of the full blown war between the state and his followers. Tears and blood washing the streets.
The question we ought to ask is what would be Nigeria’s fate if he were still alive? Will his convictions have changed? With frequent prison breaks, would he still be behind bars or out and gathering his armies? On the saying “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”, are we to believe that the incessant heartless killings is an exception to the rule or just a fraction of what the situation would be if he were alive and leading the war against the state.
The US in 2013 officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization and placed a bounty of $7 million on Abubakar Shekau’s head. Months later, he was declared dead by the Nigerian military after a raid – only that he now makes videos from the underworld. Saddening is the fact that like blood infected with ringworm, terrorism in Nigeria is spreading and only a temporary evacuation of defenseless victims to allow the two elephants fight can minimize the number of grasses that suffer. Again, how ready is the government in taking long term steps to bring peace and stability in the region? Amnesty? Pure military combat? Partial separation of territory as an enemy state or just outright alienation of the state with intention to purge and recolonize? What is the way forward? What length is the government willing to go on this?
Boko Haram is responsible for over 4,700 deaths and amongst other things has called for an Islamic government as against democracy – a system of government that is against what their belief, war on Christians, the death of Muslims it sees as traitors, a debate with Islamic clerics – as it is convinced of its doings as commandment of Allah contrary to the views of other faithfuls and has made known its intention of continuing the blood bath.
The most common creation story for Boko Haram is that it started in the early 2000s in the northeastern city of Maiduguri with Mohammed Ali - a preacher fed up with poverty and disorder and embarked on a hegira - Muhammadan withdrawal from society. He and his followers created a community and practiced sharia. After a dispute with authorities, the Nigerian Taliban, as they had become known as, attacked a police station. The army laid siege, and Ali was killed. According to report, survivors regrouped with Mohammed Yusuf - a promising contemporary of Ali’s and he built a bigger community which was labeled as “state within a state, with a cabinet, its own religious police, and a large farm.” He called his group Jamaa Ahl al Sunna li al Dawa wa al Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Possibly mocking Yusuf ’s religiosity, someone called it Boko Haram and it stuck. Yusuf carried out forced conversions to Islam and some said ordered the murder of a rival. Nonetheless he gained sympathizers around Nigeria, not all of them Muslim. “Boko Haram is a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group,” one bishop said.
In 2009 following a clash with security forces, the army bombarded the community and Yusuf was captured. He was killed without trial by the Nigerian police and devotees went into hiding, others travelled out of the country to train with other militants while others regrouped yet again in Kano around Abubakar Shekau - Yusuf ’s deputy and once more went ahead to liberate themselves and religion from the hands of infidels and the Nigerian government. Northern Nigeria was overtaken by bombings, arsons, and shootings until the police headquarters in Abuja was suicide-bombed, then the UN compound. The rest they say is history and we are leaving that history.
Reports say that these cities give off images and feelings of a weary garrison with checkpoints at every few hundred yards characterized with farmlands left fallow by neglect and desertification. In the city center, streets, parks, plazas are deserted with visible figures of authority in the city, the Joint Task Force units (JTFs) – paramilitary teams made up of police, soldiers, and agents from the State Security Service, who patrol in armored vehicles and canopied pickups.
“I have no doubt in my mind that one day Nigeria will overcome it,” Kwankwaso says. The Kano State governor is optimistic of the end but “how it will happen, it is difficult to say now.” Recall that after Kwankwaso’s first term in the governor’s office ended in 2003, he was indicted for embezzling $7.5 million in state funds. He was not prosecuted and in 2011 was elected again. The people get the leader they deserve? The assurance of violence still hangs in the air so is the hope that an end will come. But when?
Nigeria has endured a civil war, six military coups, two assassinations of heads of state, and survived at least three crippling domestic insurgencies in just over 50 years of existence but is gradually losing its regard for its government who is seen as clueless and unconcerned. This brazen contempt for her leadership is hard-edged and has turned into pertinacious civic responsibility of some sort. The pathetic sense of humor that allows the citizenry to turn almost all saddening events to comic relief indicates frivolity that stems from hopelessness – a method of keeping sane and dealing with a failed state that was once indeed the giant of Africa and whose potential far exceeds the reality of having two-third of a population of over 170 million people leaving just above starvation. In a land of plenty, yet so little.
Boko Haram has become Nigeria’s worst nightmare, a nightmare that steadily creeps into our dreams, a source for our worst anxieties and national shame so much that topics centered on corruption and impetuous spending is now used as favorite pastimes discussions while headlines of massacre roll off our skin and we continue our misdirected lives in the next heart beat without as much thought to the implication of these happenings on our existence as a state, as a people. The senselessness of killings is exhausting, the future bleak yet being a religious state, hopeful. The same attitude trails our leaders who are completely incapable of facing this insurgency, indeed unwilling to face it, and so find solace in their favorite pastime - looting the coffers and unrepentant about mediocre performance – if they perform at all. The leaders are no better than the insurgents in that while the Boko Haram use guns and bombs to spill innocent blood based on their convictions that are against the fundamentals of holding life sacred, the leaders simply divert, loot and store funds meant for the people and starve them to death with no remorse as to the number of Nigerians that die from preventable diseases and avoidable accidents.
Indeed, Nigeria is hemorrhaging.
Once upon a time, it was not so.

Article by Unen Ameji. Unen Ameji is a Nigerian writer and author of Finding Baida. Follow @UnenAmeji on twitter.