At 10:28 am September 29th in Abuja Nigeria, Ahmad Salkida posted a tweet saying “there will be a repeat of the Beneshiek attack, this time around, ‘it is big and in Maiduguri’” citing credible sources. Right above his tweet on my timeline was an expletive filled squabble between two Nigerian youths on the refusal of one to return the favour of ‘following back’ on twitter and the crowd of re-tweets cheering their exchange on.

In a sane world, Salkida’s tweet would have over 10000 re-tweets, the media will be agog with his revelation, he will be a recognized media prophet on all things Boko Haram and a possible attack will be averted by an effective system.

However, this is Nigeria; a ‘situation’ where everything and nothing is expected in the same vein. Information like this being treated with such nonchalance on the same morning an attack was carried out on the College of Agriculture, Yobe is nothing new. Factually, Salkida had earlier warned about this attack and admittedly deleted the warning for his own safety. A lot of us will Google the Salkida name after reading this and be amazed and angered by our drop of water lack of knowledge in an ocean of ignorance. In all this, Boko Haram thrives; Boko Haram and a tiny group of increasingly wealthy people called ‘security contractors’.

Jama’a  Ahl al-sunnah li-da’wa wa al-jihad popularly called Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation based in the Northeast of Nigeria with wings in North Cameroun, Niger and Chad and the primary aim of establishing Sharia law in the country. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2001, the sect grew under the lazy eye of the Nigerian government taking full advantage of the various ills in society to lure youths into its reassuring arms.

Through all this, the government was busy being well; the government. While acknowledging Yusuf’s intelligence as a persuasive leader and Islamic scholar, it is imperative to remember that he was employed by aspiring Governor of Borno State; Alli Modu Sherriff to help get him into power in the 2003 elections in his successful attempt to snatch power from the hands of then Governor Mallah Kachallah. This is a popular method used by Nigerian politicians. Whoever has the state’s touts in the palm of his hands is an election force.

At this time, Mohammed Yusuf was on self exile in Saudi Arabia following violent clashes with the police in the mildly volatile northeast. In a land where escapee offenders can be recycled into functional heroes in the society (Alamieyeseigha 101), Yusuf was convinced to return and help put Sherriff in the government house. He agreed with the accord that Sharia law will be implemented in the state. With this agreement in place, the following series of connected phrases is a breakdown of how we got here.

Alli Modu Sherriff wins elections à Sherriff creates Ministry of Religious Affairs appointing one of Yusuf’s men; National secretary of the Yusufiyya movement, Alhaji Buji Foi as commissioner. à Thus the official merger of outlaws and a ‘legitimate’ government à Sherriff fails to implement Shariah law in Borno State à Yusuf asks Foi and his other people in the ministry of religious affairs to resign à Yusuf denounces the government and resumes preaching Sharia with his Yusufiyya movement à Alli now has the power à Yusuf is once again enemy of state à Alli uses the all too easy police on this new ‘irritant’ à Yusuf’s men are killed à Yusufiyya members mount a procession to the cemetery to bury their dead à here comes the police à 19 more Yusuf’s men bite the dust à Yusuf goes to recognized security agencies to cry about the unlawful killing of his men à  Alli Modu Sherriff and security agencies: This is 2009,Who is this troublesome Yusuf? à Yusuf’s supporters attack police stations and prisons à Yusuf is arrested à Yusuf and some of his sect members are murdered without trial à Yusufiyya movement disbands.

Two years later Boko Haram becomes a fearful part of a typical Nigerian two year olds’ vocabulary, is recognized by Wikipedia and is responsible for the death of over 4000 Nigerians, Maiduguri is a ghost town with mansions selling for as low as 500000 naira and the news of mass murders in the North is as unbelievable as it is normal.

The use of thugs as earlier stated is not new in the Nigerian political landscape. Our newfound democracy has been tainted by many anomalies that would make for a beautiful Fact or Fiction TV episode. Our chance at a Mandela situation was lost when our very own ‘Jail to Palace’ hero took the money and power way out and introduced us to a system so corrupt; unborn children are stained with it.

The Obasanjo administration inherited a Nigeria with a majority who had come out of an era where mere thinking was forbidden. People had conditioned themselves to accept the word of the military ruler with docile survival techniques. A funny example is a memory of praise and worship sessions in church as a Nigerian child born into a Christian family. A popular chorus back then was the “Jesus power super power” song; and to show how much the people revered the military and FEARED their present ruler (when I was a child, General Sani Abacha was president), the song was sang using names of past leaders and we will scream at the top of our voices;

Jesus power super power (2x), Buhari power powerless power, Babangida power powerless power

When it got to the Abacha part of the song, the choir leader will call Abacha’s name in the lowest of tones and use his hands to signal to the congregation to do same. And WE DID SAME! The fear was real.

Coming out of that slavery into democracy was Obasanjo’s opportunity to lead these “blank slates” into a great people and a great nation. How that turned out can be summarized as thus; we missed our chance.

There are layers and layers of sheer rottenness that have become a part of the Nigerian entity, political hooliganism a brain child of political decay is one of them. The system is simple get votes by whatever means possible; the end justifies the means. Political thugs are a necessary evil to politicians. Societal terrors that have proved themselves in the art of disregarding conscience in their everyday actions are supplied with whatever they need; weapons, ammunition, money, vehicles et al are employed to ‘hand over the state’ to the candidate paying them. There is often an agreement between thugs and employer as to how the state will be run after victory. Post election governor is in power, he disregards the thugs, thugs still have their ‘aspiring governor purchased weapons’ and other supplies and they proceed to make the state ungovernable till governor bends to thugs’ demands. Before governor bends or in a situation where he does not bend at all, the masses suffer the brunt. Familiar story!

The above explanation summarizes government’s initial policy towards the Boko Haram insurgence. Late President Yar’adua basically told former governor Alli Modu Sherriff to clean his mess and Sherriff did in the best way his “god complex” permitted him to.

In the initial stages of this insurgence, the federal government was dealing with the crisis in Plateau State and Kaduna State. Both states had seen so much violence that news of unease from northeastern states was not considered a primary hot topic. Armed forces were deployed to quell the insurgence but without operational tactics as is applied today. We spoke of the early Borno and Yobe shootings but the images of the bloody massacre in the more accessible Kaduna and Plateau states took precedence and this was the norm for a while.

It is notable that it was within this time of government and military laxity that the organization carried out enough amateur attacks using locally made bombs and other ammunitions to attract the attention of big spending terrorist donors like Al Qaeda.

The President of the Federal republic of Nigeria is a man tiptoeing on hot coals. Coming into power without the support of the Northern masses yet miraculously winning a number of Northern states not to mention his being a Christian in a country mainly divided along religious lines, this was an early test in his presidency. His government could have reacted by declaring a full out war on terror with the same immediacy of the first attack that greeted his stay in office and risk and subsequently ignore the ire of the northern elite whom he may want on his side should he choose to run for office in the next presidential election OR his government could thread softly and use similar methods as have been used in the Plateau crisis that have consequently prolonged the crisis for over a decade. The latter was employed and the result of that decision is continually evident beyond today.

With reference to a previous method the government had tried and ‘trusted’ in combating militancy in the oil rich Niger/Delta, the option of financially-backed AMNESTY was thrown into the mix. The leaders of Boko Haram reacted by saying the government did not approach with the offer and in any case they were the ones to offer the government amnesty for the murder of Mohammed Yusuf without fair trial. The ‘money option’ which is the most effective in quelling any problem of a Nigerian nature had failed.

On Tuesday, the 14th of May 2013, the Nigerian President declared war on Boko Haram, recognizing them as a terrorist organization and declaring a State of Emergency in three states; Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Prior to this development, the last biggest attempt at a total crackdown by declaration of State of Emergency was in 2012 following the Christmas day bombing of 2011. 15 local government areas spread across four states were affected and Mr President said he had empowered the then Chief of Defence Staff to set up a special unit with specialty in Counter Terrorism. There was also a temporary closure of land borders with Niger Republic and Chad to prevent the filtering in of foreign fighters.

Between September 2010 and May 2013 when the President declared a War on Terror, the terrorist sect had carried out over 50 attacks on the Nigerian masses. Notable amongst these was the bombing of the UN building in August 2011, Christmas day bombing of 2011 and the bombing of the Thisday office in May 2012.

It is also imperative to note that a nation that had witnessed a bombing of her biggest concrete market (terminus) since 2001 in the town of Jos didn’t set up a special unit with specialty in counter terrorism until 2011. Only in Nigeria!

The military deployed an extra 3000 troops in addition to the 5000 already on ground. The Nigerian military implemented the Counter Insurgency (COIN) campaign as opposed to Counter Terrorism (CT) despite President Jonathan’s proscription of the group as terrorists under the Terrorism Prevention Act. Taking a step further, the army’s Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Centre in the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji, Kaduna state embarked on the training of 3000 counter terrorism and counter insurgency specialists.

Hopefully, this new development will usher in an era of a proactive war on terrorism as opposed to the reactive stand the visibly reactive tactics the military has been engaging. This is imperative as quelled terrorist activities in Kogi State by the military in 2012 have revealed an attempt by Boko Haram to set up a base closer to the Southwest to propel their operations in the Southwest specifically Lagos; the economic capital of Nigeria.

The deployment of military troops has been soiled with its share of controversy mainly the alleged extrajudicial killings of hundreds of innocent Nigerians whose collective crime was being part of a community Boko Haram occupied.

The love/hate relationship Nigerians have with the Nigerian Military cannot be detailed in one piece. Military rule is over 14 years behind us but the acceptance of this reality has been hard on the Nigerian Military who have interpreted their shortcomings on civilians within the country. Officers and non-ranking members of the Nigerian Military are known to act with reckless abandon at the expense of civilians. Corruption and indiscipline within the ranks have led to little order outside of the barrack walls. A Nigerian can be killed for bashing a military officer’s vehicle, for slapping an officer without prior knowledge of his identity; factually, you can get into hot waters for offending the friend of a friend of a military officer. This should shed light on how Nigerian forces operate in states affected by the insurgence.

The actions of the Nigerian Armed forces are tantamount to chemotherapy; they may snuff out the terrorists but you may be extinguished in the process.  Various human rights bodies have denounced the actions of the military especially the extrajudicial killings in the affected states but until the Nigerian Army treats these delinquencies as punishable crimes, there will be no change.

The 2013 War on terror has had its share of measurable success and setbacks. The armed forces reportedly combed out major moles within their system, exposed and arraigned spies amongst the civilians and dealt deadly blows to the terrorist organization, capturing many of their men, murdering a great deal (with videos of about to be disposed corpses as proof) and chasing what was left into the forests. Many who ran into the forests were further chased out by hunger and exposed by the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF); an initiative that involved civilians in the process of sieving terrorists from innocent civilians. It looked like those were the last days of Boko Haram; Abubakar Shekau was reportedly killed sometime between 25th July and 3rd August and his army had lost most of their stronghold.

However, the events of the past month suggest we stall our premature celebrations as fresh ambitious attacks have resurfaced in the North the most recent being the murder of 50 College of Agriculture students in Gujba, Yobe state on the 29th of September, Abubakar Shekau’s supposed ‘resurrection’ four days prior and reports detailing the hundreds of lives lost in the past three months in Yobe state. This new uncertainty was further compounded when Mr. President stated in a media chat on the same day of the College of Agriculture killings that he has no knowledge of Shekau’s life or the lack of it thereof.

This is where we are in the Boko Haram saga.

What do Nigerians think about this? The easterners are angry and reliving Biafra as they have lost lives and billions in business ventures burnt down in the uprising; most of them have relocated to ‘safer’ states and accuse the ‘Abokis’ of ungratefully targeting them without prior provocation. Those from the South-South opine that this is an attempt to make Nigeria ungovernable by the North until one of their own returns to power. Many Northerners believe that the present administration is doing all it can to cripple the North from using its advantages of numbers in the 2015 elections thus opining that Boko Haram is a government sponsored organization forged to tear down the Muslim North using the belief that binds them. The Yorubas in the Southwest, a people who have successfully merged a society of equal parts Muslims and Christians strongly rebuke this insurgence because their tight-knit society may suffer irreparable damage if it is made to implode on itself on account of religious differences.

Various secular opinions have come up with notions that there are several bodies operating as Boko Haram suggesting that politicians may have hidden under the umbrella of the activities of the sect to perpetrate violence to aid their own course and also enjoy fat security contracts resulting from the insecurity. There is widespread belief that even the Federal Government has engaged in this. Their conspiracy theories stem from a series of events where attacks coincided with major government scandals and the ruckus from the attacks successfully diverted attention from said scandals.

Our opinions aside, Nigeria makes it too easy for Boko Haram to recruit. There are millions of uneducated youths and street urchins in the North, casualties that prior to this new order were part of a system that created and encouraged a wide economic gap in society to keep the people dependent and submissive. A trip to Niger State exposed me to a group of Almajiri boys living in incomplete buildings, sleeping on mats on unfinished floors; easy targets. 

Insurgency thrives with weak governance; Nigeria is not immune and may be overstretched in dealing with Boko Haram. There are layers upon layers to the problem of insurgency and till each layer is peeled off and tackled, we will continue to kill “Shekau” and watch him resurrect.

Meanwhile, there are new insurgents in town riding in with tales straight out of a book we have all read before; greetings ye brethren of the Ombatse cult. We will at least perfect our pronunciation of your name as you make your way to the front row of this circus. Greetings!  

 

Kendra Zuhair, a graduate of Mass Communication at the University of Jos is a social entrepreneur, aspiring philanthropist and an expressive political voice. She also shares a few of her thoughts on her blog http://zuhairdeconstructed.wordpress.com/

Follow on twitter @kendrazuhair