Much has been written about the atrocities of Boko Haram and the chain of events that led to the rising of the group in Northern Nigeria. Indeed, the testimony of the Christian Association of Nigeria’s President, Revd. Oritsajafor at the US Congress early in July 2012 had on display the different theories that have been propounded about Boko Harem and its agents. Some ring true, others fall flat. But in order to understand Boko Haram and respond correctly to its rise, there is a need for policy makers and citizens to understand its origin, mission and purpose. Not what is obvious, but what is real.
On one hand is a deep set believe (prevalent in the South), that Boko Haram is a purely Islamist (political Islam) response to Christians that live among them (in the North). They point to countless killings since independence to date, as a proof of this trend. When taken further, the rise of this atrocious form of “Islamist” (in their words) is on the rise as a political response to the 2010 ascension of a Christian Southerner and his subsequent election in 2011 – midway through the term of a Muslim Northerner that died. It was this view that was propounded by the venerable leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria before the US Congress.
The obvious problem of course with this theory is that the rise of Boko Haram preceded the ascension of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to the Presidency. Boko Haram was founded in 2002, during the rise of political Sharia when northern governors exploited the phenomenon in the core north for their own electoral benefit and was allowed to get away with it by the incompetent Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
If anything, History shows that it was during the administration of the late President Musa Y’Aradua that security agencies killed the sect leader –Mohammed Yusuf: in July 2009 (almost a year before GEJ became president). Up to 100 Boko Haram members were killed during that operation between Bauchi, Yobe and Borno states in July, 2009. Indeed, the first recorded violence by the sect was in July 2009 when it attacked police stations in Maiduguri and then in January 2010, one full month before GEJ began to approach political ascendancy, when it killed four people in Borno State.
On the other hand, the oft mentioned causative link between poverty, high illiteracy rate and despondency of the core northern youth and the rise of Boko Haram is not sufficient explanation for the rise of the group, especially given the clear targeting of Christian religious places by the group and the inflammatory statements that emerge from their leadership after such attacks. This is the official US Government position, that Boko Haram is a product of political and economic abandonment of the north by Nigeria’s leaders over the years, and was propounded by Ambassador Bill Carson during his full swing before the congressional committee.
Both theories may be wrong and correct at the same time, and here is why.
Since the rise of Boko Haram, few arrests that have been made have linked the organization to foreign fighters who seem to have mastery of Arabic, sophisticated training and some good dose of rhetoric. The style and method of Boko Haram is very close to what global terror networks have displayed in Iraq, Pakistan and Kenya in the past. Indeed, if this does not give you pause, the world’s terror network with Al Qaeda at the center have indicated their interest in Nigeria about the same time as Boko Haram rose out of the North. This was also about the same time a young Nigerian was selected by the now dead enfant terrible of the Middle East to bomb American planes!
If this trend is not worrisome enough, just this week , two men in Abuja “were charged with accepting thousands of dollars from the group to recruit potential terrorists inside Nigeria and then send them to Yemen”; they were working with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. AQAP is regarded as the most aggressive arm of the remnant of the terror group and leading up operations in next door Somalia where it is implementing the obvious next strategy for these crazies. In February 2012, recently arrested officials revealed that "while the organization initially relied on donations from members, its links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, opened it up to more funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the UK."
But why will Al Qaeda be interested in Nigeria? What is the connection?
Obviously, the recent successes of the US Administration in the Middle East to deny the terror group a foothold in that volatile region may be pointing us to answers. Since being driven out of Afghanistan by George Bush and with his successor, President Barack H. Obama making it clear that Pakistan was no hiding place: Al Qaeda has been looking for the next geographical region where it can settle and project its power. Certainly, this strategy is panning out nicely in South Yemen where government troops have surrendered quite a large territory like Jaar and Azzan. In fact, a PBS Frontline Documentary recently documented “Al Qaeda militants' black flag flying over Yemeni towns that appeared to be under complete control of Ansar al-Sharia”.
To lesser extent, Al Qaeda have been less successful in Africa, especially in Somalia where it is under intense pressure from all sides as that nation is bolstered by Western Powers to buck the trend. Regardless of their struggle in Africa, Al Qaeda’s tattered army is not one to give up easily. The availability of small arms, corrupt governments and agitated population makes West Africa a perfect target for the bunch and with a very strong analytical minded strategic team guiding them- Nigeria seem like a dream come true for Al Qaeda.
Nigeria with her rich history of prevalent inter-ethnic suspicion, religious violence and extremism in the north and poor/illiterate population coupled with rising youth unemployment, dissatisfaction and clueless local and national leadership is a gift that may just continue giving to the terror network.
Think about it, which other place on earth will a people exist in forceful co-existence and the leaders insist they have no right to debate the basis of such existence? Where on earth, will the nominal leaders of one society continue to insist that obvious solutions need not be implemented but sacrifice on the altar of self aggrandizement, greed and selfishness while passing the buck to the next generation? Well, welcome to Nigeria.
To make its territorial ambition real though, Al Qaeda may already be one step ahead of our clueless leadership in determining that Northern Nigeria not the entire country will be the foothold that they require. Essentially, this strategy underpins their resolve to cut off the North from the rest of the country. While some may hail this outcome, the country should beware for what we wish for; ask Pakistan how many drones and children of theirs are lost due to the war knocking on their next door neighbor?
To achieve its goals of gaining a permanent foothold to the North of Abuja/Zaria, Al Qaeda will focus on divisive tactics including targeting places of worship (now a Church and Mosque have been attacked), while discrediting core Northern leaders’ and denying them the ability to stuff the genie of insecurity back in the bottle. The hyena unleashed may not be curtailed any time soon, as Al Qaeda seem to have embarked on the next phase of this attack by targeting political leaders in whom the electorate have invested some legitimacy and may react virulently to their death. It was a Senator few weeks ago, watch as that target list moves up all the way.
Cruel as it may come across, Boko Haram as agent of the world global terror network is bent on seeing the core North cut off quickly from the rest of Nigeria to have a launch pad territory to itself, and a lot of southern politicians better be prepared to be collateral damage on the way up to this final destination.
Figure 1: Map of Two Nigerias?
We may very well be looking at the slow motion of the balkanization of Nigeria, as predicted in 2015 by the Central Intelligence Agency. The results will not be palatable to all involved, I just hope our leaders (especially those clueless ones in Abuja) are reading and thinking.
True federalism, devolution of powers and genuine unity founded on respect for minority and opposition rights in a true democratic fashion remains the only a panacea against a full blown balkanization come 2015 or beyond.
What other event is happening in 2015 again?