In my primary school days, we used to play a game called “There is fire on the mountain”. It was a game in which we ran around frantically, sometimes to hide, as soon as someone bellowed the catch-phrase. The current situation in Nigeria is not so different from the game I played as a teenager. Nigeria is like a mountain being consumed progressively by innumerable fires lit by followers of the Boko Haram religious sect. The past one week has seen an increase in the intensity of the attacks and the ferociousness of the fires. There has also been a sudden rise in the number of attacks. Boko Haram has openly declared a war against the Nigerian state and the federal government appears to have run out of ideas on how to confront the group.
Some people have described Nigeria as a failed state. That assessment is not too far from the truth. Well-known Nigerians who spoke on Tuesday this week at a public event to mark the 50th birthday anniversary of Nda Isaiah, Leadership Newspaper publisher, endorsed that view. Former Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff Theophilus Danjuma cautioned against Nigeria’s descent into anarchy. He told the audience: “Nigeria is on fire. This house is on fire. The North is on fire. Nigeria is becoming like Somalia. The Somalianisation of Nigeria is taking place right now.”
Danjuma was forthright. In his appraisal of the situation in the country, he said dispassionately: “Those of us who call ourselves northerners, our house is on fire; our house is on fire, let us not deceive ourselves. Let’s look at ourselves, face ourselves and tell ourselves the truth and find solution to our problem… Where are our northern governors? Where are they? Right now, Borno is a failed state, Jigawa is almost a failed state. Kano is threatening to be a failed state. Kano of all places, where are we going, where on earth are we going? You hear talks of multi-million naira fences around government houses, what about the citizens. We have to search our minds and find solution to this problem.”
Like Danjuma, the former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Jeremiah Useni, said the breakdown of law and order in the northern states must be attributed to the governors. He queried: “What are they doing with the money they are collecting? How can we say that we don’t know who the members of the Boko Haram are? They are attacking churches and mosques, but they are not reaching the people they should reach.” The former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (Zaria), Professor Ango Abdullahi, took a cynical view of the future of Nigeria and concluded: “The question of a likely disintegration is not a too distant future.”
Public concern about insecurity across the land is rising because bomb explosions by Boko Haram advocates are getting more relentless. The bombs are systematically targeted at individuals, groups, public buildings and institutions. Boko Haram members and their sympathisers are getting more extreme and more audacious.
Boko Haram is winning the war against the Nigerian state. It strikes with ease at targets it deems to be of significant national interest. The key objective of these attacks is to sow the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious discord among people of various religious faiths and different ethnic groups. By adopting this strategy, Boko Haram hopes to draw out the larger population into an open conflict that would pit brothers against brothers, the south against the north. This will open up numerous frontiers of battle across the country. If Boko Haram succeeds, the organisation would have achieved its second objective of making Nigeria ungovernable.
Sooner rather than later, the ongoing battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light will take on a regional dimension. It could be the north against the south. It would be a nasty battle involving people sworn to keeping Nigeria united and those who have long campaigned for the disintegration of the country.
A Nigerian state that engages in armed conflict with the entities that inhabit its geographic space will certainly play into the hands of Boko Haram leaders. These are people who live and inhale anarchy. Given a choice between peace and conflict, they will gladly opt for unrestrained fight. This is not surprising. A united Nigeria is perceived by Boko Haram spiritual and paramilitary leaders as an obstacle to the achievement of their sinister objectives. They abhor a culture of peaceful co-existence because it will give them headache. Every day, they dream about how to set the nation on fire. When normal human beings go to sleep, Boko Haram leaders and war commanders convene a meeting in the obscurity of their caves to map out strategies about how to dismember Nigeria through terrorist activities never before contemplated in human history.
In the past 10 days, Boko Haram terrorists have struck at the heart of the nation. They bombed newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna. Within the same week, they attacked a group of worshippers at a campus of the Bayero University in Kano. Hours later, they struck at a busy spot in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State. No fewer than 11 persons perished in that particular attack.
How did President Goodluck Jonathan respond to Boko Haram’s mindless bomb explosions? Soon after the attack at Bayero University, Jonathan denounced the attack and described it as a “murderous terrorist attack and the brutal killing of innocent worshippers at the university by vicious assailants.” Ever since Boko Haram members increased the frequency of their bomb explosions, Jonathan and members of his government have adopted a predictable response plan. Entrenched in that strategy are condemnations of the bombers and their sponsors, the use of angry and threatening words against Boko Haram, and expressions of sympathy and condolences to the families of victims of bomb explosions.
While Jonathan is always prompt to issue presidential statements after every bomb explosion, his body language shows he is struggling to deal with Boko Haram. In his recent comment, Jonathan said that by bombing newspaper houses and a place of worship, Boko Haram terrorists aimed to undermine Nigeria and weaken important institutions of society. He said Nigerians must not “succumb to despair over the persistence of the terrorist attacks”. That was a lousy advice. How can Nigerians not lose hope or sleep over the frightening state of insecurity?
Almost on a daily basis, people are confronted with the spectre of bombs exploding in their workplaces, in the marketplace, in their churches, and other public spaces. Fear is a weapon of mass hysteria. Boko Haram terrorists have successfully used bomb explosions to create fear in the minds of the Nigerian public. When people attend events in public places, they worry about their safety, whether there would be bomb explosions, and if so, whether they would survive an attack. When Boko Haram terrorists explode bombs arbitrarily, particularly in places formerly deemed to be impenetrable, everyone becomes terrified. This is understandable. Life is precious and must be guarded. Assurances by Jonathan that his government is winning the security challenge across the nation do not gel with the reality on the ground.
The key question must be: what plans have the security forces put in place to contain or liquidate or apprehend Boko Haram leaders and members? A subsidiary question is: How does Jonathan react, other than to express outrage, whenever bomb explosions consume the lives of Nigerians? Here is how Jonathan responded to news of the attack on worshippers at Bayero University. Presidential spokesperson Reuben Abati said Jonathan condemned “this utterly heinous descent to new depths of calumny by the perpetrators of the attack on one of the nation’s most hallowed citadels of academic endeavour and its members.” That was utterly disappointing. Perhaps Jonathan feels the use of tough and critical language could pull Boko Haram leaders into line. With due respect, Jonathan must be deluded.
When it comes to assurances about national security, Nigerians don’t believe their president anymore. They don’t want long-winded rhetoric. They want the government to do something practical to end or reduce the frequency of terrorist attacks. Presidential oratory will not heal the wounds suffered by victims of bomb explosions. Speech-making will not raise the dead and it will not console the relatives of the dead.
Threatening comments can never overpower the enemy in the war against terror. Intelligence gathering and sharing of information will help the government to dismantle the amorphous organisation known as Boko Haram. Nigeria must collaborate with its close allies and regional neighbours. Boko Haram’s operational headquarters and sponsors seem to be located outside Nigeria. Jonathan needs to summon a meeting of leaders of countries that share land borders with Nigeria to brainstorm on Boko Haram. The fight against terror groups operating inside and outside Nigeria cannot be executed successfully without the support of our neighbours. We have porous borders through which criminal groups slip in and out of the country with ease.
Jonathan should map out an inclusive policy that promotes active collaboration with our neighbours. The Boko Haram insurrection is a serious threat to Nigeria and indeed a threat to regional peace. Instability in Nigeria will have political and economic ramifications for other countries, particularly countries that are economically weaker and militarily more vulnerable to internal unrest.