Boko Haram terrorism, fundamentalism and unbundling Nigeria. By Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo
Special to USAfrica [Houston] and USAfricaonline.com
On assumption of office in 2015, Nigeria’s President Buhari moved the armed forces’ command headquarters to the theatre of war against Boko Haram, in the north east. In December of 2016, the government announced that Sambisa Forest, which had become the base of the Boko Haram group, was captured; the government said Boko Haram was “technically”defeated. Many Nigerians took this assertion by the government seriously, thumping their chests that they had voted for a man that promised to deal decisively with the scourge of Boko Haram. But from all indications, this declaration by the Buhari administration appears to be a mirage, into December 2017; and possibly into 2018.
First, this is important because one of the major backdrops upon which the retired army General, Muhammadu Buhari, came to power was the promise to defeat or rather crush Boko Haram within the first three months of running the government. There is no doubt that the Boko Haram insurgency group has been at war with the Nigerian State for about seven years.
The insurgent group has become even more brazen in its attacks; and in its bid to exculpate itself from failure, the Buhari government announced that the Nigerian Army had “technically” defeated the insurgents, explaining that the insurgents no longer have the capacity to launch coordinated attacks or hold territory in the North-east Nigeria.
Second, and more worrisome is that most of these renewed attacks are being launched from Sambisa Forest and other strongholds. In other words, the claim of the Nigerian government that it had driven away Boko Haram from those areas were rubbished and rendered farcical. .
Third, the failure of the Buhari government to crush Boko Haram has not come to me as a surprise; because the government under-rated the sophistication of the insurgent group. But I am not so much interested in the inability of the government to contain Boko Haram as I am about the implications of the renewed insurgent attacks on the Nigerian State. For one thing, it might be inappropriate for us to dismiss Boko Haram merely a terrorist organization. Yes, the group employs terrorist tactics in pursuing its agenda, but we must understand the reason why it is fighting for a pure Islamic State in the north. The group understands the character of the Nigerian State; they understand that Nigeria is an amalgam of strange bedfellows; and that each bedfellow has a right to take its destiny in its own hands. This is the same understanding that defines the agitations of groups like Niger-Delta militants, the Oodua People’s Congress, Egbesu Boys, MASSOB, IPoB etc.
Fourth, it is only by understanding this that we can also understand the reason that has sustained the Boko Haram insurgency. It is important to note that the insurgents are not just fighting for the love of fighting. They are motivated by their belief that the core north, which is their political space, should be Islamized. It is in this context that the government will appreciate the urgency of restructuring. Truth is that we have to unbundle this entity called Nigeria; release her from the suffocating grip of centrifugal forces threatening to choke her to death. Such unbundling does not come from jack-booth constructs like “Operation Dole”, Operation Crocodile”, Operation Python Dance” etc. I have merely introduced the word “unbundling” as alternative to restructuring for those who are afraid of the word “restructuring”. An unbundled Nigeria will be more prosperous and reduce the incidences of ethnic irredentism and religious fundamentalism.
The major reason for the insurgency is to create a pure Islamic Caliphate in the core north of Nigeria. For the insurgents, the secularity of the Nigerian State has become a huge hindrance to the puritanical pontifications of Islam and only the creation of a pure Islamic state would pacify them. For them, western education is evil and a major source of pollution to Islam.
It was for this reason that the group initiated its earth-scorch policy of annihilating anything in its path to achieving this goal. The result has been the massive destruction of lives and property and crippling of the economy of the core north. The government of former President Jonathan was perceived to have been timid and clueless in containing the scourge of the insurgent group and in the run-in to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the issue of Boko Haram became an alluring political campaign matter.
In Borno State, where the insurgency started, and other adjoining states in the Northeast and Northwest, the streets became deserted and no-go areas. The northeast particularly was divided, with the insurgents controlling about half of the political space. The level of criminality was so high such that the federal government had to declare a state of emergency in Bornu state. The situation became unbearable for the people of Bornu State and environs, prompting the indigenes to form a vigilance group, named Civilian Joint Task Force. The collaboration between the Task Force and the military led to the first containment of the insurgents.
With this containment by the Jonathan administration, many people thought the war against the insurgents was over. In Borno State, which was the headquarters of the groups, people trooped out to the streets to celebrate. However, their celebration was short-lived. The insurgents made a tactical switch; moving their operational headquarters from Bornu to the Sambisa Forest. The forest soon became fortified and from there the insurgents launched deadly attacks especially in the northeast and northwest and other parts of the country. The highways became unsafe, with many killed in deadly sieges by the insurgents. Then the group upped the ante by attacking towns and settlements in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. The federal government was left with no option than to declare a state of emergency in the three North-east states.
The declaration of the state of emergency by the Jonathan administration was largely ineffective, basically because the insurgents ran over many towns and villages, killing, maiming, displacing and taking hostages. At the height of its activities, Boko Haram bombed the UN office in Abuja, took over 250 female students as hostages from Chibok; while many villages and towns fell, with the insurgency group establishing their own government, which they referred to as caliphate, within Nigeria. The terrorists ruled their caliphate with a strange brand of Islam. Though they still kept the Sambisa Forest as the strategic headquarters, Gwoza, one of the major towns captured became the new administrative headquarters of the group. The choice of Gwoza as the new administrative headquarters was strategic. The town is hilly and has very difficult topography, which posed serious problems for the military to access.
At the height of its conquest of the northern political space, Boko Haram controlled 22 of the 29 local governments in Borno State and parts of Adamawa and Yobe. It was even threatening to make Maiduguri the base of its government. Frequent but unsuccessful attacks were launched by the group on the city of Maiduguri. The Yobe State capital, Damaturu, equally witnessed major sieges. With the 2015 general elections fast approaching, the embattled Jonathan administration appeared to find new zeal to fight the insurgents and serious battles were waged, which saw the recapture of many towns.
The insurgents were uprooted from their administrative base in Gwoza and they crept back into Sambisa Forest. It was against this background that current President Buhari and his APC party assured Nigerians that within its first three months in power, Boko Haram would be a thing of the past. Instead, Boko Haram has grown in menacing and terrorizing Nigerians!
Dr. Nwankwo, historian, author, civil rights champion, editorial opinion contributor to USAfricaonline.com is the founder of Fourth Dimension publishers in Enugu.