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Nigeria & Boko Haram: Dancing on razor’s edge. By Adewale Adeoye

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Special to USAfrica magazine (print) and USAfricaonline.com

USAfrica NEWS NOTES. By Adewale Adeoye

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“I have lost children in the past. I also lost my first wife. I came back in 2015 to Maiduguri. Few months ago, my junior sister was kidnapped”, said Mukhat Abdul, a grocery attendant in the main city, a clear indication that little has changed in the spate of violence gaining stronger foothold on the country’s North East. 

‘The killing of 20 soldiers is one of the most devastating victories for the insurgents,’ a Major in the Army who does not wish to be named told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com in Maiduguri. He said the militants are getting more deadly and brutal in their attacks on the military. In the past, violent activities were restricted to the North East, but in recent times, it has spread to the North West where bandits attack villages and towns killing locals in hundreds. 

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In Katsina, the home State of President Mohammadu Buhari, armed groups attacked Kadisau village in Faskari Local Government killing 20 people on June 9. Some 200 armed men were said to have participated in the invasion. In Zamfara, 16 people were killed by armed groups on March 19 this year in Malele and Babban Kwari Villages in Maru Local Government area of the state. 

While soldiers are constantly drafted to the scenes of blood and rage, the tempo has failed to subside compounded by a deep feeling of resentment within the  Army on how the authorities are handling the situation. A junior officer recently posted a video he shot where he lambasted the country’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai who he accused of corruption and incompetence.

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President Buhari has also been accused of filling the topmost security positions with people from his own region.

 “We are overstretched. Violence is spreading across the country like wildfire” a retired police operative told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com in Kaduna during a recent visit. From indications, Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country is becoming the continent’s albatross. 

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The crisis point to a long standing problem of inequalities, failure to address the lingering national question, corruption and the lack of economic opportunities which breed a huge number of poor young people ready to do anything to survive and who have lost hope in living a timeless life of misery. Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human and Civil Education, (CHRICED) Zikirullahi Abdullahi told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com and USAfricaonline.com in Kano that the North is home to more than 20 million Almajiri-the term for poor youths handed over by their parents for Islamic education but also associated with street begging-adding that they have become a stagnant pool of recruitment into the fold of Boko Haram. In 2018, the then Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd) said of the 500 million illegal light and small arms in West Africa, 70 percent of them were in Nigeria. He spoke at a high level meeting on drugs and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. 

No doubt, the influence of foreign interests cannot be denied. In May 2013, Nigerian authorities arrested three Lebanese in Northern Nigeria 

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said to be linked with Hezbollah. The raid led to recovery of  11 60 mm anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank landmines, two rounds of ammunition for a 122 mm artillery  gun, 21 rocket propelled grenades, seventeen AK 47s with over 11,00 bullets.  Spokesperson for the military in Kano, Captain Ikedichi Iweha had said the ‘arms and ammunition were targeted at facilities of Israel and Western interest in Nigeria.’

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He drove hurriedly from the airport on a sunny afternoon in the North East city of Maiduguri. The driver was a typical native. He’s fluent in four local languages: Kanuri, Hausa, Arab and Fulani. Modu Kabir, the driver, a devout Muslim is 56. He has lived in  Bornu State all his life.

“When I drive, I take precautions. Boko Haram can strike anywhere, anytime”, he said as he pulled the Camry 2006 model through the mounted soldiers’ piles of concrete on the highway leading into the city centre. Two armed soldiers gave him the thumb-up sign not bordering to check on his passengers. “They know me. We are in it together. We all need to unite to fight Boko Haram”, he said with a dry grin.  Kabir is one of the worst victims of the violent insurgents ravaging Nigeria’s North East. The ugly side is that the brigandage is spreading to other parts of the country, in different forms and change with the risk of making the country the next global disaster. A top military commander that spoke to USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com said Boko Haram has been wounded but far from being eliminated. He said corruption, poverty, anger and desperation continue to draw many young, green and energetic men and women into the extremist’s fold. “Our fear is that armed violence is spreading across the country. The military may find it difficult to deal with a national armed crisis. I fear for Nigeria,” he told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com early this year during lunch in one of the city’s well known hotels.

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Kabir, the driver also has bitter tales. He lost his wife, his three sons and several cows to Boko Haram in 2014 prompting his temporary relocation from the city to nearby Bauchi State where the insurgents are less active. Kabir returned to Bornu in 2015 following the victory of President Mohammadu Buhari whose cardinal campaign slogans included security of all Nigerians especially from the blistering maelstrom of Boko Haram, the pompous Islamic group threatening to impose sharia law on 200 million Nigerians.

Many residents who spoke to USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com in Maiduguri claimed that the region has witnessed some level of peace since 2015. The sound of guns and the scenario of day-light flying bullets, the sporadic fireworks between security operatives and the extremist group no longer common events in the town while entering the city’s mainland to eliminate perceived opponents and moderate clerics has almost ended. In 2012, General Mohammed Shuwa, a war time hero believed to oppose the group was assassinated in his home. The state governor who won a popular vote last year, Prof Babagana Umara Zulum recently announced he would co-opt top retired security operatives into the campaign against the armed groups.

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However, sordid events have taken place recently, indicating the snake’s head is yet to be severed. In early July, Boko Haram attacked a United Nations, (UN) helicopter, leading to two civilian deaths, including a five-year old child. The group launched the attack in Damasak, one of the major towns in Bornu. 

Few days later, Boko Haram ambushed the 25 Task Force Brigade in Damboa, while some 20 soldiers were killed. Why the insurgents displayed the pictures, army authority said 17 criminals were killed and that it lost only two soldiers. The Nigerian mainstream media reported death of 20 soldiers and 40 civilians in the encounter. The attack was linked to the Islamic State West Africa Province, (ISWAP) a Boko Haram splinter group. The bout was also few days after the armed group killed some 81 people in Gubio. The attackers burnt UN offices and destroyed police stations in the area. Some 40 residents of Nganzai were also killed by the militant group. 

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 Apart from the growing influence of the Islamic State of West Africa, (ISWAP) in Africa’s biggest country, weak institutions and delayed justice continue to strengthen the desire of many Nigerians to seek self help for their own security instead of relying on the government. “Its an open secret that many individuals in Nigerian are armed. Many private and community estates hire private security guards that are armed, meaning their guns are without license”, a covert security operative who does not wish to be named told our correspondent. The problem is compounded by rising cartels of armed cults mainly young people in many Southern cities assisted by hard drugs and narcotics

Prof Banji Akintoye who leads the Yoruba World Congress, (YWC) told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com that there are fears that violence may spread across the country to areas hitherto known to be peaceful. “If Boko Haram attacks the South, there will be resistance and it’s just one big thing we are all afraid of,” he said adding that the Yoruba South West is worried by activities of armed groups of Northern origin who kidnap Southerners for ransom right in their ancestral homes. The cases of kidnap are also rampant in the East of the country sometimes linked to some armed groups from the Northern part of the country. The Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Okwukwu told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com that the South East and South South are worried about the prospect of violence spreading Southwards calling on authorities to not only to create a security blueprint but also an economic roadmap.

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 “There is a feeling that the extremist group is building cells in the South. The kidnap for ransom may be another way of raising funds to finance insurgency in the South”, Mr Femi Agbana, an official of Oodua Nationalist Coalition, (ONAC) told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com in Lagos.  

In many instances, the armed groups resort to exploiting the ethnic fault lines in carrying out their campaign of blood and tears, deepening the existing suspicion among the country’s many ethnic versions.

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Armed attacks in South West region were partly responsible for the setting up of Amotekun, a regional security outfit that only recently began recruitment of corps. Amotekun has however been opposed by elite from the North. There is also growing pressure on mainly South East Governors to set up a regional security concern, echoing the growing lack of confidence in the country’s security architecture. The crisis of nation building has fueled a new agitation for restructuring of the country along primordial lines to halt what Agbana referred to as a ‘violent clash of civilisations,” while groups calling for outright dissolution of Nigeria, brought together through a 1914 British fiat has increased their voices. There are various interventions by civil society groups to foster peace. The Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) in collaboration with Ford Foundation, (West Africa Region) and the New York based Institute for International Education, (IIE) have organsied series of training and come-togethers for critical actors across the country. The groups are currently focusing on Lagos State, the country’s economic hub. “The people have lost confidence in the government peace efforts always driven by electoral interests. Reports from our programmes indicate peace is possible in Nigeria but has to be driven by third parties”, Wale Kasali an official of JODER said regretting that he wished his group could cover the entire country.

 A prominent Ijaw leader, Digifa Wereinipre told USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com that only the emergence of a leader with a national vision driven by justice and equity for all Nigerians can stem the country’s slide into the abyss. He said given the corrupt electoral processes and the self-seeking style of leadership in the country, a true national leader may not be totally impossible but difficult under the current circumstances. 

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•Adeoye, special features contributing editor of the first African-owned, US-based newspaper on the internet USAfricaonline.com, is a Nigerian journalist,  Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER-established in 1996), CNN African Journalist of the Year Award winner and  four time winner of the Nigerian Media Merit Award, (NMMA)

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