Several weeks ago, in an NGO where I was working then, one of the Executive Directors of the organization came to my department, to say hello to everyone. We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked of my nationality, to which I replied “Nigeria“. He then asked what part of Nigeria and I said “…from the North…”. He then exclaimed: “Oh! Boko Haram boom! boom! boom!!!” Everyone laughed, I laughed, but deep down I didn’t find it funny. I wasn’t offended at all but I was sad that Boko Haram was the first thing that came to his mind when Northern Nigeria was mentioned.
This anecdote shows how these days, Nigeria, or Northern Nigeria in particular is being increasingly identified with the insurgency group, Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad (popularly referred to as Boko Haram). I have written severally about the group’s activities notably its deadly onslaught against its perceived enemies: the institutions of the Nigerian state, churches and Christians, Politicians, Muslims and Imams who dare question them, media houses, universities, primary schools and so on; I have written about the pattern of its attacks; the conflicting and sometimes misleading narratives about the group’s activity and the overall implications for Nigeria’s stability and unity.
What Boko Haram stands for and the consequences of its activities touch me personally and deeply, as the group operates chiefly within Northern Nigeria. The group’s activities — and that of its numerous factions, splinter groups and copy cats — are wreaking tremendous havoc on the political-economy, the social cohesion and stability of my home basically: the various bomb blasts, gun fights, targetted assasinations, government curfews restricting movement and police and military check points are having a devastating impact on economic activity, scaring away investors, tempers and tensions are high between Christians in the region who feel most vulnerable and Muslims who feel they are equally victims. My “home” is crumbling and falling apart, and the situation is hardly improving.
There is a general sense of confusion, fear and paranoia in the North in particular and Nigeria in general over Boko Haram and the general state of insecurity. Since the escalation of the group’s insurgency in 2011, it seems there’s little new information available (to the public) as it is becoming more of a the-more-you-see-the-less-you-understand phenomenon. Therefore, I strongly advocate any research, any report or any useful information that would shed more light on the Boko Haram insurgency, suggest ways of effectively addressing it and restoring some sanity to the North and to Nigeria in general. One of such reports is: “What is Boko Haram?” by Andrew Walker – a BBC journalist – written for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) based on extensive field research and key interviews . The following is the summary and key highlights of the report (you can access the full report in PDF HERE):
- Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law.
- Since August 2011 Boko Haram has planted bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in Nigeria’s northeast. The group has also broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, some twelve public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night, and as many as 10,000 pupils were forced out of education.
- Boko Haram is not in the same global jihadist bracket as Algeria’s al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or Somalia’s al Shabab. Despite its successful attack on the UN compound in Abuja in August 2011, Boko Haram is not bent on attacking Western interests. There have been no further attacks on international interests since that time.
- Following the failed rescue of hostages Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara in northeastern Nigeria in March 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan played up the connections between the group and international terrorism. However, links between Boko Haram and the kidnappers are questionable.
- It is difficult to see how there can be meaningful dialogue between the government and the group. The group’s cell-like structure is open for factions and splits, and there would be no guarantee that someone speaking for the group is speaking for all of the members.
- Tactics employed by government security agencies against Boko Haram have been consistently brutal and counterproductive. Their reliance on extrajudicial execution as a tactic in “dealing” with any problem in Nigeria not only created Boko Haram as it is known today, but also sustains it and gives it fuel to expand.
- The group will continue to attack softer targets in the northeast rather than international targets inside or outside Nigeria. It is also likely to become increasingly involved in the Jos crisis, where it will attack Christian indigenes of the north and try to push them out. Such a move would further threaten to destabilize the country’s stability and unity.
- Now that the group has expanded beyond a small number of mosques, radical reforms in policing strategy are necessary if there is to be any progress in countering the group. Widespread radical reform of the police is also long overdue throughout Nigeria. As a first step, jailing a number of police officers responsible for ordering human rights abuses might go some way to removing a key objection of the group
Without intending to sound overly pessimistic, my mouth went dry literally and I struggled to swallow hard at various times whilst reading the report. Nevertheless, in my frank assessment, the report is rich in information and detail, seems quite balanced, very nuanced and accurately captures the dynamics of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Hopefully, Nigerians in general and our policy makers in particular would put this information to good use. Afterall, according to British scientist and historian Joseph Needham (1900-1995):
“no knowledge is ever wasted or to be despised”