Analysis: What can be done about Nigeria's Boko Haram militants?
NAIROBI, 19 January 2012 (IRIN) - As bombings and shootings by the militant
Islamic group Jama'atu Ahlus Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad - better known as
> Boko Haram - escalate,
the Nigerian government appears to be struggling to cope with the violence,
or map a <http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=94296
solution to the crisis.
The Salafist group grabbed attention in 2009 with coordinated attacks on
government buildings and police stations in four northern states which left
more than 800 people dead. The attacks were revenge for an earlier clash
with the police, who had opened fire on Boko Haram followers in a funeral
procession in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, which was widely seen as a
deliberate attempt by the state authorities to crush the group.
The violence metastasized in 2011: there were bombings of the headquarters
of the police and the UN in the capital, Abuja; more than 100 died in bomb
and gun attacks in a single day in two towns in northeastern Yobe State, and
Boko Haram promised strikes in the largely non-Muslim Christian south. In
what seemed a deliberate attempt to stir sectarian unrest, a series of
bombings on churches on Christmas Day in Abuja killed close to 40 people.
As Nigerians nervously consider what the violence could portend for the
unity of the country, IRIN asked three analysts their views on the conflict,
and the steps needed to resolve it. The following responses are from
Innocent Chukwuma, executive director of the <http://cleen.org/
Foundation; Hussaini Abdu, a public policy analyst; and security specialist
What does Boko Haram represent?
Innocent Chukwuma: Boko Haram represents different things to different
people depending on where you stand in the deep divide of Nigerian society.
To the political elite in the south, it may have started as a small, fringe
religious sect with a radical worldview about how Nigerian society,
especially the northern part, should be governed according to the dictates
of Islam. But today [they feel] it is has been hijacked by the northern
political elite who have not hidden their distaste about the emergence of
President Goodluck Jonathan [a Christian southerner], and are now using the
group to make the state ungovernable in order to ensure the return of
political power to the north.
However, a more reflective viewpoint sees the group as representing the
voices of the northern poor and downtrodden, even though misguided, who have
been marginalized in the scheme of things and now seek a violent outlet to
[highlight] their issues, like their counterparts in other parts of the
country, such as the militants of the
> Niger Delta and the
> Odua People's
Congress in the southwest.
Hussaini Abdu: Boko Haram (BH) represents the backward slide of Nigeria.
Although presented in Islamic religious garb, its activities are deeply
criminal and political. While the history of BH can be traced to a young
Muslim group in the northeast of Nigeria, they have since [morphed] to
include criminal groups. Today nobody is clear what the group stands for
[and] people are not sure who exactly is responsible for the spate of
violence in the country. There is therefore no one acceptable narrative on
the issue. The perception of north/Muslim is different from that of
south/Christian. Whereas most people in the south or Christians accuse what
they call "a disenchanted north" for the problem, the north seems to believe
the violence is being perpetrated by people in government and their foreign
backers to divide the country.
Hussaini Monguno: Boko Haram is a name given in 2009 by the press to the
religious group led by Mohammed Yusuf, when fighting broke out between the
group and the Nigerian police in Maiduguri, Borno State. This group is an
outgrowth of the [conservative] Izala Movement [one of the largest Islamic
societies in the country]. [but] Yusuf fell out with senior preachers over
ego, differences in perception of religious texts and their
attitude/relationship towards the Borno State government. Yusuf built up a
robust camp that was self-reliant, well organized and a popular destination
of jobless and frustrated youths who found hope and engagement. As his
followership grew, his confidence grew - to the deep consternation of the
state governor and his courtiers... At the moment the group has resorted to
taking revenge for killings, persecution and torture of its members in
various prison cells nationwide, with targeted killings of informants and
bombings to rattle the government. Lately they have also started to seek
recognition and relevance by appealing to aggrieved northern Muslim
sentiment [over Jonathan's election victory].
How should the government respond?
Innocent Chukwuma: The attacks by Boko Haram and the security challenges
they pose represent a potent threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria
and need to be responded to with all seriousness using a multipronged
strategy. Government, in my view, has not given the group all the attention
and seriousness it deserves and appear to be playing politics with it in
order not to be seen to be hurting certain vested interests. A more holistic
strategy should combine an intelligence-led security approach to fish out
the masterminds of the attacks, and initiatives that would aid the isolation
of the group from the communities in which they operate.
Hussaini Abdu: The government needs to be decisive and deepen intelligence
gathering. Where the military is involved, the rules of engagement should be
defined to avoid molestation of unarmed civilians and abuses that could
further mobilize local communities against the state. The government will
also need to make a long-term strategic investment in the northeast of the
country to contain the level of poverty and exclusion in the area.
Hussaini Monguno: The federal government should:
* Appoint independent local, national or international leaders to
appeal, appease and engage the aggrieved sect members and leaders;
* Unban the group, granting them the right to freedom of belief and
practice as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution;
* Renounce the use of violence, by all parties;
* Unconditionally release the thousands of Yusufiyya members in cells,
detained without charge;
* Dispassionately review the events of 2009 and show remorse where
* Work to win the confidence and trust of the affected communities
through careful conflict resolution measures;
* Compensate and rehabilitate all those families who have suffered
loses both human and material;
* Allocate federal government resources for rapid rehabilitation of
infrastructure, boost agriculture and cross-border trading to promote rapid
employment for the teeming uneducated, excluded youths.
What are the constraints the government faces?
Innocent Chukwuma: The major constraints faced by the government in dealing
with Boko Haram is the politicization of everything in this country, which
has crippled law enforcement and security agencies from carrying out their
functions in a professional manner, without fear or favour.
There is also a certain level of insincerity and deceit on the part of
government in confronting the issue squarely. A typical example is the
half-hearted declaration of a state of emergency made by President Jonathan
in 14 local governments areas [in Yobe], which is neither here nor there in
practical terms. Everybody knows that unless you declare a state-wide state
of emergency, which would mean removing elected governors and replacing them
with people with clear mandates to work with security agencies to restore
law and order in affected states within a given period of time, not much can
Hussaini Abdu: Lack of capacity, especially intelligence gathering capacity,
poor political will to face the challenge of dealing with criminality, the
religious colouration of the situation, and the extreme politicization of
the situation by the government.
Hussaini Monguno: The following:
* Weak and heavily compromised political leadership;
* The inability of the federal government to detach itself from the
exploitation of sectional, sectarian, ethnic [interests];
* Inability of the federal government to reverse itself having already
tagged the problem a national security threat that should be wiped out;
* Difficulty in breaking free from the beneficiaries of this standoff,
i.e. the leaders of the security arms of government, security equipment
suppliers, agents and contractors;
* The reluctance of the federal authorities to bring the former Borno
State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, to account for his misrule.
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Received on Thu Jan 19 2012 - 09:45:15 EST