As the Boko Haram fanatics keep unleashing their atrocities on the innocent people, predominantly in the northeastern parts of Nigeria, the international community appears lost at the Nigerian government's drab approach toward the terrorist group. The question the international media are asking is why the Nigerian government and the African Union dragging their feet in the face of Boko Haram's sustained and indiscriminate slaughtering of innocent lives?
Unsurprisingly, the Western media have already advanced some theories—that are simplistic at best—in a disdainful attempt to explain the raison d'être behind Nigeria authorities' prosaic responses to Boko Haram's senseless killings and abductions. Prominent among the reasons is that the Nigerian law enforcement agencies, including the military, are not up to the task of ensuring law and order in Africa's most populous nation. Without defending the policymakers in Abuja, a holistic assessment of Boko Haram's seemingly unstoppable insurgency over the years cannot be simply explained only in terms of incompetent security strategies.
Although Boko Haram's savageries seem to be concentrated in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, and Yobe, yet the terrorist group's exact command post is a mystery. These fundamentalists have declared their eternal abhorrence for Western lifestyles, because they consider them antithetical to Islamic teachings. As a result, the terrorist gang has vowed to rid not only the northern Nigeria of all Western ways of life by imposing Sharia Law, but also it seeks Islamic purity throughout the entire Nigerian society. In English language, Boko Haram is loosely translated “Western education is forbidden.” Meanings and symbols in all human cultures count a great deal. This is why the meaning of Boko Haram should sound an alarming bell to those who doubt the Islamist militants' sadistic objectives.
From Boko Haram's dogmatic worldview, Nigeria's political, cultural, and socioeconomic woes stem from the failure to dismantle Western culture in favor of Islamic system of governance. These ideological rigidities by the group, have found resonance with many Muslim followers in the north of the country. Similar to countless multiethnic societies in Africa, Nigeria's sociopolitical waters have complicated tributaries whose navigations require more patience, negotiation, and political trade-offs than military force or armed solutions. The federal government and its security apparatus may appear unimaginative or incapable of providing formidable counterattacks to Boko Haram's onslaught, but this perception fails to address the complexities of the century-old internal politics of Nigeria.
This is far from saying Nigerian authorities in collaboration with the African Union could not have done more than this sluggish approach. What we are saying is that any serious discussions here must take into account an important historical context that motivates Boko Haram's murderous mission in the northern Nigeria.
On many levels, the politico-cultural history of northern Nigeria shows that the existence of Boko Haram reflects age-old assumptions from the era predating the country's independence from Britain in the 1960s. Surely, Boko Haram is taking its playbook from the Sokoto-based Caliphate established in the early parts of 1800s and lasted for nearly 100 years till the British's geopolitical annexation of many areas of Africa including Nigeria.
Sad as it is, the deadly campaign by Boko Haram for Islamic government is not a novel proposition in Nigeria body politic. The largely Muslim north had always clamored for some form of Islamic government headed by a Caliph. As pointed out, the Islamic codes were already in place in the northern Nigeria prior to the oil-rich nation's political independence. Thus, in exchange for some form of political leverage or semi-autonomous rule, the Caliphate-conscious leaders in the northern Nigeria accepted “The Settlement of 1960” from the new central government. Among others, the 1960 agreement sought to put in place some modifications in terms of the northern states' legal and political pathways with the view to watering down the cravings and pursuits of Sharia laws in the north at the time.
Based on Boko Haram's deadly relentless agitations now, it the Settlement of 1960 was analogous to a first-aid bandage placed on festering incurable cancer wound; it served to provide temporary relief but not a lasting cure. The “Settlement” only helped to postpone an inevitable phenomenon—strong nostalgia for imposition of caliphate on the northern Nigeria. The Nigeria's northern region insatiable appetite for Islamic laws has never disappeared; it was just dormant owing to the agreement between the leaders in the north and the federal leaders. It is also instructive to know that many Muslims in the north did not give their wholehearted endorsement of “The Settlement of 1960.”
As noted, Nigeria is a collection of vastly diverse cultures with competing ethnic and many other sectarian interests. More so, top-level official thievery and dysfunctional public services, as seen in other African countries, have created pent-up anger and disillusionment among the average Nigerians as a whole. Unfortunately, the Boko Haram Islamists are selfishly exploiting and tapping into the northerners' built-up frustration and discontent against the federal government.
Undoubtedly beneath the surface, Boko Haram extremists have a bunch of sympathizers, including some prominent leaders and bankrollers across the Muslim north. Recent media report indicated that a well-known businessman identified as Babuji Ya'ari was arrested in connection with the planning of the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian school girls in the mid-April in 2014 from the northern Nigeria (ref: AFP News, 01 Jul 2014). It is fair to say that one of the reasons the Boko Haram zealots have been successful and seem unstoppable in their pernicious attacks is because they have protectors and backers in high places spread across the north.
Moreover, the ghosts of the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s have been haunting the country for quite a long time. The result is that the federal government tries not to overreact, but treads carefully, whenever any potentially explosive situation rears its ugly head so as to avoid descending into another deadly divisive war. More importantly, it is an open secret among many average Nigerians, especially from the south, that what the Boko Haram activists are doing in the north is none of the south's problem.
For the southerners, as long as the extremists are killing their “own people in the north” and not spreading their barbarities to the south that primarily covers the homelands of Yoruba, Igbo, Delta areas, and the like, then “let them kill themselves,” as some Nigerian friends from the south have always been telling me. Generally, this is the prevailing attitude embraced largely by the Christians in the south. The truth of the matter is that if the Boko Haram militants try to go beyond the confines of their terrorist activities in the north and come to the south, the world will wake up to witness another bloody civil war in Nigeria because the Christian south with the backing of the military will take the fight to Boko Haram in the north.
Bernard Asubonteng is geopolitical analyst based in USA.
Email: [email protected]