Boko Haram

Is Boko Haram Just a Symptom?

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– By Valentine Chukwuma

“Boko Haram is a symptom, but the real issue is terrible leadership in our home country.” This is a school of thought that seeks to highlight the real problems we face with the Boko Haram menace. That perspective in my opinion is a simplistic view of this Boko Haram crisis. There is no question that we have been saddled with poor leadership. This administration in particular has been too “political” in their handling of this crisis. They have failed us. But let us look at the perspective of “Boko Haram the symptom.”

Nigeria through Boko Haram is like Kenya/ Somalia (Al Shabaab), Mali/Niger/Libya/Mauritania/Algeria (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb), Yemen (Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula), Afghanistan/Pakistan (Al-Qaeda in the Middle East) and other pockets of Islamic extremism around the world. What did all these countries have in common at the advent of these terrorist organizations? Democratic governments or religious theocracies that allowed the propagation of a brand of Islam that birthed these groups.

With our return to democracy in 1999, it was only a matter of time before Nigeria would have to deal with this menace, and there was nothing we could have done about it without infringing on religious freedoms. President Obasanjo dealt with the first wave of this with governors and state assemblies in the north demanding for Sharia law to become the law in their states. The President, not wanting to be seen as anti-Islam and one that is infringing on the religious freedoms of others acceded to their requests and did not fight it. With Sharia being the law, clerics were preaching “the law.” Unfortunately as is always the case, others decided that they could not condone a diarchy of constitutional and Sharia laws. It had to be sharia law alone. With time this transformed to “Western education is sin” aka Boko Haram. Everything western was not acceptable; western education, western laws, western constitution, western styled government were unacceptable. Read the transcript of Shekau’s last video and you will see that this is the same ideology at their core. Same ideology shared with Al-Qaeda all over the world, Al-Shabaab, and even Hezbollah to a great extent as well as other Islamist extremist views.

Boko Haram started by isolating themselves and building their own camps. It was the first major attempt to dismantle the group that lead to confrontations with the government. President Yar’Adua fought them, their camps were bombarded and their leader at the time Mohammed Yusuf was killed extrajudicially; an act that attracted some sympathy for the group and served as a potent recruiting tool. They were defeated, but they adapted. They went from conventional warfare to guerrilla warfare. With that brand of warfare, our military could no longer confront them without incurring enormous civilian casualties. Think about how long it has taken the United States with all her military might to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. At this moment, the Afghan government is negotiating a coexistence with the Taliban following the realization that even with full US military backing they have not been able to crush the Taliban completely. The Pakistani government even with all the US drones and support has conceded regions of Pakistan’s Northwest like Waziristan to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Why? Because wiping out those areas involve killing a lot of civilians. Nobody wants to do that.

In Nigeria today, Boko Haram is using the same playbook. Ever wondered why the Northern elders always resist the use of force? The primary reason is that they take a lot of civilian casualties from such assaults. Whenever the government uses force as against the wishes of the Northern elders, we start hearing accusations of genocide against the President and the military. Some wonder why the Nigerian Military has not gone into Sambissa to rescue those girls? Because unlike the perception that it is one thick forest, I have been to Sambissa game reserve which is where we are talking about, and it has a very interesting terrain which makes it a good game reserve. The shrubs grow in bulbs, and because of this, from an aerial view, it looks pockets of forests. On the ground, parts of it for lack of a better phrase are just dark even during the day. With a favorable terrain for planting mines, it is the perfect terrain for ambushes and if you are working on the presumption that these girls are there and could potentially be used as shields, you can’t just barge in guns blazing so that the whole world would think you are doing something. This requires a covert and precise military mission that should not be broadcasted on televisions and radios around the world. (Nobody told us they were going to get Osama Bin Laden until they got him.)

The point of this long soliloquy is to emphasize that these things are more complicated than “Boko Haram being a symptom while the real issue is terrible leadership in our country.” Nigeria is a complicated country. It is a country where people do not want force to be used to rescue the girls, a country where a governor will accuse the president of genocide when he uses military might, a country where people spend more time condemning the government than condemning our common enemies the terrorists.

You can’t just bomb Northern Nigeria in the name of fighting Boko haram. You will wipe out whole communities to even achieve anything. Nigerians are suffering, but those living in parts of Northern Nigeria are in hell. They have lost family members, cities, and economies. In many cases we can argue that this is an assault on their humanity. They deserve our sympathy and while the intellectual elite will try to paint it as a poverty/ bad leadership problem, the truth we have all been evading for a long time is that we now have the extremists Boko Haram who are part of a global Jihad and are against everything western and Christian, the politicians version of Boko Haram who are committing atrocities in the name of Boko Haram to achieve a political end of making the country ungovernable, and armed robbers and anarchists who just commit crimes in the name of Boko Haram. That’s what we are faced with.

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On May 12, 2014

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