Saturday, 19 September 2015

Northern Nigeria: Papering over Boko Haram cracks

In fact, according to Amnesty International, the Boko Haram insurgents may have abducted a total of  about 2,000 girls and women since January 2014 alone, using them as cooks, sex slaves and fighters.

On a number of occasions, Borno state Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, has reportedly shed tears in public, while reacting to some of the murderous activities of the Boko Haram insurgent group. The Governor’s address last weekend at a meeting of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) in Kaduna may have encapsulated his many years of frustrations and apparent inability to checkmate what has been described as the heinous acts of the Boko Haram group. According to Shettima,  “today, our region has become a thriving nest for war, terrorism, deep seated social divisions, senseless violence, mind-boggling intolerance, injustice, destitution, joblessness, and all manner of other social vices, the height of which is the madness called Boko Haram.”
Such lamentations are not entirely new.  It has virtually become  routine practice for a number of northern leaders to shed tears at any news of fresh reports of Boko Haram attacks. The Governor who spoke in his capacity as the NSGF Chairman also holds the unenviable position of host to members of Boko Haram with their operational mobile headquarters which rotates between Gworza and the Sambisa forest. Reports indicate that the Sambisa forest has a landmass far in excess of that of the entire Lagos state or Belgium.
The Boko Haram Nightmare
For a number of northerners, the Boko Haram insurgency seems to be a nightmare and they appear to nurse the false hope that they may actually wake up some day to realise that it is not real after all and that the entire region had been in a bad dream all along. Also confronted with various other forms of anti-social activities and behaviours, successive northern leaders have continued to lament current developments in the area. “The first generation of northern leaders    bequeathed to us a polity, though vast in landmass and complex in its diversity, that showed enormous promise,” Shettima said, noting further that it was a  a polity where the social mantra was unity in diversity, where justice, fairness and equity reigned, where exemplary peaceful coexistence was the order of the day.
Regrettably, according to him, “not only have succeeding generations of leaders including, sadly, our own, failed to sustain the benchmark handed over by our heroes, they let things to progressively and rapidly deteriorate, in the process exhibiting base irresponsibility of the worst kind. Thus, from those dizzying heights of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s when the north was the cynosure, if not the envy, of all eyes, we plunged to the nadir of the social ladder.”
Indeed, after the early 1980s, the the north apparently took what has turned out to be a seeming irreversible plunge into a yawning abyss of crises, with various forms of ethno-religious conflicts ravaging the region. From reports, virtually all indices of human development are skewed against the north when compared to other parts of the country.    After several years of progressive decline, the north has apparently found itself entangled in the Boko Haram web from which it has not been able to extricate itself.
With a vast landmass said to be about 79 per cent of the entire landmass of Nigeria, northern Nigeria is also said to account for about 53.6 per cent of the nation’s population. But according to a prominent businessman and Banker from the north, Alhaji Falalu Bello, the northern landmass is under-exploited with majority of its huge population uneducated because of what Bello describes as near near-failure of governance in certain states and local governments. According to Bello, “today, the north has ownership and/or control of no more than three per cent of banking assets and two per cent  of insurance assets and 10 per cent of industrial assets.  Currently, its most distinguishing characteristic is grinding poverty.
Recent poverty statistics indicate that the poverty level of states in the north has been on the increase in the last nine years and reaching over 80 per cent.  Its two commercial and industrial nerve centers (Kano and Kaduna) have seen industrial capacity utilization decline to an all time low of less than 10 per cent.  The textile, automobile and beverages companies that thrived so impressively in the 1970s and 1980s have collapsed, rendering thousands jobless.”
Some six years after the launch of its bloody campaigns from the northeastern state of Borno in 2009, unconfirmed reports have since put the death toll of victims of the various attacks at between 15,000 and 100,000. At one time or the other, major cities in the north have had to swallow bitter pills of the insurgency, aside communities and towns in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.From Kano to Kaduna, to Bauchi and Plateau states and, from Niger to Jigawa and Gombe states and more, it has been the same unsavoury tale of blood and tears as the Islamic insurgents launch their weapons of death on unsuspecting citizens and in some other cases they turn themselves into veritable instruments of mass destruction as represented in the numerous cases of suicide bomb attacks. It is doubtful if there will ever be an incontrovertible number to show the actual death figures.
 Perhaps, also indeterminable may be the number of those who have been injured and some others who have been maimed permanently from the equally countless number of bomb attacks by the insurgents, across parts of northern Nigeria including Abuja,  the Federal Capital of Africa’s most populous nation.However, deserted communities in parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states along with various camps housing several hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) scattered across the north and and elsewhere in the country attempt to show the level of devastation and trauma arising from these several years of the Boko Haram siege.
Eight Hundred in 100 Days
But in recent times, according to Buharimeter, a group with a self-imposed task of monitoring activities of the Buhari administration, Boko Haram insurgents killed at least 800 Nigerians within the first 100 days of this government in office. According to the group, “in the last 100 days, there have been over 30 successful attacks and bomb explosions which claimed the lives of over 800 people and caused the destruction of property worth millions of naira.”In fact, according to the Borno state Governor, the situation in the north, arising essentially from the activities of Boko Haram, has degenerated to such a level that, “in Nigeria today poverty glaringly wears a bold northern face. We have turned our region into a laughing stock, derided by friends and foes alike, and, not without justification, as having dragged the rest of the country down with us.”
Cost of Fighting Boko Haram
Just as it may be difficult determining the actual casualty figures of those killed by Boko Haram in the past six years, it may  also prove to be a herculean task ascertaining how much the Federal Government and the various state governments may have expended on the fight against insurgency, directly and indirectly. The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan is reported to have committed so much money towards combating the war while governments at all  levels as well as Non-Governmental Organisations and other civil society groups are known to be responsible for the upkeep of the IDPs their population which is said to number  a total of about 1.5 million. Borno state alone is reported to have about 27 per cent of its population currently wearing the tag of displaced persons, according to the National Emergency  Management Agency.
There are also reports that the Jonathan government received a foreign loan of about $1 billion to fight Boko Haram. As at February 2015, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Federal Government might have committed a total sum of about N6.5 trillion to the insurgency war.Although the Boko Haram war is not yet over, Shettima estimates that it will cost about $3 billion to repair infrastructural facilities including hospitals, schools, bridges and individual homes destroyed by insurgent activities in the north east alone, in the past six years.And, following the  historic Washington visit by Buhari in July, there are indications that the World Bank may consider granting Nigeria a loan facility of about $2.1 billion for infrastructural rehabilitation of the north east. Moreover, days after he assumed office, Buhari had directed the immediate release of $21 million (N4.2 billion) to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram.
Speaking in Johannesburg at the 25th African Union summit in South Africa, Buhari had justified the expenditure arguing that, “in particular, we are witnesses to the rampant destruction of homes, roads, communications lines, vital infrastructure and displacement of persons not to mention terrible loss of lives. The Boko Haram insurgency has extended its reach to Nigeria’s neighbours but is not necessarily limited to these immediate countries as terrorism is a global phenomenon with linkages across the globe.”Whatever the explanations, the socio-psychological cost of the Boko Haram insurgency cannot be quantified in monetary terms considering that a number of businesses have closed shop while their owners are on the run for dear lives. In most parts of the north, the people live in perpetual fear, not knowing where or when the next attack will occur, or which of the crowded bus stations will explode next.
 Parents and children are worried not knowing whether their schools may also receive the now legendary Chibok treatment. Nowhere is safe. Not even  places of worship when the insurgents have launched series of indiscriminate attacks on churches and mosques across northern cities.Goodbye, Chibok Girl Although the insurgents have claimed responsibility for a number of other attacks on schools in on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states leading to the death of scores of school children and their teachers, perhaps, till date, the most daring of the group’s undertakings is the reported abduction of some 299 secondary school girls at Chibok, Borno state, on April 14, 2014. A year on and the days still running, there have not been definitive statements regarding the actual location of the girls who were writing their terminal school certificate examinations before they were kidnapped.
The report has over the past year engendered world outrage with a number of countries pledging to assist in efforts at rescuing the girls. But, so far, all the combined initiatives have proved abortive including campaigns by the numerous  Bring Back Our Girls hashtag civil society groups.However, the Arewa Youth Forum, a coalition of various youth groups from across the north, says it does not believe in what it describes as over-dramatisation of the issue of the Chibok girls. The  group’s President, Alhaji Ibrahim Gambo Gujungu, told Vanguard that, “there seems to be a lot of politics surrounding the issue of the Chibok girls. There are other people also being held in captivity by Boko Haram apart from the Chibok girls.
I do not understand why there should be emphasis on the Chibok girls as if those other people including women are not citizens of this country.  If indeed the insurgents actually have the Chibok girls and they are alive, I believe the troupes should be able to rescue them. We have to tell ourselves the truth because the Chibok girls are being held alongside other women and even other girls.We should not be talking about rescuing the Chibok girls alone but the entire people being held by Boko Haram. They are all citizens of Nigeria. And by the way, how do you even identify who the Chibok girls are among those being held because by now they must have grown bigger than what they used to be. They must have become women within this period they have been in captivity. Some of them may have become pregnant and it is also possible some of them may have even become mothers by now, going by reports from the military that they found condoms and sex drugs in the Boko Haram camps.”
And, perhaps, until it is proved otherwise, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s verdict on the issue may remain valid. Blaming the former administration of Jonathan for allegedly failing to take early measures to rescue the girls, Obasanjo had ruled that, “I have said it several times that, once active and concrete action was not taken within 48 hours, a period of 72 hours was already too late. We will never be able to get those girls again. And, the story of those girls will go on for the next 30 years. Some of them will come out when they are adults or they will be sent back when they are pregnant by those who have captured them. If anyone is thinking of being able to get those girls released intact, he must be day dreaming.”
Again, perhaps unfortunately, in what appears to be the hammering of a final death knell on the fate of the girls, President Muhammadu Buhari who spoke last week in an interview with the Hausa Service of the BBC said that, “many of the girls have been forced to convert to Islam. They (the insurgents) have scattered them, and they are being guarded at dispersed locations. Most of the girls are Christians but were forced to embrace Islam. And the sect’s cruel leaders have married off some of the girls, obviously against their wish. Others have been left to practise their religion but their condition can hardly be ascertained. Both ground and air security personnel in the Sambisa forest could spot where the girls are but since the insurgents have also kidnapped housewives and other women, no one can say whether they mixed them or how they dispersed them.”In fact, according to Amnesty International, the Boko Haram insurgents may have abducted a total of  about 2,000 girls and women since January 2014 alone, using them as cooks, sex slaves and fighters.
Genesis of Muslim Radical Dissent in the North
“Tranquility for everybody” is a direct translation of Dadin Kowa which is one of the several villages that Boko Haram uses as launch pad for its attacks in Borno state. But how has it come to pass that some 50 years after Nigeria’s independence, peaceful towns are being terrorized, attracting suicide bombers and an invading army of Muslims with obvious extremist tendencies? According to John Hare, a former District Officer who was recruited by the British government in 1957 for service in northern Nigeria, three years before the country’s independence, “the answers lie in Nigeria’s north-easternmost state, Borno, a 27,000-square-mile (70,000-square-kilometers) territory south and west of Lake Chad whose prominent inhabitants are the Muslim Kanuri tribe and where radical dissent led by brutal, fanatical men goes back well over a century.”
In his recent work on the Boko Haram crisis, Hare writes that, “in precolonial times, the Mandara mountains formed a central backbone in the vast Kanuri tribal empire which extended eastward into today’s Cameroon and Chad and north to the Fezzan, in southwestern Libya.“For centuries the Marghi, Hithe, Gwoza, Fali, and Matakam tribes—some of the wildest in Nigeria—had secured this mountainous fortress, fending off raids by mounted Muslim Kanuri slavers from Borno.“The tribesmen developed a deadly throwing knife, which spun through the air and sliced through the tendons of the raiders’ horses.”
Rehabilitating the North East
Gujungu says his group has launched a campaign designed to encourage the Federal Government to establish what he calls a Commission for an accelerated development of the North East. As Gujungu puts it, “we want President Muhammadu Buhari to establish a commission for the North East, to revive the area and the entire north in general because we are actually underdeveloped. The Boko Haram insurgency has virtually destroyed the entire North East. If you put all the federal allocations to the north east together, the amount will not be able to rebuild that area.
The reconstruction will require intervention from the Presidency and there is nothing wrong if the Federal Government establishes a commission for the North East because, after all, a similar commission was established for the Niger Delta due to the activities of the militants there.”
Gujungu also urged the leadership of the NSGF to produce a blueprint that will enable the governors have a clear focus of and possible timeline for a collective development of the entire north.On its part, a communique at the end of the NSGF meeting commended Buhari for the success recorded so far against Boko Haram insurgency. According to the communique, “the Forum commended the Federal Government for the successes so far recorded against the insurgents as a result of the remarkable zeal, total commitment and willful determination of President Muhammadu Buhari who right from the onset prioritised the defeat of the Boko Haram as one of the cardinal objectives of his administration.
*This was clearly manifested in the foreign trips he undertook immediately after coming to office to our neighbouring countries as well as Europe and United States.
*The forum also appreciated the initiation of the Joint Multi-National Task Force as well as relocating the command and control structure of the security forces, to the epic-centre of Boko Haram, Borno State. This has turned the tide against the insurgents, hence their capacity has been greatly degraded.
*The Forum appreciates the of security agencies for the continued onslaught on insurgents and terrorists in the North-East. However, the Federal Government was called upon to recruit more security personnel to enhance their capacity to cope with various security challenges.
*The meeting had indepth discussion on security challenges in the region, noting that security challenges of any State are the concern of all.     Consequently, the challenges were viewed with serious concern.*Members after taking turns to highlight the peculiarities of security challenges in their various states such as Boko Haram, cattle rustling, sporadic killings, kidnapping, herdsmen versus communities, boundary dispute and armed robbery.*The major causes were also identified as follows: unemployment amongst youths, high illiteracy level, arms and drugs proliferation, poverty, provocative preaching, Almajiri phenomenon, lack of recreational facilities and sporting events, inadequate use of traditional institutions and lack of cottage industries to engage the unemployed.

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