President Goodluck Jonathan’s expressed intention to ‘be a little more forceful’ in tackling the Boko Haram terrorism is certainly a needful, albeit reactive, approach to a danger threatening to engulf a huge swathe of the country. For, besides the relentless destruction that the Boko Haram sect continues to visit on three states in the north-eastern geopolitical zone, marauding bands going by various names including herdsmen together with foreign mercenaries have extended their killings and sacking of villages to the north-central zone that includes Plateau, Benue, Nassarawa and Kaduna states. Also, parts of the Northwest including Katsina and Zamfara are not spared. In sum, persistent insecurity confined hitherto to three or four states is fast spreading. As lawlessness holds sway in the face of ineffective state response, the entire northern region is turning into a huge killing field.
The attendant consequence is that the military forces are being spread thin to deal with a widening threat to internal security as well as challenge to the authority of the state. A military thus diverted and distracted from its core constitutional duty is dangerous for Nigeria in an unstable, conflict-riddled world.
The coordinated brazen activities of both the Boko Haram insurgents and the so-called herdsmen, the sophisticated arms– including military uniforms at their disposal, the funding and training that seem to enable these, give cause to not discountenance, firstly, the possibility of external involvement, and secondly, probable access to insider information from within the state security apparatus. But, the Boko Haram problem could not have graduated from a small religious group disgruntled with the system to a band of well-trained and well-funded insurgents that have now earned itself international attention except that there was a terrible gap between what needed to be done about them, and what was actually done. And central to this has been the failure of leadership to do the needful as, and where appropriate.
Recently, the Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, in faraway United States of America, directly accused the Federal Government and its security agencies of, in different ways, fuelling the crisis in the northern part of the country.
The choice of foreign forum for such an accusation was clearly inappropriate and less than patriotic. Nevertheless, these are weighty allegations from one who should know – a former high-ranking military officer and the governor of an affected state.
Worsening insecurity in the land, and government’s less than satisfactory and largely reactive ‘kid gloves’ response throw up some more salient questions. Why are all these happening at this time? Is Nigeria a victim of the vicious pursuit of the agenda of one or another vested interest? Is Boko Haram truly acting, albeit so dastardly, in defence of the faith it claims? Or, as its many un-Islamic acts have shown –including killing Muslims – is it more of a politico-ideological movement being used to execute a non-religious game plan?
Granted that the advent of democracy has allowed the expression of group and sectional grievances long suppressed by military rule. But why, with such ferocity and executed so heartlessly, including slitting victims’ throats and murdering school children, and defying the understanding of reasonable men? These are questions only a government, with its immense power, and resources can and must answer as a way to overcome the present danger to the polity. It may not be out of place to suggest that if indeed, Boko Haram has a genuine case; it should bring it to the on-going national conference either by its leadership, or through delegates that represent the affected areas.
The current problem may be primarily one for governments to solve. But it is much wiser to see it as a challenge to all Nigerians especially the political parties. Therefore, political leaders across party lines must come together to ensure the safety and sanctity of the Nigerian state that each desires to rule now, or sometime. To this end, firstly, Jonathan, as president to all citizens irrespective of party leaning, should avail his administration of the cooperation of other political parties to address insecurity in the country. Merely trading brickbats by the parties is most unhelpful at this time. Secondly, government must not allow itself to be driven into irrelevance. A situation whereby necessary social service facilities such as the schools and health centres are closed, plays into the hands of Boko Haram. In addition, displaced persons should be catered for in ways that will make their unhappy condition more tolerable, lest they become ready tools in the hands of the insurgents.