Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has accurately dissected the incendiary threat Islamism poses to Nigeria’s existence. In a diagnosis that has provoked an instant debate, Obasanjo exposed the agenda of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen to conquer West Africa and Africa using Islamist terrorism, and warned the government to act. On cue, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, backed Obasanjo in his belief that the herdsmen and insurgents were on a mission to subjugate Nigeria and Islamise Africa respectively. Both Obasanjo and Soyinka are right on target. Instead of its uncharitable riposte, the Federal Government should consider the meat of his message.
Obasanjo has never spoken so forthrightly on Islamism, but sensing the dangerous dimension the insurgency has assumed, he debunked the pretence that it is fuelled by poverty in the North. “It (Boko Haram) is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria, which it began as; it is now West African Fulanisation, African Islamisation and global organised crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change,” Obasanjo stated last weekend. That is well-thought-out.
It resonates with those who understand Salafism, a perilous brand of that faith that has the overriding goal of enthroning a narrow, puritanical version of Islam, blood-letting and jihad. To attain this, Boko Haram has wreaked monumental havoc on Nigeria and its neighbours in the past 10 years. The outgoing Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, estimated three years ago that the insurgency had led to the death of over 100,000 Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari states that it has displaced more than two million others.
Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Boko Haram once occupied 27 Local Government Areas in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in the North-East. Although the Buhari government has degraded it, it is still waging attacks on soft targets and military bases while kidnapping for ransom. The Belgium-based International Crisis Group once listed Boko Haram as the second most dangerous terrorist sect in the world behind the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, from where it attracts significant moral, ideological and financial support. The turning point came in 2016 when it split into two; its offshoot, the Islamic State West African Province, is affiliated with ISIS.
A newly-released report by the ICG stated that ISWAP had been forming a “jihadist proto-state in Nigeria.” From this base, it will spread to other weak countries in Africa. Obasanjo refers to this as the Islamisation agenda, and he is definitely right. The sub-plot of the agenda is the “Fulanisation” of Nigeria. Using desertification as the alibi, Fulani herdsmen have infiltrated all every nook and cranny of the country. It is rated the world’s fourth most deadly terrorist group today.
Their bloody trail is unmistakeable in the North-Central states, with Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Kogi the major tipping points. These days, herdsmen kill the locals with impunity and appropriate their farmland in the South-West, South-East and South-South. Like its predecessors, the Buhari government has watched on helplessly. It is playing with fire.
This is obvious in its crude response to Obasanjo, who advised that the major stakeholders in Nigeria, including the traditional institutions, the military chiefs past and present, governors and religious leaders, should sit down and chart the way forward. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, exemplifies the muddled, hollow thinking in government, accusing Obasanjo of wanting to “divide the country.” Sule Lamido, an Obasanjo ally, audaciously accused the former President of bigotry. Both of them are wide of the mark.
The Buhari government should stop living in denial that poverty is at the heart of the ongoing mess. Without a doubt, Boko Haram is fighting a religious war. Like al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Shabab and all Islamist terrorist groups, the essence of Boko Haram is to conquer, or wipe out every community that does not subscribe to its warped, narrow ideology. The 2018 Global Terrorism Index stated that Nigeria is the third most terrorised country in the world (after Iraq and Afghanistan). This is because 4,940 Nigerians died in terrorist acts in 2016; 1,832 in 2017 and 1,532 in 2018. The acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, stated that 1,075 Nigerians were killed by criminals and 685 kidnapped in first quarter 2019. This is a high casualty rate for a country that is not at war with another country, making every Nigerian a potential victim.
Theophilus Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff, stated that Nigeria could not survive a religious war. As it is, Nigeria is walking on thin ice; its future is precarious; its security forces poorly trained, poorly equipped, ill-motivated and divided along religious and ethnic lines. Boko Haram is now entrenched because the Nigerian leadership failed to deal with it at incipiency. In the North, its other manifestations are in banditry and kidnapping, which have rendered Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states so insecure that farming has been jeopardised there. Like a bush fire, the plague is spreading to the South, which is why Obasanjo has called on the government to seek international assistance to fight the Islamism.
But all hope is not lost. Although it took a number of years, the United States and the European Union coalition that was established in September 2014 triggered the liquidation process of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The coalition partners can help with the intelligence, resources and technological inputs to defeat the terrorists.
Like Morocco, the Federal Government should tame religious extremism, especially in the North, where it is being sustained by misguided Islamic preachers. Instead of almajiri schooling, state governments should elevate Western education throughout the country to wean the populace from salafism.