First I heard of Boko Haram was sometime in 2009 when Al Jazeera reported the apparent death of its leader Mohammed Yusuf. But little did I pay attention to the narrative or rise of this terrorist group and its activities thereafter. However, reflecting on the abduction of the Chibok girls in Nigeria in April 2014, the famous ‘bring back our girls’ international campaign, and the surge of attacks in and across Nigerian borders, prompted me to seek insight about the group’s formation, mission and objectives, which I really will not dwell on in this recount.
Watching media broadcasts and reading reports of the unfolding events of Boko Haram, I remember recording –
“The abduction is abominable, and why and how it happened is hard to fathom. But it would seem this terrorist group means business and is hell-bent on doing harm. Come to think of it, Nigeria is bigger than the militants, and if the Nigerian government unifies its ranks behind the efforts to resolve the crises, the situation can be brought under wraps. Failure to do so, the chances is the chaos will continue to spread to all neighboring countries, especially Cameroon where there is a contingent of Muslim population.
In the outbreak of these events, I believed strongly and still do that the crises are deeper than appears on the surface, and the terrorist group is more of a business and political venture cloaked in religion. I may have been wrong to reason this way, but loomed the questions; why is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mute on this matter? Shouldn’t ECOWAS be the starting point in terms of intervention, given the seeming dead-end in the situation for months now? And why is the African Union (AU) not playing its role as the mother organ overseeing issues of peace and security on the continent? But again it occurred to me that ECOWAS is the first port of call, so the AU cannot sidestep ECOWAS. Besides, Nigeria calls the shots in ECOWAS, so until Nigeria (a giant in ECOWAS and AU) decides to address its internal political crises and ails, the prospects would remain bleak.
From my viewpoint, the silence of these organizations, especially with the imminence of the elections in Nigeria, only made it obvious that they realized the risks that Nigeria was encountering, yet did not want to step on toes. My assertion then may have been in need of some enlightenment, but truth is, these powerhouse organizations are managed by pretty savvy and calculative politicians who know what they are doing. If not, why is it that the international community who offered to help a long time ago, even then and now tread carefully? The answer is simple, Nigeria even with all its problems (and the deliberate muted voice with which I mention its wealth of resources) remains particularly important in the African continent.
Given these trends of thoughts and no forthcoming answers as to why Boko Haram terroristic activities continued unconstrained and the kidnapped girls unaccounted for and still missing, I could only, at the end of 2014 conclude as an observer that: it is and would be in the interest of Nigerians to think strategically and save their country, and in the lead of every politician to keep their long-term interests above any temporary gains that may be affecting the political considerations–.”
However, one thing remains for sure – the Boko Haram crises, whether calculatedly or otherwise undercut President Goodluck Jonathan as an incapable leader under whose watch the country was engulfed in crises. Reflecting post-2014, the ascendance of Muhammadu Buhari as presidential candidate elect in April 2015, and the ‘blink of an eye’ release of some of the abducted Boko Haram girls just a month later, drove me into deep contemplation as to ‘whether this is a game of politics with the lives of people or the politics of politics at play here.’ As a matter of fact, I would want to decipher what really is happening and the way forward, but the whole dynamics of the rise and atrocious engagements of Boko Haram remains a mystery I am yet to comprehend. Meanwhile, there is no refusing the challenges of governance, human, social and economic development confronting Nigeria has in many instances been used by the terrorist group to validate their gruesome attacks. Likewise, these challenges have been and continue to be used as a log on point to effortlessly or forcefully influence the recruitment of young people into the group.
Evidently, trans-border atrocities by the Boko Haram terrorist has ushered in a new phase of crises, jeopardizing the peace and security of the region as a whole. Moving forwards, there has been an upsurge of counterinsurgency strategies by Nigeria and its bordering countries (Chad, Cameroon and Niger) against the Boko Haram terrorist group. These regional strategies for countering the insurgents have on the one hand purportedly subdued the group’s presence in the Northeastern region of Nigeria. On the other hand, Nigeria and the region remain confronted with the increased targeting and attacks by the group against civilians, its use of women and girls as suicide bombers, the beheading of individuals in conformity with the infamous practice and method of punishment by the Islamic State terrorists, and the ever-present tormenting images of dead bodies and destroyed property. In line with these are also internal discontents with Buhari’s internal policies, such as the slack attitude to reform the security institution and military to better tackle the crises, and considerations to negotiate with the terrorist group, among others.
It is pretty obvious that West Africa is Nigeria’s sphere of influence, especially given its prominent interventionist roles under the auspices of ECOWAS in its regional conflicts and complex emergencies. Reasons as to why same robust interventionist mechanisms have not been employed in the Boko Haram crises crippling the country and the regions is difficult to tell. However, I believe that Nigeria and the region can contain the Boko Haram terrorist group if there is political resolve and consciousness, committed leadership and a unity of purpose. This calls for a green-light approach that goes beyond military engagements to include pertinent measures that address the issues of governance, state legitimacy, human development, as well as socio-economic ails. In the absence of these strategies, there is no gainsaying that the terroristic activism and attacks will exacerbate and further destabilize or weaken Nigeria’s and the region’s apparent unity.
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Lukong Stella Shulika is an independent researcher, a contract lecturer and PhD candidate in Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. She has published on a wide range of topics including: electoral politics; post-conflict peacebuilding and development; inter-ethnic conflicts; xenophobia; UN Security Council politics; and on women and peacebuilding.
Featured Photo from Flickr Creative Commons.