Chatham House hosted a discussion in January, Nigeria in 2012: Crises and Reforms. In it Garba Sani gave a brief history of Boko Harum that is one of the best I have seen.

View of Zuma rock from Madalla market, taken October 2008, photo from Christian Blanchard on Flickr. Madalla was a site of the 2011 Christmas day bombings by Boko Haram.

Garba Sani:

Garba took a narrower and more focussed perspective analysing the issues facing Northern Nigeria and the role of Boko Haram. From the perspective of Northern Nigerians, ever since the days of colonialism Western style education and Christianity have been imposed upon them as a package from the south. The response to this has been a resistance to Western education and the Western way of life. However, this is not simply a cultural sentiment. The civil servants and politicians produced by this system are seen conspicuously wasting money. Poor Nigerians see their politicians flying abroad, shopping in Dubai, and sending their children to expensive Western schools. Consequently people feel that the leadership is devoid of justice, and when they call for the establishment of Sharia law it is not about religious piety but reflects a desire for a more just system.

The resentment fostered among the youth of Northern Nigeria is where Boko Haram has its beginnings. Whilst Boko Haram started as a non-violent breakaway group, persecution and aggressive crack-downs from the security services brought a violent response. Boko Haram was at first a small and controllable problem, but the issue escalated in 2009 after heavy crackdowns were ordered by President Yar’Adua. The crackdown was brutal and disproportionate; around 700 innocent people were killed, some of them publicly executed on suspicions that they were member of Boko Haram.

Following the killing of their leader the movement went underground but emerged a year later with renewed attacks. Even at this point the situation was controllable, yet the government response was again heavy-handed. Local people felt more intimidated by the soldiers deployed to fight Boko Haram than they did by Boko Haram itself. This sentiment was compounded by the violent and indiscriminate responses of the security forces, which frequently caused the destruction of property and the loss of innocent lives. It is quite possible that the Boko Haram situation may have been encouraged by the Federal Government to undermine the North. The fact that the government refuses to negotiate with the group fuels these suspicions.

With regard to international actors and what helpful role they may play, the main problem is that internationally the current situation in Nigeria is seen very simplistically. It would be helpful for international actors to instead look at the problem from a local perspective. For example, calls for Sharia law and Jihad are exaggerated in the Western discourse. There is also no affiliation between Boko Haram and Al Qaeda. Rather, the statements made by Boko Haram’s leaders reflect local grievances and in this sense there is some sympathy for the group in the North. That said, Boko Haram is not representative of Islam and has been condemned by Muslims in northern Nigeria. Both the international community and the federal government should
proceed with caution – they need to understand the local nature of the problem. A good start would be to consult diasporas from the northern communities.

Following a policy of wherever there is oil we must engage terrorists, the US Dept. of Homeland Security has just issued a report that examines the threat of Boko Haram predictably simplistically.
Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland PDF.

The shorter version of this report is: We don’t know anything about Boko Haram but even without any evidence we think they are collaborating with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al Shabaab in Somalia. This creates a huge threat to the United States. Therefore we need to crank up a massive military and diplomatic response.

Keep in mind that the US is constantly looking for terrorists to feed the anti-terrorism industry. US corporations need terrorists to justify selling their anti-terrorist products. More terrorists equals more sales. And the US Africa Command needs terrorists to justify its ongoing security activities all around the continent.

The US report does recommend consulting with the Nigerian diaspora. However judging by experience to date with expat Muslim communities in the US, and particularly the Somali community in Minnesota, consulting with the diaspora consists of spying and intimidation rather than actually listening to what the diaspora has to say.

The African Partnership station is mentioned in the report, and right on cue, the African Partnership station is back visiting Nigeria. You can view pictures of APS activities at AFRICOM Along the Coasts and In the Creeks.

The suspect in the Madalla bombing was captured by the Nigerian authorities, and then “mysteriously” escaped. As Teju Cole put it in one of his eloquently understated tweets:

@tejucole
The Madalla bombing mastermind, arrested in a state governor’s lodge, coincidentally, has escaped from jail, quite by chance.
19 Jan (2012)

This escape proved such an embarrassment that Nigeria has recaptured the suspect Kabiru Abubakar Umar Dikko, who is also known as Kabiru Sokoto. Getting caught came as a shock to Kabiru Sokoto who is quoted:

The source quoted Sokoto saying in an emotional tone: “For instance, I never for once believed I could be arrested.

“I thought I was invincible. But now I’ve realised that if I could be arrested; if Abdullahi Damasak, the spiritual adviser, could disappear (arrested), then it’s a matter of time before everyone is caught.”

Sokoto is now said to be cooperating and providing a great deal of information which is being compared to the information provided by Abdul Qaqa, captured separately, who is being interrogated about the money trail:

It would be recalled that Monday, one other chieftains of the sect, Abdul Qaqa said the group engaged in criminal activities, breaking banks and seeking for money from every available illicit sources.

He spoke on the exploits of the dreaded body and stated that though they agreed to split such monies into five, “nobody dared ask how the money was spent and nobody dared ask questions for fear of death”.

Sokoto said the members feared the leadership of the group more than the security agencies.

Sokoto is said to have provided details of the sponsors of the sect who comprise mainly politicians, traditional rulers and some influential business men.

“The man is co-operating well with us. He has said a lot, though some of the revelations he made are chilling and nerve racking. He has named some top personalities in the society as their sponsors.

“He has also named some of the bank managers who have been facilitating them to make some transactions and how they bring in their deadly weapons, including the explosives they use in their bombings.

“We have put some construction companies on surveillance and we shall screen the permits they obtained for dynamites and explosives and we shall cross-match these with the activities they had to carry out for which they applied for such explosives,”

At the moment Nigeria appears on the right track regarding Boko Haram. It is important for genuine security that Nigeria handle this internally. The more the CIA and US military Special Operations go beetling around playing at counterinsurgency, the more damage they will do to Nigeria and Nigerians.

Nigeria needs to find some way of addressing corruption, and needs to avoid heavy crackdowns on the innocent. The Occupy Nigeria protests in response to the sudden removal of the fuel subsidy may have given Nigeria a nudge in the direction of trying to do something about corruption. The Nigerian police have been trying to upgrade their image. So far that does not seem to include modifying police behavior. I haven’t read anything that indicates people believe they can trust the police more than before. Teju Cole addresses this with another relevant tweet.

@tejucole
To ensure that Nigerians see the police force in a new way, Inspector General Abubakar announced a redesign in police uniforms.
15 Feb (2012)

Kano from Dala Hill, November 2005. Recently Kano has suffered several bomb attacks by Boko Haram

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