The bombs that went off on Christmas Day at Madalla in Niger State, in Jos Plateau State and in Damaturu and Potiskum, in Yobe State appear to have many purposes. One was to send a signal that whoever the Boko Haram bombers are, they plan to sustain their terror campaign. Two, the bombs were intended to further expose the vulnerability of the Nigerian State and its citizens, in spite of elaborate security arrangements to ensure a relatively safe Christmas. Three, the bombs may have been intended to trigger widespread conflicts between muslims and christians. The first two objectives obviously succeeded. The third appears to have sought to deepen inter-faith suspicions and hostility, and possibly trigger another round of mayhem involving innocent muslims and christians. So far, both groups have remained largely restrained, although there is justifiable anger among christians, and fear of undeserved reprisals among muslims. Someone, somewhere is attempting to pitch millions of muslims against millions of christians in a war where both will be reluctant combatants, and losers.
The gruesome images and the pains of the losses and injuries from the Christmas day bombings will shock and offend every civilized person. The deliberate targeting of churches by people who claim that they are avenging the killing of muslims last year will naturally inflame passions, and offend muslims who recognise that their faith does not sanction the taking of innocent lives. The anger and bitterness which is felt across the land over the mass killing of people whose only crime appears to be their faith is only a step away from violence against those suspected as supporters of the killers or those who share their characteristics. The helplessness of the victims in Madallah, in Jos and Potiskum and Damaturu reminds the nation of the victims of Jos, Zonkwa and many other areas and conflicts where innocent people were murdered for their faith alone.
The disclaimers by prominent muslims traditional rulers and clerics will have some effect in terms of calming nerves, but they will also raise more questions than answers. People will ask what influence these leaders and clerics have over the muslim community they speak for, if they cannot limit or eliminate the threats and the dangers posed by the bombers. The bombers of Christmas day who claim to be Boko Haram say they bombed churches in retaliation against the killing of muslims during last year’s Sallah celebrations in Jos. They claim that neither the Muslim leadership nor the Nigerian state took steps to protect the muslims in Jos or bring their killers to justice. In this manner, they undermine the credibility of muslim leaders and the Nigeria state. A logical question to ask is who is speaking for the Muslim community in Nigeria today? Is it Boko Haram, which both fights the Nigeria state and places bombs which kills innocent christians and muslims alike; or the mainstream leaders who denounce their goals and tactics as un-Islamic? When Boko Haram bomb churches, they expose millions of innocent muslims to retaliatory attacks, which traditional leaders and Muslim clerics cannot prevent, or protect them from. Attacks on muslims far from the theatre of conflicts will trigger more attacks from muslims, and the vicious circle will be complete.
If the strategy of Boko Haram, or whoever is hiding behind its name and grievances is to bring the Nigerians state to its knees, it could not have found a better tactic than one which touches muslims and christians where they hurt most, and mobilizes them in their largest numbers. No christian will fail to feel anger at the killing of whole families who were just leaving a church service on Christmas day. Their killers will remind the nation that muslims were equally slaughtered at a mosque in Jos a few months ago on Sallah Day, an event which angered all muslims. When the state fails to assume a firm control over the situation by limiting anger after these killings, or apprehending perpetrators, communities will be tempted to take revenge. Muslims have no monopoly over bomb-making know-how, or weapons. They congregate five times daily in millions of mosques across the nation, and are therefore even more vulnerable to attacks. There are millions of muslims in every nook and cranny of the nation, many living in isolation in communities far from their homes. They are exposed, and vulnerable to attack from people who may think their faith alone qualifies them for being murdered.
At this stage, it is clear that there is a plan to cause massive crises along religious lines in Nigeria. It is time to ask some uncomfortable questions as well. Could the scenario painted by a United State agency of the failure of the Nigerian state be playing out? Is this attempt to push the Nigeria state to fail being engineered by external forces? If so, what are the possible objectives behind the plan? Is there a plan for a relatively crisis-free break-up of the nation, or is the plan simply to cause massive and prolonged crises between and within ethnic and religious groups? Is Nigeria’s considerable oil and gas resource a factor in this attempt; and could some interest out there be targeting exclusive control of this resource by alienating the rest of the nation from it?
Even more sinister, it is legitimate to ask whether Boko Haram now merely provides a cover for stronger and more sophisticated interest which is fighting targets such as the U.S, Nigerian christians and the Nigerian state, using Nigerian muslims as hostages. Is there some credibility to the suspicion that Al Qa’ida in the Sahel has taken over the local grievances of Boko Haram, and is now fighting for its own agenda, which has little to do with the real interests of Nigerian muslims and other citizens? Or again, is there some credibility to the suspicion that some sinister forces are milking the security situation in our country for financial gains, and are sustaining the current levels of hostility and fear using the cover and modus operandi of Boko Haram?
Tragically, there appears little effort towards identifying exactly what the nature of the threat is. If there is one, government appears determined only to throw technology and money at it. Hard political and security intelligence is always difficult to come by in conflicts of this nature. Yet, hard intelligence is precisely what the government needs to deal with this major threat, and it has very little time to acquire it. The most imminent and dangerous fallout of the Christmas bombings is that they will raise the levels of fear and anger among most Nigerians. Many christians will be tempted to adopt a simple position which links Boko Haram with all muslims, and will hold all muslims responsible for Boko Haram’s atrocities. Muslims will reject the linkage, and will in turn, claim that they are even more victims of Boko Haram than christians. They will resent their religion being used as cover for un-islamic activities, and will in turn claim that muslims are being killed in many parts of the nation for being muslims alone, and the Nigerian state is unwilling or unable to bring their killers to justice.
The most serious threat to the current situation, however, is the possibility that the Nigerian state will lose its credibility as the protector of our collective security. Whoever is behind these bombings and killings has succeeded in casting major doubt in the minds of citizens over the ability of this administration to protect both muslims and christians. If we cannot feel and be protected, we may be tempted to protect ourselves. In a situation where christians and muslims feel threatened by each other, it takes very little to trigger a disastrous chain of events. In these days with so much anger and passion, it is difficult to convince all Nigerians that muslims and christians are all victims of this frightening wave of terror. The plan may be to get them to engage in an unending blood-letting, but it it will be a war without a victory. If they fight, they will be reluctant warriors. They do not need to fight, it muslim leaders act and show even more openly that Boko Haram is condemnable. They do not need to fight if Christian leaders do not make capital out of the genuine grievances of their flock and urge them into a senseless confrontation. But above all the nation does not need to take up arms against itself if the government and leaders can take bold steps to plug the many gaping holes around our security.