It is believed in many quarters that the Boko Haram insurgency is purely motivated by political considerations. Local politicians, Islamic scholars and representatives of the local and international media have questioned the roles played by the different political parties and religious leaders in the state. For instance, key traditional and religious leaders in Bornu state have not been vocal in condemning the activities of the Boko Haram sect despite the several attacks and killings of private citizens, security officials and Christians. A veteran journalist working with an international media agency, Mr. Ibrahim Mshelliza also noted that members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party in the State have never openly condemned the Boko Haram menace and views the attacks as a calculated attempt to undermine the leadership of the All Nigeria’s Peoples’ Party in Bornu.
Another school of thought has it that the Boko Haram insurgency intensified and became deadlier than ever following the refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to respect the zoning arrangement of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. As such, the perpetrators of the current insecurity has long ago, planned and arranged how to thoroughly make the country ungovernable should he eventually mount the saddle of leadership post April 2011 in Nigeria. As has been succinctly put:
For example, there can be no doubt that the Boko Haram issue and the post election violence in the North are clearly reactions to perceived or real loss of power by an elite stratum that is predominantly “Northern” and also “Moslem” even if the leading figures in this agenda do not necessarily count religious piety among their greatest attributes. What is happening in my view is a contest over raw political power: who lost power, who won power, and who wants power back. The processes that threw up President Goodluck Jonathan as the candidate of this elite stratum were intimately bound up with the political crisis that has gripped the ‘northern’ political class.
For a political ‘north’, which has always been in position of power and authority, the idea of getting used to ‘powerlessness’ poses a huge challenge. This is a crisis for power brokers and beneficiaries of power in the north. And one of the ways in which the Boko Haram is being interpreted is the service it offers such power deprived elite stratum to play cynical politics without alienating themselves from their communities. Linked to this of course is the contest between the conservative traditional authority and a more progressive successor generation in the North. There is clearly a breakdown in this traditional authority in the north where it used to be very strong in the country. Young, dynamic and street smart politicians are edging out the old (a common phenomenon all over the country) but they are yet to consolidate their grip on power and Islamic radicalism offers a strong incentive on that consolidation agenda.
However, some public analysts have argued that although members of the group may have been hijacked and used by politicians to achieve some mischievous political objectives, that does not take away the ultimate agitations of the group for an Islamic State. The political underpinnings that belie the conflict have spurred a significant erosion of political will and public confidence in the authorities to deal with the situation fairly and squarely.
External offers of technical support and assistance in quelling the crisis has been largely insincere and cosmetic. Whilst the international community says it supports non-violence, the actions that are taken by western governments, international governing bodies and the media are, most times, contradictory. Little is being done to allow non-violent action to succeed and the media continues to sensationalize violent conflict and ignore peaceful interaction. Few weeks ago, many Nigerian newspapers screamed with the headline news of the arrival of Jack Bauer in keeping with the United States’ offer of military assistance to check the security situation in Maiduguri. It would appear from this US government perspective that the situation is viewed as a purely security issue requiring military response, not a theatre of social and economic deprivations and injustices requiring training in dialogue and conflict resolution strategies.
Both the Boko Haram on one side, the Nigerian Police and the army on the other side are equally yoked in the gory killings and myriad of security challenges facing the state. Their clashes have left hundreds dead on both sides. There is no doubt that security operatives comprising mainly the police and soldiers have been the main targets of violent attacks by the Boko Haram sect. Beginning from July 1999 when Boko Haram insurgency gained prominence in Bornu State, more than seventy junior and senior officers of the Nigerian Police Force have been murdered in cold blood by Boko Haram insurgents. Most of these personnel were killed when they were off duty as they returned to their homes at close of work or on their way to work.
To cap it all, the June 16, 2011 attack on Louis Edet House, the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force which claimed lives and destroyed no fewer than 70 vehicles left many Nigerians in utter shock and bewilderment. As condemnable as these Boko Haram killings are, the extra judicial execution of the sect’s members have even been more horrifying. No single event symbolizes police impunity and extrajudicial execution of Boko Haram members than the killing of Alhaji Buji Foi (a two-time chairman of Kaga Local Government Area and former commissioners of Religious Affairs and Water Resources; Alhaji Mohammed Baba Fugu and late sect leader, Mohammed Yusufu at the Police headquarters in Maiduguri. Yusuf’s murder is believed to be in revenge for the killing of the deputy to the squadron commander, a superintendent of police and many police officers in July 2009. The ongoing ‘an-eye-for-eye” tactic continues to stand in the way of meaningful progress and engagement between the warring factions.
Perhaps, most telling is that absolute mistrust, suspicion, and fear characterize the relationship between the security operatives and the civilian populations undermining intelligence undertakings that would lead to the definite identification and extirpation of the sect’s members and activities. Areas lived by the poor are often criminalized and labeled as Boko Haram hideouts to justify the extreme security surveillance and violent incursions by soldiers. Often, these incursions are accompanied by severe violence, with victims on many occasions arrested, detained and in some cases, killed. No members of the JTF are known to have been held accountable for committing gross human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial executions.
Based on the sentiments shared by several persons interviewed in the informal neighbourhoods, it is obvious that the greater the force employed by the JTF in the areas designated as military targets, the greater the sympathy those affected communities have for the Boko Haram sect, to the extent that majority of them are hesitant or outrightly unwilling to provide information to the police on the hideouts and activities of the sect members. These responses reinforce perceptions of the local people that government is against them, and closes the gap between genuine community agitations and criminal activities.
The mixture of impunity, the lack of accountability, dearth of political will, corruption, and abuse by politicians as great barriers preventing any meaningful solution to the growing violent situation in Maiduguri in particular, and Nigeria in general. The signature failure of the Nigerian authorities to address the legacy of past human rights violations by both military forces and ethnic insurgents offers little hope that such violations will not be repeated and prevents victims and survivors from reconciling and rebuilding their lives. Two years after the first violent outbreak of the Boko Haram crisis in Maiduguri, family members of hundreds of victims of the killings and destruction unleashed by Boko Haram members, as well as victims of extrajudicial killing by security forces have continued to cry for justice without reprieve.
Any credible peace process must involve all parties to the conflict, including representatives of the government, the poor communities of the northern Nigeria, members of the Boko Haram sect, religious leaders in the region and victims of the attacks. A framework for discussion, a forum for articulating grievances, and a well-developed agenda are all needed to begin a negotiation process that will lead to a comprehensive solution of the relevant political, economic and security problems.
Excerpts from the report, In the Killing Fields of Maiduguri…..
by Victoria Ibezim Ohaeri