In the last two months the world has been preoccupied with events in the Middle East, namely the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (ISIS). The stories and pictures emanating from these places are absolutely gruesome and the world is right to focus on them. But I do not understand why the genocide and displacement of communities in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram (BH) has escaped the attention of the world, even though the situation there is arguably on a similar scale to what we are seeing in the Middle East right now.
We all recall the abduction of nearly 250 girls and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Since then there have been more reports of abductions, attacks on schools and the murder of innocent students. I do not mean to trivialise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but no one needs to be reminded about the degree of global news coverage that followed the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the conflict that ensued.
Nigeria is a regional power and has taken part in many successful peacekeeping missions in Africa and around the world. Unfortunately, this giant is now confronted with a type of problem that it seems incapable of solving on its own. Only last week, a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary entitled “Nigeria’s Hidden War” revealed damning footages of unprofessional behaviour and gross human rights abuses by Nigerian soldiers in their attempt to contain BH. Their methods were indistinguishable from those employed by BH and have been rightly condemned by Amnesty International.
Quite why the largest army in Africa with its impressive record of successful international peacekeeping missions cannot defeat a domestic terrorist organisation is everybody’s guess. Why was this organisation even allowed to grow when it could have been nipped in the bud? The failure of the army to defeat BH has been attributed to corruption, unprofessionalism, under-resourcefulness, lack of equipment, poor motivation, the deliberate crippling of the military by successive military governments to prevent coups, and the infiltration of the army’s rank and file by BH sympathisers and saboteurs. But there is a more important reason - poor understanding of BH's mission or a denial of it.
Jihadist terrorism is arguably the biggest threat to world peace in the 21st century. There is only one correct way to view BH, and that is, as jihadist terrorists. It is a serious error of judgement to presume that BH is a political tool put in place to humiliate a Christian president or to topple his government or to re-establish northern hegemony or that it is even a political party of some description. I suspect this is the advice that President Jonathan has received, and this may explain his apparent indecisiveness in dealing with BH. Lest we forget, BH started its violent campaigns during the presidency of Yar'Adua who was a Muslim from northern Nigeria. If BH wants to re-establish northern hegemony, then attempting to assassinate respected Northern leaders such as the Emir of Kano and the Shehu of Borno would seem like a stupid, counterintuitive and counterproductive thing to do.
BH is an islamo-fascist organisation whose only objective is to create an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. It does not respect Nigeria's internal borders, and like other islamo-fascist groups such as ISIS, the ultimate goal is the establishment of a worldwide caliphate.
Shekau has repeatedly told us that his targets are Christians. The Quran refers to Christians and Jews as "people of the BOOK. It is the way of life of these people (of the book) that BH refers to as "haram" or forbidden. There are no Jews in Nigeria and this jihad is directed against. Christians. Non-islamic education, democracy, civic institutions such as the police, military, judiciary are synonymous with Western civilisation and by implication Christianity. This is why BH wants to destroy these institutions and replace them with Sharia.
Shekau has also repeatedly said that any Muslim who does not subscribe to the ideology of BH or its version of Islam is a legitimate target for attack. This includes Muslims who participate in any process that is considered un-Islamic or non-compliant with Sharia e.g. politicians, democrats, policemen, military personnel, school students or university students. This is why BH sought to kill those respected emirs. It is why Shekau referred to the late but respected Muslim politicians, Sir Balewa and Mallam Aminu Kano, as infidels. He even called the king and princes of Saudi Arabia infidels. Otherwise, the death of any Muslim during BH campaigns is unintended and is purely collateral damage. This is an accurate assessment of the mindset of BH and is not designed to stir up hatred between Christians and Muslims. All peace-loving Nigerians, whether they be Christians or Muslims, must rise and fight this ideology.
I do not believe that the government fully understands the nature or the gravity of the problem that confronts it. There appears to be greater preoccupation with winning next year’s elections than with fighting BH. This is unfortunate because more northern Nigerian towns and villages are falling under the control of jihadist terrorists by the day. If you live outside the northeast zone and think you are immune from this problem, then think again!
Ladies and gentlemen, our country is at the edge of the precipice. Forgive me if this sounds alarmist but the video released by BH showing our soldiers fleeing into the mountains and across the border into Cameroon should raise alarm. We should be asking whether the Nigeria army has the capability to defeat BH, and if so, why this has not been used. How did our prestigious army, the largest in Africa, get to the point where it now runs away from a group of insurgents? If our army cannot defeat or contain these insurgents, shouldn't we be asking for regional or international help now? After all, our army has helped to stabilise the governments of many countries around the world on it's many peacekeeping missions - so why shouldn't we get help when we need one?
Last year, I wrote an article in which I discussed the factors responsible for the birth of BH as well as short and long-term strategies for combating the insurgency. Fourteen months later, I am sad to note that we now have a terrorist group that has become more capable and daring, mainly because our government has only focused on military power and a state-of-emergency ruling.
It is pertinent to repeat some of my advice here. Military force alone is not sufficient to overcome violent religious extremism. We need to develop and propagate counter-narratives against the ideology that breeds such extremism.
There needs to be urgent action to address the problem of Almajiri destitution and to regulate what the Almajiris are being taught in Koranic schools. We can no longer afford to let fundamentalist preachers (whether native or invited from foreign countries) to continue running wild without some form of censorship.
President Jonathan and his advisers must change their tactic - we are a country at war against jihadist terrorists. It is regrettable that our president did not make a public statement on the Chibok abductions until he was forced to do so (many weeks after the abductions) by international pressure from the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Until now, the president has yet to visit these troubled spots. It was Malala Yusuf who finally managed to convince him fairly recently to meet the family of the abducted girls. The president must be advised that this is not a war by a group of enemies to topple his government and he must, from now on, fight this war with all the will, power and resources at his disposal.
As experience has shown in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and with ISIS fighters in Iraq, situations like ours can degenerate very rapidly, but lives can be saved if the international community acts decisively and timely. Nigeria needs urgent help with training, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. We need to put the focus back on Nigeria. With a population of nearly 170 million people, nobody should want to see a refugee crisis situation develop in Nigeria!
Ijabla Raymond, a medical doctor of Nigerian heritage writes from the UK. Contact him at [email protected]