By Osuolale Alalade
In Boko Haram, Nigeria is presented with an epochal challenge that it must somehow overcome to assure its continued longevity. This terrorist organization is one of the most ideologically motivated extremist Islamist rebels to emerge in Nigeria’s excitable chequered history. The activities of these Islamic fundamentalists from the outskirts of the Maghreb have radical and deleterious social and political implications not only for Nigeria, but also for the West Africa sub-region and for the entirety of the African continent. The emergence of Boko Haram has effectively grafted Nigeria to the turbulent nexus of international political Islam’s conflict with modernity. Committed to extremely violent methods in its determined revolutionary drive to Islamize Nigeria from the fringes of the Sahara to the Atlantic coast, Boko Haram challenges the legitimacy of the Nigerian Order, as presently constructed. It has, accordingly, focused in particular on violently toppling a perceived dominant western worldview that rests on Judeo-Christian values. It plans to transform the Nigerian space to a seventh century like caliphate that is rooted further in time than the vision of Othman Dan Fodio, the legendary founder of Sokoto. In its objectives and ruthless methods, Boko Haram is only comparable to Somalia’s Al Shabaab movement. Its world view is Al Qaedaish. Nearby, the Ansar Dine success in bifurcating Mali and proclaiming the so- called Republic of Azawad has lately provided a poignant indicator of the dangers posed by these Islamist terror groups.
Boko Haram appears to be successfully exploiting the weaknesses of Nigerian state structures to propagate its jihad. Its infiltration of the Nigerian state has been formally acknowledged. This has been made abundantly manifest in its operations that have defied coordinated containment efforts of state security agencies. Its operatives appear to be comfortably ensconced in schools in the northern Nigeria from where they propagate violent ideology and recruit impressionable young people. Above all, there is no common national understanding on the bona fides of this new terror. In the confusion, only recently, the suggestion was made that they are mostly Chadian and Malian émigré in the country. But the evidence on ground does not seem to bear this claim out. As with all rebellions and revolutions, Boko Haram have been creative in exploiting opportunities created by the many contradictions and challenges inherent in the construction of the Nigerian state and society. Accordingly, not withstanding their nihilism, Boko Haram has elicited public sympathy from apologists in very high places from not unlikely constituencies within the country. These high state officials have seemingly rationalized the violent intrusion of Boko Haram into the political space as a natural extension of the turbulence that has characterized ethno-religious and ethno-regional social-political relations in the country. There is a clear linkage between ethno-regional and religious interests and the response to Boko Haram. Critical to the definition of these interests is the distributive patterns of the Nigerian state-from the shifting configuration of political power that some have adduced as the immediate instigator of Boko Haram to partisan struggle to appropriate and control the strategic levers of the national economy. There has been no categorical distancing of the northern elite from the groups, as the preoccupation has been on encouraging the federal government to engage in dialogue with a faceless foe whose deadliness and astuteness had initially caught the Nigerian security establishment flat footed.
Against this background, the revolutionary objectives of Boko Haram to Islamize Nigeria from the fringes of the Sahara to the Atlantic coast would appear to resonate with its sympathizers who cloak its activities with some dubious legitimacy, blind to the group’s violent methods that are as indefensible as they are regrettable. The apologists counsel dialogue between the state and Boko Haram. At the same time, in a political blackmail that is quintessentially Nigerian, the sympathizers of Boko Haram are exploiting the pervasive dismay and apprehension generated by the brutal methods of the movement, to seek to expand the frontiers and salience of Islam in Nigeria’s national life. In this sense, those who interpret the Boko Haram phenomenon as another dimension, albeit at a profoundly objectionable nadir, of Nigerian politics would seem validated by the peculiar historicity of the Nigerian space. In this space, commentators from across the many divides have dubbed the Islamic terrorists as the armed wing of a particular political tendency and orientation of Nigeria’s politics associated with the core North. In this polarized discourse, Boko Haram has confronted the country with the challenges of the Nigerian context. Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate and foremost social activist leading the charge for the restructuring of the Nigeria federation, has pronounced that the national discourse, in perceiving the Boko Haram nightmare as a burden on one part of Nigeria, “has been a diabolical judgment on the structure that struggles to deserve the name nation, calling to question through its fiery monologues, the very legitimacy of our nation being.” It was important for other constituents of Nigeria to take up the responsibility of finding lasting solutions to the crisis for the “survival of the totality of our national humanity,” he warned.
This context of the national monologues- a conversation of mutual and reciprocal deafness- is characterized by a lack of a national will to project a national vision to drive a common response to the many booby traps in the travails of Nigeria as a state and society. The Nigerian context is defined by unending squabble over the ultimate structure of the state, perpetual discord over the revenue sharing formula, controversy around the demographic structure of the state, allegations of a deliberate system to retard progress in sections of the country in order to ensure that the pace of developments accommodate the most sluggish of its constituent segments, entrenchment of mindless ethno-regional sensibilities and interests as well as an intense rivalry for supremacy by imported foreign hegemonic faiths. Above all, the Nigerian context also refers to the pervasive recklessness in the operation of the structures and institutions of democratic governance such that the institutions have forfeited their moral legitimacy to act on behalf of the people. The “legislooters” of the Legislature have lost all pretensions to representing the people. The moral turpitude in the operation of the Nigerian state has significant implications. It has created a dangerous inaction by impeding a serious national conversation on the future at a credible institutional level. This is a critical gap at a time when the country is literally overwhelmed by the challenges of Boko Haram and a resurgence of irredentism in the South South, among many other challenges.
The Nigerian environment, further, is characterized by narrowly defined partisan interests of the major ethno-regional constituencies in the country. This is the context of the disagreeable early deafening silence and now muted interventions about dialogue from the core Islamic North on the Boko Haram. Otherwise, the attempts have been to rationalize its emergence by specious argumentation over poverty in the north. It is also expressed in the predominant squabbles in the Legislature over what various states can reap from the Nigerian federation. The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido, has argued that the Boko Haram violence was the outcome of uneven distribution of the country’s wealth. He saw structural imbalance of enormous proportions that left some states unable to meet their basic needs as the source of the Boko Haram violence. He felt strongly enough to breach the constitution in making a direct donation from state coffers to northern victims of the Boko Haram jihadists. This mindset was further illustrated in the last week of February by the Chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum who, protesting proposed budgetary apportionment for priority infrastructural investment in the oil producing South-south, said that the revenue allocation formulae had to be reviewed this year.
Also, some apologist of Boko Haram have argued that modernity is not working and various factions of the Nigerian elite are corrupt and disconnected from an increasingly urbanized young population that are attracted to radicalizing influences of Salafist Islamic groups, such as Boko Haram. These views have been challenged by the Northern States Christian Elders’ Forum (NOSCEF) that issued a statement calling for National Conference, restructuring of Nigeria with six geopolitical zones to become regions with each zone managing its resources and paying tax to the Federal Government. The Federal Government will take off its hands from education, agriculture, water resources, industries, mineral resources, research and technology, health, power generation, women affairs, youths and sports, works and housing. The Federal Government will be solely in charge of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Customs and Aviation. It repudiated the concept of one North without equal treatment and counseled that the country should concentrate on getting three friendly regions out of the North, instead of thinking of the north as one region. Referring to a 5 billion Naira donation to remind Mr. President that the Christians are waiting for their own N5 billion while reminding him that the constitution forbids him favoring one religion above the other.
Meanwhile, against this background, legislators from the group of states from the South West region only recently hosted a Legislative Summit on Regional Integration in Ibadan, regional capital of the old Western Region of Nigeria. Rising from that meeting, they demanded a new constitution to reorder what they described as Nigeria’s malfunctioning system. The consensus of the meeting to start integration now by the adoption of a regional anthem has elicited apprehensions about secessionist moves from that region. A commentary on the summit highlighted that when and where elections become an empty ritual for the “perpetuation of a debased and thoroughly debauched status quo, the situation calls for a more fundamental reorganization of the polity before anarchy takes over.”
This is the context that has offered Boko Haram its first political victory over the country. Nigeria has been unable to speak with one voice on the illegitimacy of the revolutionary objectives of the group to impose Islam as state religion in this bubbling cauldron of diverse cultures, different religious faiths of divergent hues and a mostly very intellectually engaging citizenry. In light of this problematic context, the numerous calls for the convocation of a sovereign national conference have also been rejected by the establishment, both the Presidency and the Legislature, on the altar of personal and partisan interests of the main individual political actors as well as fears of confronting these challenges. A few pan national civil society groups have expressed apprehensions about the state of the nation. The Nigerian Bar Association, following its National Conference recently, issued an advisory that there is an urgent and imperative need for a conference of all nationalities. Its Vice president affirmed that there was agreement that all is not well with the nation and counselled that a sovereign national conference is long overdue. Status quo actors across the federation have rejected the call for a sovereign conference. Some see the interests of the powerful barons of politics and the economy across ethno-regional divides prevailing over national interests for structural reforms to ensure long term stability- another chasm.
Nigeria can and must transcend these challenges. The Nigerian people must not be afraid to sit down to talk about the future because to refuse to do so will be to unwittingly validate the violence of potential terrorists. That would only allow them to eventually occupy the Nigerian space.