By Eghe Isiaka Guobadia
The recent Boko Haram bombing in Kaduna and Zaria and the reprisal attacks that followed bode evil days for the country. Unfortunately, the Nigerian authorities are yet to get right the reason why there is this crisis in the first place and why it is becoming intractable. The combination of the use of force, economic incentives and moral persuasion so far thrown at it does not seem to be yielding the desired result. Why? Either the cause of the problem was misdiagnosed or the prescriptions for its cure are either wrong or being misapplied or whatever.
What the lack of effective solution to the current imbroglio means is anarchy, which reversal may be beyond the capacity of any central government, either now or in the future. As the situation continues to degenerate, as it appears to be already doing, so will confidence – that indispensable element that rules in both economic and political market place. Ultimately, the (weakened) political leadership will be unable to fully project its authority and will begin to yield room to those who will do all sorts of things to undermine the economic and political outlook of Nigeria; or it will simply embark on the use of more force than necessary that will tend to exacerbate matters. It is a scary scenario, which everyone, not just the president, should be concerned about.
Nigeria’s stock on the bourse of many nations and individuals willing to lend a hand in its economic and political development is rapidly falling as a result of the unhealthy security environment. Even amongst wealthy Nigerians, it is like rushing to the exit at the same time when the house is on fire. This explains the unending phenomenon of capital flight and its negative impact on the nation’s foreign reserve and the continuing southward slide of its currency. It explains the increasing appetite for corruption that has lately enveloped the country, as well as the high misery index of the common man. These are some of the reasons why the recent trip of the president to Brazil in the face of mounting domestic problems was unnecessary and thus laughable. That time in Brazil should have been spent at home providing much-needed leadership. The trip lacked any sensitivity and sensibility.
Setting aside hubris, with presidential leadership partnering with the right group of people in and out of government and irrespective of political and personal differences, the right solution can emerge. It is for the president to carefully identify Nigerians with the most cognate experience on the prevailing circumstance and invite them to assist. That wouldn’t be construed a sign of weakness but an acknowledgement that a national emergency exists that is neither a PDP nor Jonathan’s problem. As a national problem those called upon should regard it as a call to national duty.
May be Nigeria can take a look at the Indonesian experience. Indonesia, with the largest Moslem population in the world, is waging one of the world’s most resolute campaigns against violent religious extremists. It has created, with the backing of the US and Australian governments, a special unit out of its police force to combat terrorism. Its methods are open and covert – it is more than a shooting machine; it takes on the role of spiritual counselors, working to convince militants of the error of their ways. In our case, we have been more concerned with whether or not to label the actions of Boko Haram as terrorism. Such inanity, nay, insanity.
May be the way security personnel is currently organized against Boko Haram is just not working. May be a national police and a national army are just not psychologically equipped to handle the role they have been assigned. Could it be that a local squad, with same faith and language as the militants will combat Boko Haram more effectively? Something good may yet come out of this morass. Perhaps it is time to begin to give serious consideration to the formation of both local government and state police. Certainly, a man from Gembu would have a better understanding of the crime environment in Gembu than the man coming from Otuoke.
It is probable that there is an array of other options, which the president and his security team are considering. The current choice of options and tactics has proven to be the wrong ones. They have allowed Boko Haram to grow, adapt and become more vicious. It is not too late to change course but the next choice of options should be rooted in realities and emphasize brain more than brawn and war chest. It should address both the short- and long-term dimensions of the problem, drawing from a clear understanding of the group’s psychology and that of its backers.
Whatever the course of actions is, beginning from the recently announced changes in the national Security Council, this government must be aware that time is now not very much on its side. Boko Haram and its atrocities have become a defining epoch of this administration and it will eventually shape its legacy for good or bad. Or, perhaps, ship it out.
(Guobadia was once a special assistant to Finance & Economic Development Minister, Chu S. P. Okongwu)