Boko Haram: Can Northern Leaders Escape Responsibility?


By John Udumebraye
Since the outbreak of violent attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents in 2009, the group's mode of operation, style and pace have changed markedly. Whereas, in the beginning, the attacks were wider in scope and directed mainly at government installations – which included the United Nations building and Police Headquarters in Abuja – they are now restricted to the fringes of the affected three States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, with vulnerable civilian populations, especially school children, as targets.

Military experts interpret the change to soft targets as a sign that the insurgents are retreating and that the war is about to end.  However, the opposition and critics of the Government claim that insofar as the casualty figures, in human and material terms, are still rising, the war against Boko Haram is far from over.  In my humble opinion, the issue is beyond politics.  I believe that, irrespective of political persuasions, Nigerians should be worried about the current security situation.

It is frightening that within the last one or two weeks alone, as many as 200 defenceless and innocent people, including school children, have been killed by members of the Boko Haram sect.  The casualty figures are conflicting, but on the whole, an estimated total of 3,500-5,000 people are reported to have been killed by the insurgents since they launched their first attack in 2009.  Of these, women and children are the worst-hit.  In addition to the deaths, the estimate of the refugee agencies of the United Nations is that over 8000 people have been relocated to neighbouring countries, including Cameroon, while they put the figure of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) at 5,000 people.  Human rights groups, however, insist that when added, both the number of those who have fled to other countries and IDP are well over 20,000 people.

It is true that the Boko Haram operations are now restricted mainly to the three affected States.  There can be no doubt that their activities have paralysed the economies in much of the North.  Indeed, the negative effects of their atrocities cut across the entire country.  For the national economy to thrive, there must be uninterrupted flow of investments, within and from international investors.  That flow is not possible in an unstable social and political environment such as the one that now exists in the affected States.  Apart from the US and some European countries that have issued travel alert to their citizens against travelling to Nigeria's Northern States, foreign direct investments in the States have dropped significantly.  The three States are now regarded as a pariah zone by international investors.

Furthermore, small and medium scale businesses, which serve as the engine that drives economic growth and development, especially in a largely informal system, like Nigerian economy, are being completely wiped off in much of the affected States.  Thus, the Boko Haram insurgency already has a crippling effect on the economy of the zone.  Indeed, the Chairman of the Northern Nigeria Governors Forum, Dr. Babangiba Aliyu (Niger State governor), confessed recently that “the activities of Boko Haram have led to the collapse of the economy of the North.”

Comparatively speaking, paralysing the economy of a nation is not as calamitous as destroying its educational system.  Education is the livewire of every society and the major determinant of the people's future.  As far back as March, 2012, the Boko Haram insurgents had set on fire more than 12 primary and secondary schools in and around Maiduguri, in keeping with their bizarre doctrine that “Western education is evil.”  Consequently, thousands of children were without access to education.  In September, 2013, the Boko Haram sect attacked students' dormitories in the villages of Mamudo in Yobe State, killing at least 42 students and burning down all the structures. Then, last month, another 59 children of the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, in Yobe State, were killed.  These were just a few of the atrocities committed by the insurgents.  Their goal is the total destruction of life and property for no justifiable reason, other than religious bigotry.

It is true that Nigeria had, before Boko Haram, experienced insurgency, militancy or religious fanaticism.  However, none of these past experiences was as senseless as the Boko Haram insurgency.  When, therefore, someone tried the other day to compare Boko Haram with the Niger Delta militancy, his error was glaring: while the Niger Delta militants were identifiable youths – Tompolo, Atake Tom, Boyloaf, etc – who made clear their demands, the Boko Haram insurgents are faceless operators with an unspecified mission, except that they want to Islamize the entire nation and obliterate Western education.  It is all hogwash!

The truth about Boko Haram is that those who knew how it all started would agree that it was politically motivated.  Unfortunately, the terror sect has grown into a Frankenstein's monster such that even those who created it now distance themselves from its destructive activities.  The creators of Boko Haram are identifiable Northern political leaders.  We know them and they know themselves.  They owe Nigeria the duty of atoning for their transgressions and the responsibility of salvaging the situation.

Other Northern leaders, who might not have had a hand in the making of Boko Haram, also owe the nation the duty of helping to salvage the situation by virtue of their status as leaders of the various communities that produced the insurgents.  To claim that the young men (and perhaps women too) have outgrown their communities is unacceptable.  Boko Haram members, no matter their degree of indoctrination, still belong to the normal Nigerian extended families; they are under family heads, ward leaders and chiefs, and the insurgents are still subject to kinship discipline.

If the Northern leaders are looking for an example to learn from, it is readily provided by elders of the South-south zone who took charge when the unrest in the Niger Delta was at its peak.  Leaders such as Chief E.K Clark, Chief Tony Anenih and Vice President (then) Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had to go into the hideouts of militants to preach the urgent need for peace in the region.  Based on their efforts, the militants accepted the amnesty deal and surrendered their weapon in 2009.  Our Northern leaders should take a cue.

Mr. Udumebraye sent this piece from Port Harcourt.