Mohammed Yusuf: Ten Year Later
October this year makes it a decade since the founder of the dreaded Boko Haram, the terrorist organization that has caused untold havoc on the Nigerian State died in police custody after being arrested for questioning.
The group which preaches that western civilization and influence is sin has grown more emboldened since then and is so powerful that it has been linked to possessing sturdy ties with the world’s number one terrorist organization: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
They have killed hundreds of thousands of people especially in the North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and have also displaced millions forcing them to live in worse than squalid conditions in internally displaced camps.
Their attacks have spread to the nation’s capital, Abuja when they bombed the building of the United Nations and that of influential newspaper, Thisday. They have spread terror and there have been rumours of their agenda to diffuse their attacks down south.
We recall vividly during the 2015 campaigns of the then Presidential Candidate, Muhammadu Buhari who promised to totally eliminate them within three months. His campaign handlers regaled the nation of his exploits while in the military of how he chased the Maitatsine fanatics who were greatly harassing the residents of Kaduna state to as far as the Chad Republic. They portrayed him as another Charles De Gaulle who had hearkened to the clarion call to rescue his countrymen from doom.
More than four years after his presidential ascendancy, the terrorists are still proudly hoisting their flags in different local governments under their control. They currently control local governments the size of the nation of Belgium.
Buhari apparently misread the whole situation and thought he could counter them with conventional warfare not realizing that the war is more of psychological.
Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf’s successor vowed to extract revenge for the extrajudicial murder of his erstwhile leader on the Nigerian State. In 2010, he publicly called for a Jihad against the Christian faithful and they have included kidnapping especially of under aged girls and ransom taking into their mode of operations as a way of both spreading fear and raising funds to finance their deadly activities.
It is instructive to note that boko haram wasn’t always violent. Prior to the murder of Yusuf, it was a peaceful organization that was merely trying to aggressively promote Islamic ideals.
Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did his very best to fight the menace through aligning with other nations such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon who also suffered repeated attacks. The terrorists would lay low for a while and then strike in typical guerilla warfare style. In exasperation, Jonathan offered them amnesty which the garrulous Shekau rejected with the following words: “Surprisingly the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon”.
Billions of naira has been pumped into fighting the insurgents without any noticeable results or success. It has been alleged that some top military brass embezzle the funds and provide sub standard weapons to the rank and file on the field to fight akin to the soldiers going to battle with bows and arrows while their adversaries are armed with the latest and most sophisticated weapons of warfare.
On a rather hilarious occasion, some of the soldiers bluntly refused to fight and they were court marshaled for their disobedience. During the trial, it emerged that the soldiers wisely hearkened to the age-long saying that ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.’ They were smart to be selfish in thinking about their interests and that of their families instead of fighting for a country that throws them out of a flying plane with no parachutes.
The insurgents haven’t really made it clear why they took up arms against the state unlike their Niger Delta counterparts who were fighting for more resource control. However, the boko haram emergence is a long term fall out of the systemic failure of the north where the elites psychologically oppress the masses or talakawas by denying them quality education and a meaningful life in the name of culture and religion. They also use them for electoral thuggery and dump them immediately afterwards. Boko Haram is merely a reaction to the decades long oppression by the northern masses against the sinister and parasitic elite who have held them captive for so long. Fighting them with weapons is counter productive and a wrong counter terrorism strategy as they don’t really care about death since the elites have given them nothing to live for. They will only multiply in number when their members get killed long for a Paradise with seventy virgins as the grand reward for their fighting efforts.
There is the critical and urgent need for a massive deradicalization and rehabilitation of the current members. Infrastructure needs to be built in the highly battered north east and efforts must be made to give the northern residents an education that will liberate their minds first and foremost to reduce their overt mental dependence on religious clerics and traditional rulers who manipulate them to no end. There is the need to teach them practical skills that can enable them compete favourably in this fast pace and changing 21st century.
Jonathan thought in this direction when he built the numerous Almajiri schools to empower the disadvantaged northern masses to be independent thinkers. It is a tragedy that the current administration didn’t follow through that wonderful and well thought initiative of their predecessor. It is ironic that Buhari is also a northerner.
The war against boko haram is akin to the war that America fought against Vietnam in the heady days of the 1960’s spilling over to the 1970’s. Sophisticated weapons will not defeat the insurgents as they are more hardened than stones. What will ultimately win the war is de-radicalization and emotional psychology – the war of love – the greatest force for conquest in the globe.
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com