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Yar’adua`s “Cash for Clunker Troops” Saga….As Bin Laden targets Nigeria

Source: huhuonline.com
President Yar`adua
President Yar`adua

Embattled President Umaru Musa Yar'adua is seeking the help of the United States to counter the rising incidence of sectarian violence which authorities believe might have opened the doors to foreign Jihadists and other radical Islamists groups, including Al Qaeda.

Huhuonline.com has learnt from authoritative sources in the US State Department that Nigeria has made a formal appeal or anti-terrorism funding from the United States and the issue will feature top on the agenda during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's upcoming visit to Nigeria. In return, Nigeria will join the “coalition of the willing” by providing combat and support brigade troops of Muslim extraction to join the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although the final details are yet to be worked out, intelligence officials are said to have expressed strong reservations; warning Yar'adua that sending Nigerian troops into Afghanistan or Iraq will attract the anger and possible retaliation of Islamic fundamentalists groups and make Nigeria a target of attacks like the US embassy bombings in East Africa.

But facing mounting political pressure from within his own northern Muslim constituents, the President has vowed to go ahead with what a Presidential source described as “cash-for-troops” deal with the Americans, arguing that most of the Nigerian soldiers will be Muslims who understand their Muslim counterparts in Afghanistan, including the local language. But the source dismissed the President's optimism as misplaced; saying Yar'adua is fighting a battle for his own political survival.

With the Niger Delta amnesty threatening to unravel; and a fragile cease-fire reigning in the poverty-ridden north where sectarian violence claimed over 700 lives and displaced thousands more, the continuing crises in the most economically marginalized areas - the Niger Delta, where the oil industry has destroyed the local economy, and the north, where traditional agriculture is failing to sustain the people - mean that Yar'adua is fighting a war on two fronts

Nigerian intelligence sources told Huhuonline.com that the recent crisis with Boko Haram might have quietly opened the door to external Muslim fundamentalist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which operates as far south as Northern Mali. To make a bad situation worse, Al Qaeda's leader and the world's most wanted man; Osama bin Laden has identified Nigeria as a resource-rich country ripe or insurrection and the foundational outpost for the recreation of the ancient Muslim caliphate of that stretched from the Sarduana of Sokoto to the Ghana-Mali-Songhai empires of West Africa.

Nigerian Intelligence officials are working round the clock looking for evidence linking Al Qaeda to the extremist Boko Haram sect but Islamic proselytizers from Pakistan are said to be at work along the Sahel belt with instructions from bin Laden to infiltrate local militant groups like Boko Haram and MEND with a view to destabilizing Nigeria. Although the fighting with Boko Haram militants has stopped for the time being; for the intelligence services and military, making sure Nigeria does not become an Al Qaeda recruitment post remains an ever more threatening challenge especially as most Boko Haram members have fled to neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger - where Boko Haram's leader Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf allegedly told the military he bought his weapons - they have vowed revenge after Yusuf died in police custody. Retaliation could follow if Yusuf is claimed as a martyr. Attempts by international Islamist groups to destabilise Nigeria through sponsorship of extremist sects are hard to discern. Nigerian intelligence sources insist that Yusuf's group and its members are home-grown.

No one has, it seems, yet produced evidence that Boko Haram has links to Al Qaeda, whose affiliates move easily through the porous borders of the Maghreb to the north but the cash washing around Nigeria 's corrupt oil economy makes it more vulnerable to foreign funding, and national intelligence sources accept that the growing political and economic pressures in the north have created new opportunities for militants to exploit in their campaign to destabilise the government - and the chance for foreign-backed and organized groups to move into the region's biggest economy and most populous country.

Anatomy of a Crisis
The flashpoint in the current crisis came on July 26 in northern Bauchi State, when members of the sect calling itself Al Sunna wal Jamma (better known as Boko Haram, meaning 'Western Education is Sinful') attacked police stations. The sect's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody on July 31. Soldiers captured Yusuf after a tip-off: he was found in his father-in-law's compound. The area's army commander, Colonel Ben Ahanotu, insists he handed Yusuf wounded but alive to the police after interrogation. Footage obtained by the BBC showing Yusuf's arm bandaged as he is marched away by soldiers partly supports his account.

But Borno State Police Commissioner Christopher Dega said Yusuf was killed in a shootout but local reports say that the commander of the Mobile Police Unit shot him after hearing he would be taken to Abuja for trial. Courts in Abuja had already acquitted Yusuf three times. Nigerian police have an appalling record of extra-judicial killings and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have questioned the police's conduct. The Information and Communications Minister, Dora Akunyili, concedes that a full inquiry is needed but says the crisis is over.

Many northern Nigerians see the explosion of anger among Yusuf's followers as part of a growing pattern. Fanatical Muslim proselytizers have built a powerful following among young middle-class people, who are bitter about the lack of development and job opportunities, compared to the predominantly Christian south. This situation persists, although most governments since Independence in 1960 have been led by men from the mainly Muslim north.

Militants move when mills close
Successive governments have failed to promote development in the north and some of the few industries there, such as the textile mills in Kano and Kaduna, have failed to compete with cheaper Asian imports. The government has invested in schools and universities which turn out tens of thousands of graduates who cannot find work. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a fundamentalist Christian, paid little attention until a campaign for full Sharia (Islamic law), including huddud punishments such as amputations and stoning, started up in several northern states. Muslim-Christian tensions worsened.

By delegating negotiations to diplomatic Muslim officials, Obasanjo managed to calm things down. His hand-picked Muslim successor, Yar'adua, is from Katsina in the far north. He inspires little more confidence among his co-religionists, however. His fellow northerners seem unconvinced by his plans for agricultural and industrial development. The governors of northern states such as Bauchi and Borno have not noticeably improved things either.

Environmental degradation and rapid population growth drive people from the countryside into the towns, with no means of livelihood. The government has no effective response to short-term demands for jobs and services, and there is no sign of a credible long-term policy on desertification and the destruction of crop lands and grazing land.

This latest crisis started after Boko Haram's leaders were arrested and held in prison. There had been clashes in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State; two months earlier, when police blocked a funeral procession of sect members carrying the body of a colleague, saying that the mourners on motorcycles were not wearing the regulation helmets. The resulting skirmish ended with 14 Boko Haram members shot dead and Yusuf vowing revenge.

Following investigations, the police raided a sect compound in Biu village, 200 km south of Maiduguri, where they found knives, machetes and home-made bombs, and arrested nine militants. Another raid on July 25 left a senior militant dead; the police said he killed himself and injured a colleague when a home-made bomb exploded; militants claimed police killed him.

Bags of explosives and weapons
According to the Inspector General of Police, Ogbonnaya Okechukwu Onovo, a search 'recovered many bags of explosives and different types of dangerous weapons'. The militants counter-attacked in Bauchi on July 26 when, according to Onovo, up to 50 militants and 5 policemen were killed. Eyewitnesses reported a greater number of dead bodies. Further attacks spread the next day to Wudil in Kano, Maiduguri in Borno and Damaturu in Yobe.

In Maiduguri, small groups of militants launched synchronized attacks across the city, starting just after midnight. An ambush on the state police headquarters resulted in a shoot-out lasting over three hours, with up to 50 militants killed. They had killed a sergeant on guard at the Police Mobile College next door and murdered five policemen in their dormitories, including Superintendent Usman Farouk, second-in-command of the state's anti-riot squad.

In all, there were over 100 fatalities, most of them militants. On motorcycles in the heavy downpour, they set fire to police stations and attacked police officers' homes, prison guards and prisons. With knives, machetes, bows and arrows and petrol bombs, they burned anything that seemed to represent government, shouting 'Allah Akbar' ('God is Most Great'), stealing guns and ammunition, and emptying gaols. The security forces killed many, arrested some and cordoned off trouble spots. A dusk-to-dawn curfew the next day restored an uneasy peace, although thousands of people were displaced.

On July 28, Yar'adua ordered the security agencies to 'take all necessary action' against the attackers. The army shelled Yusuf's strongly defended bastion in Maiduguri and eventually tracked him down nearby. His deputy, Mallam Shikau, was said to have been captured alive.

Yusuf had declared his followers ready to die to ensure the institution of a strict Islamic society. 'This is a fanatical organization that is anti-government, anti-people. We don't know what their aims are yet; we are out to identify and arrest their leaders and also destroy their enclaves, wherever they are' responded police chief Onovo.

By analogy with Afghanistan , he called the militants 'Taliban'. Formed in late 2003, Boko Haram mounted its first attack on New Year's Eve that year from a base in Kanama village, on the border of Yobe State and Niger . It stormed police outposts and killed several officers.

Residents describe most sect members as poor youths with few job prospects, although some came from wealthy families or were university graduates who had torn up their degrees. This is a classic mix of Islamist activists. Others were recruited through the sect's network of Ibn Taimiyah schools, which were allowed to flourish and offered free education to the children of poor parents. A local official said that children often became alienated from their parents because of the ideology they were taught, a typical Islamist madrasa model. Some ran away to Yusuf's compound, he said, while others appeared to have been tricked by being told they were being taken for further studies.

Some children just vanished, he said, and parents received a call saying, 'Your child has been taken for a holy war. He will not be coming home. Thank you for producing him.' The group's schools in the four states that suffered from violence have already been destroyed.

Jama'atu Nasril Islam, a traditional Islamic body, condemned the attacks. 'As the umbrella Islamic organization in the country, the JNI cannot and will not fold its arms and watch the carnage and madness going on in the country in the name of Islam,' said its acting Secretary General, Abdulkarim Mu'azu Palladan. In Abuja , federal lawmakers called for an enquiry. From New York , UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, deplored 'yet another round of sectarian violence in parts of northern Nigeria '.

There is more trouble in the south, too, as the amnesty and the ceasefire that brought some respite before the Boko Haram riots threaten to unravel. Governors from the 'South-South', which includes the Niger Delta, have threatened to pull out of the federal government's amnesty for militants in their region. Their criticism increasingly speaks of the 'Northern establishment', just as the North's Islamist groups accuse Yar'adua's government of kow-towing to the Christian South. The Chairman of the South-South governors, Liyel Imoke of Cross River State , doubts that a comprehensive, well thought-out plan exists which the region could try to implement. He was sure 'Yar'adua could bag a Nobel Prize over amnesty', though.

One big upset, echoed by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State , was the report that a 'petroleum university' in the Niger Delta town of Warri was being relocated to Kaduna in the north, as part of Energy Minister Rilwanu Lukman's reforms of the industry. An official of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Rabe Darma, said the university controversy was due to 'misconceptions, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the facts by misguided politicians who want to heat up the polity'.

Further, some southern politicians claim that top officials in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation have a northernisation agenda for the oil and gas industry. A Delta State Elders' Forum, led by Chief Edwin Clark, a former federal Minister of Information, rejected the amnesty initiative, accusing the federal government of colluding with the northern oligarchy. The Forum, many of whose members are retired army officers, promised to 'join the freedom fighters in the creeks' if Abuja did not review its policies and actions on the South-South.

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