Boko Haram: Something Has To Give

The polity in the northern part of this country has been inexorably heating up in recent times. Insecurity in this region used to be confined mainly to robbery and political assassination, as well as occasional bursts of sectarian violence defined as religious and ethnic crises, most of which the police have failed to solve. The biggest threat to life and property today, however, is the spiralling increase in bombings and the scare they inspire in our communities. Of particular concern are the activities of the now famous religious sect, Boko Haram.

This sect used to be based only in Maiduguri, Borno State, as well as parts of Yobe and Bauchi states, but it appears that it is now festering in Kaduna. Indeed, security analysts fear that the phenomenon may extend to other states.

Clearly, the problem is refusing to be contained; it is rather worsening, with bombs going off in Maiduguri any time the sect wants. Presently, a bomb scare in Kaduna and environs is threatening the peace and stability of the whole state. Wherever the bombs went off – in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Kaduna, Suleja, and even in Abuja – they left in their wake the death of innocent people, destruction of property and a huge cloud of fear.

A great deal of damage has already been done on both sides: from the massacre of religious militants by the security forces and revenge killings of policemen, soldiers, politicians and civil servants to the destruction of property owned by individuals and government.

The damage done to the national psyche by this scary development is unquantifiable. The society has been divided into bits and pieces – among the Muslims and between Christians and Muslims. There is a worsening crisis of confidence among the populace, a crisis which has since redefined the meaning of the word ‘North.’ If this pervasive cloud of fear and uncertainty continues unchecked, as it seems to be doing right now, only God knows what will become of this region (and by extension the whole country) in the next few years.

What are the nation’s leaders doing about the problem? So much on the surface, but virtually nothing in concrete terms. Nothing exemplifies this disturbing reality more than the high-level security meeting headed last week by Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo in his office in Abuja. The meeting, attended by top security chiefs and the Borno State governor, portrayed the leaders’ dilemma and helplessness over the Boko Haram challenge. Their hair-brained solution to the problem, in summary, is the carrot-and-stick approach. It means, as Governor Kashim Shettima revealed after the meeting, that the federal and the state governments are going to try to cajole the Boko Haram to a peace meeting, the failure of which would lead to a vociferous crackdown on the sect, using all the firepower at government’s disposal. Government cannot afford to appear weak, he said.

A similar threat, it should be remembered, did not succeed with the Niger Delta militants. What succeeded eventually was a political solution, whereby President Umaru Yar’Adua announced an unconditional amnesty for all the anti-oil exploration insurgents. This came after a massive bombardment of the militants’ camps failed to bear fruits. It was the amnesty deal, rather than the military action, which drew the militants out of their riverine hideouts to presidential red carpet in Abuja.

Now, while the Niger Delta militants had identifiable political and military leaders, Boko Haram’s are completely unknown. To draw them out, the government must abandon all threats of a military crackdown and insist on a political solution. The new Borno governor has wisely offered an olive branch, which the insurgents rejected; he should follow that up with a cessation of security onslaught. President Goodluck Jonathan should also announce an unconditional amnesty and begin to implement developmental programmes that will address the perceived injustices done to a great number of interest groups in the North. He should remember that it was police action, followed by a massive military onslaught, which instigated the insurgency. Former governor Ali Modu Sheriff exacerbated it by continuing with the crackdown. Now something has to give. The bloodshed is enough, please.

Published in my column in BLUEPRINT newspaper on Monday, June 13, 2011

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