The menace of Boko Haram insurgents should be treated as a global challenge with Nigeria’s immediate neighbours, Chad and Cameroon, working harder to formin collaborative efforts to defeat the terrorists, participants at a roundtable discussion on the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria have advised.
The roundtable, held last week at the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa in Canada, was titled “Boko Haram in Nigeria — A Critical Roundtable”.
It was part of the Institute’s Umeme African Flashpoints Series, a new public talk series aimed at providing informed insights into major challenges which confront Africans in different locations on the continent, and which demand the mobilization of a range of resources and energies on an international scale.
Three Nigerian scholars led the robust conversation on Boko Haram. The discussants included Pius Adesanmi, a Professor of English at Carleton, and winner of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing, and Nduka Otiono, Assistant Professor at Carleton’s Institute of African Studies, award-winning writer, and Fellow of the William Joiner Centre for War and Social Consequences, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a criminologist and Governor General of Canada Academic Gold Medalist, Temitope Oriola, from the University of Alberta, whose current research focuses on Boko Haram.
The event was moderated by Blair Rutherford, Director of the Institute.
In a Communiqué released after the event, the discussants also advised the three countries to rise beyond the Anglophone/Francophone political divide to achieve their aim of dealing with the terrorists.
They, however, said Nigeria and Nigerians must lead by demonstrating greater commitment to degrading and crushing the insurgency.
Participants said noted that Boko Haram fighters are Nigerians with families, and so community policing is vital to public safety by providing intelligence necessary for staying ahead of Boko Haram’s guerilla tactics and scorched earth strategy.
They also advised that the Boko Haram tragedy should not be politicized in the light of the upcoming elections in Nigeria.
“The need for a united front against Boko Haram needs not be overemphasized,” they said, adding that there must be additional efforts to combat Boko Haram before the group becomes more efficient and sophisticated than it is at present.
“The Nigerian electorate, a few weeks to the presidential election, must put national security top on the agenda for the candidates.
“So far, the campaigns have not addressed their plans for combating the growing insecurity that has left Nigerians living in fear, and paralyzed educational and economic activities in large swaths of Northeastern Nigeria,” they said.
The participants pointed to the neglect of such disturbing facts as the displacement of more than 1.5 million citizens, the abduction and killing thousands of citizens—most of them women and children, some of whom are being to deployed as suicide bombers—as campaign issues.
The scholars stated that Nigerian leaders should demonstrate visible commitment to eradicating corruption which has impeded the fight against Boko Haram.
“Media interviews with Nigerian troops fighting the insurgents point to wholesale corruption which stymies the morale and logistical capabilities of an otherwise tested Nigerian army that had excelled in peacekeeping operations across Africa and other parts of the world.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the soldiers are reluctant to fight the better equipped and motivated insurgents; much so that 54 Nigerian troops were charged with “mutiny, assault and cowardice,” and have been condemned to execution by firing squad for refusing to fight Boko Haram,” they said.
The roundtable noted a poignant report by The Economist which concluded that, “Only if the government tackles misrule and endemic corruption will the jihadist group be beaten”.
They argued that misrule and endemic corruption fuel youth unemployment in Nigeria, which has become a ticking time bomb that violent groups such as Boko Haram are exploiting.
“This is particularly the case in Northern Nigeria where throngs of street urchins and the poor constitute a fertile pool of disenfranchised youth that are soft, vulnerable targets of radicalization by Islamists,” they said.
The roundtable had earlier drawn attention to startling statistical data from the Global Terrorism Database, GTD.
It said the analysis indicated that between 2004 and 2013, Nigeria ranked fifth globally in terms of casualties from terrorist attacks. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India ranked first to fourth respectively.
It also showed that terrorist attacks in Nigeria increased by 252 per cent between 2012 and 2013.
The roundtable also featured findings indicating that approximately three per cent of terrorist attacks in the world in 2013 took place in Nigeria. It said, terrorism in Nigeria is growing at a faster rate than in Iraq and Pakistan, the two leading countries in global terrorism.
“Nigeria now compares with Afghanistan in terms of rate of terrorist attacks. Boko Haram accounted for approximately 70 per cent of all terrorist attacks in Nigeria from 2010 to 2013,” they said
Dr. Oriola pointed out that the 2014 numbers might be higher since the declaration of an Islamic state by Boko Haram on August 24, 2014.
The roundtable also considered evidence from GTD that Boko Haram only claimed responsibility for 17 per cent of the attacks attributed to the group between 2009 and 2013.
“This raises an important question: Has Boko Haram become a terrorist franchise in Nigeria and across the West African sub-region?
“The fact that 49 per cent of Boko Haram attacks were carried out with firearms also necessitates focusing on stopping the flow of arms to the group,” they said.
The roundtable adopted a historically nuanced perspective that drew on public attitudes to the Civil War, and Niger Delta insurgency.
It noted that each of those moments were perceived by other parts of the country and the international community as not “our problem” but “their problem”.
It argued that on a similar thread, the Boko Haram crisis is currently viewed by many people in Southern Nigeria as “a Northern problem,” while the international community pays occasional “lip service” to the calamity.
The round table said, the difference, it seems, is that unlike the Civil War and the Niger Delta crisis, there is no precious natural resource such as crude oil to protect.
“The absence of a collective “national will” is reflected in the lack of political will to combat Boko Haram by the Nigerian leadership—from the Presidency to the National Assembly,” they said.
The roundtable noted that the inability of the Nigerian state to craft a national identity for its citizens creates room for inertia as people view the issue as other people’s problem.
It also highlighted the Anglophone/Francophone divide in West Africa as hampering cooperation among ECOWAS members that are being ravaged by Boko Haram.
The roundtable drew attention to the dangerous popular culture dimension of Boko Haram’s campaign, comparing some its media and operational tactics to the playbook of other terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
“But more disturbingly, the speech acts of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Shekau, and the indiscriminate mass murders instigated by him, reveal the mentality of someone with no clear ideological vision—no matter how abominable,” they said.
Drawing on social media imprints, such as YouTube clips, the roundtable worried that Mr. Shekau’s incoherent philosophy of “kill, kill, kill, kill” no matter the faith, ethnicity, gender or age of its victims, portends graver danger than the rest of the world currently assumes.
The roundtable warned that Boko Haram’s increasing confidence has wider implications for the group’s ability to export terror across Nigeria and internationally.