Mubi killings, Boko Haram and Jonathan Options, By Tunji Ariyomo

Tunji Ariyomo
Tunji Ariyomo

Background Information

Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye et al (2012) put the fatality figure of the Independence Day massacre in Mubi Adamawa at 40 with the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi Adamawa accounting for 26 while both the State University and the School of Health Technology accounted for 14 deaths. It was noted that “some of those killed were final year students who were preparing to defend their academic projects while others were starting their examinations to move to the next class”.  Their report claimed that the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, briefed the Federal Executive Council (ExCoF) on the killings which elicited condemnations from all members while Dr. Reuben Abati was quoted as crediting his principal, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, with a statement that describes the killings as “tragic, sad, barbaric and shocking” and that the President has directed “security agencies to investigate the matter… because this kind of incident, where people were called out and shot, is really shocking”. Without delving into the merits of the ExCoF being briefed of a purely security issue by the minister of education or the need for a presidential directive to security personnel to do their job, this article attempts to identify the perpetrators and proffer solutions to the unending security challenges.

From the latest killings, the following stand out as sour facts:

  1. There was a highly polarising ethnically charged students’ union election which was contested on sectarian lines (BBC 2012) in the school with the most casualties (Please see The election was also contested along the North versus South (Adepegba & Agency, 2012) divides – mainly between Muslim Hausas and predominantly Christian Igbos (AFP 2012).
  2. Some of the winners were among those called out and slaughtered (Nigerian Tribune, October 5 2012). The Southern winner in the presidential category was one of them.
  3. Victims included both Christians and Muslims
  4. Protective curfew was vacated just before the attack. A lecturer’s curiosity was particularly stirred on his way to Mubi when he observed and “noted a large contingent of military personnel being moved out of town” (Sun Newspaper, 4th October 2012).
  5. Victims were specifically targeted as names were called out from a prepared list (Nigerian Tribune, October 5 2012)
  6. Residents and relations of the victims believed that the attack was carried out by Boko Haram (Premium Times, 2012).

Probable conclusion: it was a Boko Haram’s typical attack – as usual, precise, merciless, overwhelmingly shocking and under the radar of the military. An insider, perhaps an aggrieved loser or his associates, who caucuses with Boko Haram deemed it appropriate to teach the ‘infidels’ a lesson, wrote their names and handed same over to his group. Rather than the erroneous conclusion attributed to the police that calling out names means the attackers knew the victims and were therefore cult members, on the contrary the action is a strong evidence that the attackers did not know the victims. They needed the list in order to identify their targets – the election winners and their ‘collaborators’ whose names had been handed down. Because of the ethnic mix of the school and the spread of off-campus accommodations, these would naturally include Muslims, Christians, Northerners and Southerners as well as those victims that were just collateral damages.

Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram is the dreaded pro-Islam militant group that is committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Since 2009 and particularly after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the president, the group has intensified its campaign in the Northern part of Nigeria. So far, it appears to have had the upper hand. Its assurance of unfettered capacity to strike when and where it deems fit has repeatedly been proven right by the seeming incapacity of the government to effectively curtail its actions.


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In understanding the Boko Haram saga, it is good to recognize its attributes by highlighting certain patterns of behaviour that have come to define its operations. These can be extracted from recent and past history.


  1. Boko Haram kills without mercy (using bombs, guns, and axes, machetes or swords). In Mubi, as a replacement for one of their targets, the gunmen killed the father (Adepegba & Agency, 2012).
  2. Boko Haram is willing to go to any length to accomplish its objective and protect the identities of its operatives. It is ready to sacrifice even its members to maintain its campaign (Babakura Fugu was killed on September 17, 2011 after Chief Olusegun Obasanjo commenced his effort to broker a truce between Boko Haram and government).
  3. Boko Haram (or at least, its leadership) is made up of highly intelligent people. Its staying power and evasive tactics suggest that it is actively or tacitly backed and supported by highly intelligent individuals. It is erroneous to class its members as miscreants even though so called ‘social miscreants’ could be in the majority as it is with most organizations but it does appear that the role of these ‘miscreants’ is mainly as expendables responsible for last mile activities. The Obasanjo parley was a strategic ace move by the former president and his facilitator, Mallam Shehu Sani, the President of the Kaduna based Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria. Their effort could have fundamentally altered the organization’s terror trajectory and subsequently undermine its cohesion from within. But by swiftly liquidating the intermediary (Babakura Fugu) with such speed and military precision, Boko Haram was able to protect its identity (the identity of the brains behind its activities), secure a united home, project itself as having invincible capacity to fatally punish erring or dissenting members thereby guaranteeing willing, voluntary as well as coerced or forced loyalty and is thus able to sustain its campaign unencumbered. By this, the organization established itself as a serious in-city guerrilla force that is both brutal and tactical but more importantly, goal-oriented.
  4. Boko Haram is ideologically driven and ideologically sustained. This is the most dangerous of its attributes and its most potent credential. They are not driven by personal desire for wealth which makes workaround solutions like the Amnesty Programme unappealing. The ideology factor is at the core of its present success and relative invincibility. The implication of this is that Boko Haram is a natural beneficiary of goodwill from as many people as possible who share its ideological leaning or who would gain from its ideological goal. It would not be a surprise to discover that a sizable number of copy cat Boko Haram strikes were executed by people who merely share the ideological predilection and have no direct or indirect links to the organization whatsoever.
  5. While each will be nominally correct, it will be naive to conclude that Boko Haram is solely religiously driven or solely politically driven. It can be said that Boko Haram is BOTH politically and religiously driven. The two motivations are intertwined. However, at a strategic level, it must be conceded that its political motivation is superior to any other inspiration and that the religious motivation is simply a vehicle for the actualisation of the political agenda. The religious motivation projected by the organization is a crucial rallying cry to secure the needed support base taking advantage of the leading ideological orientation in its present area of operation. It is thus safe to conclude that Boko Haram is politically driven with a two-prong goal of using terrorism to acquire political relevance and power and then use the political power so acquired to gain both religious and political dominance. This is because even the religious undertone and motivation of the group appears majorly as a medium to ensure ideological domination enforced politically as exhibited in its oft-repeated quest to impose Sharia in the 19 Northern states despite the vast presence of people of other faiths in that part of the country and the constitutionally guaranteed status of Nigeria as a secular state. Andrew Walker, in his special report for the United States Institute of Peace acknowledged the primacy of secular politics in Boko Haram’s agenda when he stated that “Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes POLITICS in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law” (Walker, 2012).
  6. There have been prior radical tendencies, which latched on to religious or spiritual thirst of the people, to unleash chaos against members of opposite religions and ethnic nationalities. Globally, both Islam and Christendom have had a fair share of this as aggressors through the ages. Since the creation of Nigeria however, one of such was the Maitatsine (1980-1982) which reportedly claimed over 3,000 lives while half of Yola’s population of 60,000 was left homeless (Mervyn 1987; Pham 2006). Boko Haram only takes this a notch further by adopting guerrilla tactics and more sophisticated means of destruction.
  7. It is doubtful whether the loosely connected splinter groups operating in most parts of Northern Nigeria are organically connected to the main Boko Haram.

Role of Poverty

There is a direct correlation between poverty and crime (Kelly, 2000). Crime within this context refers to such illegitimate activities primarily directed at unlawfully meeting needs, wants, habit or pleasure through violent or non-violent means. It is however debateable to conclude that such correlation exists between poverty and targeted hatred directed at people of other faiths or ethnic nationalities as typified by the Nigerian killings. This explains why youths in Ebonyi with absolute poverty put at 73.6% (NBC 2010), similar to most North East states and those in Enugu (62.5% with unemployment at 25.2%) or Edo with absolute poverty put at 65.6% and unemployment at 35.2% (compare to Kano’s absolute poverty of 65.6% and employment at 21.3%) have not been known to vent their anger on hapless strangers who are equally victims of leadership ineptitude. It is the reason the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) did not direct its anger at ordinary folks but at the authority during its armed conflict with the Nigerian state. Similar facts puncture the claim that derivation is responsible because youths in states such as Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Anambra, Oyo among others from the South that are not beneficiaries of oil derivation have not taken to wanton killing of innocent people as outlets for their anger. Rather, youths in those states are known to often directly confront the thieving officials that stole their commonwealth.

Although, as established above, poverty is not the direct cause of the Nigerian killings, it is however the strong negative catalyst that swells the ranks of recruits required for prosecuting the hate agenda. Pervasive poverty guarantees a willing pool of volunteers who are ready and eager to kill or die in any cause that promises a better hereafter compared to the certain hellish experience of abject poverty in Nigeria. Ifeanyi Onuba reported in February that the Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics estimated that 112.519 million Nigerians live in relative poverty while 61.2% of the people were reported as living on less than one dollar per day (Onuba, 2012).


The Nigerian government and leading opposition figures have identified three types of Boko Haram while members of the opposition have even sought to exact political capital off the pogroms by directly blaming the Jonathan administration. This article advances a way out focussing attention at solutions that can address bottom to top and top to bottom issues.

In recommending a solution, I wish to draw on the words of someone who has extensively dealt with terrorism, Ehsan ul-Haq, an accomplished Pakistani military officer.

He once said that “First of all, you need a comprehensive national strategy to tackle terrorism. This comprehensive national strategy must be over-achingly a political strategy. It may have other components; for example it must have a media component, an information component, a political component, an economic component and of course a military component. But mere use of military force will not solve the problem. It has to be a comprehensive strategy encompassing all the aspects. And above all, if the terrorism is based on an ideology, then most critically it’ll be important to address the narrative of that ideology. In which case, you have to develop a counter-narrative or an alternate narrative to persuade people away from the narrative which they are pursuing”.

As I have identified, the terror in Nigeria is ideologically sustained. It is said that there is no force in the world that can defeat ideology. Ideology can only be defeated by a more appealing counter ideology. What this suggests is that the solution to the Boko Haram menace requires thinkers than it requires military brute force. This writer appreciates the vital role of the military and commends the men and women of the nation’s armed forces who are in harm’s way in their battle with insurrection. Superior civil engagement strategies, proactive intelligence and tactical manoeuvring are however likely to make the job of the military easier.

The Nigerian government can thus focus on the following:

  1. Recognize that lasting solutions to sectarian crisis (equally applicable to traditional criminal activities and violent crimes) require honest and genuine far-reaching reforms. The dreaded men of Boko Haram today were ordinary highly promising youngsters some years back who probably would be designing the new propulsion engines and novel green technology today if they had the right exposure at the right time.
  2. Activate programmes that can enhance government’s ability to meet the pressing needs of its people nationwide. The Nigerian people should see evidence that the 2.3million barrels daily oil sales impact their wellbeing and standard of living directly – not by share clerical admission, the archetypal bandying of GDP figures, but in real indisputable terms.
  3. Create opportunities for fair and equitable access to national wealth. The reality that government officials and individual members of parliament earns as much as N200million per annum while the minimum wage is N18, 000 promotes wealth inequality, stokes anti-authority hatred, encourages extreme acts of defiance and recourse to self help.
  4. Focus deliberate strategic action plan designed to limit the ease at which anti-establishment gangs (as well as criminals) can access recruits and volunteers. Present national employment strategy is poor and grossly inadequate.
  5. Explore the open offer of Shehu Sani that he was ready to help broker a political solution to the conflict (The Guardian, July 7 2012). If Sani’s intervention had no merit, his original contact would not have been terminated. That Babakura Fugu was promptly eliminated suggests strongly that Obasanjo’s move would negatively impact the organization. That Boko Haram’s subsequent press statement afterward did not condemn Obasanjo is food for thought and an indication that his reconciliatory effort may not have been essentially the primary target but perhaps its timing and lead contact.
  6. A national reconciliation with the Nigerian people and rededication by the government to pursuing the common good of the people is necessary. This must be in action as it has been in words. At the moment, the nation can only delude itself if it insists that it serves the purpose of the common people. As revelations after revelations have proven, the Nigerian governments (at local government, state and federal levels) have only served to advance the personal interest of those in government, their friends, business associates and family members. Simple tasks are deliberately complicated to provide maximum opportunities for record corruption at the expense of the poor masses. There are many children and women today who are daily catered for by Boko Haram members (feeding, shelter etc). These kids and women know no government. To them (and to other millions of Nigerian kids and women), Chapter Two of the nation’s constitution which places a minimum mandatory requirement of service to the people upon the government as a constitutional necessity has no meaning. It may therefore be difficult for the government to earn their loyalty when push comes to shove or prevent them from being sympathizers to the cause of those they considered to be gallantly and defiantly confronting the might of an ‘oppressive’ and ‘self-centred’ government.
  7. A national reconciliation with key opposition figures. The list should include General Muhammad Buhari, Mallam Nasir El Rufai and several others that are either keeping quiet or stoking temper with occasional jibes at leadership. Such loud silence or punch lines would only further serve to negatively energise dissenting youths and embolden resort to self-help. Such reconciliation may also be extended to members of the president’s own party (especially those from the Northern part of the country) that may be boiling but keeping silent. Timely reconciliation can inhibit the nation’s descent to anarchy and prevent a scenario where the absence of government’s ability to protect the citizens forces them to take the laws into their own hands or force other ethnic nationalities into a frenzy of retaliations. This reconciliation is a win-win situation for the elites who constitute the bulk of the opposition from the North. As history of sectarian revolutions has shown, even they would in future become targets and victims as the perpetrators get bolder and stronger. If they assume that Boko Haram and its independent splinter groups do not know about the shopping escapades of the super rich in London, they would be mistaken. The London Evening Standard clearly indicated in May 2011 that the most used language by rich, short-stay heavy spending tourists from Nigeria in stores like Debenhams is the Hausa Language (Please see

Important note and conclusion

In ancient Rome, a rule of survival in the arena for any gladiator, apart from the quest to win, was to ensure he fought to please the crowd. This was critical as it could make the difference between life and death. The crowd could become the last minute life ticket because it was the custom of most emperors to seek the concurrence of the crowd before nodding in favour of the final death blow whenever a gladiator was down. Any gladiator that was despised by the crowd would naturally not be saved by them in that dying minute. The chant of ‘death’ ‘death’ would rent the air.

Based on this premise, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan must put a halt to all activities and programmes of his government that would further alienate him from ordinary folks on the streets thereby further arming militant groups with enthusiastic sympathizers. He must be able, willing and ready to tell any of his aides asking him to take a leap in favour of unpopular decisions to take a walk.

Tunji is a Policy Chair of the National Development Initiative NDi (a non-partisan independent think-tank). NDi Project can be accessed at

E-mail:; Phone: +447532127503 

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