Clearly, Nigeria is today facing her greatest existential threat since the end of the Civil War. Watching Abubakar Shekau’s taunting propaganda video of the latest addition to his ‘Islamic Caliphate’, Mubi, it is pertinent for any rational mind to ask the question: will there still be a Nigeria by 2015?
The escalation in the daily carnage committed by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, and its recent string of successes in ‘conquering’ large towns in the North East, prompts the question on whether Nigeria as an entity still exists, and whether Nigerians have fully grasped the magnitude of the recent turn of the insurgency.
Today, Nigeria is confronted with the reality that within its borders, Boko Haram has carved out its warped version of an ‘Islamic Caliphate’, controlling almost thirty towns and counting. These include the two second-largest cities in Borno and Adamawa States, Bama and Mubi. Their territorial expansion started with a handful of villages the group terrorised continuously, eventually sacked and occupied. From a few villages, they got emboldened and moved on to bigger towns. With lightning speed, Gwoza with a population of over 250,000 residents, Damboa and bigger towns fell within a matter of days in August this year.
Boko Haram is now expanding rapidly in Adamawa. Having conquered Mubi – although local vigilantes are putting up a spirited fight-it will not come as a surprise if they make an attempt for the seats of government in Yola, Maiduguri, or in Damaturu – Shekau has promised this much in his videos. After all, according to witness accounts, they now occupy Emir’s palaces in these ‘conquered’ towns. Eye witnesses have also narrated slaughterings, mass abductions, looting and arson by the insurgents. Schools have been closed down, banks robbed and rotting corpses of fleeing residents typically litter the streets of these towns. This is the first time Nigeria has lost territory to a rebel group since the Civil War of 1967-70. It is certainly the first time it has bled these many victims, refugees and internally displaced persons since the war ended more than four decades ago.
How did a small insurgency with a few hundred fighters evolve into this protracted and existential threat to Nigeria? How is a band of ragtag militants continuously giving the Nigerian Army a good beating? The rise of the Boko Haram movement has been well-documented in research reports. However, its escalation to this level where huge swathes of the country are currently living under different laws, where the lives of many Nigerians are now at the mercy of lawless rebels is the outcome of the failure of decision-making, a failure in the protection of the territorial integrity of Nigeria and a failure to the innocent victims.
Since 2012 when Boko Haram’s attacks became more daring, more brazen and deadlier, the Federal Government has maintained that it is scoring fantastical decisive victories. Any contradicting viewpoint is ferociously labelled as unpatriotic by President Jonathan’s inner circle, or attributed to propaganda by the opposition to discredit the administration. The high point of this was the Chibok girls’ abduction in April this year and the initial careless and callous response by the government. Many residents of Borno and security analysts have argued that a quick response by the government would have ensured the girls’ rescue, given that their location in the Sambisa forest was well-known.
Even the international community has not been spared from the government’s belligerent finger-pointing. Just a few days ago, the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, attributed Boko Haram’s recent gains to America’s refusal to sell weapons to the Nigerian Army.
Other stakeholders, including the local political leaders and the media, share in the blame. Electioneering is still active in the North East, particularly in Adamawa State while many of the region’s wealthy sons and daughters, in a state of denial, have simply moved their families to Abuja, Kaduna and other safer cities around the country until normalcy returns. Among Nigerians in other parts of the country, there is understandable weariness from the endless bloodletting, immoral aloofness from the country’s realities and, in some cases, a godless lack of empathy for victims in the North East.
At such critical times, it is expected that the different tiers of government, the major political parties and other stakeholders would put aside their differences, to work together decisively in combatting this imminent threat to the country’s survival. This does not seem to be happening. The politicians are all gearing up for the 2015 elections, throwing everything at it—including, it seems, their humanity. President Jonathan doesn’t bother to personally address the nation anymore. Local politicians are too preoccupied as well, believing that somehow this ‘nuisance’ will go away. The toxicity and desperation of Nigeria’s politics have hardened the hearts of the country’s decision-makers and authority figures at all levels of governance in the world’s most religious country.
The depressing reality is that everyone seems too preoccupied with trivia to stem the impending tide of anarchy. Boko Haram understands and dexterously exploits the divisions and weaknesses of society to its advantage. A lethal cocktail of sectarian politics, needless politicisation of a national security issue, aloofness of the public, and the delusion of policy makers prevents Nigerians from coming together to crush these militants. Shekau and his ilk on the other hand gleefully revel in their victories, menacingly brag about their plans and quickly improve on their tactics and strategy in line with precedents set by the Islamic State
The time for doing the right thing is now. There are more than enough recommendations on what needs to be done in the public domain and in policy circles, and we need not outline what is obvious. Premium Times is convinced that with political will and decisiveness, the Nigerian Armed Forces are more than capable of chasing the insurgents out of these towns and crippling their capacities.
However, this decisiveness can only come from a unanimous acknowledgement by all and sundry of the insurgency as a national security threat to the country’s existence. Otherwise, there just might be no Nigeria to conduct elections in.