THE revelation by President Goodluck Jonathan that Boko Haram sect members have infiltrated the executive, the parliamentary, and the judicial arms as well as the armed forces, the police and other security agencies is most disturbing. There can be little doubt now that this religious group constitutes a clear and present threat to the corporate existence of our country. Shortly after it claimed responsibility for the bombing of murdered Christians in a Christmas Day church service, the Boko Haram sect (Muslims, including the Sultan of Sokoto, have denounced it as anti-Islamic) gave Christians as well as Southerners who reside in the Northern part of the country three days to quit or be killed. And the group has indeed made good its threat with further attack on churches, banks, town halls, police posts and homes of their perceived enemies - including members of state security forces. Put simply, Boko Haram is fully and unrepentantly engaged in heinous criminality.
In the face of these incidents of outrage by a more or less nihilistic group, the government appears — at least from its ineffectual response to date — to be at a loss on what to do; some would even say powerless, to live up to a fundamental objective and principle of state policy that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’. Now, citizens are being driven to secure themselves. Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has warned that his religious constituency may have to begin to ‘respond appropriately ‘to future acts of violence, and Living Faith Church leader, Bishop David Oyedepo has threatened to personally lead the battle if any other church is attacked by the Islamic group. Groups in the southern part of the country have either threatened or actually carried out acts of retaliation. Ogbunigwe Igbo has threatened ‘extreme violence’ in retaliation for the killing of Igbo people while the Gani Adams faction of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) has urged Yoruba people in the North to return home. On the other hand, northerners are fleeing some states in the south. Alas, the practice of ‘an eye for an eye’ will leave every one blind and devastate the country.
Our country is threatened by ethnic and religious conflict provoked by a relatively small but apparently well-funded, well managed group that is increasingly confident in its capability to dictate the pace of engagement with constituted authority. But government carries on as if there is no big deal to it. This indeed, is part of the problem, unless there is something the people in government know about the Boko Haram that other Nigerians do not, and which informs their somewhat lackadaisical attitude. But that will be deceitful because Nigerians have a right to full disclosure on a matter that touches their lives. That is one of the pillars of democracy.
Who is the Boko Haram and what do its adherents really want? Some suspect that it may be a phony group that is a diversionary religious cover for a well-planned strategy of murder, arson, and robbery to achieve a far more sinister goal than that of faith. Others view it as nominal cover for what may be termed ‘franchised criminality’. But the President seemed to have conceived the existence and ubiquity of the group. At times like these, no possibility can be ruled out. There are persons identified who have not denied their membership of the sect. A high ranking member once claimed to have had a meeting with the Inspector- General of Police. Besides, intelligence report has extensively documented the activities and persons connected with the group. Civil rights activist Shehu Sani has also written extensively on the origin, and formation and locations of the group, which is apparently out to Islamize Nigeria as well as to avenge the killing ( a dastardly act ) of their leader Mohammed Yusuf and subsequent deaths of their members in the hands of law enforcement agents. National Security Adviser Gen. Owoye Aziza has, in a piece for a foreign newspaper, written that the sect ‘sees itself as fulfilling part of a global mission’ (and) ‘is striving to spark a religious war’.
On the first point, it defies common sense to kill the very people you seek to convert to your faith. Who shall be left? Besides how does the group explain that Muslims are among its victims. On the second point, two wrongs do not make a right, and because this is still a country under the rule of law, it behoves the aggrieved sect to press for an impartial inquiry into the death of its leader, in addition to any other lawful redress it might want to seek. But this line of action may be out of consideration for a group that appears to not recognize the juridical authority of the extant system of government.
The Federal Government continues to respond with feeble, knee-jerk measures to the very real and present danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria. Since 2008 or thereabout, government has reportedly been intimated with detailed intelligence reports including 14 comprehensive security documents on the plans and modus operandi of the Boko Haram sect. Lately, it declared a state of emergency in selected local government areas in four severely affected states. But this has not at all reduced the criminality as the Boko Haram picks its targets with arrogance and disdain for the nation’s security apparatus – and by extension the government.
The root of the Boko Haram phenomenon lies substantially in the alienation of the governed by their governors. On the one hand, unemployment and poverty of able- bodied Nigerians supply ready hands and impressionable minds for religious and ethnic jingoists. On the other, a dysfunctional educational system and moral corruption in all facets of national life have enabled groups like Boko Haram to thrive. According to Shehu Sani, ‘the sect…took advantage of the poor quality of our educational system, the incessant strikes, cult activities and widespread malpractices and prostitution…to lure youths to abandon school and embrace Yusuf’s …promises to offer them better education’ as well as a more Godly leadership than they could see around them. If government were to fight these social ills with as much resources as are devoted to security — whatever that means — surely this nation would not be in its present state because, in the words of the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, the Most Rev. John Onaiyekan, ‘security [also] has to do with man’s ability to meet his basic needs’.
People are dying and families are thrown into mourning by the day. The society is being destabilized as large numbers suddenly have to flee areas in which they have lived the better part of their lives. Even now, out of fear of Boko Haram, national youth corps members are reported to flee some states that should, in normal times, be regarded as a part of their fatherland. Surely, President Goodluck Jonathan would not want this nation to come to harm under his watch. The government has the means and the resources to stop this. It must discharge its responsibility to the people. No ‘transformation agenda’ can be implemented unless the state is secure.
The President must take another look at the security apparatus at his disposal to fight this threat. If necessary, he should set up new structures or shakeup both the existing apparatus and the strategic personnel in charge of them.
He should take a bearing from his predecessor, President Umaru Yar’Adua on how he tackled the Niger Delta crisis. And finally, he should remain less accident-prone as happened with the sneaky withdrawal of the fuel subsidy, which has thrown the country into a new crisis. He needs to focus on the security problem, which has serious implication for the survival of the country.