Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Boko Haram: Will the bombs continue this year?

As 2013 takes off gradually, Nigerians, as always, hope for the best. Even though there are many issues that worry Nigerians, the issue of bomb blasts seems to be on the front burner.
When a country like Iraq or Afghanistan is mentioned, what readily comes to mind is bomb blast. Bombs have been exploding in these countries (as well as in Pakistan) so often for close to 10 years now that it is never news again when the device explodes there. Somalia is a different case because it is No 1 in the Failed States Index.
The question that agitates many Nigerians is: If the police and the military are not safe from these bomb attacks, what is the fate of the ordinary Nigerians?
When on October 19, 1986 the first bomb exploded in peace time in Nigeria, killing Mr. Dele Giwa, the editor of Newswatch magazine, Nigerians were shocked to the marrow. Even though all fingers pointed at the government of the day, the prosecution of the case, which was led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, was frustrated to the point that nobody was found culpable for that dastardly act till date. That incident introduced the use of bomb to kill opponents in peace time in Nigeria. But luckily, it was not copied fast in the 1980s.

It was only during the junta of Gen. Sani Abacha between 1993 and 1998 that the use of bombs assumed frightening dimensions. Throughout Abacha’s tenure, bombs exploded intermittently in different parts of Nigeria, especially around army formations or vehicles. While the Abacha junta claimed that the bombs were orchestrated by the members of the National Democratic Coalition, who were campaigning for the re-validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola, NADECO members countered the claim by saying that the bombs were deployed by the Abacha junta to whip up sentiments and sympathy in its favour as an administration under siege. The statements credited to some members of the Abacha junta later in court supported the claim of NADECO.
The next stage of bombing came after the return to civil rule in 1999. Youths of the Niger Delta, after years of complaints of neglect, resorted to arms to fight their cause for development and environmental renewal. In addition to using guns to attack government installations and oil facilities, they also employed the use of bombs. After several years of using force on them by the Federal Government, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced an amnesty in 2009 for the Niger Delta militants. That singular action brought a solution to the agitation and concomitant violence. Only a faction of one group – the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta – rejected the amnesty and still continued detonating bombs in Nigeria after the amnesty was concluded. The most remembered bomb explosion was that which occurred on October 1, 2010, close to the venue of the celebration of Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee. The case against Mr. Henry Okah and others who were accused of the bombing is still in court, with no sign of being concluded soon.
While the amnesty for the Niger Delta militants was taking off, a new group happened on the scene with the name Boko Haram – western education is evil — in July 2009, announcing its presence with killings and burning. Led by Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed that same July 2009, the group said it was an Islamic group that wanted the strict implementation of total Sharia in the 12 Muslim-dominated states of the North. Since that incident, the group had waxed strong, persistently unleashing terror on some Northern states. Apart from using guns, machetes and bows and arrows, it has now moved to the use of Improvised Explosive Devices to fight its cause. It has added other queer demands to its list of demands, including the conversion of President Goodluck Jonathan to Islam. Boko Haram had rejected the offer of amnesty and has continued its violent campaign.
During the political campaigns for the 2011 elections, there were bomb explosions in some parts of the country, most of which were not clear who carried them out. It was believed that they were carried out for political reasons. During the inauguration of the President and Governors on May 29, 2011, there were bomb explosions in Abuja and other locations in the North, which killed innocent Nigerians and injured many.
On Thursday, June 16, 2011, there were fresh bomb explosions in Abuja; this time the target was the Headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force. Many saw it as a response to the comments of the erstwhile Inspector-General of Police, Mr Hafiz Ringim, that the days of the Boko Haram sect were numbered. Then came the United Nations building in Abuja on August 26, 2011. But 2011 was rounded off on a sour note with the Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State.
In 2012, the bombs continued. Targeted were churches, mosques, media houses, schools, universities, military barracks, police stations, markets, etc. Individuals were also killed. The Boko Haram group seems to have transformed from a religious extremist group to a political extremist group, using religion as a bait to recruit members and radicalise them.
The question that agitates many Nigerians is: If the police and the military are not safe from these bomb attacks, what is the fate of the ordinary Nigerians? The spate of bombings in Nigeria in recent years is worrisome. It is obvious that the government has no real answer to all this violence in the country. That makes the case worse.
It is not clear if the essence of these bombings and killings is to make Nigeria ungovernable by creating a state of anarchy, or to precipitate the predicted disintegration of Nigeria, or terrorize Nigerians into submission to let the bombers have their way. It is evident that the bombers are not amenable to plea or reason. So the government must take security as not just important but critical. Nigerians want to see what difference the government will make in the area of security. No insecure country can attract investors or development.

Author: Azuka Onwuka.  Onwuka is a journalist and brands consultant.
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