Opinion

Abimbola Adelakun: Remind Me Again, What Is Boko Haram Fighting For?

The level of violence perpetrated by the terrorist sect, Boko Haram, at least in the past six months, is just ridiculous. Suddenly, words are not enough to express profound thoughts on the amount of carnage being carried out by the terrorists. The body count rises all the time and who knows, what is being quoted in the media might actually be an understatement. There is no logic or pattern to the killings; they no longer discriminate based on ethnicity and religion in their attacks. They have ransacked whole villages, mosques, markets, public buildings and churches. They have succeeded in shutting down schools, burnt police barracks and killed so many of the security personnel fighting them. They have decimated the North-East zone and overall, reduced Nigeria’s stock on the global market. Now, the group has just graduated to abducting poor young women as sex slaves. Or whatever its members want to use them for. That is quite frightening and only heaven knows where all these might end.

The whole affair is like a war going on, except you don’t really know who you are fighting or why you are even fighting. This is what I keep asking myself: What is Boko Haram’s problem? What really is it fighting for? Or, who is it fighting? There was a time the sect said it wanted to enforce Sharia in Nigeria but no one has heard it articulate a coherent demand in ages.

The explanation that had previously been peddled by apologists and propagandists of President Goodluck Jonathan was that Boko Haram was the battle axe of certain disgruntled elements who didn’t make it to the Presidency in 2011 and subsequently vowed they would make the country “ungovernable” for the president. This argument, I must say, has cloyed and no longer accounts for the massacre. For one, beyond accusations and counter-accusations, nobody has actually provided hard evidence that it is true. If the state security agencies have not successfully linked anyone who made such a statement to Boko Haram activities, then what else do we have other than mere conjectures and a sense of persistent victimhood? There was a time Boko Haram was linked to Al Qaeda because sometime in 2003, Osama bin Laden mentioned Nigeria as one of the countries of interest when he talked about attacking the global energy industry on which the US relied. But even then, bin Laden has long been dead; al Qaeda has been much decimated, yet Boko Haram has grown stronger and more vicious.

None of the points that has been made to support the thesis the incessant attacks are fuelled by hatred for “the southern President” has explained why the sect’s activities are concentrated in the North-East zone of Nigeria; why Borno State has been worst hit; and what informs its choice of specific villages and towns it repeatedly attacks. If this is remotely about enforcing Sharia all over Nigeria, how does attacking random and remote villages help the cause? These days, Boko Haram insurgents seem more and more like hate-driven annihilists who just want to kill simply because they can do it. My hunch is that it does not have as much to do with Jonathan’s Presidency as his sympathisers would have us believe. The fact that Jonathan is in office when all these ballooned might actually be a coincidence.

It is really difficult understanding what ideologies drive terrorism in Africa. You never really know the terrorists; know their faces, their background, their families or any relevant information about them. Could African terrorism be something as “simple” as mimicry? Our youths blow themselves up and kill innocent people because they want to copy zealots in places like Yemen and Pakistan who derive pleasure in martyrdom? Or, is it far more complicated? What is the point, really?

There have been a heap of blame piled on Jonathan on his handling of Boko Haram and its mindless violence but even words have begun to lose their bite. The President, through his action and inaction, has become an easy target for critics but then, it is perhaps a waste of time and efforts to keep criticising him. Who could imagine, some three or four years ago, that Boko Haram would become a barbed wire lodged in the flesh of Nigeria like this? Nobody. What perhaps started as a sect by a tiny group of religious zealots has grown into a Frankenstein monster threatening to swallow us up. The President himself appears to have reached the end of rhetoric. These days, he has nothing more to say other than talk about prayers.

He has gone from telling us we might have to live with the killings to talking tough to encouraging us to stay strong because the carnage would soon end to calling Boko Haram our brothers to toying with an amnesty programme to declaring a state of emergency in some states to sentencing Boko Haram to hell to pleading for dialogue to asking us to at least be grateful that things are not worse than they are because Nigerians have prayed. One can make a content analysis of Jonathan’s speeches on Boko Haram since the attacks became recurrent to track his state of mind on the whole matter. One would notice the highs and lows, the optimism and pessimism and finally, a resignation.

He is not the only one in the executive that is frustrated. The Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, recently admitted a demoralising fact: that Boko Haram is better armed and motivated than Nigeria’s troops and given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat the group. Even Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) has been moved to condemn the group.

My fear now is that it will get to a point where we would reconcile ourselves to living with the persistent violence. Countries like Mexico, Colombia, Pakistan and India have not only learnt to live with varying degrees of violence, they factor it into the realities of their national existence. That is not only dangerous for Nigeria where lives are meaninglessly taken daily, it would spell doom in the long run. Any country that routinely spills blood invites the very earth its people walk on to witness against them. No, we should not get used to it.

That is almost unthinkable.

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Article originally published on PUNCH Newspaper

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