Between Sudan, Chibok, Boko Haram and Uganda
IT is remarkable how obsessed everyone has become with exterminating Boko Haram and securing freedom for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted on April 15 by the violent sect. There is, happily, no longer any division in the country about what everyone thinks of the sect: it is bloodthirsty, evil, fanatical, cruel and indisputably crazy. For these attributes, and its tactless expansion of its war against society to include abducting teenage girls, perhaps as sex slaves, Nigerians from north to south are unanimous that the sect should be crushed. And for virtually ruining the economy of the Northeast, the eagerness to rein in the sect is also unanimous in that region. The federal government was at first reluctant to crush the sect; now it is as frantic as any other person to destroy it. There were some northerners who cited a number of reasons some ideological, and others sectarian to temper the government’s response to the sect. Now, no one shows any sentiment about what needs to be done. Indeed, today, it is unwise, and perhaps unsafe, for anyone to even counsel moderation.
But, as President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda mocked a few days ago of the Nigerian counterterrorism effort, the frenzy of the moment, which is partly fired by uncritical acceptance of foreign military help, conceals the need for a scientific understanding of the sect’s origins, its course and manifestations, and what needs to be done to defeat it and prevent a virulent resurgence. The tolerable news, however, is that with foreign help, the sect could be so weakened that it may be unable to threaten the stability and unity of the country in the immediate future. But the bad news is that apart from opening up the country to foreign military and business interests on a pernicious scale, the obvious reluctance, if not refusal, to tackle the sect scientifically, may doom long-term efforts to destroy the sect. While economic reasons contributed immensely to the founding or at least the radicalisation of the sect, there are also other equally fundamental and potent factors that predisposed the country to Boko Haram’s violent methods. These other factors must be dealt with responsibly and scientifically if worst revolts are not to be engendered.
On another level, Sudan presents a plenitude of lessons for Nigeria. According to diplomatic sources, not only did Sudan inflate some northern Nigerian youths and elites with theocratic longings, it also radicalised them through covert and insidious politico-religious indoctrination into questioning both the unity of their country and its libertarian ethos. Sudan, with its sham altruism, was only attempting to fill a void which Nigeria’s incompetent rulers unwisely left unattended to through years of corruption and political, religious and ethnic rivalries. That void still exists, and is in fact widening into an unbridgeable chasm. But, as Mo Ibrahim, the wealthy Sudanese telecoms magnate after whom an African prize on good governance was named, argued, Sudan was itself quite unable to manage its own affairs with the responsibleness and maturity needed to safeguard its unity and development.
The consequence is that Sudan has split into two, and may still fracture even more. South Sudan is in turmoil, and Sudan itself has failed to learn relevant lessons from its own failures. Given the abhorrence of some of its theocratic laws, one of which was used recently to sentence a pregnant woman, Meriam Yahia Ibriahim, to death for marrying a Christian and having a child for him, the country looks locked in Middle Ages embrace. It is worrisome indeed and indicative of the peculiarity of the crisis Nigeria faces that Sudan appears to wield some influence over a fraction of Nigeria’s elite. It is instructive that one of the masterminds of the recent Nyanya bombing, Sadiq Amin Ogwuche, took refuge in Sudan, from where he was arrested for alleged involvement in terror attacks in Nigeria and is awaiting extradition.
Many Nigerians, including unfortunately the government, hope the arrest or killing of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, and the rescue of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls would greatly undermine the bloodthirsty sect and usher in a period of peace in Nigeria. These expectations are as misplaced as the hope by some members of the northern elite that a form of theocracy in the north could engender good governance, prosperity and stability. The Sudanese example and events in the Maghreb counter these expectations. There are dozens of other factors predisposing Nigeria to the kind of revolt Boko Haram typifies. Some of them are injustice, corruption, heavy-handed law enforcement methods, mediocre ruling elite, etc. Nothing is being done about these triggers. But until these factors are tackled scientifically and objectively, the collapse of Boko Haram will merely create a vacuum for other revolts to fester, for the society has been primed into constant revolt by the presence of these factors and the enduring stupidity of Nigeria’s ruling elite.