Violence and insecurity (are) not peculiar to Northern Nigeria. Nigeria as a whole is at a point where perhaps its security apparatus needs a radical surgical overhaul in order to better guarantee the safety of the lives and property of the people who, in addition to coping with crippling poverty, have had to also contend with progressively worsening levels of insecurity through successive years, especially since the return to civilian rule on the eve of the 21st Century. What, however, seems to be increasingly peculiar to the north as far as violence and insecurity is concerned is the brazen terrorist toga the violence continues to don. And since mid-2009 when, starting from the then-hotbed of Bauchi State, a radical group first engaged security forces in gun battles across some states of the north, things have hardly let down. From gun duels and attacks with crude war material that group is now the infamous face of violence in Nigeria as its tactics get ever more sophisticated. That group – Boko Haram – continues to thrive in spite of consistent chest-thumping by the government that somehow the government is prevailing in the war against insecurity and violence.
No doubt, Nigeria’s borders with other states contributes to the problem as some of the foot soldiers carrying out the violence have been found to be from some of these West African countries. Perhaps, this means that the efforts at border patrol and security measures in border towns have not been concerted enough. However, security forces may ransack compounds, and even invade and kill whole towns. This would no doubt, have its own success. Still, we would only just be scratching the surface of the issue at best because sheer, outright force does not seem like the only viable solution to the problem.
Which is why it ought to (emphasis on “ought to”) be heartening that some people across both sides are beginning to consider dialogue in all this. But you wonder how feasible dialogue, productive dialogue in the interest of peace, is here considering the unrealistic nature of the group’s demands. If dialogue happens, that would be great. However, there are a few things that are beyond the direct control of the government that need to happen in order to have a chance of bringing about peace to the north.
The staying power that the Boko Haram ‘brand’ continues to demonstrate in the north, especially in its two strongholds of Borno and Yobe states is, arguably attributable to the attitudes of indigenes of the two states, side-by-side the suspected membership composition of the group. There was talk across town recently especially in Yobe, that some of the recent success enjoyed by the Joint Task Force in identifying members of the group and their lairs in Damaturu and Potiskum was down to the fact that a few more people in those cities came forward to blow the whistle on suspected Boko Haram elements, leading security forces to more precise targets rather than having blanket information. This sort of ‘snitching’ is what has to happen more with Boko Haram. Such attitude to violence is one of the things that had not happened often enough in the past especially in Borno State, which has allowed the group to continue to spread its violent tentacles as though its members were aliens with superhuman ability to completely evade attention until Violence Hour strikes. In truth, however, sentiment and lineal affinity has always interfered with the people’s thinking as far as Boko Haram is concerned. As many families are inextricably tied to the group one way or another with having a deviant family member on the group’s payroll, innocent members of the public usually feel compelled to play the unwitting accessory as the family ties that bind them force them not to expose their family member as belonging to the group. But as demonstrated with the relative success of the security forces in the two Yobe towns where this attitude changed, be it for a split second, fighting the group’s brand of warfare is every peace-loving person’s responsibility.
‘This is one hydra with stronger tentacles of religion and politics – politics feeding on religious fervour to ignite an all too inflammable social canister’
So, the people have to decide whether they will continue to allow their affinity towards family members who do not give a hoot about the safety and security of their innocent brethren becloud their sense of longing for peace. The people must simply wean themselves of that rather misplaced allegiance and realise that self-preservation and the preservation of innocent lives is infinitely more golden than protecting the interest of murderous, suicidal family members. They don’t have to go too far to find precedence to follow. In 2009, when a teenage Umar Farouq Abdulmuttallab attempted to blow up an American aeroplane, some attributed his behaviour to his privileged upbringing. But it turned out that his father, having watched him closely for a while, had been worried enough to alert the authorities that his son was showing extremist inclinations. In the end, although that act was not directly responsible for the botched bombing attempt, it vindicated his father and the family. It showed that not even a father could be swayed by filial ties to stand in the way of the safety and security of other people, even if his actions meant he was discrediting his own flesh and blood. Similarly, every well-meaning northerner has to accept that the safety and security of the innocent should be superintendent to their rather primordial considerations of filial protection over those whose actions directly and indirectly deepen their misery and make their own kith and kin endangered species in their own land.
Another primordial factor that seems to be hindering the fight against violence in the north is the attitude towards religion. And by religion here, this writer means the interpretation of Islam by most northerners as against practically everything else, including contrary religious views and religions. If we chose to be naïve we can say that the Boko Haram problem is not a religious cancer. We can also elect to be simplistic and call it a sole problem of religion. Either way, we may not be doing justice to the issue. Simply, as it is today, violence in the north has a socio-religious touch to it, fuelled by political elements here and there. In the midst of this, other criminals of various ilks have exploited the situation to their own diabolical ends such that what we now have is a hydra. But this is one hydra with stronger tentacles of religion and politics – politics feeding on religious fervour to ignite an all too inflammable social canister.
So, a good way to go is for people in the north to start looking at religion differently, stop seeing everything through the vaunted superiority of the religious compass. What if the people become less uptight and sensitive about religion? What if they start to look at religion honestly as a life journey encompassing tolerance, understand others and allowing other opinions to precede even when this may not be in their own best interest? What if religion is no longer a struggle between faiths or beliefs to them? What if they begin to see Islam as not a fragile … doctrine that must be protected aggressively from others? How about they begin to see religion as a pattern of a series of interconnected faiths each with their peculiarity that might not always seem linked or pleasing to one set in the series, but then the one set does not harm the other set? I tell you what might happen: there would be less room for anyone or institution to attempt to mess with the sanity of individuals or groups by colouring everything as a religious struggle in which every man has to protect his own corner.
That way also, the people would begin the process of extricating themselves from ‘personality-institutions’ and instead embrace ‘institutional-institutions’ and authority – learning to give their allegiance to rules, social contracts with all, as well as institutions, rather than subjecting themselves to being (mis)led by individual or group of individuals only, no matter how wealthy or ‘knowing’ the individuals may claim to be.
But then considering the poverty level, the level of ‘unletteredness’ and the depth to which person institutions and religion has already sunk into the psyche of the people in the north, who will bell this cat?