The amount of money an emir expends on a single trip to Europe for medical check-up would build a clinic big enough to serve a community of 5000 people; the amount of foreign exchange a top civil servant pays yearly to educate a single child abroad would build a primary school capable of providing basic education to hundreds of pupils; the amount of money a politician spends to sponsor his wives and children’s trips to Saudi Arabia for lesser pilgrimage, to Dubai for shopping and Europe for holidays annually is enough to establish community banks and provide access to capital for thousands of small businesses or fund poverty alleviation projects in several communities.
What do the emir, top civil servant and politician have in common? They are all western-educated, blinded by a culture of corruption and nurtured on the plundered public resources. So to the ordinary citizen whose pregnant wife dies in labour for lack of basic healthcare; whose child cannot get basic literacy and numeracy skills due to the collapse of education and whose entire life is a painful journey through biting poverty and hopelessness, if western education produces a system as insensitive, an elite as heartless and a society as unjust, then that form of enlightenment (boko) should be anathema (haram). This is the figurative definition of Boko Haram.
This article is not an attempt to justify the killing of innocent Nigerians, Muslim or Christian. Those acts cannot be rationalized and are totally condemnable. But to understand a problem requires that we get to the bottom of the real issues. Boko Haram started because many young people, unable to live with the growing level of poverty and social injustice, opted to move out of the periphery of society to live in isolation, embracing an interpretation of Islam as their ideology. The group did not have a violent outlook and only sought to live in their own alternative reality, however Utopian.
However, when the police attacked and killed several of their members during a funeral procession without provocation or an apology, the arena was set for a fierce backlash. Even at that stage, it was not too late to make amends, but the same ‘Bokoed’ elite that forced them to the margins of society now sought to criminalise them. When the group made the mistake of taking arms against the instruments of state, government found the excuse it needed and ordered that the group be crushed. The military went in with force and shelled populated areas indiscriminately. Some observers estimated that as many as 7000 people, mostly innocent women and children were slaughtered; nobody bothered to count. For several months, the stench of dead and decaying bodies pervaded Maiduguri and its environs.
Even at that stage it would have been possible to manage the situation, but government chose not to and proclaimed victory, forgetting that an ideology was not a military target. Soon, pictures and video of the cold blooded murder of the group’s leader and top echelon, as well as the brutal killing of young children and many handicapped people by the police began to surface. Very little has been done to bring the police officers – many of whom can clearly be identified in the videos – to justice. Obviously, the state was above its own laws.
Several unanswered questions remain regarding government response to terrorism. Why did late President Umaru Yar’adua not visit Maiduguri where thousands of lives were lost, mostly in hands of the military? Why has President Goodluck Jonathan not visited Bauchi Gombe and Yobe where thousands of lives have been lost in communal and religious unrests? Why did her turn down the mediation offer by Borno elders? Are the people being killed in Plateau state second class citizens? Why are we turning a blind eye to what can only be described as genocide in Southern Kaduna? Why was there so little media coverage of the Sallah day attacks that killed hundreds of Muslim worshipers in Jos? What is the response to the recent massacre in Ebonyi state that left at least 60 people dead?
Clearly, government has no answers.
In typical Jonathanian fashion, the response has been to throw money at problems. The average spending on security last year was 2 billion naira every day of the entire year. What Nigerians got in return was the bloodiest peace-time year in history. Undaunted, the president plans to spend a quarter of this year’s budget on security. The combined security and defence spending in this year’s budget proposals would average about 3 billion naira ($20 million) daily. This is the highest ever peace time spending on security, but the measures being taken are tragically comical, revealing fundamental flaws in Nigeria’s security and defence thinking.
Many major streets in Abuja have been barricaded and the flow of traffic diverted from potential targets. All roads leading to the city have checkpoints that only create traffic chaos and misery. And for those who didn’t know, the offices of the Department of State Services (SSS) are now more visible than before; security posts are being constructed at the previously obscure entrance of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA); all roads bordering the Defence and Police Headquarters are now blocked. It would be catastrophic for Nigeria to fight a war with another country because all it would take to decimate our top military cadre is an attack on the Defence Headquarters where the Army, Air Force and Navy have their offices – in a single compound!
Government has also awarded a $600 million contract to install close circuit cameras in parts of Abuja. Don’t ask if they work and if we have the data base from which to identify persons of interest. At the current rate, all roads leading to churches will soon be blocked; all routes leading to mosques will be barricaded; all schools will soon be guarded by bomb squads; battle tanks will be stationed at the gates of hospitals, and all markets will be guarded by elite troops and military helicopters….
While these laughable ‘security’ measures are being put in place, the real challenge – Boko Haram has metamorphosed through the three phases of terrorism.
Initially, the group was guided by their peculiar interpretation of an ideology. The second phase came when they decided to carry out revenge attacks on perceived enemies – mostly policemen and the ‘Bokoed’ elite. And because government failed to act responsively, they quickly moved to the third phase which is marked by indiscriminate killing and bombing. This phase is not about protecting an ideology or even in retribution for perceived injustices. They now kill simply because they can. And no one is safe – Muslim or Christian, northerner or southerner: Nigeria is under siege.
Spend a trillion dollars to fight terrorism and what will you get? More terrorists! That is what the American experience in Afghanistan shows. Even President Jonathan, callous and obtuse as he is (whatever happened to the fresh air) must realise that military action will not solve what is essentially a problem born of social injustice and hopelessness.
According to Bolaji Abdullahi, the Minister of Youth, 20 million Nigerian youth (41.6%) are unemployed. This should be the focus of all security strategies in the country, not the massive procurement of arms. How many citizens can government kill? The three billion naira the federal government alone plans to spend daily on security would be better spent on building safety nets below which no Nigerian should fall. All 36 states’ security votes, running to hundreds of billions would better serve to create jobs or introduce unemployment benefits to millions, not stolen by governors.
Boko Haram or not, as long as the level of poverty, unemployment and social inequality continues to rise, no amount of money voted for security or quantity of arms bought will make Nigeria secure. And the president’s unilateral decision to withdraw subsidy on petroleum products will certainly not help matters. Ironically, Jonathan seems to have gone through his own three phases: Jonathan the Clueless, Jonathan the Congenial and Jonathan the Cruel.