The man on the stretcher seemed lifeless at first, his face serene, albeit a bit swollen. His shirt was completely unbuttoned showing a massive stomach which drooped at the sides and bobbled as the stretcher was wheeled. The stretcher was pushed by a nurse who seemed a bit reluctant or nonchalant. The nurse’s apparent disdain was in contrast to the agitated woman with disheveled hair who tagged meekly behind the nurse. I suspected that this was his wife. I looked closely at the man and could not make out the customary heaving of the stomach which signaled that some life still flowed within him.
Accident victims in various forms of bandaging completely take up the beds at the emergency unit, so the man was left on the stretcher as the nurse disappeared mysteriously into an adjoining office. After 15 minutes or so, she reappeared with a stethoscope and a thermometer. She placed a hand on the wrist of the supine man, looked mysteriously at a hand held clock and shook her head as if in relief. Next she needlessly tucked a slim looking thermometer under a bulging armpit. This ritual is called the checking of vital signs. The subsequent verbiage between the nurse and the agitated woman dispelled any fears that the man was actually dead. He was merely under in some way and stilled by alcohol.
This piqued my curiosity: What did the nurse really hear in the fluttering earpiece of the stethoscope that told her that the apparently lifeless man was still alive? Was whatever that was heard distinguishable from a mere hum? Dr. Chika Amobi explained that the difference between the heart beat of a healthy person and that of someone who was under was probably a matter of “volume” through the medium of the earpiece of the stethoscope. Here, volume refers to the level of loudness. A person who is under would have a weak heartbeat difficult to discern by the untrained but the dup dup – dup dup would still be noticeable with a shsh – shshsh to signal the breathing.
The above scenario no doubt underscores the importance of checking vital signs not only in the sphere of medicine but in other spheres of human existence. Vital signs tell us what is happening before they happen. A man whose heart beat is barely audible is probably on a fast lane to the great beyond. A beer that has no pulse or that does not hiss will probably taste flat. Vital signs are therefore pointers and an illuminating factor that eliminates the element of surprise and ignorance.
In June 2011, a loud boom was heard within the premises of the Police Headquarters in Abuja. Another bomb had exploded. It was not unlike the explosion that had marred the independence celebrations of Nigeria about 8 months before. Several explosions had earlier occurred during the 2011 elections in Suleja and in Maiduguri. These explosions were not unlike other explosions in 2009 in Lagos and in 2010 in Bayelsa. Analysts have been clearly befuddled by the recent bombings.
The explosion in June 2011 threw up a lot of security debate about whether it was a suicide bombing or not. Security analysts, especially those who had scrutinized the video did assure Nigerians that it was not a suicide bomb attempt. Nigerians should therefore heave a sigh of relief that the Nigerian was incapable of self sacrifice. The only problem with this conclusion is that it conveniently forgets the ‘hot pants’ scenario concerning a Nigerian in an American bound flight on the 29th of December 2009.
Consider these statistics: Between 1986 when a mysterious letter bomb killed the brilliant Dele Giwa and 2005 which records the first bomb explosion in Bayelsa state, there have been a total of 14 incidences of bomb blasts. This time line is within a total of 19 years. Between2006 and the explosion which hit Maiduguri in July 2011 there have been a total of 25 incidences of blasts. And this is within only 5 years! By incidences, I refer to cases where a bomb was involved, detonated or not. In any case only few incidents were averted and thus did not result in an actual blast.
The statistic tells us a lot. It does not tell us that it is either Boko Haram or MEND or some other misguided thug. However the statistic reminds us that the incidents of the use of explosives as a leveling tool as against the gun has increased drastically in the last 5 years. Malcolm Gladwell in one of his collection of essays made a strong case that the September 11 attack could have been averted if only the dots had been connected. In Nigeria, what are the dots here? Will the dots tell us where the next bomb explosion will take place?
In 2011alone there have been 11 incidences of bombing. The bombings have been oscillating between Jos, Bauchi, Kaduna, Maiduguri and Abuja. Maiduguri has the highest number of blasts so far. This may perhaps be pointing to the fact that Boko Haram, the faceless group which is said to have claimed responsibility for the attacks is based in Maiduguri. It also points to the fact that there may be an Al-Qaeda training ground in Maiduguri and that neighboring countries provide launch pads for these attacks
What informs the locations for attacks? Being that Boko Haram means that western education is haram, it would not illogical to suggest that there attacks on western schools should be expected. So far, there has been only one recorded foiled attempt on a church. It would also be logical to expect that more attempts will be made on churches.
Let us widen the picture. Olisa Akukwe in his essay, vision 2020 and the new society predicts that the gap in education between the south and the north and the attendant gap in standards of living that the “potentially uneducated and under-employed millions in the north can easily be recruited into an ‘army of hate’ by charlatans acting under the banner of religion. They can easily be persuaded to unleash mayhem on the perceived oppressors, who to them includes anybody who is ‘doing well’. When you live in generational poverty, life seems like a Zero-Sum game. You think you are losing, because the other person is gaining. This implies that ‘religious’ crisis may begin to take much more gory dimensions, because they are really social crisis under religious flags”
Olisa Akukwe’s essay was written in 2009 and in that year, the vital signs of the impending bomb attacks were already apparent. Beyond the fascinating effort at analyzing what goes on in mind of an average Boko Haram ardent, his recruitment, the content of his indoctrination and the possibility of deconstructing the process from recruitment, indoctrination and attack, one must seek certain pertinent answers in the bigger picture. Reading the vital signs takes more than the analysis of individual incidents. It also entails keeping an eye on the bigger picture.
I don’t think that there is an art (certainly not literary) in knowing where Boko Haram will attack next. But there is actually a science in predicting possible targets. An art in listening, in inferring,in events deconstruction. This is the science of piecing together information (sometimes non connected) and holding them against the tapestry of the larger context to see where they fit in. One does not need rocket science to discern the political undercurrent lacing the religiosity of the Boko Haram movement but connecting the dots will not only save lives, it will also correct an age old northern problem.
In terms of combating terrorism the efforts of the United States stand out. In interpreting the war against terrorism, the United States has made both great strides and great mistakes. But the success of the anti terrorism war could be attributable to President Bush’s policy direction on terrorism. On the 14th of February 2003, the world listened for the first time to what America intended to do about the terrorism problem. The American President defined the following objectives in the war against terror. The first was to defeat terrorists like Osama Bin Laden; identify, locate and destroy terrorists along with their organizations; deny sponsorship, support and sanctuary to terrorists; diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit and defend U.S citizens and interest at home and abroad. This policy is well laid out in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.
The American strategy when analyzed contains the knowledge of tiny details of the picture. This can be gleaned from the fact that they understood that in the first instance, the terrorist organizations were made up of human beings with names, faces and ideologies. Bringing together the preceding elements is the pillar of terrorist profiling which has been utilized in the United States. In the Nigerian context, this implies a sort of profiling of terrorists that will avoid the pitfalls of the American system and the complaints about racism.
Widening the lens of the camera a bit, the American strategy also understands that terrorists belong to an organization. The Structural Contingency theory provides insight that individual organizations can be created to adapted to their environment. Of course this gives organizations a sort of ‘organicness’. The organization therefore ceases to be a mere abstract construction, a working space but an organic contraption which has a life of its own. Regina Bailey, a science educator in explaining about the way that viruses reproduce seems to have created a veritable picture of an organic organization like the terrorist groups. She explains that, “Once a virus has “infected” a cell, it will “marshal” the cell’s ribosomes, enzymes and much of the cellular machinery to reproduce.” In the Nigerian context therefore, it would be worthwhile to understand that Boko Haram is an organization and an organic one designed to operate in the manner of terrorist cells. This means that not only will the cells split like viruses but the interaction of these organizations internally and externally will produce pseudo organizations excised from the control of the main organization.
This is noticeable in the multiplicity of militant organizations in the Niger Delta. These militant organizations do not have a central command. Or they have metamorphosed through interaction with the government and other factors in their environment in such a way that they have multiplied and become distinct organiszations. The vital sign here is that Boko Haram will soon evolve as a concept and not strictly an organization as we will may be seeing new organizations soon. Borrowing from the American template, it may therefore be shooting oneself in the leg to negotiate with terrorists on any grounds. The reason is simple; cessation of attacks may end in the short run but will escalate in future.
Reading the vital signs entails checking beyond the pulse, beyond the heart beat and beyond the temperature of the patient. It entails checking the external factors and other factors not immediately apparent. This means not only looking at the bigger picture but also looking beyond the picture. The American strategy of war against terrorism achieves this when it realizes that there are underlying conditions which terrorists seek to exploit which need to be diminished. In the context of Nigeria, Olisa Akukwe’s insightful prediction comes to mind. The education gap in the north has produced a lot of almajiris who will find the terrorist life a better alternative to scouring the sewers. President Jonathan’s decision to set up almajiri schools will be a step in the right direction. On the other hand, blaming education or the lack of thereof as the cause of terrorism anywhere might be a bit simplistic. Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to detonate a bomb on an American bound flight was not an almajiri and cannot be said to be uneducated. This means the isolation of a radical educated few and a political class who will use the terrorist cells as a tool for political arm twisting.
Finally in looking beyond the bigger picture as an integral part of reading the vital signs, Nigeria must recognize that the concept of globalization is not an academic theory or a moniker that is thrown around to impress. Nigerian interests do not lie only within the boundaries of Nigeria and this interest should also include peace within Africa. The signs are clear that some neighboring African countries provide launch pads for grooming these terrorists and for procuring arms. America in ts strategy understands that the war against terrorism has to be taken even outside the United States. This entails rigorous diplomacy in persuading governments to join in this war and for creating platforms for cross intelligence between governments. It might even include the forcing of governments to sit up and take notice.
The supine alcoholic is resuscitated, and so begins a rigorous path towards detoxification. He is made to avoid usual haunts where the kind proprietress would be willing to dole out cupfuls even when the man cannot pay. The family’s involvement is not played down. The recovering alcoholic is allowed to exist in a supportive environment. The treatment of the alcoholic does not, therefore, end in his resuscitation when he manages to pass out; it is more holistic. In that same vein, the holistic approach to solving the incidents of bomb blasts would not lie in just creating a more intelligent security system but in addressing the ills that engendered them in the first place. This calls for a government that can read the signs.