By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
June 28, 2011
The Nigerian government has imposed a curfew on the national capital city, Abuja, following recent attacks by Islamist militants. Nightclubs, beer parlours, and cinemas must close by 10pm local time (2100 GMT) and public parks that admit children should close by 6pm.
Abuja city’s administration said it has also banned parking of vehicles on two roads where most government offices are located.
“These measures are necessitated by the need to ensure adequate security of lives and property in the federal capital territory [in light of] the prevailing security concerns,” the city’s spokesman said in a statement, according to a BBC news report today.
The curfew is the Nigerian government’s response to the security threat posed by the Boko Haram Islamic sect, also known as the Boko Haram Islamic State Movement (BHISM). The group, which usually targets the north-eastern state of Borno, around Maiduguri, says it is fighting for Islamic rule, and campaigns against all political and social activities associated with the West.
The curfew may infuriate time-blowers, but it is needed to deal with the security threat posed by the Boko Haram which, after a lull, has intensified its terrorist activities in the last nine months.
The security problems bedeviling Nigeria must pique our interest because of its implications for the entire West African sub-region. It is not as if Nigeria hasn’t ever faced any serious threat and that what the Boko Haram is doing is a mere child’s play thing. The country faced a horrendous three-year-long civil war from 1967 to early 1970 that caused untold damage to it in every sense, particularly the loss of more than a million lives in the Igbo area alone. The effects of this civil war are still being felt more than 40 years thereafter.
That sordid part of the country’s history cannot be forgotten; and it is imperative that today’s leaders of that country do all they can to prevent any occurrence of upheavals with the potential to cause widespread disaster. What has been happening in the country over the past two decades, however, suggests that the country is not immune to disturbances capable of destabilizing it.
Within the period, several separatist movements have sprung up and carried out activities that shook the foundation of the country’s integrity.
The emergence of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Ken Saro Wiwa, threatened the Establishment to such an extent that the former military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, chose to execute Saro Wiwa as the solution to that problem. His death didn’t make the problem evaporate because the Ogoni people were still poised to fight for their fair of the national cake. Indeed, their Movement was more of a pressure group than the political force or criminal gang that Abacha’s government saw it. The MOSOP is still alive today but not indulging in any anti-social activity.
Nearby, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) sprang up with a different agenda—not only to pressurize the government for its fair share of the country’s oil money or for the development of the Niger-Delta Region but to enforce their demand through armed rebellion. The instability that ensued cannot be described because the MEND resorted to kidnapping of expatriate staff of the oil companies operating in the Niger-Delta Region; sabotaging oil pipelines; and engaging in confrontations with the Nigerian Security Forces (especially the Navy and Army). Their armed resistance and sabotage cut down Nigeria’s oil production by 20%, leading to loss of much revenue.
The MEND’s modus operandi indicated that the group knew the value of full-fledged armed rebellion to seek redress. The arrest of its leader and repression of its activities by the federal and local governments didn’t really end the rebellion.
Overtures made by the late Umaru Yar’Adua, and sustained by President Jonathan Goodluck, seemed to have solved the problem somehow as the fighting between the Niger-Delta rebels and the security forces lessened; but it is too early to say that the Niger-Delta militants are satisfied that their demands have been made. They have only laid down their arms and found other things to do. Some are reported to have left Nigeria for Ghana and other West African countries. The problems that necessitated their armed rebellion haven’t yet been solved completely. The recent bombing of some places in Abuja has been blamed on them.
Nigeria’s security problem is worsened by the infusion of religion as a motivation and rationale for the activities of those now raising insecurity to a frightening level. The frequent religious riots in Jos, Sokoto, Maiduguri, and other places in the north are directly caused by religious intolerance. Such riots have caused massive losses but the government has often managed to contain the situation.
A new aspect of this security problem is the role of the Boko Haram Islamic State Movement (BHISM). The activities of this group are frightening. Despite the death of its leader (Mohammed Yusuf) and several hundreds of his supporters at the hands of the security forces after the group attacked police stations in Maiduguri in 2009, the Boko Haram is still strong and resorting to terrorist acts in pursuit of its goal—fighting for a separate, independent, and sovereign state whose legal system will be based on the Islamic “Sharia” Law.
The upheaval caused by this group last year in Maiduguri, which spread over to Jos, left much devastation in its trail. Although the Nigerian government promptly dealt with the group’s main leaders, the group is back on its feet, causing much havoc. In May this year, it staged attacks at the inauguration of President Jonathan.
In its latest rounds of terrorist acts, the group has killed dozens of people—mostly security officers and politicians but also a Christian preacher and some Muslim clerics who have criticized it.
Two weeks ago, it planted a bomb at the Police Headquarters that killed eight people and spread fear throughout the country. Then, last Sunday, June 26, it was reported that Boko Haram had detonated bombs and indiscriminately shot revelers at a beer garden in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, killing 25 people and wounding 30 others. Later that Sunday, it killed another 10 people with a car bombing in the city.
Boko Haram is just one among the several separatist movements operating in different parts of Nigeria. Unlike the other groups, however, it poses the greatest threat to the country and others in the West African sub-region because of the sentiments undergirding its formation and operations. Boko Haram is built on an Islamic faith that its members consider as the panacea for the country’s endemic moral, social, political, and economic problems; hence, their determination to fight for the establishment of an Islamic state to be ruled on the basis of the “Sharia.”
This doctrinal foundation makes the Boko Haram similar to other terrorist groups whose operations are driven by Islamic fundamentalism. Followers of such groups are a menace to society, especially in situations where they confront the status quo by which the state is a secular entity, allowing multiple religious sects to co-exist and function without let or hindrance. Their attempt to impose their will on adherents of the other religions certainly leads to disaster.
Peaceful co-existence of diverse faiths is definitely threatened by such fundamentalist tendencies. That is the threat posed by Boko Haram; but this threat is reinforced by the fact that Boko Haram has fast become Nigeria’s version of Muslim extremist groups operating with impunity elsewhere, maiming and killing those they consider as infidels. One has enough cause to be alarmed at this turn of events.
What we are worried about is the careless abandon and audacity with which these groups function. The Boko Haram’s trademark has been the use of gunmen on motorbikes. It seems that of all the separatist groups operating in Nigeria, the Boko Haram is the most daring one which has extended its nefarious activities beyond its home base and reached the national capital city. Who knows where it will go next?
The group’s posture suggests that it is capable of wreaking more havoc than the government is prepared for. If nothing is done expeditiously to curb its operations, it will do acts to destabilize the country and beyond.
That is why the Nigerian government must take prompt steps to infiltrate the group and nip its activities in the bud. If it has to seek international support to do so, it must go ahead. The government must be proactive enough to fight this group and prevent it from growing or intensifying its terrorist activities. There are always favourable recruitment opportunities for such a group, especially in a situation where unemployment is high and the youth have become disenchanted.
Of all factors that promote the activities of such terrorist groups, religion is the most potent—and many youth fall prey to charlatans purveying religious dogma all over the place. The mere fact that the Boko Haram is appealing to religious sentiments as the basis for its operations suggests that it is Nigeria’s version of Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda.
The presence of such a group in the country is dangerous, not only for the country alone but for the entire West African sub-region. Thus, this problem must not be left for Nigeria alone to attempt solving. The various governments in the sub-region must immediately put their heads together to pool resources to be able to combat this terrorist group.
I suggest strongly that the ECOWAS should begin immediate steps to draw up a programme of action to include networking by the various security apparatuses so that the Boko Haram can be confronted head-on and zapped before it becomes a major sub-regional problem. I hope that the Presidents of the countries in the sub-region will not stand aloof to leave the Boko Haram threat to Nigeria alone to handle.
We already have too many problems to contend with and don’t need to add terrorism to them. Our leaders must act with dispatch to save us from this looming threat of terrorism from the Boko Haram group.