While it had appeared, in the twilight of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, as though Boko Haram would soon be history following the massive offensive launched against the insurgents at their strongholds in the North East, the rising spate of suicide bombings by the group has sharply reminded everyone that the war is far from over.
Right from onset, some of us had maintained that the war against Boko Haram cannot be won solely on the battle fields and that the massive criticism Jonathan was subjected to at the time was absolutely misguided, if not mischievous. My take is that a lot of those who should have known better and acted accordingly, in their desperation to kick Jonathan out of office, neglected their roles in the fight against the insurgents but instead focussed on blaming the former president at every turn.
I do not share the idea, however, that Boko Haram was formed, or at least strengthened with the intention of making Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan; absolutely not, but I strongly believe that the insurgents were allowed to fester for reasons not far from it. Although some may not have actually foreseen the events of this day, especially those who might have thought that Boko Haram’s attacks would be restricted to churches and Christians as it had appeared in the beginning.
Some years ago when the terror group was starting its campaign, an uncle of mine, Oliver, who was at the time running a business in Maiduguri, Borno State, was forced to return home to the East, not because of an apparent threat by Boko Haram per say, but because a Kanuri man from the state who was in the same line of business with him and was obviously upset that he was doing better, threatened to invite Boko Haram members to kill him if he did not leave the city having tried unsuccessfully to compel his landlord to take his shop away from him.
This was a time when Boko Haram probably had a face and people could use them to deal with their enemies. Recall, it was a period when their attacks were carried out mainly by visiting people, especially pastors at home to kill them. To the Kanuri man, Boko Haram was only a group he could use to fight his enemies and there would have been no need to stop them.
Later when their attacks became more pronounced and Jonathan was compelled to unleash the full weight of the law on them, he was variously condemned by political leaders from the North who noted that the attack on Boko Haram was an attack on the region. But most of them would later turn around to blame the ex-president for not defeating the group.
The above provides insight as to why Boko Haram gradually transformed into the beast it is today, and I maintain that if local and religious leaders had taken this fight seriously at the beginning, they would have nipped it in the bud. At least, local leaders know who constitute miscreants in their locality more than anyone else. But it’s of no use dwelling in the past and wishing things were done differently. What matters now is the way forward.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram terrorists are waging ideological warfare, and such can hardly be won with bullets, but rather ideologically. It is a fact that the insurgents, through the combined efforts of Nigeria and her neighbours, are being routed on the battle fields, but that has not stopped them from sneaking bombs into busy places and wreaking havoc, which means that even when they are completely defeated on the frontlines, it may not spell an end to their campaign.
Imagine a scenario where a young girl is convinced to embark on a suicide mission, and with bombs fastened to her waist, she steps into the streets on a mission to destroy lives, including hers. The military, no matter how well equipped is largely helpless in this situation. First, they cannot be everywhere; second, they cannot stop and search every little girl walking in the street. Even if they do, however, the bomb may still explode and kill whoever is near. The girl in question is not fighting to save her own life, she had already made up her mind to die, and she can simply detonate the explosives as soon as she senses anyone coming close.
The above is largely the case presently in the North East, Boko Haram militants are no longer able to move in convoys and attack villages as frequently as before, that has been curtailed by the army. But incidences of suicide bombings are on the rise, and they present very bleak future.
As pointed out earlier, it is an ideological warfare, the young girl going to blow herself up is doing so because she has been misled by somebody and is then convinced she is doing the right thing. To defeat her therefore, you do not need to shoot her dead, that’s exactly what she wanted and it would not stop the next person from following her step. Therefore, you need to defeat her ideology; what you need to do is to teach her right and that’s where religious leaders come in handy.
Certainly, imams and other religious leaders in the North East ought to be in the front lines, not literally in the war at this stage. There is a chance that the young girl who will carry out an attack tomorrow is worshipping today in a mosque; it behooves the imam therefore to use today’s opportunity to guide her aright. Teach her the right things before someone else teaches her the wrong things. But even more importantly, challenge the ideology of those who are misleading these people with the right and superior ideology.