The world is slowly waking up to a 2 week old horror, the gut-wrenching story of 234+ teenage girls abducted by a band of terrorists from their boarding school just as they were in the midst of taking their High School Certification exams. A horror that was no less eased when it was reported that some of the traumatized girls who had managed to escape their captors, the Boko Haram, recently told grim news of their fellow captives being sold into “marriage” to terrorists within and without Nigeria’s Northern borders.
Within the 2 wks since the girls were kidnapped public anger inside Nigeria rose and spilled out into the streets in the last 24-48 hours in demonstrations against government impotence to grapple with the terrorist menace that its victims call Boko Haram, which means “Western education Forbidden” (See further below for more on history of Boko Haram). Social media relayed that anger to a wider global public under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Petition drives have accelerated to galvanize awareness and demand action, including one from Change.org currently gathering steam in the US.
Video of when abduction happened 2 weeks ago:
However the indignation captured in the hashtag bumps up against a very messy and complicated reality, one that lifts the scab off the virulent canker metastasizing in several 21st century fledgling democracies and in some mature ones as well, gashing open threadbare societies. Democracy itself is rendered naked. And so:
1) #BringBackOurGirls. But from where?
2) Who do we ask to #BringBackOurGirls?
3) And if we are able to identify captors, who, if anyone, are they answerable to?
4) When a fledgling democracy is faced with a lawless group linked to a global terrorist franchise that fights an asymmetric war, how is security of anyone, let alone children to be guaranteed?
5) Who is bankrolling and profiting from arming a group that is not directly seeking political inclusion/representation but instead wants dissolution of the modern pluralist state itself and modern life?
6) What strategy to deal with Boko Haram? Crush them? Under what rules? Negotiate with them? Contain them? Abdicate democratic governance altogether? Can Nigeria or any young democracy survive a Boko Haram menace and remain intact?
The abduction of the girls from Chibok in Northeastern Nigeria is just the latest Boko Haram orchestrated strike in what has become its 5 year repeated murderous assault on Nigerian citizens in schools, markets, churches, police stations, that has killed more than an estimated 4 thousand people. The day before the kidnapping, a bomb blast on a bus had killed estimated 70 people, Christmas Day massacres, Last year students were murdered in the sleep in dormitories at an Agricultural College in Bornu State. Another attack took place in Abuja the political capital. Despite the Islamist religious cloak that Boko Haram covers itself in, its victims have been Muslims and Christians alike.
Video of life in Maiduguri
Nigeria is no virgin to conflict. Like much of the rest of the continent of Africa, its very existence as an artificially-constructed state and amalgam of disparate ethnic groups, was birthed in 1914 in the crucible of British colonial greed for territory, resources, and supremacy over competing European colonial powers. It was given a name that banally reflected geographical coordinates to the colonizer: Niger-area, rather than any lofty historical references to Kingdoms, cultures or the peoples. Nigeria’s importance was couched in terms of the size of its population and the fact of straddling one of the 2 most important waterways in Africa’s interior, the Niger River. Of course, those facts were what made it economically and strategically a crown prize to the British crown (pun intended), and not the rich stories and indigenous industries of its peoples.
After Nigeria’s independence from British rule in 1960, it would dominate world headlines for the wrong reasons starting with tensions emanating form the legacy of some groups empowered by British colonizers over others. The result? Barely 7 years after independence tension burst the seams of an artificially constructed country struggling to define national cohesion, with the outbreak of a civil war. The crux of that war, dubbed by Igbo nationalists as the Biafran war, was the struggle over ownership of territorial control, resources and sovereignty. Like the US civil war, it was bloody, protracted and when it ended three years later in the defeat of Igbo secessionists, the prayer was that painfully but determinedly, the diverse peoples of this new country were going to forge a federated nation out of the messy polity they had inherited, TOGETHER.
The discovery and drilling of vast deposits of oil in the Niger delta in the 1970s would catapult Nigeria to heights of global strategic importance. But as its other moniker, “Oil Cursed state” reveals, fierce competition for power in the forms of both military coups d’état and quasi civilian rule would warp systems of governance for the next 3 decades reaching new ugly heights in the 1990s. Nigeria made political headlines when the dictatorships of Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida ruthlessly put down Oguni people in the Niger Delta area who were agitating about the economic neglect of populations living in the oil-rich areas, and about the oil drilling practices of multinational corporations that were destroying the fragile ecosystem. The execution of famed writer and Oguni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was seared in our collective minds, until democratic rule feebly took hold again in 1999, with the promise of righting that giant ship once more. Along with the devolution of power through the ballot box, another critical fact was born too: the cessation of the unwritten agreement that power would alternate between the predominantly Muslim North (40% of pop.) and Christian South. Power now had to be competed for in the open political market.
Boko Haram was born in 2002, under the official name “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad,” meaning ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” Its founding leader Muhammad Yusuf’s initial complaints were that “Western education, or ‘boko,’ had brought nothing but poverty and suffering to the region and was therefore for bidden, or ‘haram,’ in Islam.” In the context of the economic disparities that divide Nigeria, Yusuf’s message quickly gained a devoted following among swathes of unemployed youth. The movement soon began stockpiling arsenals of sophisticated weaponry. Clashes with Borno State authorities resulted in violence against law enforcement, torching of government offices, followed by clampdowns.
In 2009, the police clamped down on sect members who were ignoring a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. That sparked a furious backlash. Police stations and government offices in Borno were burned to the ground, and hundreds of the ground, and hundreds of criminals released in a prison break, as the violence spread across northern Nigeria. The government and army reacted with force: Yusuf was captured and shot dead in police custody. Five days of fighting left some 800 people dead.
Boko Haram: South African TV Discussion
Following Yusuf’s death, the new leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has taken violence to new indiscriminate heights and is believed to have expanded liaisons with al Qaeda affiliates in the Maghreb (North Africa), and Al Shabab in Somalia. I argue that these liaisons are criminal franchises and not religious bonds. As has become clear with other terrorist groups in theater this era, religion and the plight of Muslims in Northern Nigeria that supposedly animated founding leader Yusuf’s initial protests, simply function as pretexts for pathological and criminal behavior that have nothing to do with faith. The current modus operandi of Boko Haram demonstrates the use of violence for it’s own sake rather than coherent ideological or philosophical motives. It is stochastic. Intended to render the country simply ungovernable. Violence then simply becomes the currency for profiting off arms trafficking, and driving Nigeria into penury by depleting its fragile national security resources.
In their usual lazy retread of the usual “Africa is backward, African leaders are corrupt” narrative, a key question the international media have NOT explored is the emerging perverse inverse relationship between the reduction of large scale wars BETWEEN states, and the scaling up of microwars and insurgencies WITHIN states. Weapons manufacturers traffickers need new markets and thus foment conflicts in order to sell arms to groups who become even better armed than their host states, who in turn have to divert resources to Global arms manufacturers to buy more weapons. A highly lucrative micro-arms race within developing countries for the arms peddlers (just like NRA’s desire to put guns in every chicken pot).
Sadly the abduction of the girls or the students gunned down in their dormitories in one of the gruesome previous incidents, or the abuse of child soldiers in previous internal conflicts, plus our worldwide reactions are seen by these criminals as media events intended to exploit viral communication technologies such as social media to amplify the spectacle effect. Ultimately these for them are enactments in narcissism, psychopathy, and pure profit. A side benefit, in their mind, would be the failure of a resource rich country like Nigeria. It is also for this latter reason that Boko Haram is believed by some to serve as guns-for-hire to political opportunists who seek to advance their agendas toward elections in 2015.
Ironically, they may be selling their services to everybody on all sides of the political game, ultimately becoming frankenmonsters that nobody can contain. And this freelance terrorism by persons and groups who have no interest in the niceties of democratic governance, or majority rule, is the horror awaiting us all in this new century. We can sniff parallels in our midst here in the West too.
>>>>> UPDATE <<<<
MSNBC is reporting that the US govt has offered the Nigerian government assistance to help find the abducted girls. We hope positive news comes out of this
Roots of Boko Haram: References and In depth articles
h/t Professor John Mbaku’s List — Boko Haram Resources
1. Adesoji, Abimbola (2011): “Between Maitatsine and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and Response of the Nigerian State”
2. Adesoji, Abimbola (2010): “The Boko Haram Uprising and Islamic Revivalism in Nigeria”
3. Danjibo, N.D. (2011) : “Islamic Fundamentalism and Sectarian Violence: The “Maitatsine” and “Boko Haram” Crises in Northern Nigeria”
4. Onuoha, Freedom (2012): Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Extremist Islamic sect
5. Rogers, Paul (2012): “ Nigeria: The Generic Context of the Boko Haram Violence”