Muhammad Hassan-Tom in Kaduna
Two weeks to March 28 presidential election, Africa’s biggest and most populous economy is still grappling with the war against the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna lil Da’awati wal Jihad popularly called Boko Haram. The total toll from the six-year long conflict including the estimated 2000 killed in Baga by insurgents on January 5 stands at around 20,000. There are also six million internally displaced persons scattered in refugee camps as far apart as Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Sokoto, Kano and Plateau States with two million in Borno State, the epicenter of the crisis and others in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin Republics.
Last year, dozens of deadly attacks were recorded in 14 states including Abuja, Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna and Kogi States in which over 10,000 people were killed in gun and bomb assaults and over 350,000 injured. According to Nigeria Security Tracker, an arm of the Council of Foreign Relations, an estimated 28,508 people have been killed by Boko Haram, herdsmen/farmers conflicts, community/ethnic violence and extra-judicial killings during various crises in the past four years. The over 200 secondary school girls kidnapped from their dormitories in Chibok, Borno State on March 14, 2014, remain at large despite the huge international interest and investment in their rescue.
Indeed, 2014 marked a watershed for Boko Haram in other fronts as well as it commenced the annexation of vast swathes of populated land outside their stronghold in the dreaded Sambisa Forest. The terrorists took over Gwoza town in Borno State and declared it headquarters of its “Caliphate” on August 7, 2014.
Since then many major towns such as Abadam, Bama, Banki, Buni-Yadi, Gamboru-Ngala, Konduga, Mafa, Malam-Fatori, Marte, Mobbar, Monguno, Madagali, Michika and Mubi were successfully overrun although the Nigerian Army and its partners in the Multinational Joint Task Force comprising Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin Republics recently reclaimed some. Now, hundreds of foreign mercenaries mainly from South Africa and Ukraine have been hired by the Federal Government to provide training, intelligence and technical support for new equipment.
Boko Haram was founded in 1995 by a group of young Muslim clerics in Borno State led by Muhammad Yusuf. Its takeoff base was the famous Indimi Mosque in Maiduguri. At that point, it preached against Western education and supported politicians who promised to carry them along. In 2003, the group worked for the election of former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sherif who allocated land for their headquarters in Maiduguri, the state capital and appointed one of their own into his cabinet as Commissioner for Religious Affairs. Towards the end of Sherif’s tenure as governor, the state government clamped down on the activities of the sect. In one incident, 17 members of Boko Haram in a convoy of motorcycles at a funeral procession were shot and others arrested for failing to wear the mandatory helmet.
The ensuing protests led late President Umaru Yar’adua to order a military onslaught that razed down the Boko Haram headquarters and killed hundreds of suspected members on July 26, 2009. Its leader, Muhammad Yusuf, was arrested by soldiers and handed over to the police who summarily executed him for allegedly trying to escape while in chains! This marked the beginning of the campaign of violence that has spared nothing from military and police formations to the UN headquarters in Abuja and from churches and mosques to barracks, bus stations, clinics, markets, prisons and schools.
Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, announced its allegiance to the Islamic Stateon March 7; it also has links with three terrorists groups – Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula as well as Somalia’s Alshabab – hence its access to superior weapons such as surface-to-air-missiles, anti-aircraft rifles, rocket launchers and man-portable-air-defense-systems .
Former detainees in Boko Haram camps have reported clandestine arms and ammunition supplies by helicopters possibly from Libya or Chad. Foreigners have often been arrested alongside Nigerian fighters. Other sources of funding include dare-devil bank robberies, kidnapping, contraband smuggling as well as arms and drug trafficking.
Recent revelations by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has unsuccessfully tried to mediate in the conflict over the past six years, confirm the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan may have deliberately allowed the crisis to fester for political purposes. According to sources close to Obasanjo, Jonathan reportedly told the former President that the insurgency “should be allowed to run its course” even though the former warned that it would boomerang.
The immediate way out may be the impending change of Government come May 29. Otherwise, the African Union and the Economic Community of West Africa may need to step up their involvement and save these millions of people in utter distress.