Mulling final onslaught on Boko Haram
The killing of Lt. Col. Abu Ali, who was Commanding Officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion, and four soldiers on the night of Friday, November 4, while repelling Boko Haram’s attack got me thinking of when the final nail will be driven into the coffin of the extremist Islamic sect. According to the military, the insurgents invaded the 119 Battalion of Nigerian Army located at Mallam Fatori, northern Borno State, during which the killings took place. It was not that the late soldiers went in search of the terrorists in their hideouts in Sambisa. The insurgents came with the motive to takeover the facility, but were fought back.
It was sad news, that Boko Haram still has the audacity and capacity to launch such level of attacks, after all that had been done to eliminate and degrade them. And based on what had been said by government and military spokespersons since May 29 last year, that recent attack couldn’t have happened, because Boko Haram had been vanquished, several times over. But of late, that is not what we see and hear. Despite repeated offensive by the military, there seems to be a reserve of energy on the side of the insurgents that renders government effort otiose. It is especially so, if one considers the new wave of enthusiasm among the women wing of Boko Haram to disguise as well meaning citizens, only to explode strapped IEDs, killing innocent victims. Sometimes, male suicide bombers actually disguise as females, hiding their lethal belts in their so-called hijabs. In the last two weeks, at least two explosions have occurred in Maiduguri. One of such took place at a civilian JTF checkpoint attached to the Bakassi Internally Displaced Persons camp on October 29, and another in front of NNPC depot along Damboa Road. They were programmed for maximum damage, but nine persons were sent to untimely graves. According to reports, since October 29, other attempts were made by insurgents to cause damage, using suicide bombers, but were foiled by vigilant security agencies, suggesting that while the military is doing its utmost to dislodge and degrade them, their capacity to use IEDs remains robust. That means, too, that the touted efforts to grant amnesty to ‘repentant’ and overpowered sectarian militants and the attempt to wean adherents away from their injurious and lethal philosophy have not reached base.
To me, this is where the real challenge is: To recover the soul of northeast, and indeed, all of Nigeria from toxic and extreme religious bigotry, which have the potential to destroy all the labour that have been deployed to build Nigeria since 1914. The fate that has befallen Syria is not one to be envied by any country, but it was just an ordinary ‘Arab Spring’ that snowballed into what became major cataclysms in some Middle East countries. Major cities in Syria have been destroyed, together with monuments of history and ancient civilizations. That is the fury of uncontrolled zealotry that got into heads of political leadership.
Other countries in the Middle East not yet afflicted are working very hard to stave off this most combustive headache stalking the globe. Even countries in continental Europe have had their fair share. They are spending hugely to welcome Syrian refugees; while France has been a yearly sufferer of major terrorist attacks in its homeland. The United States is paying dearly in military costs, as well as, living in daily threats since 9/11.
The loss of Col Abu Ali, therefore, is symbolic of the failure of government and leaders to get down to basis in the fight against Boko Haram. Here was a dedicated young soldier, who was decorated at the 2015 Nigerian Army Day Celebration in Gusau, for his bravery and heroic deeds in the liberation of Baga. Less than one year later, the insurgents have plucked him and his colleagues, along with many POWs who were not acknowledged and documented. They are the ones paying dearly for the sins of leaders, who cannot separate religion from politics.
The other day, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah lamented that some politicians in the north have started drumming sharia campaigns, advising that those who want to live under religious codes should relocate to countries, where theocracy is in practice, as in Saudi Arabia for Muslims or Zambia for Christians. Kukah reminded them that Nigeria is not a theocratic state and should not be forced to be one.
Indeed, when some state governments launched sharia rules in north in the early 2000s, they thought that was the apogee of political correctness. In the account of one Kaka Shehu Lawal, who claimed to have been attorney general and commissioner of justice in Borno State, he alleged that former governor Modu Sheriff, while he was governorship candidate, promised to introduce the Islamic legal code, upon which he got the support of slain Mohammed Yusuf and his followers. That is in addition to other accounts, which showed clearly the romance between Sheriff and the late Yusuf, when the former became governor. The relationship was to turn sour, after which Yusuf and his group began to launch attacks against government institutions, including police stations. It was after Lawal was killed in 2009, that Boko Haram went full-blown and uncontrollable.
Kukah showed courage to have warned those who are again peddling sharia rule of the consequences of their trade. The Constitution of Nigeria, to which all have agreed to surrender their individual and group interests, is very clear on issues of religion. Until it is repealed, the Constitution does not permit anyone or group to elevate his or her religion above the State. The State wants people to practise their religions privately and that Nigeria is not a theocracy. For sometime now, there are stories of amendments going on in the House of Representatives to elevate sharia rule as a national code, beyond what is practised in some northern states. The leadership of the House has denied, but the stories have not abated. The fears in some quarters is that, if it was so swift for the National Assembly to amend the CCT and CCB laws so stealthily and crookedly, to the extent that even the majority leader, Femi Gbajabiamila now feigns ignorance and demands a revisit, that whatever the House is doing regarding any form of amendment should be done under daylight for all of us.
Again, the trials of persons, who have been arrested for terrorist activities, have not shown that leaders are serious to kill the germ of Boko Haram before it afflicts more zones of the country. The trials are sloppy and sometimes, deliberately programmed to fail. Many political leaders, who were fingered in initial intelligence reports, were allowed to go without full and decisive prosecution. The Modu Sheriff, who is alleged to be central to the evolution of Boko Haram, is courted by political parties, instead of assisting intelligence departments to dig into the source of the insurgency.
The cost of Boko Haram is huge on everybody. Like ISIS, the insurgents do not discriminate, when they afflict society. Therefore, this is the time for political, religious and traditional rulers to confront the issues frontally without any attempt by anybody or religious group to smuggle any code into the Constitution. Or attempt to use institutions of State and agencies of government to attempt the entrenchment of domination over persons of other religious beliefs, ethnic and geo-political zones. Those were the same tactics that have combined to deny the country of competitive growth. Government should uphold the Constitution and deal fairly and justly with all religious groups. If Government is to be heavy-handed on the Shiites, it should deploy the same weight on other religious groups, who flout the Constitution, including supporters and sponsors of Boko Haram, who are still prowling the political stage and holding others to ransom.
In the life of the previous regime, politicians in the then opposition exploited the insurgency for political capital, whereas, what was needed to confront the evil was a combined, bipartisan attack. In the end, that government was left clueless, as politicians exploited the situation to their advantage.
Going forward, and to avoid the loss of our brilliant and patriotic soldiers, we must think of a final onslaught on Boko Haram. It begins with working for the advancement of constitutionalism. Let politicians stop hiding behind religion to feed fat and cause trouble. Otherwise, the fire next time will be unquenchable. Ask Syria!