BOKO HARAM: Can Moving Military Command Center to Maiduguri End the Insurgency?
BOKO HARAM: Can Moving Military Command Center to Maiduguri End the Insurgency?
By H.T. Soweto
At his inauguration on May 29, President Buhari declared to an expectant Nation that he would move the military command to Maiduguri and it shall remain there until Boko Haram is “completely subdued”. This is because “victory cannot be achieved by basing the command and control centre in Abuja”.
Millions of Nigerians have been shocked by the growth and violence of Boko Haram – an Islamic insurgent group opposed to Western education and culture seeking to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the North of Nigeria – since it began its uprising in 2009. The insurgency has claimed over 13, 000 lives with over 1.5 million displaced. Early in the year, the sect offered allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).
The idea implied here by Buhari is that ineffective military action is what is responsible all along for the seemingly unending carnage of Boko Haram since 2009. But this is only half true. Reinforcing this, Buhari went on to mention “official bungling, negligence, complacency or collusion” as the factors that contributed to Boko Haram’s rapid growth into a “terrifying force”.
These sentiments, some of which are true, correspond to popular perception of the immediate past administration of Jonathan. But they constitute very little when it comes to defining new policies and approach to the insurgency different from the “slash and burn” attitude of the past regime. It is true that Jonathan administration prosecuted the war on terror rather grudgingly for different grotesque reasons. One, it was the feeling that the theatre of the insurgency was the far North which had little economic or electoral significance for Jonathan who hails from the South. Secondly, Jonathan spent more time accusing the opposition or perceived political enemies of being behind the insurgency in order to slight his government than prosecuting the war against terror.
In the inauguration speech, Buhari went on to promise that “At the end of the hostilities when the group is subdued the Government intends to commission a sociological study to determine its origins, remote and immediate causes of the movement, the international connections to ensure that measures are taken to prevent a recurrence of this evil”. Without being aware of it, what is expressly admitted here is that despite the blistering criticisms to which the All Progressive Congress (APC) while in opposition subjected Jonathan’s war on terror, neither the party nor its president has any inkling of the origins of Boko Haram. What this means also is that just like the past government, the new government is banking on escalated military actions as the best effective measure to subdue or end the Boko Haram carnage.
A recent report by Amnesty International titled “Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military” has revealed astonishing and horrific human right violations committed by the military under the excuse of fighting terror in the Northeast. The report showed that 20, 000 young men and boys have been arrested by the military, some as young as nine years old. Most were arrested in “cordon and search operations” and almost all were never charged to court. Only few made it back alive. The report claimed that at least 8, 000 people were murdered, starved, suffocated and tortured to death at detention facilities. In 2013, Amnesty International reportedly obtained evidence that more than 4, 700 bodies were brought to a mortuary from a detention facility in Giwa barracks. In the month of June alone, more than 1, 400 corpses were reportedly delivered to the mortuary from this facility. While Buhari has promised “overhauling the rules of engagement” to avoid human right violations, it is yet to be seen how escalated military action will not generate similar cases of abuses.
Meanwhile as we have repeatedly explained, military actions alone will not end Boko Haram nor bring to an end the different ethnic and religious crises and other variants of violent conflicts threatening to tear apart the Nation. This is partially borne out by Boko Haram’s persistent suicide bombings and daring raids on cities and communities even after it was, in a concerted military push just before the general elections, driven off most of the territories it had taken. This inability of purely military or police actions to solve this crisis has already been seen. The state failed in 2009 to crush Boko Haram by summarily executing its initial leader, Mohammed Yusuf, after he had been arrested and paraded before cameras, indeed it eventually came back even stronger.
But it is not just the north and northeast which faces the threat of violence. The high spate of kidnappings, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers clashes and cattle rustling in different parts of the country are worrisome reminders that there are many more tipping points for violent crises as Boko Haram.
These crises have their roots in the condition of mass misery in the midst of plenty engendered by the unjust capitalist system which has failed to ensure the equitable distribution of the Nation’s vast wealth in oil, mineral resources and land but instead concentrated it in a few hands. The legacy of Colonialism also means that the national question remains unresolved in many parts of the country till today. This means that even at period of relative peace, subterranean ethnic and religious tensions continue to exist and are frequently exploited by the contending members of the corrupt capitalist ruling elites in their rivalry and morbid struggles for political positions, influences and recognition. Therefore, even if intense military actions are able to substantially reduce Boko Haram’s capability to threaten national security, for as long as the socio-economic roots of inequality and discontent remain, there will always be that possibility of more violent conflicts occurring.
As on other socio-economic issues, there is popular call for not just a quick defeat of Boko Haram and its divisive fanatical preaching but also a total end to insurgency and other violent conflicts across the country whose daily cost in lives and properties has made Nigeria a typical hell on earth for vast majority. To achieve this will require a form of military action no doubt through armed democratic community defence forces to guarantee security but more importantly an emergency social and economic programme to cut off at the root the extreme poverty, discontent and alienation driving extremism in society.
For it is not a coincidence that Boko Haram insurgency broke out in the Northeast. Before Boko Haram, there was the Maitassine movement which was active around the same geographical area in the early 1990s but was eventually put down. This is a region with one of the least developed infrastructures for formal education. Extreme poverty exists side by side with the opulence of just a few members of the Northern ruling elite who often times are Western educated. Although Northern rulers have had the chance to rule Nigeria for more than half of its existence after independence, yet there is little to show for it in terms of the living standards of average Northerners. Despite resentment at its divisive ideology and indiscriminate killings, the reality is that at the initial stage Boko Haram’s bitter lashing out at the Nigeria ruling elite as “corrupt infidels” rang true in the heart of many in the North. This is more so as the labour movement, which could have provided a united, non-divisive and non-religious but working class leadership for the mass discontent and anger in society, has failed to consistently play this role due to most Labour leaders being prepared to work within the capitalist system.
The fighting forces of Boko Haram is made up of just a few professional fighters, some whom are foreign, who may profess fanatical believe in the extreme ideology of Sharia. The vast majority are made up of young boys, many extremely poor and neglected by society who at least at the initial stage may have joined for the protection and feeling of hitting back at a State and elite that has neglected them the sect offers as well as the economic benefit of daily pay. Some were abducted just like the Chibok girls during raids on their schools and villages and thereafter drugged and radicalised in the camps. With their parents and families slaughtered often in their view and their villages razed, these young boys have no hope or any other family except the company of their fellow fighters.
Therefore only a strategy that aims to offer the poor and ravaged youths of the North a new lease of life through employment, training in new skills, education and healthcare can begin to undermine Boko Haram by shutting off its source of recruit, rekindle hope in the minds of the impoverished and give confidence to the mass of the people to be able to challenge Boko Haram’s murderous and divisive ideology. To ensure communities are protected from Boko Haram attacks, we advocate the setting up by the labour movement of armed, independent and united democratic community defense forces whose membership must cut across all religion and ethnic divides to patrol and defend villages, towns and cities in the North east.
It is the absence of the labour movement and its inability to provide a united leadership for the mass discontent and anger brewing in society that allowed Boko Haram’s anti-ruling elite message to gain echo at the initial stage. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the labour movement to take centre stage and give a clear call to action to avert further religious or ethnic conflict. To do this, the labour movement must launch and build through strikes and mass demonstrations a nationwide movement for jobs, a decent allowance to all unemployed and aged, a new minimum wage, free education and healthcare and a crash public works programme to rebuild public infrastructures like roads, school buildings, community youth centres etc. The aim should be to use this movement to show to the working and oppressed masses across the country that the way forward to winning improvements in our lives is through collective mass struggle for a new kind of society of social justice, progress and equality rather than religious fundamentalism, whether Christian or Islamic
Above all, the labour movement must now urgently rethink the question of a working class political alternative which has been under discussion for years now. The reality that labour activists must face is that the Labour Party (LP) has been lost to the ruling elite. There is a need for the formation and building of a new mass political party upon which the working and oppressed masses of this country can fight to reclaim Nigeria by ending capitalism and putting in its place a democratic socialist order only which can guarantee the equitable distribution of collective resources and genuine democratic rights to ethnic and religious minorities.