Calling Insecurity in Nigeria by its True Name
by Stephen Oyishoma
That Nigeria has been grappling with a security crises that broke out from the North East is no longer news. While the terror being unleashed on innocent civilians including women and children by Boko Haram is undeniable, the origin, ideology and motive of the dreaded jihadist group has remained controversial. Nigeria’s hydra headed security challenges have recently assumed a new dimension in form of well calculated attacks by nomadic militia in several states in the Middle Belt. One cannot but wonder why the Nigerian media choses to adopt some of the euphemisms it uses in reporting these acts of terror.
Commenting on the spate of killings in some Middle Belt states, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said: “Let’s not play around with the euphemisms. It’s no other word but ethnic cleansing. There’s no other definition for what has been going on here. And it’s very sad to me personally to see that a nation like Nigeria, with so much human talent, has failed to learn the lesson of the history of places like Rwanda”.
In several undeniable incidents, unarmed civilians have been brutally massacred by marauders in several parts of Nigeria especially in the Middle Belt. Like many other genocidal acts in the Middle Belt, the incidents have been largely reported as a farmer-herder clashes. One cannot but wonder why unprovoked attacks on unarmed, unprepared civilians including women and children are repeatedly being reported as farmer-herder clashes. A clash connotes a fight or struggle between two parties, which is most often not the case in these incidents. The fact remains that suspected nomadic militia have been implicated in the numerous attacks. There has been a tendency by the media and government officials alike to refer to these incidents as clashes and not attacks. Instances of reprisal attacks or attacks provoked by stealing of cattle cannot be ruled but can these justify carnage of this magnitude especially where the lives of innocent people are involved?
One of the major functions of the media is to inform society what it needs to know. Journalists and reporters have the privilege of being in the fore front in this role. As in other climes, they often set the tone of sociopolitical discourse in Nigeria. They owe society a duty to report news factually and truthfully without bias. It has been pointed out by some authorities in Nigeria recently that media practitioners need to strike a balance between truth and patriotism in their reportage. But should there not be a balance between being patriotic and being objective? Does love of country mean they have to give news a different colouration other than the facts they are reporting?
The official name of Boko Haram is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad in Arabic, which means “People Committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. The alias Boko Haram meaning “Western education is abomination” is an apt description of the extremist views of the sect. Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf was its spiritual leader until he was killed extra-judicially by security forces in 2009. Abubakar Shekau is the self-acclaimed successor to Mohammed Yusuf. Shekau served as deputy to the group’s founder, Mohammed Shekau until the later was executed in 2009. Shekau was thought to have been killed by the security forces in 2009 only to reappear on in July 2010.
There is no consensus on whether to classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization or an insurgent group – at least in Nigeria. Does it matter whether we call them terrorists or insurgents? In any case, it is important that we call them by their true names because there are far reaching implications of our how they are perceived. If they are insurgents, then granting pardon and an opportunity for de-radicalization and re-integration to society to repentant Boko Haram fighters would be in order. But if they are terrorists, that would be unthinkable. Negotiating with them would also not be an appropriate option. As it stands, Boko Haram has been designated a terrorist organization by the US since 2013. But in Nigeria they have not been so designated. In fact, there have been calls from some quatres to grant repentant Boko Haram fighters amnesty as was the case with former Niger Delta militants.
Terrorism and insurgency are two types of sub-state violence; they have similarities as well as fundamental differences.
Terrorism has been defined as politically motivated violence or the threat of violence against non-combatants by sub-state actors. Insurgency is a struggle by a nonruling group and the ruling authorities in which the nonruling group uses political resources and violence. It is a protracted political-military activity using irregular military forces. In applying the foregoing definitions to the Nigerian situation, it can be seen that Boko Haram has the characteristics of both terrorism and insurgency. Boko Haram is no doubt, a sub-state actor and has the element of politically motivated violence against non-combatants. But non-combatants or civilians are not spared in the carnage being meted out by the dreaded group. That the campaign has been a protracted political-military activity using irregular military forces is not far-fetched. What is contestable and controversial is the ideology behind the struggle.
Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram has repeatedly stated in his characteristic videos that the goal of the group is to establish an Islamic caliphate where Sharia law in accordance to the injunctions of the sect would be binding on all. The very name of the group which means ‘western education is sin’ is a reflection of the extremist views of the group. Thus, the adoption of school girls in Chibok and Dapchi can easily be seen as efforts to discourage western education among girls. It is worthy of note that the extremist views of the group are not accepted by the majority of Nigerian Muslims, who are law abiding citizens and accept the secularity of the Nigerian state as enshrined in the constitution.
Shekau has repeatedly stated what he and the group he leads stand for. To say otherwise would be tantamount to denying the obvious. Contrary to the more politically popular view, the group is a religious sect engaging in a protracted politico-military activity using irregular military force to achieve its goal which is the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. The problem is not with Islam, which, but Boko Haram’s interpretation of the tenets of the religion. The views of Boko Haram are largely at variance with the views of the majority of Nigerian Muslims. A better understanding of the ideology behind Boko Haram would help the counterinsurgency efforts by government especially in the de-radicalization of former Boko Haram fighters.
To give the Devil his worth, Boko Haram has remained an enigma. Why would a group that condemns western education rely on the use of technology, which cannot be separated from western education – improvised explosive devices, guns, and other sophisticated weapons and ICT – to wreak havoc on innocent civilians? Only God knows how many Boko Haram fighters have been killed by the security forces or how many have lost their lives as suicide bombers. How come some are still willing to kill and be killed for a struggle that obviously cannot work in a secular state?
Shekau, the self-acclaimed leader of the group has been reported killed by the Nigerian military more than once. Government once assured Nigerians that Boko Haram had been decimated, later it was said they had been technically defeated. Now the recent occurrences of suicide bombings in the North East have been described as the final struggles of a defeated Boko Haram. Whether they are considered to be insurgents or terrorists, the majority of Nigerians are undivided in their desire to see an end to Boko Haram. The earlier this feat is achieved the better for all.
The attacks by nomadic militia in the Middle Belt, though similar in nature to the guerilla warfare being embarked upon by Boko Haram is somewhat different in that the bone of contention here is grazing land. Nigerians may be divided on the best approach to ending these incessant killings but remain united in their collective desire to see an end to wanton killing of innocent citizens. Nigerians are their brothers’ keepers and are willing to accommodate their brothers as admonished by President Muhammadu Buhari.The only problem is how do you accommodate a brother who comes to attack you with sophisticated weapons while you sleep?
Stephen Oyishoma is CIAPS graduate Media and Journalism
Azama, Sadau Zubairu (2017). “A Critical Analysis of Boko Haram Insurgency”. pg. 1
“Nigeria Boko Haram: Militants ‘Technically’ defeated – Buhari,” BBC, 24 December 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35173618
Walker, Andrew (2012) “What is Boko Haram? “Special Report 308.United States Institute of Peace.pg.3, 7