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Pulling Nigeria from the brink

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THE proclamation of a state of emergency on three troubled states  Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in the North was a climax of the several options that had been on the card of the Federal Government lately, The Friday Edition, has learnt. The option reportedly became imperative, following what informed sources described as the flagrant refusal of the Islamist Boko Haram members to appreciate the several moves by President Goodluck Jonathan, to restore law and order, at a minimal cost, to the nation.  The president was said to have been under intense pressure to address the violence as the Boko Haram had grown from what Jonathan once saw as the phenomenon of the sect rising from “a harmless group” to a “grown cancerous” organisation, adding that “Nigeria being the body, they want to kill it.”

It was informed that the authorities had been working with counter-terrorism experts from Britain and the United States among other countries in an effort to checkmate the members of Boko Haram and the splinter group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa). The effort was meant to complement the joint military operation in the affected states, which are strategic to guarantee stability in the West African sub-region and Central Africa.

On December 31, 2011, Jonathan had imposed a limited a state of emergency in parts of Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger states. The proclamation included temporary shutdown of the international borders in the states and the president had promised vowed to “crush” Boko Haram, which killed dozens in attacks across the country on Christmas Day. He said: “The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges.”

Obasanjo’s era
The crisis that warranted the declaration of a state of emergency in Plateau State under the Obasanjo presidency appears as child’s play given the magnitude of the threats posed by the activities of Boko Haram to the Nigerian state. The sect has consistently targeted law enforcement agents, military formations, and even institutions, killing and maiming law-abiding citizens and destroying invaluable properties in the process.  

About nine years ago, precisely, May 18, 2004, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, proclaimed a state of emergency on Plateau State, following the worsening violence, leading to scores of death. In his address to the nation on the crisis, Obasanjo did not mince words about his hatred for anyone or ground that tried to undermine the state. He declared, “We have all made personal and collective sacrifices not just to enthrone peace, stability and democracy in Nigeria but also to consolidate our democratic enterprise and cultivate new values. It is therefore very painful when that new collective commitment to democracy, peace and security is compromised, contaminated or mediated in any way or form. The situation in Plateau State, to say the least, constitutes a challenge to our democracy, negates the norms of national human interaction, contradicts the tenets of civil society, and devalues opportunities for peace, stability, coexistence and social justice.”

Boko Haram retreat
IN 2011, the decision of President Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in the crisis-prone states came barely after leaders of Nigeria’s neighbour: Chad and Cameroon, reportedly met on how they could stave off the escalating violence in Nigeria from spreading to neighbouring countries. The declaration of the limited emergency rule saw heavy troop deployment to the area to complement the efforts of other security agencies already on ground. Sources said the option was vigorously pursued with a policy of engagement with stakeholders in the area, including elders from those states to fast track the process of restoring law and order. Consequently, the military operation yielded some results as the Boko Harm members came under intense heat and were substantially flushed out of parts the troubled states, especially Borno.

However, the sect members reportedly regrouped and rearmed to launch serial attacks. They were said to have exploited Nigeria’s porous borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon around Lake Chad. According to reports, they sect members staged cross-border raids, killing and kidnapping using sophisticated weapons and spreading their operations more local council areas of Borno State. The state governor, Kassim Shettima, was even quoted while addressing some senators and military advisers in a confidential security meeting on May 7, as advocating a more proactive measure to tame the rampaging insurgents. A senator who was among the team reportedly said after the meeting with the governor: “What the governor said was frightening. He informed us there is a possibility that this state will be taken over by Boko Haram ... that they have the ability to do whatever they wanted here.”

One other factor said to be emboldened the Boko Haram is funding. There are still claims and counter-claims over the major sources of funds by the sect. Speculations were rife at the beginning that some northern political leaders were funding the sect. Besides, Boko Haram was is believed to have a strong  tie  with deadly Saharan Islamists like al Qaeda in parts of the Horn of Africa, thus providing the sect with giving the sect  access to funding and training. The group is currently under the leadership of  Abubakar Shekau, who leads heads four main members of his ‘Shura council’ -- Habibu Yusuk, Khalis Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Mohammed Zangina.

Antics of Boko Haram
The activities of Boko Haram have literarily tasked the energies of the authorities on the best option to contain the sect. The sect appears to evolve new strategies and tactics to carry out its nefarious operations against the state. Whereas its initial main modus operandi was on drive-by shootings and improvised explosives, it has since graduated to more devastating method that involved the use of highly sophisticated weapons. This is believed to be partly responsible for the effrontery of the sect members towards the olive branch offered by the president in the name of amnesty.

The sect leader, Shekau, arrogantly rejected the amnesty programme accepted by the president following passionate pleas from senior citizens and prominent groups in the country. Yet, the government has remained unwavering in its commitment to the programme in spite of scathing criticisms from some stakeholders in the Nigerian project.  “Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you [a] pardon,” Shekau said.

Splinter group
The emergence of a splinter group, the Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa) aggravated the security challenges. The United Kingdom categorized the group as a terrorist organisation with link to the dreaded al-Qaeda. It is believed to deploy dynamite to break into fortresses penetrate heavily-fortified compounds and taking foreigners hostage. Ansaru was formed in January 2012, though it rose to prominence only about six months later through the release of a video in which it vowed to attack  nationals of Western nations in defence of Muslims worldwide. “For the first time, we are glad to announce to the public the formation of this group that has genuine basis,” said a statement issued by the group in January 2012 and quoted in local media. We will have [a] dispassionate look into everything, to encourage what is good and see to its spread and to discourage evil and try to eliminate it.”

To prove how deadly the group was, the members allegedly killed a Briton and an Italian taken hostage in the North-Western State of Sokoto after a failed attempt to rescue them. Then in December 2012, it abducted French national Francis Colump, 63, after a successful attack on a compound in the Rimi, about 25km from Katsina city.

The operation was reportedly carried out by about 30 armed Ansaru members, who used dynamite to force their way into the compound and abducted Mr Colump who, officials, said, was working on a wind power project in February 2013. It also reportedly captured seven foreign nationals from a housing compound, claiming that the attack was to avenge “transgressions” by European nations in Mali and Afghanistan, where foreign forces were collaborating against Islamist insurgents.

In January 2013, Ansaru said it had carried out an attack which killed two Nigerian soldiers as they prepared to leave for the military operation in Mali. It said it was targeting the troops because the Nigerian military was joining the French-led military campaign to “demolish the Islamic empire of Mali”. Ansaru is led by the little-known Abu Ussamata al-Ansary.

While many are not disputing the necessity of the imposition of emergency rule in those states, their only area of disagreement is on the workability of the stricture adopted by the president. Some say there is the possibility of the few that may have scampered out of the Borno, Yobe and Adamawa corridor regrouping elsewhere and within the vast desolate areas in adjoining states to launch fresh attacks. This is because those areas are not covered by the seeming ‘martial law’ empowered security operatives under the emergency rule in the troubled states. But intelligence sources said all security agencies had been put on the alert to smoke out all trouble makers in any part of the country under a closely guided new operational directive. “There is no hiding place for anyone who may intend to further undermine the security of the country.,” one of the sources stated.   

In taking the decision to proclaim the emergency rule, the authorities would have weighed the numerous implications vis-a-vis the incalculable damage the Boko Haram sect had caused the country. This will include the real and imagined threats to the corporate existence of the country; the huge economic losses arising from the destruction of lives and properties by the sect members; dent on Nigeria’s image and other negative effects too numerous to imagine. Therefore, the option would have been for the Jonathan administration to act decisively on national interest and save the country from the brink, or to procrastinate and play along on the chess board of high wire politics.

Table of killings
•2002: Boko Haram founded
•2009: Hundreds killed when Maiduguri police stations were stormed
•2009: Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf captured by army, handed to police, later found dead
•Sep 2010: Freed hundreds of prisoners from Maiduguri jail
•Dec 2010: Bombed Jos, killing 80; blamed for New Year’s Eve attack on Abuja barracks
•2010-2011: Dozens killed in Maiduguri shootings
•May 2011: Bombed several states after president’s inauguration
•June 2011: Police HQ bombed in Abuja
•Aug 2011: UN HQ bombed in Abuja
•Nov 2011: Coordinated bomb and gun attacks in Yobe and Borno states
•Bombed luxury bus at Kano Motor park

Last modified on Thursday, 16 May 2013 12:18

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