Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Pandemonium in Nigeria

There has been chaos and confusion in the Nigerian cities of Kano and Maiduguri as Boko Haram carried out a series of suicide bombings, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The terrorism splurge in impoverished northern Nigeria has piled up the country’s national debt at a time when the price of oil, the West African nation’s principal export and foreign exchange earner, is fast tumbling down. Nigeria is by far Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s largest economy. Yet, the credibility of the country as a bulwark against political instability in Africa has plummeted.

The Jamaat Ahl Al-Sunna Lil-Daawa wal-Jihad (Society Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad), popularly known as Boko Haram (Western Education is Forbidden), has this week proven to be an almost invincible force. And the Nigerian government and military and security apparatus have been caught napping precisely at the moment when Boko Haram is stepping up its terrorist activities.

The Nigerian authorities’ angst as far as Boko Haram terrorism is concerned looks like a mask for two concerns, however, one worthier than the other. The more lamentable one is the Nigerian military and security forces’ inability to cope with the spate of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. The militant Islamist terrorist movement in a torrent of terrorist suicide bombings has instilled fear into the hearts of Nigerians at some cost to the Nigerian authorities’ reputation and much to the government’s displeasure. 

Another good reason for worrying about Boko Haram is that it is now spreading its tentacles beyond the confines of provincial backwaters and striking in the heart of the country’s metropolises. The murder in cold blood of innocent Muslims praying in the Central Mosque in the city of Kano on Friday is a prime example of Boko Haram’s barbarity and ruthlessness. It is hard to see how the Nigerian government of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) could forestall further Boko Haram strikes before Nigeria’s 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Nigerian metropolis of Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, is also the economic hub of the country’s Sahelian belt. The Nigerian military understands that a well-handled strategy to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency could provide a chance to reinvigorate its upper ranks. 

The Emir of Kano, Mohamed Sanusi II, one of Nigeria’s most important Muslim traditional rulers, on Saturday said that Nigeria’s Muslims would “not be intimidated into abandoning Islam.” Muslims as well as Christians have become the target of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram.

“From all the indications, [the attackers] have been planning this for at least two months,” Sanusi said in Hausa, the dominant language in northern Nigeria. How the emir of Kano came to this conclusion was not explained, and the Nigerian media failed to ask him to elaborate on his statement.

The palace of the emir is a stone’s throw away from the targeted Central Mosque. “I have directed that the Mosque be washed and cleaned and prayers should continue,” Sanusi said, who promptly flew back to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the bombings. The emir, one of the highest-ranking Muslim personalities in Nigeria and West Africa, is privy to secret information. He is a sovereign of tremendous political acumen and is highly respected throughout Nigeria’s political establishment.

Hundreds had gathered on Friday in the historic Mosque, one of the country’s largest and most venerated. Boko Haram’s desecration of this sacred site is proof that the terrorist movement does not distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims. Indeed, to date, most of Boko Haram’s victims have been Nigerian Muslims.

The ideology of Boko Haram is hard to comprehend. The merit of the militant Islamist movement in some Muslim Nigerian eyes is to focus attention on the underdevelopment and poverty of northern Nigeria. Boko Haram sprang from the sense among many Muslims in the region that they have been betrayed. Yet, the movement’s atrocities have alienated it from most Nigerian Muslims. More than 150 people were killed in Kano last week, and almost all of them were Muslim.

The worst villainies are possible once Boko Haram has dehumanised its opponents. In Kano, at least 300 people were wounded in the attack, which saw two suicide bombers blow themselves up and gunmen open fire during prayers in the city’s Central Mosque. Kano State acting police chief Sanusi Lemu told journalists that three of the attackers were grabbed and killed by an enraged mob. Boko Haram is now being vilified by Nigerian Muslims as traitors to true Islam, bombing Muslim religious landmarks as well as Christian churches.

The public fights between Nigerian politicians and the constant unravelling of political scandals in the country have all served the cause of Boko Haram, and the militant Islamist movement has been enlisting fresh recruits. However, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed on Saturday to hunt down those behind the attack and bring them to book. With his nation’s sprawling north now scowling and paranoid, his political fortunes and that of the ruling party now hang in the balance.

Even as Jonathan’s head was hung in sorrow, he urged his compatriots “not to despair in this moment of great trial in our nation’s history.” Nigerians must “remain united to confront the common enemy,” Jonathan’s statement read. But whether his words have changed the nation’s melancholy mood is not yet clear.

Jonathan, a southerner and a Christian from the oil-rich Niger Delta, was visibly shaken when a former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, and seven state governors abruptly walked out of a convention of the ruling PDP in open rebellion against his leadership last year. Ominously, the state governors were mainly Muslims from northern Nigeria.

The world was also alarmed by the violence. The Kano and Maiduguri attacks were condemned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the Kano suicide bombings “horrific” and pledged UN support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism. He likewise called for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.

The need for greater transparency in the Nigerian war on terrorism is today more urgent than ever. The public fury is palpable. In the aftermath of the Kano bombings, hundreds of indignant youths took to the streets rioting, brandishing weapons and hurling insults at security officials.

The fact that the international media gave attention to the mob justice is a natural reaction to Boko Haram’s outrages. According to the international human rights group Amnesty International, more than 1,500 people, mainly Muslims, have been killed this year in Boko Haram attacks. Washington’s position on the subject has been ambiguous. Unlike in the so-called Islamic State’s public beheading of Americans, Boko Haram has not yet posed a direct threat to America’s interests.

Former Nigerian military strongman general Yakubu Gowon has criticised the United States for refusing to sell Nigeria weapons, including cobra helicopters, in order for it to step up its war on terror and bring Boko Haram to book. Gowon argued that the cobras were ideal for hunting down terrorist insurrectionists such as those in Boko Haram.

Another former senior member of the Nigerian military establishment, the former governor of the northern Nigerian predominantly Muslim Kaduna State, colonel Abu Bakr Omar, concurred with Gowon. Omar lambasted Washington for “turning a blind eye to what is happening in Nigeria”.

In spite of its condemnation of Western education, Boko Haram retains a taste for the West’s weapons. The tacit complicity of the US in the insurrection is suspected by many in Nigeria, including diplomats and policy-makers. Taking a swipe at Washington’s Nigeria policy, Gowon insinuated that the US secretly supported Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s religious edicts incite violence that is transforming not only the sleepy countryside of the northern Nigerian states, but also its bustling cities. The Kano suicide bombings exposed the city’s open wounds and its vulnerability to terrorists. The bomb blast on Monday that rocked the provincial metropolis of Maiduguri, the capital of Bornu State, was equally shocking. At least 50 people were feared dead, and scores were injured, and fears are mounting of a terrorist attack in neighbouring Bauchi State.

Exactly how the Nigerian military positions itself against Boko Haram remains a mystery. Rumours are rife about possible army and security forces’ collusion with the Boko Haram bandits. Nigerian troops are known to have fled before the approach of the terrorists. Bauchi, for instance, is one of the northern Nigerian states where Boko Haram has engaged in running battles with the law-enforcement agencies and where soldiers have deserted the army in droves.

Boko Haram leader Abu Bakr Shekau has garnered many followers and cultivated a Robin Hood-like cult of personality. “Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath,” Shekau has boasted in a widely circulated video on the Internet, much to the consternation of the Nigerian military who had claimed that they had killed him.

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