Jonathan, Boko Haram And The War Within By Azubuike Ishiekwene
Regardless of what President Goodluck Jonathan’s government would have us believe, Nigeria is losing the war against Boko Haram.
Days after the chief of defence staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, took over in January 2014, he vowed to end the Boko Haram onslaught by April. He had barely finished speaking when gunmen struck, killing 75 people in separate attacks in the north-eastern states of Borno and Adamawa – two of the three states that have become the hotbed of the terrorists’ killing spree. The defence chief ate the humble pie and promptly disavowed setting any deadline to end the killings.
Since then, Boko Haram has carried out a slew of other attacks, including two high-profile ones in the country’s capital, Abuja, both within two weeks. The most outrageous attack yet by Boko Haram was the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their dormitory on April 14, hours after a bus station was bombed in Abuja, killing 75 people. About 230 of those girls, who went to school to take their final high school exams, are still missing and eight more were abducted on Monday.
It’s no use asking what President Jonathan is doing about it. It took him three weeks to speak up about the abducted girls and, since then, his wife and aides have been helping to talk him into more trouble.
Boko Haram predates Jonathan, but, in his four years of being in charge, the insurgency has escalated, defying two perfunctory purges of the military high command after a series of high profile bombings including an attack on the UN building in Abuja and another attack on a church on the outskirts of Abuja on Christmas Day. Both attacks in 2011 claimed over 50 lives. In the aftermath of these attacks, many government buildings in the capital, including the Police Headquarters – also target of an earlier attack – were barricaded and checkpoints mushroomed.
If the capital had any respite at all, it is unclear whether it was because of the barricades and checkpoints. What is clear, however, is that a huge chunk of the country has been in a virtual state of unrelenting war.
The attacks have raised fresh questions about the moribund closed-circuit television cameras installed in Abuja two years ago to fight crime. If the cameras, installed by the government at a cost of $470million to help secure the capital, have been vandalised and left unattended, it’s easy to understand why most of the country is vulnerable.
The escalating terror attacks have also raised questions about police funding and the capacity of other state institutions, including the judiciary, to deal with what is obviously a new monstrosity.
It is ironic that while the police budget is shrinking, the security vote, which runs into hundreds of millions of dollars, shared monthly by the president and governors of Nigeria’s 36 states, including those afflicted by insurgency, remains intact. While poor funding hampers the police, a number of judges, for fear of their own safety, are wary of trying suspected terrorists.
Boko Haram has transformed significantly from the small angry mob of machete-wielding youths assembled by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 to Islamise Nigeria. Yusuf’s extra judicial killing in 2009 radicalised the group under Abubakar Shekau, forcing it underground. By the time it re-emerged a few years later, it had mutated into a murderous group with an agenda beyond creed.
The most dramatic turning point, however, was the ousting of Mouammar Gaddafi. His downfall left the entire Sahel region awash with deadly arms, and vermin from his shattered regime looking for new hosts.
They seem to have found a new haven in Mali, Chad and Cameroon, creating what is clearly the most dangerous Boko Haram franchise along Nigeria’s border towns in the north-east.?If the estimated cost of doing the entire US-Mexico border of about 3,169Km is $22.4billion, then what Nigeria really needs to fence and secure the total length of her land borders of 4,047 is about $28.61billion. But in a country where $20billion is lost in a minister’s headgear, corruption will not allow the government to invest in physical infrastructure or soft power, which is at the heart of modern conflict management.
Inter-agency cooperation has been lacking and Jonathan’s ambivalence has, until now, left foreign governments in a quandary about exactly how to lend a hand. It is an irony that the US, widely accused – though wrongly – of predicting that Nigeria will break up in 2015, is now leading the international effort to rescue our girls and save the country from a catastrophic threat.
In a moment of exasperation two years ago, Jonathan said he suspected that his government might have been infiltrated by Boko Haram. Whether the country has been brought to its knees by the enemies within, or whether corruption and poor leadership have enfeebled the government’s response, it is frighteningly clear that this is a war for the country’s very life.
The major fault lines – religion and ethnicity – have rebounded in their most vicious forms, blurring the government’s ineptitude, corruption and worsening poverty, which remain the underlying problems across much of the country.
With general elections less than one year away, it remains to be seen how Jonathan will surmount his lame-duck phase and rally the country back from the brink.
(This article first published on March 7, has been updated, for the worse)
Governors Find A New Toy
A number of years ago, before I became a frequent traveller on the Lagos-Abuja route, there was hardly a trip on this route that I didn’t see a state governor on the plane or at the lounge. That has changed. In the last three years during which I have commuted this route an average of two times a month, I have not seen one governor either on the plane or at the lounge.
I was trying to figure out what the matter was when a friend reminded me that the governors have moved up. Most of them own private jets, charter, or have friends who own jets, an industry that has rocketed from an annual turnover of around N6billion five years ago to about N15billion today. Commercial flights are out of fashion and luxury toy jets are in. Petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who has been accused of spending N10billion on private jets, may not be in bad company after all. Lord have mercy.
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