Over a month ago, news of the unspeakable abduction of over a hundred girls in Chibok, a small town in Borno state, which is in the northern part of Nigeria, hit the world. As events unraveled, that figure increased to 276- as reported by the mainstream media. These adolescent girls who were taking their final secondary school examinations (aka WAEC), were kidnapped and taken away to an unknown location.
This abduction is in every sense a new disturbing tactic in Boko Haram’s operations, which has generated contentious debates that are far-reaching in global circles. There is widespread skepticism about the true number of girls that were abducted, and doubts as to how they were transported, unnoticed by state agents. In some circles (both offline and online) discourses have tended to draw on hidden motives about this whole episode. Some blame the West for planning to destabilize Nigeria. Others believe it is the work of Nigeria’s President Jonathan Goodluck’s political rivals- the neo-colonial elite, who many believe to be corrupt and power hungry. Another school of thought suggests that Boko Haram has a bigger plan, and the Chibok incident is merely a distraction to unleash a greater terror. Yet others have concluded that this abduction never happened, but rather is a politicized and constructed/deliberate conspiracy theory. Whatever conclusion is reached, it is glaringly obvious that Nigeria can no longer adopt the same reactive stance toward this terrorist group.
State Failure vs. Jungle Justice
There have been other disturbing incidents immediately following the abductions. One of these is the clash between suspected Boko Haram members and the Rann villagers in Borno State. Due to the inadequacy of state responses to this crisis, citizens are now stepping in to take the law into their hands. The Daily Trust newspaper on the 13th May 2014, reported that over 200 Boko Haram insurgents were killed, as part of a grassroots resistance movement when the terrorist group was attempting to strike.[i] This phenomenon of responding to perceived or real social disorder, also known as ‘jungle justice,’ is quite common in Nigeria. It is however risky to allow this mode of retribution to continue, as precedents like the ALU4 and witch-hunting, where suspected criminals were killed in the cruelest way imaginable.[ii] It is a rampant phenomenon, which is creating another mode of insecurity in Nigeria.
Going back to the clash between the Rann villagers and Boko Haram insurgents, it is not surprising that security operatives never arrived at the scene. Whether their arrival would have been of any significance or not is another argument entirely, however the timely arrival of security operatives may have resulted in the capture of a Boko Haram insurgent, who could have been interrogated to give details on the location of the girls. Yemisi Ilesanmi observed in her blog post on Boko Haram, #bringbackourgirls and conspiracy theories, media and the mess called Nigeria, that the governor of Borno state; Kashim Shettima has an annual security allocation for training, equipment and salary of the security agents, yet, the state security is still in a deplorable condition.[iii] This begs the question of effective governance.
Aside the “jungle justice” phenomenon, are the known militant groups such as Bakassi boys, Arewa, Odudua People Congress (OPC), and so on. These groups are known for ruthless anti-crime vigilantism. Sometimes they add to state of insecurity themselves through numerous inter-group and anti-police clashes. Government has nevertheless recognized these groups and at times solicits their helps. It is worth noting however that these groups have remained silent on the Boko Haram attacks for the most part. Recently however, the Arewa group in the Northern hemisphere of Nigeria accused the military of rendering support to Boko Haram. Since both internal and external efforts by the governments have failed to produce desirable results in locating and rescuing the girls, a new group comprising of Nigeria hunters have stepped in to help. Carrying their local weapons and charms; the hunters have declared war on Boko Haram. I am however apprehensive of this move because given the kind of sophisticated weapons at the disposal of the Boko Haram sect, these hunters may end up suffering considerable losses. However, if the intervention of these grassroots actors can assist security operatives in locating and rescuing the girls, especially given their native knowledge of the environment, this might be help well rendered.
Boko Haram and the questionable human security condition in Nigeria
The insurgent group (Boko Haram) was established in 2002, to propagate the teaching of Islam. It has plagued Nigeria for over five years, and has now become stronger, exerting more authority and unleashing untold terrors on Nigerian’s citizens. The group however earned its infamous reputation in 2009 when a clash between members of Boko Haram and ‘Operation flush’ squad (a joint military and police squad, meant for armed robbery and control of other crimes) started off the skirmishes. Prior to that clash, Boko Haram had been carrying out minor operations (not of great magnitude), for which a security operative was designated to investigate their activities especially with regards to the possession of weapons. Eventually, the crackdown operation ordered by the late president Yar’adua led to the killing of more than 700 Boko Haram members. After this unfortunate incident, Boko Haram retaliated and this led to the death of some police officers. A counter-attack resulted in the subsequent arrest of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf. However, instead of the police prosecuting Mohammed Yusuf, he was summarily executed whilst under police custody. Aljazeera screened a documented report of Northerners who were summarily killed by the police,[iv] which enraged many who witnessed the arbitrary use of force by the state security. This generated sympathy and concern for the safety of ordinary people within the state. Abubuakar Shekau (the current Boko Haram ‘leader’) – who assumed leadership at the demise of Mohammed Yusuf – went all out to start a war. Under Shekau, Boko Haram became more radical, proclaiming Westernization malevolent and Islamization of Nigeria, benevolent and acceptable to Allah. Due to extreme poverty, unemployment, and numerous socio-political injustices and inequalities, Boko Haram was successful in recruiting from the youth population, many of whom are desperately seeking more hopeful circumstances, and/or looking for ways to express their grievances. Combined with political grievances felt by Boko Haram members’, religion became a tool of discontent.
Over 2,000 lives have been lost with numerous casualties recorded, and more than 2,000 children are out of school for fear of losing their lives. There are thousands of other citizens, displaced and homeless, which has lead to an influx of refugees into neighbouring countries- where the Boko Haram influence is also present. These countries are Niger, Chad and Cameroun. It is becoming irrelevant also whether one is a Muslim, a Christian, a Traditionalist or an Atheist, Boko Haram strikes anyone considered the enemy, or anyone unfortunate enough to be present when the insurgent group decides to send a message to the Nigerian government. Some of the factors that encourage this state of mayhem to grow are the level of impunity, corruption, poverty, and lack of protection of human rights and human security in Nigeria. In addition, the Nigerian government has continuously demonstrated a lack of capacity to curtail and contain violent uprisings. This is not for a lack of solutions but perhaps a lack of foresight. What we continue to see instead is the polarization and politicization of events like these attacks.
The state of emergency transformation to Boko Haram insurgency
In the 2013 Ibrahim Governance Index, Nigeria scored 43.4%[v] when criteria such as safety and rule of law, participation in human rights, human development and sustainable economy opportunity were assessed. This criterion may appear questionable if further scrutiny is placed on how the index is measured. However, the present state of affairs in Nigeria does not debunk this as inaccurate, but rather authenticates it. There is no record of any effective mechanism in place to address the gravest problems hounding the country. This is where the problem with institution building and transformation of governance of security in Nigeria lies. Now that the Boko Haram issue has become complex, is it really devoid of lasting solutions? I would think there are several steps to take in order to address this pressing problem. There are both short and long-term solutions.
On short-term solutions, foreign intervention is already evident, with the US sending its surveillance planes, among other things. It is no secret however that often, ‘foreign intervention’ very often does not end well, and comes with its own agenda further engendering situations and endangering more lives. However, my foremost concern is the absence of the regional organizations i.e African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the scene. What is the function of the ECOWAS early warning system, especially because the organization is headquartered in Nigeria and given its commitment to African security? One would expect that system to deliver on its early warning obligations. Part of the early warning system, which is to observe and monitor sub-regional peace and security indicators, is silent.
There is also the AU standby force which one would expect to function and attempt to help Nigeria out of this mess. But the standby force is not standing by Nigeria to take the frontline in providing African solutions to African problems, which is leaving foreign intervention as the only viable option. With the presence of the foreign helpers in Nigeria, will the government negotiate the terms and condition of this engagement to ensure it does not go bad and create more problems than the help it promises to provide?
Another effort that the Nigerian government can tailor to effective purpose is to empower the hunter groups who have already pledged their assistance to the government for future efforts in sniffing out Boko Haram locations. Most of these hunters are believed to have registered weapons in compliance with the directive of the state, to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The hunter group can be monitored and supported for a short-term alliance with the government, which can potentially be quite positive.
Furthermore, peace and security expert and scholar Dr. Funmi Olonisakin, in her forward thinking analysis of the Boko Haram mishap in Nigeria on BBC interview[vi] advised on the need for drastic change in leadership conception and approach to security in Africa. To that effect, workable long term-solutions are inclusive of intelligence operations that are owned and controlled by the Nigerian government. These intelligence operations should be established via painstaking thorough investigations aimed at preventing future calamities. Another way is through transformation of the security sector. Effective training and instillation of discipline is needed in citizen protection and not citizen exploitations and butchery. The Nigerian military and police forces are notorious for arbitrary conduct of exploitation and extra-judicial killings of Nigerians. This unscrupulous behaviour is playing out in the way they have been handling the Boko haram situation for years. For sustainable peace to be achieved, this has to stop.
A mid to long-term solution will involve containing and ending Boko Haram activities using a psychotherapy approach i.e training of police in cognition and providing cognitive behavior therapy to Boko Haram captured members. This is apart from the need for governance accountability, political institution reform, security sector reform, provision of basic amenities and education, job creation and civil programmes to curtail religious bigotry. The psychotherapy approach will ensure understanding of the psychology behind Boko Haram viewpoints. It will encourage the government to start looking into cognition of behaviour and mindsets, and then effort can be made to design cognitive programmes to address this. This conflict transformation strategy will be essential in the long run.
In conclusion, simply shooting and killing Boko Haram insurgents will not bring about lasting solutions. Lasting solutions lie in effective service provision, where citizen cease to languish in abject poverty in a country blessed with unprecedented wealth. It is my belief that fewer people will turn to religion (particularly fundamentalist forms of religion) for consolation if there is massive hope in a system that ensures their security and development.
Toyin Ajao is a Peace and Conflict doctoral fellow and an assistant lecturer at the University of Pretoria. She is also an alumnus of the Africa Leadership Centre, King’s College London and Obafemi Awolowo University. Her research focus includes: human security, conflict transformation, citizen journalism and gender and sexual rights.