Nigeria is a state at war. There’s no profit in continuing to deny it. There’s no point in sugarcoating the bitter, bloody fact.
The immediate war theaters are Abuja and Jos and a large swathe of the restive northeast of the country. On the face of it, the enemy is Boko Haram, that homicidal organism that’s determined to fundamentally remake Nigeria, substituting its faux western liberal values with an inflexible Islamist order.
To achieve its stated goal, Boko Haram is willing to bomb public motor parks, to slaughter sleeping school children in their beds, to bring carnage to people worshiping in churches, to ambush and kill soldiers and police officers, to abduct schoolgirls and forcibly convert them to Islam, and to carve out a widening space in Nigeria’s northeast where sheer anarchy reigns.
The three recent bombings in Jos are a chilling reminder that the monstrous virus of terror is capable of mutating and spreading, creating ever-wider arcs of unease, destruction, dread, and death.
I began by stating that Boko Haram is the chief enemy in Nigeria’s veritable war. I admit that this is, finally, a simplification. With the abduction of the “Chibok” girls as one of the most reported events in the global media over the last month or so, it’s become standard to name Boko Haram as the perpetrator of every shocking act of violence, even before the sect has claimed discredit.
Many Nigerians believe that what we call Boko Haram is not one organization but a buffet of different groups versed in the art of deploying violence to achieve their varied, often conflicting objectives. This is not to deny, of course, the continued existence and operation of the original Boko Haram with its agenda of Islamist triumphalism.
However, many Nigerians now contend that there is some Hausa-Fulani political machinery that masquerades as Boko Haram, but with the secular goal of bullying President Goodluck Jonathan into abandoning his desire to seek a second term as Nigeria’s president. This group, operating under the boutique name of Boko Haram, is deemed driven by the sordid idea of making Nigeria ungovernable until political power is ceded to a president of northern, Islamic identity.
There’s no question that many of Mr. Jonathan’s supporters on cyberspace find this conspiracy theory quite credible. On Facebook and twitter, they readily name names of major northern political figures and economic players who are supposedly funding or organizing Boko Haram’s attacks. These sponsors and spirits of Boko Haram, it is suggested by those who profess to have unmasked them, are able to get away with their treasonous acts because their high stature places them above the reach of Nigerian law and offers them virtual immunity from arrest and prosecution.
There’s another conspiracy theory inspired by the unchecked terror unleashed by Boko Haram. It’s the sense that the sect is backed, not necessarily by Al Qaeda or some Islamist nation with too much cash and an interest in sectarian expansion, but by the US and other western countries.
I got a new sense of the appeal of this conspiracy theory on a recent visit to New York City. A Nigerian I met pointed me to a report carried by numerous websites and apparently circulated in many forums to the effect that Boko Haram is a creation of the CIA. The long, meandering and questionable report attributed its source to cables leaked by Wikileaks. US intelligence analysts had stated some years ago that, by 2015, Nigeria was likely to face impossible tests to its corporate unity. The premise of the online report is that, far from just making projections based on Nigeria’s political realities, the US analysts had merely reflected their country’s ostensible agenda to catalyze Nigeria’s dismemberment.
I believe, above all, that Nigeria is at war with the ghosts of its history, with the monsters of its own creation. Those who point to a so-called northern agenda to make a Jonathan-run Nigeria hellish help, in my view, to make my point. Last week, I rebuked a fellow on Facebook for suggesting that President Jonathan knew the identities of those sponsoring Boko Haram, but had made the “cooler, calmer” decision to deal with them with some kind of Ijaw tact. Jonathan, I reminded him, was running a state, not an Ijaw village. The way a state deals with criminals—and those who sponsor violence against innocents are reprehensible criminals—is not to damn them with an Ijaw, Igbo or Yoruba proverb. It is to arrest and prosecute them.
Since Nigeria is at war, it behooves Mr. Jonathan—who must have access to more information than the rest of us—to unmask the antagonists. If he has solid evidence that some ex-heads of state, some serving or former public officials, are buying the guns and explosives with which Nigerians are killed, he is duty-bound to order law enforcement agents to arrest these financiers of terror. If he can’t or won’t get them arrested, then he would have unwittingly admitted two facts. One is that Nigeria is a fundamentally lawless space, a pretender nation, a space in which the biggest criminals are above the state and above the president. I have always argued that this is the case—else we would not have the names of so many criminals, so many money launderers and abusers of power, on Nigeria’s national “honor” roll or as members of the national confab. But it’s a different matter when the Nigerian president concludes that the state he presides over is fundamentally disordered. The other implication is that Mr. Jonathan is unable to live up to his oath of office.
The Nigerian presidency is nobody’s birthright. And nobody should ever be allowed to get away with slaughtering thousands of Nigerians as a strategy for claiming Aso Rock. That’s why I’m often exasperated with those who claim that the indiscriminate carnage in Nigeria is about terrorizing Jonathan to abandon his presidential ambition. I hope it’s not true, for the consequences of its being true are clear enough and dire. Nobody should be permitted to use the blood of thousands of Nigerians to buy or bluff his way to the country’s seat of power.
So, if Boko Haram is indeed sponsored by those who want to force Mr. Jonathan to retreat from running for reelection—and the incumbent lacks the spine to unmask, shame and try these tormentors of innocent Nigerians—then he might as well hand them the key to Aso Rock and repair to his natal home.
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