The Boko Haram Challenge

It is a truism that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. Even my children in primary school know this. This is the reason why the Nigerian government is rightly blamed by the people who, despite government’s effort, complain and criticize Nigeria’s President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for what they perceive as pervading poverty and insecurity in the land. This is also the reason why in response, Mr. President and the men and women by whom he is surrounded have been relentless in reeling out facts and figures on what they claim the government has been doing to ‘make Nigeria a better place’ – as the cliché goes – for its citizenry and nationals.

The effort here is not to mark or give a score card to Mr. President on this issue, but rather, one feels forced to draw Mr. President’s attention to the fact that at the foundation of the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the never-to-be-compromised duty to ensure that Nigeria remains one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign State governed or controlled only by organs, authorities and persons specified by the Constitution.

By no fault of Mr. President’s, Boko Haram has turned out to be the worst security challenge of this country since the civil war era. I do not have intelligent or empirical materials on the factors responsible for the emergence of “Boko Haram”, and I will therefore refrain from making any categorical statement on the issue. I’d rather discuss the subject of Boko Haram as a problem or crisis that must be tackled with the spirit of one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state and be quickly resolved for the security and welfare of the people.

Philosophers have very caustic way of presenting truths. Because they tell their stories with no emotions, they sometimes scare the majority of us from listening to them and perhaps take necessary cues from them. Take for instance, Thomas Hobbes and his Leviathan postulations. Standing on his thesis that nothing could be worse than life without state protection, Hobbes expended a lot of energy on rationalizing people’s behavior. According to him, just like “an object will eternally be in motion unless somewhat stays it” so is human behavior. And like a warning against the over reliance on state power to respond to internal petty threats or distractions, Hobbes said that “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others.”

God forbid Boko Haram should be the proverbial small axe. But it is expedient that this problem is solved before 2015. As causes are to disease, so is motive to crisis of this nature. In the thinking of Hobbes, human beings are motivated by three reasons to attack somebody else in a state: for gain, for safety, and for glory or reputation. I agree. If these be signposts to the heart of Boko Haram, I urge President GEJ to explore them.

Mr. President need not be reminded, and I am certain that he knows, that he was voted into government to keep Nigeria as one, to provide security and promote the welfare of the people of Nigeria. Security and welfare are not paired by accident. Commonsense will tell that there would not be welfare of any kind without security and that without the two, the legitimacy of government as sanctioned by the polls is eroded and weakened. The entire state project will collapse and the country will be exposed to the elements should the security and welfare of the people be eroded or depleted. The effect of this can be evaluated by a quick look at Somalia next door.

Far back in 2006 I had warned that “I see anarchy creeping into the polity and I am fearful that the reality of the past undemocratic years is starring us in the face. We need to be vigilant and recruit real political armies against those bent on having their way at all cost. Nigeria cannot afford to shatter in the manner of Somalia. The implications are too grave and I do not want to imagine them.” I am more than happy to note that my fears then were unfounded. This is however not to say that there is no reason for me to remind President GEJ that history will judge him kindly or harshly in accordance with the way he handles the current security situation in the country.

The majority’s stance on the debate as to whether or not Government should negotiate with Boko Haram is an emphatic ‘no’. The majority is always right. But can somebody define to us the colouration of this negotiation? I am optimistic that a creative and more expansive work on this motion may have a swinging effect. For now, Boko Haram is a complex mix of those who are in it for gain, malice, distrust, vengeance, destruction, vain glory and reputation. A plenary attack on this complex mix will mean the government spreading wide and thin.

The unconvincing excuse that Boko Haram is faceless should be jettisoned for the good and welfare of Nigerians. The integrity of the fight against Boko Haram can be immensely lowered by such polemical arguments. Anyways it is President GEJ’s business to know them.

Mr. President also needs to free himself from persecution complex. The philosophy of the response to Boko Haram must be expanded beyond shaming those who want to weaken his government. We have seen the disaster of that narrow philosophy in the Kano rally the day after the Nyanya massacre. Mr. President should demonstrate brainy and not brawny strength in a matter that has taken this country to the edge of a precipice. Mr. President cannot be fighting two different wars — the war against imaginary enemies and the one against the terrorists who seem bent on dismembering this country.

We have waited for too long for Mr. President to push back the terrorists to those countries known to be providing them ramps, levers and covers. Nigeria has spent too much on ECOWAS for some ECOWAS countries to turn around and pay it with such infernal coins. Cameroon should not be allowed to sleep the moment it is known to be failing in its duty to be a good neighbor to Nigeria. Cameroon should be made to know that Bakassi is only a Cameroonian territory on paper but a Nigerian land in reality. Ditto for Niger, Mali and Chad.

I have noticed with eternal thankfulness the level of maturity with which the rest of Nigeria has been responding to Boko Haram. The Christians have displayed Christianity in their response to Boko Haram. They have sidestepped the religious slant to Boko Haram and have responded with calm and pious understanding. I am also encouraged by the professionalism of the Police and other security agencies drafted to tackle Boko Haram. The Inspector General of Police has won my admiration with the way and manner he has been able to take the ‘Boko Haram’ away from the media as much as possible. This reduces the pressure and provides the security agencies with clearer minds to respond to Boko Haram.

In urging President GEJ to have a second look at Boko Haram and strive to buy for himself more respected space in history, I want him to know that Boko Haram is not a northern problem or a problem for northerners. He should see the contributions of northern leaders as genuine efforts by Nigerians to resolve a Nigerian problem. By no peculiar fault of it, the north has become the theatre but Mr. President is under oath to provide security and welfare all peoples of Nigeria irrespective of where they live. Yes we all have neighbor to neighbor responsibility but the President of this great country has a national duty to spread his eagle wings across the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital territory.

Written by
Sam Kargbo
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