Azazi, Boko Haram, and the rest of us
Fri, 1 Jun, 2012
Two key issues – Boko Haram and allegations of corruption in the management of the fuel subsidy regime — continue to dominate social and political discourse in the country. Each of these two issues, it must be noted, demands focused attention and courage for prompt, decisive and sustainable closures. Unfortunately, as far as one can see, that is not happening. Of the two, the Boko Haram scourge is the one that poses immediate risk to lives and limbs especially in some parts of Nigeria where the sect is most active and its actions most deadly. This article, however, looks at the views that have been expressed on the origins and motivation of Boko Haram as a terrorist sect in Nigeria. Such an exercise is in order given the furore that greeted the National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi’s recent speech that linked Boko Haram’s campaign of terror directly to the abandonment of the zoning policy by elements of the Peoples Democratic Party. The crux of this argument is that a South-South Presidency which Goodluck Jonathan represents amounts to a going-back on a zoning formula agreement that regulated the selection of persons for elective positions in the PDP. Azazi’s thesis is that a section of the country is unhappy with this abandonment of zoning and with Jonathan’s victory. This section is then using the Boko Haram sect to show its displeasure, to pile political pressure, distract and rattle the administration. In short, Boko Haram is believed to be politics through other means.
Since the speech by the General, there has been a flood of opinions and counter opinions by Nigerians on the real origins and motives of the sect. Opinions expressed ranged from those which see Boko Haram as purely religious extremism gone mad, to those which see it as a bunch of people protesting government’s failure, and then to those which support the views in one form or the other. These views are herewith analysed, and based purely on inferences from observed activities of the sect and statements attributed to it, one would try to come up which a view one hopes is detached and objective.
From my understand, there are about three different models of Boko Haram, each of which is being canvassed by persons with differing political agenda. The first view is that which sees Boko Haram as a bunch of religious fanatics and extremists running wild. In this view of Boko Haram is simply religious bigotry backed up with violence. In this model, the sect comes across as a group of religious extremists, the Nigerian version of the Taliban which will stop at nothing until Islamic governance is imbibed and forcibly enforced in swathes of the country. The move to institutionalise Sharia practice in some states of the North is seen as reflecting the growing appeal of governance run along Islamic doctrine to a growing percentage of the population in parts of the country. Such a view is quick to point out Boko Haram’s claimed repudiation of anything western and its targeting of objects and symbols of Christianity in its bombings and killing campaign as convincing proof for its position. Indeed, it can be argued that it was the radical pursuit of such an agenda which necessarily brought Boko Haram in conflict with the law, and with consequences we all now know very well. Apologists for this religious extremist-view of Boko Haram are quick to point out that it was the callous mismanagement of this first conflict with the law that converted the sect from a peaceful religious extremist one to a militant one, anxious to avenge the extrajudicial killings of its members.
The second view, and perhaps, the most flattering of Boko Haram is that which presents it as a group crusading for social justice and as jihadists fighting a corrupt and uncaring state. The National Chairman of the PDP, Bamanga Tukur, was reported to have alluded to this recently when he said that it was fighting injustice, whatever that means! This view seeks to locate the driver for Boko Haram violence in the seething resentment of the downtrodden, the poor, the marginalised and excluded. Boko Haram is therefore seen as the offshoot of, and reaction to, non-inclusive policies and politics which have deprived millions of northerners the rights to the minimum conditions of decency. This view of Boko Haram has been very actively canvassed by some northern politicians anxious to lend some dignity to the sect. Such a position is also politically expedient for these politicians who are anxious to exploit the sect’s campaign (described as “insurgency”) and use it as proof of government failure. Such people are very quick to flash the very poor showing of the north on a number of indicators of human development as proof of protracted government neglect of the region. Arguments such as these conveniently overlook the fact that pockets of intense poverty exist in all parts of the country. They fail to point out that, with the noticeable exception of conflicts in the Niger Delta, no other group (religious or ethnic) from these poverty-ridden areas has abandoned itself to a campaign of carnage and sheer terror of the size and sophistication that Boko Haram has unleashed on Nigeria.
The third school of thought is the one by Azazi which maintains that Boko Haram is nothing else but politics through other means, of which a campaign of terror is one. In this view, politicians from a section of the country who are upset with the Jonathan Presidency are the hidden hands that fuel, direct and use Boko Haram. After all, all is fair in war and politicians will go to all lengths to create conditions that would make it easy for them to get to power. This view, which was part of the bombshell that the National Security Adviser released at a recent conference in Asaba is very disturbing for a number of reasons. These include the timing as well as the location of the speech. I am naïve in matters of national security but I do not think that matters of such gravity should have been disclosed at a public forum, except if the intention was to rattle the leadership of the sect with a public disclosure that the apparatus of state security was finally on to them. Such matters are best presented at closed meetings of the national security team given their very highly sensitive nature. I also do not believe that a national security adviser would make such weighty statements without evidence, and I am therefore inclined to believing that the General has evidence from intelligence agencies to back up his claims. I also want to believe that Azazi is leading a joined-up action based on this intelligence to systematically degrade Boko Haram and thereby reduce its operational capacity in the shortest possible time. Giving the President objective and dispassionate advice on all matters that touch on the security of the country is the job the NSA was hired for, and he will be remembered by how well he does this. Reductions in the level of insecurity and in acts of terror are thus certainly important outcome indicators for him. Whilst he pursues that assignment with vigour, lay persons like me will continue to learn how to lie low and to exercise the greatest vigilance. We will continue to pray to God to touch the hearts of the violent and those who kill in His name, those who claim to be crusaders for justice whilst their real underlying motives are to push ethnic and political agenda using a sacred religion as a camouflage.
•Ihebuzor, an international development worker, wrote in from Dar E salaam, Tanzania, via email@example.com: Twitter: @naitwton