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Akin Osuntokun: Boko Haram, BBOG and Buhari – Divided Nigeria stands

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Akin Osuntokun: Boko Haram, BBOG and Buhari – Divided Nigeria stands

by Akin Osuntokun

My sympathy goes to the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Mr Audu Ogbeh, an otherwise sober and reflective top Nigerian politician. He is normally a very careful and meticulous speaker and those who know him well will be surprised at the revelation he made concerning the association of the Chibok girls crisis activists, the BBOG group, with his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). More surprising still is the follow up denial of the factual quoted attribution.

“We send our greetings to the Chibok parents. We believe that one day they will be reunited with their children. We commend the Bring Back Our Girls movement led by members of our party for their commitment. They remain the only living witnesses that Nigeria still has a conscience,” said Ogbeh.

Ordinarily, if the connection he made between his political party and BBOG is true and the activists group have not themselves vehemently protested its association with any political power seeker, there would have been nothing wrong in gainfully claiming credit for the efforts of the group. Maybe not-as such colouration may challenge its non-partisan posturing and thereby corrode its credibility.

My inclination to believe Ogbeh’s Freudian slip may owe to my political bias but it is also highly probable that there exists a subterranean political manipulation of the group and that this knowledge is dispensed on a need to know the basis.

The problem with the APC is its abnegating penchant for self-contradiction. As it was advertising itself as a claimant to the success of any eventual resolution of the Chibok girls abduction crisis (through the proxy of the BBOG,) and in anticipation of a breakthrough in the efforts to secure the release of the girls; the party was at the same time issuing a panicky statement denigrating and devaluing the imminence of any such breakthrough as calculated to boost the political ratings of President Goodluck Jonathan.

This kind of ambivalence and ambiguity is best captured in the lyrics of the greatest reggae musician of all time, Bob Marley, under the title ‘I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love…It’s your love that I am waiting on; it’s your love that I am running from’….. The Jamaican Miss World of 1977, Cindy, was the object in view of this love solicitation and the good news was that she yielded positively to Mr. Marley’s cravings.

This characteristic blowing hot and cold is only the latest manifestation of the political ambivalence of APC towards the Boko Haram insurgency crisis. And the reason any Nigerian politician would be ambivalent towards the resolution of the insurgency crisis is its potential to assume the dimensions of overriding political utility.

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) or a pressure group of similar appellation alluded to this utility when it made the release of the abducted girls the precondition for the return of Jonathan in the forthcoming 2015 presidential election. If the chances of Jonathan’s re-election are tied to this breakthrough why then would the APC and its primary Muslim north constituency have any incentive to wish for such a resolution? Here lies the intractability of the crisis.

A lot of escapist sophistry has been wasted in characterising the Boko Haram savagery as apolitical…they should not be called terrorists; they are Robin Hood style freedom fighters; they are protesting the extra-judicial murder of their spiritual leader; they are religious purists and fanatics repulsed by the impiety, malfeasance and debauchery of the Nigerian ruling elite; they should be treated as the Niger Delta militants…

Notwithstanding these fanciful evasions, the truth is that Boko Haram remains a terrorist organisation and rarely would you find any such group that is not rooted in political grievance and objective. How much of the Al Qaeda global terror franchise would remain today were the Israeli/Palestinian/Arab conflict resolved to the satisfaction of the latter protagonists? Divulged of this core animus, I am not sure for how long the extrapolated larger casus-belli of alleged global marginalisation of Islam will survive.

As students of ‘War and Crisis’ studies and its subdivision of terrorism theories, we equally learnt that, organisationally, the scourge survives and endures only in those territories where it enjoys passive sanctuary.

To these two inferences should be added the post 9/11 phenomenon of globalisation of terror evangelism and proselytism-for any meaningful understanding of contemporary Boko Haram. I use the word contemporary to highlight the point that the insurgency has passed through several stages of evolution and the character and raison d’etre of the organisation in 2009 is vastly different from what it has become today.

My central argument here is that the intractability of the insurgency cannot be divested from an ideological and political history that provided a fertile ground for it to take root and fester. And that the makers of this history would not consider themselves as having a vested interest in the resolution of the Boko Haram-if it will result in boosting the re-elections chances of Jonathan. This history consists of the belief that Nigerian Muslims in general and the Muslim north in particular have suffered marginalisation since the advent of civilian rule in 1999.

The most rabid restatement of this history is contained in an interview granted to the Sunday Punch of 19th October by the Secretary-General of Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA), and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Professor Ishaq Oloyede. Such interviews will not only make thousands of Nigerian Muslim youths potential jihadists, it will equally serve as a great disincentive for any Boko Haram member thinking of laying down his arms.

If there was any moment that captured the onset of this history, it was the initiation of the Sharia crisis in 1999. From its humble beginnings in Governor Ahmad Sani Yerima’s scheme to employ and exploit Sharia populism as an instrument of fighting off the political intimidation of fellow Zamfara indigene, General Aliyu Gusau; it was hijacked and orchestrated to become the embodiment of the Muslim north’s anger and disenchantment with the newly established administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Is there any way of accounting for the Sharia crisis in Nigeria without reference to the role of General Mohammadu Buhari? I think not. It is indeed plausible to attribute the cult like followership Buhari persistently enjoys among the electorate of the Muslim north to the role he played during the Sharia crisis-it was the role of ‘We vs them’, of the demagogue; and resulted in the effect of uniting this sub-regional group behind him ready to do battle. It was this pedestal that provided the platform for his repeated presidential candidacy since 2003.

What, for instance, divisive political significance would you attribute to the following recall? At the peak of the violent upheaval wreaked by the Sharia crisis in 1999, there was a council of state meeting. At the end of the meeting, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar addressed the press and reported that the council had resolved that all the Sharia crisis affected states should revert to the status quo ante – to give room for the resolution of the impasse.

The intent and projected effect of this decision was to facilitate return to normalcy and calm in society. Later the same day, Gen. Buhari went on the BBC Hausa Service to accuse the vice-president of lying – and as Buhari probably intended, the immediate consequence of this denial was to add gasoline to the raging Sharia inferno. By what logic can we argue the contrary -that Buhari did not recognise the potential of his denial to worsen an already bad situation? Anybody interested in further evidence of this negative divisive role would be well attended by the internet archives.

To bolster this resume, the former military head of state went to address a quaranic recitation ceremony in Sokoto in 2001 where he entertained the obliging rapturous crowd with a typical belligerent defiance that ‘Muslims should vote for only those who would protect their religion’. What effect would it have on the country if an aspiring Christian denominated presidential candidate or former Nigerian head of state also went around saying Christians should vote only those who would protect their faith?

It is noteworthy that he didn’t advise his audience to vote for those who would fight corruption, who would develop the economy, who would unite the country. Now if you were an undeveloped young Muslim mind regularly listening to this persistent sermon of social and religious division from the leading opinion leader in your region what are your chances of defining your frustrations in the same manner as the simplistic Boko haram delinquents?

This sub-regional animus, of course, accelerated with the failed power rotation arrangement (of 2007) – predicated on the assumption that a serving president would live out his tenure and not succumb to precipitate exit.

The unambiguous implication of the spate of mutinies, treacheries and betrayals within the Nigeria army is that to a lesser or higher degree the country no longer enjoys the benefit of a united military. It also explains the relentless embarrassment and ridicule the Army has suffered in the fight against the insurgency – particularly after the Chibok abduction incident. Would the military be deemed less inherently unworthy were we to know that conniving officers were in the habit of arranging Boko Haram ambush of their own troops?

If we do not relish the slightest opportunity to condemn Jonathan, may be our eyes would sooner have opened to the reality of a nation at war with itself. Why would it take all of 18 days – as alleged, for the president to believe that the abduction was indeed for real? Did he receive information to the contrary from any authoritative channel and disregarded such?

Would a president’s decision be informed by any briefing other than those he received from the regular institutional channels of communication? If these channels had been compromised and infiltrated, does it make sense to suggest that maybe he was deliberately misled?

Let me end today’s submissions with a revealing quote from an American scholar, Professor Richard Joseph: “For a start, it has been unclear how Boko Haram is financed — and how much assistance it might be receiving from disaffected members of the northern Nigerian elite, as well as those holding government positions at the federal and state levels.”

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Akin Osuntokun/Thisday

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