How Boko Haram manipulate politics and religion in Nigeria to further its cause

Boko Haram has issued a notice to five communities in Borno to leave

This is not the best of times for Nigerians in the hands of the deadly Islamic terrorist group-Boko Haram in the North-East, armed bandits in the North-West, Fulani herders in the North-Central, militants in the South-South, kidnappers in the South-East and parts of the north and secessionists in the South-East.

The country can be said to be in a state of war and if drastic measures are not taken, it can plunge the entire nation and the sub-region into a catastrophe.

However, of all the security threats mentioned, the one that poses an existential threat to the country and which has attracted both local and international attention, is the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.

The European Parliament, the legislative branch of the European Union, says there has not been progressing in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. The parliament made this remark in its resolution of January 16, 2020. 

Certainly, it looks like the terrorist group is trying to whip up religious sentiments between Christians and Muslims to achieve its ignoble aim which it failed since 2009 when it declared war against the secular state of Nigeria.

Just within a week, three Christians were brutally murdered by the group in Borno, including CAN Chairman of Michika LGA, Rev Andimi, who was beheaded on 20th January. The news has left many, especially Christians and the immediate families devastated. This is not even to talk of the beheading of 11 Christians on Christmas day by the group, leaving many to imagine the fate of other hostages in their custody, most of whom are Christians and of Plateau state origin. Also, Boko Haram has been notorious in 2019 for the killing of several aide workers, security personnel and ordinary citizens.

Meanwhile, it is worth studying, the sudden change of tactics by the deadly Islamic State-backed Boko Haram. A chronicle of tactics they employed since the fight began could point to the direction they are going.

They initially started by attacking Nigerians who did not support them, and then to attacking churches in major Nigerian cities. This was a deliberate act to pitch Christians against ‘moderate Muslims’ (who are perhaps in the majority among Nigerian Muslims). For instance, at the height of church bombings by the group, a Pentecostal Church and one belonging to ECWA was attacked in Kaduna-a hotbed of religious crisis in Nigeria. This happened on a Sunday. The attacks left several Christians dead and there was tension in the north. Then surprisingly on the following Friday, in the commercial city of Kano, a bomb was discovered at the Central mosque where thousands of Muslims were about to say the Jumat prayers. Fortunately, the disaster didn’t happen, for if it had, the interpretation would have been that Christians planted the bomb as a revenge for the Kaduna attacks and that could have sparked a religious crisis and met the expectations of the Boko Haram group.

In essence, when that plan failed, they resorted to attacking mosques, as a way of venting their frustration for lack of support from the Muslim ummah.

That tactic of instilling fear was, however, resisted by the Muslim ummah in the worst-hit states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa wherein the people became more united and refused to yield to those threats. Only the vulnerable villagers yielded to their tactics because there was little protection for them. No wonder, up to this day, the ultimate challenge of the group is to see how they could infiltrate Maiduguri, the original base that gave birth to the most horrific terror group in Nigeria’s history. Experts say the continued attacks on Maiduguri-Damaturu highway (the safest road into Maiduguri) was a ploy by the group to cut off and isolate Maiduguri and make it vulnerable.

But having failed in all their plans, and with the change in operational tactics of the air force and army and the use of sophisticated equipment, the group has resorted to playing some mind games to achieve their aim. The Federal government is aware of the mind games and tactics the terrorist group is employing having failed in their previous missions. 

In the aftermath of the recent serial murder of some Christians by Boko Haram, President Buhari stated in clear terms that: “we should, under no circumstance, let the terrorists divide us by turning Christians against Muslims because these barbaric killers don’t represent Islam and millions of other law-abiding Muslims around the world”.

Even though the government had severally condemned these attacks, Nigerians are not satisfied with mere ‘lip service’ but want action on the ground which includes running an inclusive government, irrespective of party affiliation, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, the Buhari government is wanting in that aspect, going by the pulse of the nation presently.

Many Nigerians, especially northern Christians and southerners are not satisfied with the structure of appointments by the present government, which they say favours the northern Muslims against the southerners and even northern Christians.

It is no secret now that a section of the country is dissatisfied over the structure of appointments of key positions in the present government and certain policies. That has further divided the country along religious and ethnic lines. This can be seen in the frequent media wars between the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs(NSCIA) and Muslim Rights Advocacy Council (MURIC).

Meanwhile, the perception is that knowing the present state of the nation, the Boko Haram insurgents are leveraging on it to further their cause. This is evidenced by the recent tactics of the group which is targeted at Christians and Plateau citizens. During the abduction of the Christian nurse, Jennifer Ukambong, along Maiduguri-Damaturu road, Christians were selected while Muslims were left out. This coincides with the negative perception of the present administration by a section of the country which perceives the Buhari government as discriminating against the mostly Christian south. Question is, is Boko Haram trying to stoke more frustration in the already disenchanted group of Nigerians to achieve their aim? Perhaps, this thought might have propelled President Buhari to issue that warning to Nigerians.

However, as heartwarming as the message could be, the current records of the Buhari government as concerns an inclusive government, is a serious concern that has even attracted international attention.

Since his first term and even now, the Buhari government has been faulted for sectionalism in his appointments, favouring the Muslim north while also surreptitiously supporting the Fulani pogrom against mostly Christian Middle Belt tribes. This belief is held by a section of Nigerians and some members of the international community.

As if that was not enough, some state governors have behaved in such a bad light which further divided the country than it had united its people. 

For instance, one Justice Elizabeth Karatu, a Christian minority from Kebbi state and acting Chief Justice of Kebbi state since 2018 was supposed to be confirmed as Chief Judge according to the Federal Constitution. She was confirmed as the Chief Judge by the legislature, but Gov Atiku Bagudu refused to swear her in and instead fired her. Excuses were advanced as to the reason behind the act, but no concrete reason was given and that did not go down well with a section of the people…

In the same year, and a similar circumstance, Beatrice Iliya, another Christian minority from Gombe state was supposed to be sworn in as Chief Judge of Gombe state after her three-month tenure in an acting capacity, being the most senior judge, but Gov Inuwa, instead, swore in Muazu Yahaya as Chief Judge. Women activists and religious groups condemned the act and different interpretations were attached to that action.

Also, the controversy over Prof. Solomon Tarfa’s Du Mercy Children Home in Kano is still raging on. The government, backed by security agencies slammed some charges against the home (run according to Christian values) and people are already attaching religious connotation to the controversy. 

As if that was not enough, a Nigerian lawyer and Human Rights activist, Barr. Malcolm Omirhobo had recently sued the Federal Government, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Army, Ministry of Defence and Attorney General of the Federation over the continuous Arabic inscription on the naira notes and the flag of the Nigerian Army without considering Nigeria to be a secular nation.

These are issues that have further divided the country in an uncertain and challenging period that the state is battling against to keep the nation together. 

If there is anything the nation needs now, it is unity across ethnic and religious lines. But the perception by a section of the country is that the Buhari government jettisoned an all-inclusive government in favour of political considerations and that could threaten the stability of a nation that is struggling to survive the threat of Islamic terrorism.

And just like the President had noted, the terrorists aim to divide Christians and Muslims, but the question is that, could the terrorists not capitalize on the ‘crack’ in the system to their advantage?

The service chiefs dilemma

Meanwhile, there is a raging controversy over the appropriateness of maintaining the military chiefs in the present scheme of things.

Apart from the fact that they have exceeded their tenure and service years, some Nigerians believe that their presence is not adding any value to the fight against the terrorist group. This can be proven by the recent military losses in personnel and equipment. For instance, the convoy of the Theatre Commander was recently attacked by Boko Haram leaving casualties behind.  

Even though there are a lot of successes in the fight against insurgency but the recent activities of some of the service chiefs call for serious concern. 

One of the controversies that have proven to be an unnecessary distraction to the war against Boko Haram was the establishment of the Nigerian Army University Biu and Air force University Bauchi, both at the backyards of the Army Chief, Gen Yusuf Buratai and Air Chief, Air Marshal Ibrahim Abubakar, respectively.

Many Nigerians questioned the timing and rationale behind their establishment. They see that act as an unnecessary distraction in a time of war and a brazen show of irrationality.

Speaking with The Punch, Human Right Lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), described the establishment of universities in the hometown of service chiefs as an abuse of office.

“The Nigerian Defence Academy already exists and its awards certificates. The same NDA is not well funded and yet the military is establishing new universities in the hometowns of service chiefs. Interestingly, NDA, the army university and the new air force university and other institutions are mostly concentrated in the North. This is against the federal character principle”, he said.

Also, some top military officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the establishment of the new military universities were not only the height of nepotism but abuse of taxpayers’ funds.

According to The Punch,  a brigadier-general said: “What the service chiefs are doing is nothing but a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is even worse than the Federal Government is allowing them to do this at a time when we need to curb waste.

“It’s even worse than our troops fighting insecurity are told there is not enough money for equipment but there is money for new military universities.

“The service chiefs have been in office for over four years and have turned themselves into politicians, taking projects to their hometowns like constituency projects.”

An air commodore, who also wished to remain anonymous, said there was already an Air Force Institute of Technology in Kaduna which was approved by the NUC.

He said the institute was already offering courses on aeronautics, aerospace engineering and avionics and wondered why there was a need to establish more institutions.

He said, “FEC has approved N2bn for the takeoff of the army university. That is already a waste of taxpayers’ funds.

“We already have AFIT in Kaduna which teaches aeronautics and other professional courses. The sad thing is that the army university is even offering courses like Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Arabic when it should be strictly specialised courses”, he stated.

These and more are signs indicating that the service chiefs are war-weary, have lost focus or perhaps are outrightly careless and insensitive of the present situation. Also, this has demonstrated the fact that the government is not sensitive to public opinion seeing that a no-confidence vote has already been passed on the service chiefs.

Fortunately enough, the legislature has intervened seeing the uncertain security situation plaguing the nation nowadays. The Senate has noticed the lapses in the system and is ready to face them squarely, by collaborating with the executive. Also, the lower chamber-the House of Representatives has already called for the resignation of the service chiefs or they would compel the President to sack them. Following that threat, the President acted fast by inviting the service chiefs to a meeting in the villa. This happenings only go to signal that all is not well with the country.

Speaking recently, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, observed that: “the security system has not been working efficiently and effectively. We have to do something about it. The Senate will take a position on how security in this country should be. I believe personally that we should restructure the security architecture. The present system does not appear to give us the type of outcome that we need, whether it is the federal, States, local governments or traditional rulers, the most important thing is to secure the lives and property of Nigerians and we would do that”.

It is, however, not certain the type of restructuring the lawmaker is advocating, but Nigerians are desirous of restructuring based on inclusiveness; one that will build confidence, drive away suspicion and prevent violent non-state actors like Boko Haram from leveraging on.

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