By Kayode Ojo
If there is one thing that terrorist organisations crave most, it is the publicity their violent actions generate. When the media, in analysing their activities, unduly shift blame to their victims as is the case with Nigeria, it greatly furthers their cause. As with most terror groups, so with the Boko Haram sect whose activities in recent times have been for Nigerians, a nightmarish experience.
The abduction of 276 school girls from Chibok may not be the most horrendous of their actions. In the time line in which the sect has terrorised Nigerians, the Christmas bombing in Madala, the January 2012 coordinated assaults in Kano, the midnight roasting of students in Buni Yadi, the massacres in Konduga, Gwosa, Gamboru-Ngala and Baga and recently, the twin bomb explosions in Jos, have been the most dreadful.
However, there is no doubt that Chibok was the turning point which aroused the international community by its sheer humanitarian dimension. Not only has the rash of public commentaries following Chibok been largely negative, it has portrayed Nigeria and Nigerians in the most despicable manner. Urged on by mostly opposition elements or those Nigerians who hug the public space, the international media painted our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in the worst possible portrait so far: utterly incompetent or insensitive, or both.
Political leaders in US and Europe took President Jonathan to the cleaners over what they perceived, wrongly I dare say, as sluggishness in handling the crisis. While the rabble-rousing US Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made highly contentious and undiplomatic statements about the Nigerian leadership, several publications like New York Times, the Economist and The Guardian of UK wrote reports and editorials that were equally uncomplimentary.
Cost of the insurgency is enormous; an ongoing disaster by Public Relations standards, but it rankles that few of the foreign commentators seem not to appreciate the complexities of our version of the terror war and the factors that have come to play since it broke out in 2009. Are they fair to simply brand the Jonathan administration –on the spur of the moment –as incompetent without properly analysing the underlying issues?
While it is understandable that political leaders in US and Europe and their publications who may be poorly informed of our circumstances, took the line they chose, it is arguable whether they would have done so without taking a cue from the negative comments by local opposition elements. The All Progressive Congress (APC) is certainly guilty of this. At a point in recent times, even the President’s party, the PDP, openly accused them of using the crisis to score political points, a charge it lamely defended itself against.
The APC is not solely the problem, though. One of our illustrious citizens did not flinch any bit in making those sordid remarks about our President and the First lady whom he routinely referred to as “that woman.” Her sincere efforts to enquire into the circumstances of the girls’ abduction were ridiculed to no end in the social media; till today, so many sing-songs are still weaved around her speech at that meeting with the Chibok stakeholders.
The level of complicity by people in positions of authority has itself introduced a new dimension to the problem. From the way otherwise illiterate Haramists have accessed government’s security details suggests that there exists around government, fifth columnists who are sympathetic to the sect and are willing to monitor and sabotage government. Examples abound in the police headquarters bombing which has all the elements of an insider job, down to its timing. The curious escape of Kabiru Sokoto, suspected mastermind of the Suleja Christmas bombing that killed at least 39, appears to be a clear act of insider complicity, down to his curious recapture in –of all places – the Borno state governor’s lodge in Abuja.
Yes, President Jonathan may not have kept his promise of bringing the violence under control, the truth is that he may never completely do so with the prevailing cynicism and lack of solidarity. Not even with the international assistance in intelligence sharing, more so since we have also started talking down our military and exposing their failings to public ridicule. More is needed if the fight will have any teeth, and this has little to do with Jonathan.
Before those foreign commentators get Jonathan drowned, they should appreciate the nature of Boko Haram’s activities which presents a more profound challenge. It has religious connotation which makes it complicated in a country where religion evokes extreme sentiments. According to former US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, terrorist acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity are the most threatening. All over the world, where terror is a major issue, suicide terrorism or martyrdom is more easily organised but are extremely difficult to counter. Where governments have sought retaliation against suicide attacks, the group’s sense of victimisation and commitment to adhere to doctrine, are further increased.
Boko Haram says it wants strict Sharia law implemented in the country, a tall order I dare say, but their fanatical rhetoric appears to have been inspired by, or attracted followers from, the political front. This is valid considering the political angle which many have failed to fully appreciate: their actions appear to reflect concerns by the Northern elite that Jonathan’s presidency has greatly harmed Northern political interests, hence prominent Northerners openly threatened, shortly after Jonathan emerged the presidential candidate of the PDP, to make the country ungovernable.
As a global security problem which manifests in several forms, terrorism is relatively new in Nigeria as a means of pursuing extreme goals. We may not have mastered an appropriate response but surely our leadership is making progress, however slowly the Clintons, the McCains and their cohorts view it. And it is only when the peculiarities of the Nigerian scenario are profoundly considered that such blame game can make sense.
* Ojo, a public affairs commentator, contributed this piece from Ketu, Lagos.