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The political economy of the Boko Haram crisis
Until a little over two years ago, Borno State used to be described as the Home of Peace. However, since the emergence of an insurgency by a radical Islamic sect, Jammatis Sunnah Lilda’awat Wal Jihad, mischievously tagged Boko Haram, Borno State has been anything, but the home of peace. Indeed, as at today, the state, particularly its capital, Maiduguri, is literally a theatre of war, where militants of the Islamic sect, and probably, other faceless groups are engaged in a violent confrontation against the Nigerian State, leading to a military operation that has so far claimed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives of innocent people.
Despite the persistent denial by the military authorities over alleged killing of innocent persons by members of the Joint Task Force (JIF) in Maiduguri, the fact remains that people are dying in circumstances that point at actions or inactions of the security agencies that flooded the city since the crisis resurfaced three months ago. Suffice to state that Borno is now in an unofficial state of emergency, as nearly half of the population have fled the city. Whether the ongoing military operation in Maiduguri is the right response to the Boko Haram crisis, however remains another matter.
Since the crisis begun, about two years ago, it is obvious that most Nigerians seem to be at a loss over the fundamental sources of the Boko Haram insurgency, the objective material conditions that gave rise to it and what to do about it.
It is easy, or rather simplistic, to dismiss the Boko Haram crisis as merely a religious conflict. The temptation for such a hasty characterisation is attractive, considering the fact that Maiduguri in particular and northern Nigeria in general, have witnessed one form of religious crisis or the other, either between different Islamic sects or between Muslims and Christians. The most serious of these include the Maitatsine crisis in Borno and Kano states in the 80s, the Sharia crisis of 2000 in Kaduna, the Jos crisis and, of course, countless number of past conflicts within and between religious groups. The most violent ones, which usually attract military operations, have resulted in heavy loss of lives and the destruction of lives and property.
For the avoidance of any doubt, however, the Boko Haram insurgency cannot be equated with previous social or religious conflicts in Nigeria. The ongoing crisis in Borno stems largely out of a seeming challenge to the prevailing social and economic system in Nigeria. It represents an open challenge to the status quo as reflected in the existing socio-economic and political foundations upon which the Nigerian State is built. By implication, the Boko Haram insurgency is a challenge to the Nigerian State which, as an epitome of the system, is seen by the insurgents as largely responsible for sustaining it, hence becomes the logical object of its assault. That may explain the tendency of the group to attack soldiers, policemen and other agents of the Nigerian State, especially politicians.
Indeed, a closer scrutiny of the circumstances leading to the social crises that have bedeviled this country, shows that Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist economy and the class of people that have been managing it from independence to date are largely responsible for creating the objective material conditions that created groups such as the Boko Haram. It is obvious that groups such as Boko Haram draw their foot soldiers mainly from the army of unemployed youths who have been pushed into a state of poverty by a social and economic system, such as the one we have in Nigeria, which objective is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
There is no disputing the fact that since its creation in October 1960, the Nigerian State has, rather than serving as a vehicle for development, been hijacked by a cabal of politicians who have turned the national economy into a tool for capital accumulation.
That is why looting of the treasury, bribery and corruption, armed robbery, etc have become the order of the day. The result of all these contradictions that have gripped the Nigerian State is that virtually all infrastructure meant for empowering the people to improve their standard of living have either broken down or are a shadow of themselves. A case in point is the educational sector which any nation that is serious about its future needs to pay attention. However, Nigerian rulers, who have been making a lot of noise all over the place about becoming among the 20 most developed nations in 2020, lacks a coherent educational system. The ruling class, after destroying public schools, have conspired among themselves to setup private schools which only the rich and some members of the middle class can afford.
Under these conditions, children of the poor, who are in the majority are denied good education and by implication, robbed of a future built on the capacity to fulfill their potentials. Thus, majority of Nigerian youth have been sentenced to unemployment and poverty and, unfortunately a pool from where organisations like the Boko Haram can rise, flourish and recruit their members.
The point here is that irrespective of the religious content of their messages, the Boko Haram strikes one as a monster created by the Nigerian State which, if not well handled, could bring down the state itself. If the Nigerian neo-colonial economy and state are responsible for creating the remote factors responsible for the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency, ex-governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State, is among the immediate factors responsible for the rise and operations of the group in the state.
Borno was (and is still) home to a ruthless gang of urban terrorists called ECOMOG. The gang is openly financed with state funds which is also used to dish out large sums of money to them or to buy jeeps and other exotic cars for their leaders.
The Federal Government needs to understand that there is nowhere in the world where this strategy ever worked. Ask the Americans and they will tell you that after decades of their so-called war against terrorism, groups like Al-Qa’eda and Taliban are still very much around, despite the murder of their leaders. In fact even the Americans have realised that talking to the Taliban is a surer path to peace than the use of military tactics. It is obvious that the military strategy adopted so far is not only faulty but has been claiming the lives of innocent souls. The FG needs to understand that there is nowhere in the world where this strategy ever worked.
Dialogue is what the Nigerian government should do with Boko Haram, rather than flooding Borno State with soldiers to look for a faceless enemy that has been using hit and run tactics leading to unprovoked assault against innocent civilians of Maiduguri by the same troops sent to project them. Strong arm tactics alone cannot solve the Boko Haram issue but dialogue and in the long run, the radical transformation of the existing socio-economic and political order in Nigeria.
Marimaina wrote in from Borno State.