Boko Haram And The Politics of Scapegoating

by Ibrahim Ola Balogun; Lagos

Not many politicians, religious leaders, social commentators, policy analysts, and ethnic leaders are aware of the on-going scape goating of politics by some major stakeholders in the Nigerian nation.

The Northeast has virtually assumed the status of ‘Madinatul Boko Haram’ (The ‘enclave’ or ‘city’ of Boko Haram) and the evidence for this is rife in every part of the northeast. The usual practice of shifting culpability becomes more conspicuous as Nigeria witnesses unprecedented security challenges. And with the escalation of the insurgency in the face of collapsing state security, politics of scape-goating becomes an easy tool in the hands of dubious characters.

Nigerian politicians, led by the President himself and indeed, the Presidency are much involved in this trade of scape-goating, by being busy diverting the attention away from the insurgents. While the blame game is on, the blameworthy terrorists keep recording successes, annexing territories after territories- Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe and even beyond.

Boko Haram used to be considered as a fall out of the increasing wave of ethnic nationalism and movements for political relevance/liberation among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria and many had thought Boko Haram was just another brand of ethnic militancy of northern extraction. Consequently, an assumption of three different kinds of Boko Haram operating in Nigeria was formed.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe during a televised interview listed the three types of Boko Haram, namely: religious, criminal, and political; corroborating the earlier categorisation of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai of the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The first kind of scape-goating is premised on the presumed sponsors of the Political Boko Haram, allowing the Presidency to practically ignore the problem. For the first three years, rather than facing the problem squarely, insinuations on the likelihood of the opposition sponsoring Boko Haram rented the air. The dummy was sold to all of us and we fell for it without asking questions.

First to bear the burden of this was General Muhammad Buhari because of a statement credited to him during 2011 election campaign when he threatened against election rigging, saying his party would make the country ungovernable if the government rigged the polls. He has however denied any link with the terrorist group.

Next was the Presidency and the President himself. President Goodluck Jonathan publicly admitted there are Boko Haram members in his cabinet. Former National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, late General Andrew Azazi supported this theory when he said at a public lecture that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was the chief sponsor of Boko Haram. He was killed in a plane crash not long after the statement was made.

An independent Australian negotiator, David Stephens lent credence to this when he implicated friends and associates of the President in his findings. Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, former Governor of Bornu State and the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Azubuike Ihejirika were linked to the sponsorship of the old and the latest versions of Boko Haram. The Director of State Security, DSS aggravated this suspicion when it promptly and hurriedly came to their defense rather than scrutinize the alleged and the allegations.

To make the matter worse, close associates of the President and defenders of his policies, Reverend Ayo Oritsejafor was linked to the shoddy arms deals in South Africa involving an illegal Israeli agent/company. In his blame trading, though, the Chibok schoolgirls are Nigerian children of mix background but the President and the CAN leader referred to them as Christians which further polarized the country along religious lines for cheap personal political gains.

Very recently, the Presidency blamed the insurgency on the media for ‘over-blowing’ it out of proportion. Of course, the media, dominated by the southern compatriots readily helped in parroting some of the deliberately orchestrated campaign designed to divert attention from the real issue, pandering to primordial sentiments of Nigerians.

And the third to vicariously carry the blame are the Muslims. They were accused for ‘not sufficiently angry’ and of “not going beyond condemnation”. Muslim politicians were also not spared as their predominance at the inception of a political party attracted different forms of name calling such as: ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ party and ‘Janjaweed; party.

An allegation of a conspiracy theory has been made that the PDP-led Presidency deliberately allowed Boko Haram to grow in a bid to score political gains in 2015: by preventing elections in those opposition-controlled states. Those who believe in this theory assert that insurgency escalates each time there is a need for extension of State of Emergency or whenever the Presidency needs the National Assembly to approve extra budgetary security vote like the last one billion dollar loan.

For instance, Amnesty International indicted Nigeria’s military of deliberate refusal to prevent the Chibok abduction carried out in a convoy of more than five trucks, despite over four hours advance warning. Till today, neither the denial of the allegation nor any probe into the army’s complicity has been initiated; except for the probe that sought to ascertain the actual number of the abducted girls.

This theory holds that the abduction simply took place to justify the extension and consequently stampede the legislature into acquiescing to the Presidency’s request.

The proponent argued that the recent escalation as epitomized by the Mubi take-over, the Damaturu over-run, the Potiskum School and the Kano Mosque bombings among others are all attempts to justify the extension.

The Oritsejafor-led CAN had insisted that Boko Haram increasingly turned towards systematic genocide of the Christians and Christian institutions in the pursuit of its goals. This regular misinterpretation of happenings inadvertently led some media organizations to tag Boko Haram ‘Islamic sect’. It led to some to tag BH as Muslim foot-soldiers and by extension brand guiltless bearded Muslims and innocent hijab sisters as ‘Boko Haram’.

It will however be naïve to blame CAN totally for forming such impression, particularly as some of the initial bombings were directed at Churches.

Many unsuspecting Nigerians even blamed the festering crisis on US for refusing to sell Cobra aircraft to Nigeria, as if defeating insurgency is solely dependent on a particular brand of aircraft, and as if the US alone has a monopoly of weapons manufacturing and sales. Some went further to blame it on CIA, saying the intelligent organization is simply working to justify its propounded theory of the break-up of Nigeria by 2015.

But have Muslims actually kept criminal silence in the face of the ravaging insurgency? Has their leaders been found wanting in condemning the insurgence in its totality? More or less, Nigeria Muslims have lost more personnel than any other groups be it religious or otherwise just as it has lost more scholars and clergy. I think it will be unjust to answer those questions in the affirmative.

The media is awash with dozens of press conferences, press releases, seminars and other programmes, distancing Muslims and Islam from the aggressive group.

But another more interesting twist to the blame-game is the allegation against the CAN of being the brain behind the insurgency, particularly since the arrow-head of the association is a sworn defender of the President. With some damaging revelations highlighted below, they posit that Oritsejafor-led CAN concurred and worked in tandem with the above theory of the complicity of the Presidency.

They argued that: Mr. John Alaku Akpavan, the man arrested attempting to bomb Radio House Abuja; Lydia Joseph (the failed bomber of St. John Catholic Cathedral) of Bauchi State who attempted to bomb a church on September 2011; Augustine Effiong, an Akwa Ibom indigene that carried out the April 29th 2012 attack in connection with BUK bomb attack. Emmanuel King arrested in attempt to bomb the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, while camouflaged in Islamic attire on December 28, 2011, and Samson Mangai who was arrested in Plateau state attempting to bomb a church were all Christians.

The suspicion was further raised to a higher level when the Australian negotiator named the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika as a sponsor of the latest brand of the Boko Haram. All these conspiracy theories were already being woven in reality when the bubble busted in South Africa in a $9.3 million and $5.7 million cash-for-arms dirty deal. The defense of the monumental crime by the Presidency as well as its body language all lends credence to this side of the theory.

Closely related to this is another notion that the North is being hunted or punished because they did not vote for this administration in the 2011 election. It is of course easy to wave this aside as an arm-chair theory but the posture of the government may tempt keen observers to agree with this.

The GREENWHITE Coalition, a citizen’s volunteer watchdog made up of Nigerians of all ethnic groups and religious persuasions, documented a position that the current Boko Haram campaign is a covert operation organized by the American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA and coordinated by the American Embassy in Nigeria. This was compounded when the Presidency accused the US of blocking its effort to acquire weapons that would assist in combating the insurgency.

In the midst of all this uncertainties, nobody is sure of what will happen next. The human catastrophe resulting from the security challenges is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. Nigerian is without doubt under occupation and the insurgents are already controlling some parts of its territory for months.

Predictably, there has been a discernible growth in panic and tension and not a few people are beginning to think that perhaps the country seems headed inevitably for a long drawn insurgency leading to an eventual split.

The failure of the military and the attendant frustrations led to the emergence of self-defense groups like the celebrated hunters and other vigilantes, but their arrest by the Nigerian police raises more pertinent questions.

It therefore did not come as a surprise to many when the Deputy Governor of Borno State, Zanna Mustapha raised an alarm saying that Adamawa, Borno and Yobe may soon cease to exist, going by the rate at which the Boko Haram insurgents are steadily overrunning towns within the states. If the Federal Government will not add extra effort, in the next two to three months, the three Northeastern states may soon become lost territories.

Nigerians, both politicians and citizens must unanimously agree that ‪Boko Haram is a common problem that requires a joint effort. Boko Haram must be confronted as they all stood against Patrick Sawyer; the Bio-terrorist that brought Ebola to the country. One of the lessons of the war against Ebola is that as a people in unison, Nigeria can defeat any terrorism or insurgency. Just as the Muslims did not blame the Ebola on the Christians because Sawyer was a Christian, no issue of ‘not sufficiently angry on’ the part of Christian leaders should be expected.

More so, Nigeria did not initiate a war with Liberia or US, just because Sawyer is a Liberia-American. The citizens too could have blamed it on the government because they were not proactive enough to have suspended flights from Liberia. PDP too could also have blamed the All Progressive Congress (APC) because it started in Lagos State and later Rivers, both APC States; and the All Progressive Congress had every reason to have linked it to the PDP due to the negligence on the part of the Minister of Aviation and the Nigerian Ambassador to Liberia who are both appointees of the PDP-led government.

Nigerians had the opportunity to play Politics of Scape-goating with Ebola, but they all realized the danger involved in its spread. They all waited until it was over before they initiated argument on the role played by each party in the ‘fight’.

Has time not come for the Christians to stop accusing the Muslims of being pro-Boko Haram when they also lose their husbands, wives, children, parents, farmlands and territories to the insurgents? The Muslims on their part should also jettison those conspiracy theories that involve GEJ, CAN and the Christians’ attempt to reduce the population of the Muslim in the North.

It is high time the APC discontinued its attempts to score cheap political points with the exploits of this common enemy. And as APC complies, the President must be more responsive. President Jonathan must break the unusual silence and warn the appointed as well as the self-appointed spokespersons who, on his behalf often heat the polity through unnecessary allegations.

The North must refuse to believe that some elements in the South are behind the BH, even as it will be more ridiculous for the South to think that Northerners will be foolish and sadistic enough to be slaughtering one another just because they don’t want a Southern President!

It is quite evident that Boko Haram terrorists have indiscriminately killed Muslims and Christians in like manner. They have killed notable Muslim Scholars and bomb Churches and Mosques with crass impunity. They have kidnapped and killed Emirs amidst many other community leaders. Boko Haram militants have killed schoolboys and schoolgirls with least consideration for the religion of their parents. Just as terrorists have killed PDP and APC supporters in like manner, Hausas Igbos and Yorubas have been displaced without a finger raised.

Our Chibok girls are still in the terrorists’ den. An injury to one is an injury to all. We are in a state of Adie ba l’okun, ara o r’okun, ara o r’adie (the proverbial hen which perched on a rope; neither it nor the rope will be at peace).

Thus politicians, the President and Nigerians inclusive, must desist from playing politics with the nation’s security. On no account should our body language suggests that we are prepared to move on without the Northeast, since there can be no Federal Republic of Nigeria without any of its federating units