Like a bolt from the blues, the Boko Haram security menace has seized the Nigerian horizon. In this report, Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, examines the growing menace and the underlying dimensions of its operations.
Bombing, suicide bombing especially, is alien to Nigeria. That accounts for why (even in the face of glaring evidence) a number of citizens gave consideration to claims by the police hierarchy that the June 16, 2011 attack on its Headquarters in Abuja was not a suicide attack. But from that moment, it appeared that the suicide mongers had weaned their flock and had not looked back in showing off their expertise. After the attack on the Force Headquarters in June came the failed attempt to blow up Police Headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, midway into the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, and then the dastardly blast at the UN House, Abuja on August 26, which left no fewer than 23 persons dead.
A number of questions have been asked both at the level of ordinary citizens and at the top echelons of the security network. Many have queried how Nigeria got to this pass. What actually is the grouse of the group behind these acts and what are the possible palliatives? The questions have continued to rage till date. Not many have come up with possible answers, especially on the grouse of the Boko Haram sect. Even the Borno Elders, who visited Aso Rock in the wake of military crackdown on the sect in Maiduguri, could not explain the grievances of the sect. All that could be said were vague references to the need for government to dialogue with the group. The question among top government people, howeve, remains, how do you negotiate with a group whose agenda is not known? But for a group whose activities have continued to grow, it became imperative for the government to examine its modus operandi and projections. The Committee of Elders set up to look into the menace in the North East of the Country recently submitted its interim report.
How it all began
No one has actually put a date to the start of operations of the Boko Haram sect in the Maiduguri axis. What is clear is that the sect came into existence as an Islamic fundamentalist group around the year 2000. It was initially non-political, but was said to have been involved in the installation of Senator Alli Modu Sherrif as governor of Borno State in 2003. It was learnt that, as a reward for that feat, the then governor had made a number of promises to the sect. One of them emerged a commissioner, while others retained positions of relevance in the government. Their leader, Mohammed Yusuff, became all the more influential and the sect spread across the states of North-East. Not much was, however, heard from the sect until the bubble of its relationship with the government of Senator Alli Modu Sheriff burst though, along the line, its operations were also said to have spread to Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa and Yobe. From 2009, the centre could no longer hold between the then state government in Borno and the sect members. Skirmishes between the police and the sect became commonplace, leading to the eventual killing of the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuff, in controversial circumstances in July 2009. His death in police custody apparently signalled a breakdown in the relationship between the government of Borno and the sect as well as the relationship between the police and the sect, on another hand.
Hell was let loose in the state. Insecurity became the order of the day and in a move seen as a retaliatory measure against Governor Sheriff, his younger brother and the gubernatorial candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in Borno, got killed in the threshold of the April general election. It was a move seen by many as a declaration of war by the Boko Haram. From that point, word got around that the sect had marked Sheriff and a number of governors in the North-East region for elimination. The grouse, according to reports, was that the political office holders reneged on the promises made to the group after they had been supported to win elections.
From local grouse to national platform
From what was largely a local issue, the Boko Haram sect grew in visibility, gaining attention across states of the North. It also gained the support of some eminent persons, for whatever reason, and further blossomed in size and focus. Gradually, it became a voice for fundamentalism in the North-East and it did not take a long time before it struck fear into the security operatives, especially the police. With the killing of its leader on July 30, 2009, the anger within the group grew, first against the police and the governor of their operating capital, Maiduguri, and then against the nation, Nigeria. On June 16, the sect took the battle to the police at the topmost level after it had engaged some state police commands in a prolonged tango. The June attack on Louis Edet House, Force Headquarters, left one policeman and the suicide bomber dead. No fewer than 70 cars were also burnt or badly damaged.
When it appeared the nation had lost its innocence as far as suicide bombing was concerned, police authorities preferred to paint a different picture. But it dawned on all, with subsequent incidents, that the hardliners among the fundamentalists had taken their cause to another level.
In July, the State Security Services (SSS) invited former Borno State governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, to its headquarters in Abuja. Snippets from the meeting indicated that there were exchanges of some home truths. Sheriff came out of SSS office to declare that he was not the founder of Boko Haram. Insights into his meeting with the security, however, showed that he once had a chummy relationship with the sect and that he terminated the alliance along the line. The Friday Edition was told that the former governor told the security chiefs that he once helped the sect, but that he terminated this relationship in the “national interest.” His appearance was at the peak of the declaration by the sect that it was ready to snuff life out of a number of prominent citizens unless they tendered a public apology. Notwithstanding Sheriff’s apology, security operatives were to further tell him that he remained on the death list of the sect, which split into two along the line.
The split was supposed to weaken the group, but events have confirmed that the sect was not burning out. Early in July, the sect received close to 800 trainees who returned from Somalia and Sudan. Its links with the dreaded al-Qaeda group further emboldened its bombing activities. The 800 trainees, who were tutored in the act of terrorism by the Sub-Saharan team of al-Queda group, returned to Nigeria in batches. But it was gathered that security chiefs were able to grab eight of the first 100 that completed the training in al-Queda camp as they made to re-enter Nigeria.
Whether the pieces of information garnered from the eight arrested trainees have helped the intelligence network so far is a question that can only be answered at the topmost echelon of the agencies. But the truth of the matter is that activities of the sect have heightened since the return of the al-Queda trainees, who apparently launched the suicide attacks we have seen in recent times.
All through the month of July, intelligence networks were on the alert in at least seven states of the North, following signals that the Boko Haram group planned massive bomb attacks to commemorate the anniversary of the killing of their leader, Yusuff. States listed include Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Gombe, Katsina and Niger. Some strategic installations including the pipelines of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), bridges and public institutions were said to have been targeted. Though a blast occurred in Suleja, Niger state within the anniversary month, intelligence agencies were able to fence off bomb blasts in the other targets including River Niger bridge at Lokoja.
A number of questions flood the brain in rationalising the attacks of the sect, especially since it moved from a local to a national platform. What exactly are they fighting for? What is the grouse of Boko Haram with the Federal Government, for instance? Why should Boko Haram attack the UN House in Abuja? Since the literal meaning of Boko Haram is “Western education is evil”, why would they not just restrict to propagating their belief rather than killing others who have no links with them whatsoever? The answers to these questions lie in two things, the politicisation of Boko Haram and the receipt of external (al-Queda) support by the sect.
The assistance by al-Queda has completely changed the focus of the group. Today, it operates more like an arm of the dreaded group rather than a Maiduguri-based sect that has grouses with those who allegedly used its men to propagate election without bringing returns.
The political Boko Haram
When the Boko Haram split in July, many had thought that the end was near for the dreaded sect. Reports had it that the sect was split along the lines of those who wanted a continuous militarisation and bombardment of targets, as opposed to those who sought peace.
While some leaders of the group believed that public apologies tendered by the former Borno State governor, Sheriff, his Gombe state counterpart, Senator Danjuma Goje, and Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda, was enough to atone for their alleged “sins” against the group, a section of its leaders insisted that nothing would remove the top politicians and several others from its death list. Some leaders were also said to be in favour of cessation of all attacks in respect of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which started early August, but the militant others refused. The tug of war within the group later blew into the open.
But the reported division did practically nothing to deaden the operational capabilities of Boko Haram. The police were only lucky to have escaped being bombed by a Boko Haram operatives right inside the Borno State Police Command Headquarters in Maiduguri two weeks ago. Then came the August 26 attack on UN House.
Investigations by The Friday Edition confirmed that operations of the militant arm of the Boko Haram sect have been taken over by a class of influential politicians who regard the violent dimension as the new way of maintaining relevance. Investigations further revealed that a number of such politicians have discovered the need to “keep President Goodluck Jonathan on his toes” and that the best way they believe this can be done is to engineer the militant group to continue to remind him that his administration can be challenged.
“An intricate web of power play and intrigues is actually driving the security trend we have seen in recent times,” a source in the know said during the week. The source said that the Boko Haram sect had benefited from both local and foreign interests.
In July, it was discovered that a political top shot was linked with funding the sect. Investigations revealed a dragnet had been set by the intelligence circles with ongoing investigations of the financial transactions of the suspected kingpin in the last five years.
Already, the administration is said to be co-opting top class Intelligence organisations like the Mi5, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America, Israeli’s MOSSAD and the Russian KGB in an effort to unravel the links between the local groups, local founders of the Boko Haram sect and possible links with the al-Queda group.
Will all these lead to the final unveiling of the true modus operandi of the Boko Haram? Will there be an end to the spate of unrests in the land. Will the government damn all and name the suspected bigwigs behind the political Boko Haram? An anxious nation awaits the time a proper separation will be done between politics and religion.