By Chiangi Michael Aondona, Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and expert in conflict resolution and a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators.
1. What can we expect from Boko Haram in the coming 3 years?
Well, I would simply say that we can expect the worst from Boko Haram. I could remember when the group first emerged sometime in 2005, they were not so violent. There were occasional incidents of the group’s clash with law enforcement agencies but the situation was always under control. Years later, the group started terrorizing residents in Borno state. Reports were also received that the group was arming its members with dangerous weapons. In a bid to suppress their activities, the then leader of Boko Haram Mohammed Yusuf was arrested in a police clamp down known as “Operation Saw Dust”. Nigerians thought that the arrest of the leader would be the last nail on the coffin of Boko Haram in Nigeria. In fact, a few months later, it was reported that the leader died (or was killed) in detention and we thought that the group was finally gone. For more than 4 years Nigerians were still celebrating the victory against Boko Haram because all their principal members were in prison custody.
In 2007, when the late Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua became the president of Nigeria, some Islamic clerics approached him with the issue of the arrest of the Boko Haram leaders. They told the president that the former president Olusegun Obasanjo, being a Christian misunderstood the activities of the group and ordered that they should be arrested. The clerics further told the president that these people were just Islamic evangelists innocently promoting the cause of Islam and that they meant no harm to anybody. The president was persuaded by their explanation and having the powers, ordered the release of these radicals from prison custody.
For more than 2 years after their release, no one heard anything about the group again. In fact, the President himself was preoccupied with his amnesty programme concerning the turbulent oil rich Niger-Delta region which was characterized by large scale violence, vandalization of oil facilities and kidnappings of expatriates, especially white foreigners and demanding huge amounts of money as ransoms. It was believed that the only security challenge that the Nigerian government was facing at that time was the activities of the Niger-Delta militants. At the end of the amnesty programme and the success it recorded, there was relative peace in the region and in Nigeria by implication.
In 2010, the President (Yar ‘Adua) died in office and the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian) was sworn in as the president. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan contested and won the presidential election. Meanwhile, the Boko Haram leaders who were released from prison custody under President Yar’Adua had taken time to recruit and train more members. This time, their strategy was more violent than before. Their new leader Abubakar Shekau, had taken Boko Haram to the level of a jihadi faction having affiliations with international terrorist groups like ISIL and Alqaeda. Membership of the group began to expand and soon became known in every part of Northern Nigeria and in neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon. It could recalled that prior to the advent of Boko Haram, we used to hear of bomb blasts on the radio in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the rest in the Middle East and never imagined that there would come a time when a bomb explosion would cause the death of more than a hundred people on Nigerian soil.
All these started happening from 2011 and got to the extent where Boko Haram was capturing territories and renaming them as they wished. Boko Haram began with attacks on churches and places were the victims were mostly Christians. They also attacked motor parks and ambushed travelling vehicles in search of Christian victims. However, a few years later, Boko haram discovered that a vast majority of Muslims in Nigeria did not support their activities and condemned any use of violence in the name of Islam. It was then that Boko Haram decided to extend its attacks to include Muslims who did not support their activities. Consequently, the group began to attack Muslim communities including Mosques and even Islamic clerics.
The group was known for their strategy of surreptitiously planting explosives in public places which would detonate and kill large number of people. However, when security measures became tightened and people became conscious of their environment, the group devised another method; the use of suicide bombers. This is a strategy that has proved difficult to counteract even to security agencies. The group later adopted the strategy of kidnapping as we later saw the abduction of 276 Chibok school girls. There was an abduction of another set of teenage school girls this time from a town called Dapchi, all in Borno state. Report had it that the group later released the last group of abducted girls but still retains one Leah Sharibu, who according to the others, refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Boko Haram has continued to wreak havoc on Nigerians and has also extended its activities to Niger, Chad and Cameroon. When President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, the eradication of Boko Haram and insecurity featured prominently in his policy direction. The military under his government was able to whittle down the activities of Boko Haram, reclaimed the towns that were captured and renamed by the group, and facilitated the release of some of the school girls. It was also under his regime that the military was able to successfully push the group farther into the deadly Sambisa Forest.
Now, the group has resorted to the use of suicide bombers mostly teenage girls and boys or even young women who appear generally harmless any time they approach a public place. The practice of raiding public places and opening fire on the people has now been tamed. However, the use of suicide bombers has become a disturbing strategy and it appear that the group is recording more victory with little effort and personnel than ever before.
Therefore, I am quite confident to say that we are expecting the worst from Boko Haram in the next 3 years and beyond because the group would change strategy the moment they discover that the use of suicide bombers is not yielding the desired result anymore.
2. What is the link between ISIS and Boko Haram?
Boko Haram started as a local militant group in Nigeria. In fact, it was thought that the group was just a form of organized crime or a sort criminal network that the Nigerian security agencies would be able to handle. It was until the group’s weapons of warfare became almost as sophisticated as those of the Nigerian military that the state had to take steps to deal with menace. Upon the arrest of Mohammed Yusuf, it was discovered that some of the group’s members were sent to be trained in the art of terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Again some time in 2014, Boko Haram officially declared its allegiance to the ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Note however, that ISIL is the African subset of ISIS. This action was described as a form of rebranding and a means of getting support in form of funding from international Islamic terrorist groups.
Therefore, even if the allegiance to ISIL was not formally pledged by the group’s leader, their ideology is the same, the tactic is also the same and they are fighting for the same cause. So in that sense I would say that Boko Haram has a link with ISIS.
3. What is Nigeria failing to do to counter the effect of Boko Haram?
First of all I must commend the Nigerian government for its effort so far. At least we can boldly say that the spate of attacks have reduced considerably. However, we seem to have a peculiar problem in Nigeria and that problem has affected the progress of this war against Boko Haram. That problem is corruption. Corruption has affected all facets of the Nigerian government that security challenges such as Boko Haram is seen by many government officials as an opportunity to amass wealth. They would request for huge sums from the government ostensibly to address the problem but a large chunk of it goes into their personal pockets.
Some notable government officials who served under the previous administration are currently standing trial for offences bothering on embezzlement of funds that were dispatched for the procurement of arms for our military to fight Boko Haram. A cabal of kleptocrats diverted the money and the arms were never bought. Meanwhile, Boko Haram has continued to improve on their armoury almost surpassing the weapons being used by the Nigerian military. When the Buhari administration came on board, one of its major agenda was the fight against corruption which began with the prosecution of all public officers who embezzled public funds while in office.
This initiative was quite laudable but soon became one-sided as the administration was using that as a means to wage war against opposition party members. The fight against corruption soon began to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the ordinary Nigerian citizens; it was one-sided and based on ethnicity and religious considerations. A year into Buhari’s government, the former Secretary to the Government of Nigeria one Babachir Lawal under the leadership Buhari was accused of diverting Millions of money to his company for the purpose of clearing grasses at an Internally Displaced Persons Camp. He was not prosecuted until it was when Buhari wanted to go for second term, and was still using the fight against corruption as a campaign mantra that Nigerians reminded him of the secretary’s grass cutting scandal. Buhari reluctantly directed the commencement of the prosecution in the case but after his election, the matter has gone into extinction. Many other corruption scandals hit the Buhari administration so hard that it could not gallantly stand on its feet in the fight against Boko Haram.
Thus, every day we hear cases of Nigerian soldiers being killed by Boko Haram because they do not have enough weapons to counteract the sophistication of Boko Haram’s weaponry. Whenever money is released for the procurement of weapons it gets embezzled. Corruption has eventually found its way into top military hierarchy of Nigeria. Generals have now become looters of government funds. I was privileged to interview a former Nigerian soldier about his take on the fight against Boko Haram since he had personally participated in the fight. He told me clearly that Boko Haram will never end in Nigeria no matter how the soldiers try. He said the top military officers are benefiting seriously from the war because they make proposals to the government for funds and when the funds are released they would embezzle it. Instead, they would order the junior officers to go and face any danger in the field even without good weapons. They would leak sensitive tactical information to the insurgents who would sometimes take the soldiers by surprise. There are stories of soldiers who die in the battlefield as a result of weapon failure while facing the enemy. This is an issue that the Nigerian Government must address. Our soldiers need enough weapons to enable them perform their constitutional duties.
4. What should the international community do to put more pressure on Boko Haram?
The international community has a lot to do in this regard. First, it must be borne in my mind that the war against terrorism and Boko Haram in particular, belongs to everybody. It has been observed that one of the factors that have sustained the activities of Boko haram is their strong source of funding from international terrorist groups. The international community can help in combatting terrorist financing. It is only when funding is not available to sustain its activities that Boko Haram will be emasculated.
There is also the need for states to cooperate in terms of intelligence gathering and sharing of useful information on counter terrorism especially Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon where Boko Haram activities have targeted. On a general note, States should refrain from sponsoring or tacitly condoning terrorism or even knowingly allowing their territories to be used to perpetrate acts of terrorism. States must consequently be willing to assist particularly in terms of extradition of offenders who run to their territories after committing acts of terrorism. This is a general recommendation is not restricted to Boko Haram alone but also applies to the activities of sister terrorist groups in other parts of the world. In this respect, the activities of Interpol have been quite commendable and we hope that they would step their game.
Another area that the international community needs to look at is the proliferation of arms. This has served as a fertile ground for the continuous increase in terrorism world over. Boko Haram has also survived over the years on the proliferation of arms. The group has benefited immensely form the Libyan post-Gadhafi arms surge in sub-Saharan Africa which has been the major cause of armed struggles and militant activities in the whole of Africa. The international community has a lot to do in this respect. If arms are not easily available for Boko Haram and their counterparts in other places, the sophistication of their weaponry, and thus their combat capability would be severely emasculated.
5. What are the options for the thousands of orphans due to the activities of Boko Haram?
The activities of Boko Haram have been so devastating that they transcend mere orphaning of children. People have suffered physically and psychologically such that even if Boko Haram was to end today, it will take decades for the wounds to heal.
With respect to the orphans, it is quite pitiable that even the Nigerian government has not provided any form of specific relief for such children. Rather, it is the Non-Governmental Organizations and private individuals that have been providing palliatives in form of supply of necessaries in order to help whittle down the effects of Boko Haram on the IDPs. There are some persons who have volunteered to provide educational services to the orphaned children and even adults who are still interested in continuing with their education. Therefore, since the orphans cannot go back to their homes now. Even if they decide to go, their parents have been killed or kidnapped never to be released and their homes are still unsafe. So to me, they are left in the hands of NGOs and other volunteers.
Chiangi Michael Aondona is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is also an expert in conflict resolution and a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators. He is currently a graduate student of the Bayero University Kano, Nigeria. His research interests include public international law, terrorism and conflict resolution. He holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Calabar, Nigeria. He has also attended the Nigerian law school and was called to the Nigerian bar. Chiangi is into private legal practice and lives in Kano state, Nigeria.