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Dateline Nigeria: The Economic cost of Boko Haram insurgency
Hospital workers treated survivors of a suicide bombing at a high school in Potiskum, Nigeria, on Monday
Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group responsible for dozens of massacres of civilians and the abduction of more than 500 women and girls in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria.
When a suicide bomber dressed as a student infiltrated a high school in northern Nigeria on Monday and detonated explosives in a backpack, killing almost 50 students and teachers, suspicion quickly focused on Boko Haram, which had carried out similar attacks in that part of the country. The militant group had stepped up its onslaught since the Nigerian authorities announced a cease-fire last month and the possible negotiated release of more than 250 schoolgirls kidnapped in April. In fact, the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a videotaped message that there would be no cease-fire and that the schoolgirls kidnapped by his group would not be returned. “All of them have accepted Islam and are now married,” he was quoted as saying. “Anybody that said plans are underway for the release of the girls is just daydreaming.”
The laws of nature and the laws of life forbid the purposeless of malignity that keeps replicating itself under the umbrella of Boko Haram. While the reported successful evacuation of the insurgents from Mubi is good news, what is not good news is the fact that their brief occupation of the place was like a reversal of all values, Islamic and Western. Let those who care to verify sit down and do a clear-eyed evaluation of the damage to the psyche of the people and to the environment. Let the authorities also assess the circumstances of the collapse of all security forces before the insurgents, prior to the takeover. Above all, let us all take time to note a few points about the growth of this insurgency and how it can (could have been) contained.
Local economies have collapsed in various parts of the north because of the growing Boko Haram activities. Traditional rulers have been 'replaced' and others killed. The spate of bombings and the sacking of otherwise peaceful villages and neighbourhoods are ever on the increase. Meanwhile, it all started very quietly and grew instalmentally for decades. The activities of the group only became a matter of serious national concern when the negative social, economic, security and political implications of its increasing violence became too alarming to be ignored. For a sect whose name, 'Boko Haram,' is coined from the fundamental teaching that Western Education (boko) is sin (haram), the major pretension is that it exists to serve the better and purer values of spirituality and genuine human development.
Its presumed forte lies in the domain of values. But it is precisely here that its greatest failing stands out and blossoms everyday with embarrassing luxuriance. It rejects Western education, Western culture, science and anything that tends towards 'modernity, because it believes that these values pollute our higher humanity and spirituality. While it is true that some aspects of Western education and values are undeniably inimical to everything good, its replacement is not happening in the way it ought to happen. So what does it really offer as proof of this presumably superior standpoint? The group's official name, Jamaiatu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awata Wal-Jihad, means 'Association of Sunnis for the Propagation of Islam and Jihad,' but is it propagating Islam?
But that is only part of the problem. It has been argued in some quarters that the origins of Boko Haram can be traced to Mohammed Marwa, founder of an older militant Maitatsine religious group, or at least that the circumstances that created this earlier group contributed to the current situation. True or not, one clear issue before us is that the inattention of the authorities to the progressive radicalisation of large populations of the not so educated and economically disadvantaged is a major contributory factor in all of this. As for those who argue that colonialism laid the foundation for varying forms of Islamic fundamentalism in northern Nigeria, they need to review their sense of history and locate the emergence of religious extremism elsewhere. One of such argument which submits that Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, only capitalised on the prevailing poverty in the North to link everything bad with Western influence falls flat on its face because available evidence proves the contrary.
The more believable account of the origins of the Boko Haram sect goes back to a 2002 clash between the moderate Islamic teachings of the prominent Sheikh Jafaar Adam and the more militant interpretation of the Qur'an by his disciple, Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf's expulsion and ostracism was said to have led to his building his own mosque, through which he attracted vulnerable youths to persuade them that Western education (Boko) is a sin (Haram). The aims of the group include the desire to create an Islamic state in Nigeria and achieve its anti-Western education target by stopping all regular schools. Its strength has also grown from the fact that it is seen as providing jobs for the unemployed youths in its area of influence, as over 75 per cent of the people are said to live below the poverty line in the region.
What appears to give credence to some tendentious views about the origins, activities and aims of Boko Haram is the fact that Yusuf used a school in his mosque for the recruitment of jihadis, or warriors for Islam; wherein the far more ambitious goal of creating a team that will later fight for the creation of an Islamic state was a quietly pursued aim. The group was able to draw more followers from the fact that it simultaneously denounced official corruption, while promising better material welfare to the people. This fact alone, among others, enabled the group to draw more followers, while remaining largely peaceful within the first seven years of its existence.
The Wikileaks account of the origins and goals of Boko Haram, though it initially sounded unbelievable, appears to be borne out of the unfolding events between Nigeria and the US since the up-scaling of hostilities by Boko Haram. The Wikileaks view is that the US embassy in Nigeria is an operating base for far reaching acts of subversion against the country. In the context of this presumed conspiracy, the US is seen as taking advantage of the growing sectarian violence in Nigeria to recruit jobless Islamic youths and extremists. Part of the alleged game plan is to work together with some Muslim groups and even traditional leaders in the steady procurement and training of these potential time bombs through foreign-based terror groups. True or not, this view may well be a latter day development, except we go back to review the reported US-funded spreading of Islamic education among unorthodox Islamic scholars which began in 1994.
When the federal government set up its Committee on Security in the North-east, the report indicated that the critical propelling factors for the Boko Haram insurgency included high levels of poverty, illiteracy, massive unemployment of skilled and unskilled youths, the existence of private militias, which were set up, funded, used and dumped by politicians it was the ready availability of these abandoned militias of almajiris as canon fodder, as well as the influx of illegal aliens through Nigeria's porous borders that aided the crisis. Add the foregoing to the provocative and inciting preaching of some religious leaders that radicalised their listeners to the extra-judicial killing of the sect leader Yusuf and some members of the sect by security agents and you have the recipe for the mayhem on our hands.
The federal government committee also fingered poor service delivery by state governments, the general failure of effective intelligence gathering and pre-emptive intelligence work, absence of high level security network/forum outside the statutory national security institutions, limited institutional structures to manage interreligious affairs and promote harmonious co-existence, as well as failure of the federal and state governments to implement the reports of various committees which made useful recommendation in the past. That is why, today, the armed forces platforms and personnel are overstretched and diverted from their primary functions. This development makes the nation vulnerable, in the event of external aggression. The cloud of general insecurity also allows opportunistic criminality to thrive. This is dangerous for civil political stability, as it undermines the rule of law and encourages behaviour that is on the fringes of legality.
The further upshot is that more of our national resources are now going into the fight against Boko Haram, with consequential negative impact on the amount of resources available to other sectors of the economy. The result is a general decline in GDP, lower expenditure on social infrastructure per capita and a growing disregard for those essential economic variables that drive growth and productivity. The traumatised cities and states of North-eastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is strongest, cannot speak of any meaningful productivity, or of any serious economic activities, that can add to the GDP and aid national development. The farmlands are desolate, as the people have either fled to other parts of the country, or have been killed. Factories are shut down, many of them for over two years now. Most cottage industries are no more and there are no schools in session, as these, too, have also been shut down by Boko Haram.
The absence of organised services, wherein labour is recognised and treated well, is the norm. The absence of factories, farmlands and cottage industries automatically translates into lower input into overall GDP, all ensuring a precipitous decline in overall national productivity. The ultimate casualty in all of this is, of course, is national development, as no new knowledge, skills or technology can be acquired or deployed where schools are either shut down, or are not able to function because of social tension or outright insecurity. This is what Boko Haram is inflicting on some cities of North-eastern Nigeria today, leading gradually to retrogression, or knowledge retardation.
With no new knowledge, there will be no new skills or technology. The shock received by any environment wherein the economy is wrecked and schools are closed translates into a social dysfunctionality that could last for many years thereafter.