“Everyone is crying out for peace no one is talking of justice” – Peter Tosh.
THE recent attack on the United Nations building by members of the violent Islamic fundamentalist sect Jam’atu Ahlis Sunna Ladda’awati wal-Jihad, a.k.a. Boko Haram has added a new chapter of audaciousness to Nigeria’s terrorism crisis.
By surreptitiously plotting and executing an attack on the UN building, the terror network has made an unequivocal statement that it can reach anywhere in Nigeria and even beyond.
It will be recalled that when the co-founder of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf led the hitherto rag-tag sect, to attack Maiduguri, Bomb state residents in July 2009, few Nigerians gave the group a chance of surviving this long. The group whose binding cord was its fanatical religious view, was roundly dismissed by many as a nuisance that would soon fizzle out.
How wrong they were! Two years down the road, the group has not only survived the odds, but has successfully spread its violent campaigns beyond Borno State to Bauchi, Niger, Yobe, Gombe and other parts of northern Nigeria. In spite of the death of its leader, Yusuf, the sect had stepped up murderous attacks against security agents and government officials, through killings, bombings, jail-breaking and other anti-social activities.
The once serene university town of Maiduguri has since been turned to a slaughter slab by the Islamic militants who claim to reject western civilization, though the tools of their warfare were produced by the western education they spurn. To show that they mean business, the group has scaled up its mode of attacks to include bombings and guerilla attacks on every state apparatus.
Victims of BH’s brutality already include former Borno Governor Modu Sheriff’s in-law and former National Vice chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, Awana Ngala, as well as his younger brother Goni Modu, a former chairman of Ngala local government who were killed. Others are Abba Garbai, a younger brother of the Shehu of Borno, many Police officers and men, Prison warders, clerics and other citizens.
The fundamentalists, who comprise young men, who are seemingly illiterate have managed to survive the onslaught of security agents and have even launched suicidal attacks on Police patrol teams. No fewer that thirteen Policemen were reportedly killed in the run up to the April 2011 governorship election in Borno state when the militants staged a surprise attack on Policemen who were on a ‘show of force’ parade.
Two days to the election, two blasts had gone off at a hotel and one at a transport hub on a Sunday night and there was a fourth blast at a cattle market the next morning. Police said three people died, including a Police officer, in the explosions at the Tudu Palace hotel’s bar and fourteen people were wounded.
Ostensibly, these frightening developments are coming on the heels of a 2005 United States of America, USA, Congress report commissioned after 9/11 to the effect that radical elements and supporters of Salafist —oriented theologies, as well as numerous self-professed admirers of Osama bin Laden, and religion linked threats to Nigerian national security had primarily taken the form of recurrent Muslim- Christian violence.
To make matters worse, Nigeria’s multiple terrorism threats climaxed during its fiftieth independence anniversary ceremony in 2010, when a group linked with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, detonated car bombs in the capital, killing at least twelve people.
Two of the bombs detonated outside the Ministry of Justice while a third, smaller explosion hit a venue a short distance away from Eagle Square, where President Goodluck Jonathan sat with hundreds of Nigerian and foreign dignitaries.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram (meaning western education is sinful), has virtually seized the soul of some northern states and Abuja, attacking law-abiding citizens in its morbid quest to foist a sharia regime on the north. On January 1, 2011, an attack near an army barrack in Abuja killed more than twenty people, wounding many more. More than two hundred and fifty people have been killed by Boko Haram since July 2010.
On Sunday, July 10, 2011 the sect members separately threw bombs into two churches in Suleja, Niger state, killing four persons and injuring many others.
A day earlier, members brazenly attacked troops of the Joint Military Taskforce, JTF, in Maiduguri, resulting in a gun battle in which eleven militants and thirty bystanders were killed. In London Ciki, a suburb of the besieged Borno state capital, Boko Haram gunmen opened fire indiscriminately on passersby, killing about thirty persons, including an entire family of five on their way to church.
On Tuesday, July 12, 2011 fresh bombs were detonated by the sect in Borno and Kaduna states and the orgy continued on Wednesday, with the detonation of four bombs in different locations and attacks on JTF teams with fifty persons feared dead. Maiduguri is the known operational base of the murderous Islamic sect. From there, it has struck in Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Katsina, Niger, Kaduna and Nasarawa states.
And more chilling and daring, it infiltrated Abuja, the federal capital, and followed up its audacious bomb attack on the Nigeria Police headquarters recently with threats to major public buildings such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the National Assembly Complex.
In the hitherto serene and peace-loving Borno state, governance has grinded to a halt, while business and normal social activities have all but collapsed. On Monday, July 11, 2011, authorities of the University of Maiduguri shut down the federal institution and sent its twenty- five thousand students home indefinitely.
Already, schools have closed in the state as a major plank of the terrorist group’s strange ideology in its opposition to western education, and nonindigenes are reported to be leaving in droves, ignoring a desperate plea by the state governor to remain. At least five states —Plateau, Anambra, Taraba, Ogun and Osun- have evacuated their indigenes from Borno while regular productive activities —farming, trading, industry and schooling-have ground to a halt.
Unfortunately, reports say the United Nations, UN, has increasingly become a terrorist target over the past decade. It was given a brutal wake-up call when a suicide bomb struck drove into the UN offices in Baghdad on August 19, 2003, killing the UN special Representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and twenty-one other people.
There have since been other attacks on the UN in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2007, eighteen members of staff were killed by a car bomb attack on the UN compound in Algiers. This year has been particularly tough for the agency with attacks on its buildings around the world.
The Abuja attack came shortly after the visiting Commander for the United States military operations in Africa, General Carter Ham, said Boko Haram was trying to link up with two al-Qaeda affiliate groups in other African countries to mount joint attacks on Nigeria.
The threat posed by this sect is underscored by its strong links to global terrorism. British intelligence recently reaffirmed that Al-Qaeda, through its North African and Somali affiliates, had fully infiltrated Nigeria and planned to make the country its base for global terrorism.
In September 2010, Mr. Odein Ajiumogobia, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, told the UN Security Council, “we know now that the absence of effective counter-terrorism measures, compounded by weak legislative and financial controls and inadequate policing of lengthy maritime and porous land borders, provide a platform for terrorist activities. Indeed, countries with weak institutional capacity are the most vulnerable to infiltration by terrorist network.”
Worried by the manner in which the group was undermining national security, Vice- President Namadi Sambo met Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima and discussed how the group could be contained. The duo had agreed on a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, which would involve granting of amnesty to those willing to surrender while the hardliners would be dealt with.
President Goodluck Jonathan also echoed the same sentiment in Washington at a meeting with President Barrack Obama where he said the federal government was considering granting the group amnesty as it was done for Niger Delta militants.
However, the announcement had hardly left the President’s lips when BH issued its terms of surrender. It demanded for Shettima’s resignation and the prosecution of his predecessor, sherriff, top security officials who served in the state in 2009 and the Shehu of Borno.
In addition, the group called for the dissolution of the Nigerian state and its replacement with its version of an Islamic theocratic state. It rejects the Nigerian constitution and wants to run the twelve North-East and North-West state under “full Sharia “laws. Accepting these insolent, provocative demands would amount to dissolving the Nigerian union. The orgy of violence must be stopped immediately to halt the slide into a failed state.
They also demanded for the immediate arrest and prosecution of those behind the killings of Baa Fugu Mohammed, the father in-law of their late leader and Alhaji Buju Foi. They said the All Nigeria Peoples Party- led government in Bomb state must resign because its leaders were responsible for the attack on the Ibn Thaimiyya Islamic center (Markas) and the house of their leader in Maiduguri.
They equally requested for an immediate investigation into the killing of their brothers through food poisoning which was perpetrated by prison warders with connivance of former Governor Ali Sheriff. Furthermore, they want the federal government to release the report of the committee of inquiry set up by late President Umaru Yar’Adua which was led by former National Security Adviser, Abdullahi Mukhtar, on the extra-judicial killings of their brothers during the 2009 unrest.
As usual, the federal government’s response to Boko Haram’s acts of terrorism has been slow and uncoordinated. However, terrorist sanctuaries in the country must be removed. There is no pretending that Nigeria needs international assistance to fight the scourge of terror.
The fight against terrorism cannot be left to one country or region. It requires collective, concerted and coordinated global action for maximum effectiveness. The shabby stance of sectional groups and the sloppy handling of terror groups by the Nigerian government must end forthwith.
The government should go beyond the usual platitudes of assuring all law abiding citizens of its resolve to maintain law and order in the country and go all out for the criminal groups.
The Jonathan administration should shed its toga of weakness and pull itself together in improving security and consolidating democracy and the rule of law. As the US government decided after 9/11, the Nigerian government must keep possible and known terrorists insecure and on the run, using all elements of national power.