By Obi Nwakanma
Imagine this scenario: Boko Haram grows more sophisticated; more daring, recruits wider, establishes better training facilities, acquires deadlier arms and more potent military capacity, enough to subdue and carve out a wide swath of Nigeria from the Chad basin, to the Adamawa hills. It secures swaths of land from parts of Chad, parts of Cameroon, and parts of the Central African Republic, and it creates an effective new country in the very heart of Central West Africa. This scenario is not too far-fetched, and ought to worry Nigeria’s security analysts, because it seems to me that we have a new scale of a vast and unthinkable problem shaping from this insurgency.
I still think that the Boko Haram insurgency is a smokescreen and on its own will quickly be exhausted once the Nigerian security services and the Ministry of Home or Internal Affairs gets its act together. Internal Affairs has to be more properly established to deal with these kinds of domestic terrorism. However, because Nigeria’s national security administration seems currently ill-organized and ill-equipped, Boko Haram seems to have all the initiative. They strike at will and disappear quickly into the crowd. They choose their targets and seem to have the luxury of long term planning that enables them to select and execute their targets while the Nigerian Security agencies – the Police, the Department of State Security, the various Directorates of Military Intelligence in the Army, Navy and the Airforce – seem reactionary and flatfooted. Their response time is too slow. They react rather than anticipate outcomes. There is clearly emerging from these domestic terrorist attacks in the north, very unpalatable evidence of the failure of intelligence.
There is clear evidence that human intelligence gathering capacity of the Nigerian Security services is weak. It is equally evident that whoever is the power behind Boko Haram, has long term aims; is better organized than we currently think, and is far better funded by sources from within and outside, too powerful and too invisible – but who have the patience of the vulture and lie in wait. It seems almost clear to me and to any careful and thoughtful observer following the pattern of operations that we may after all be misreading the long term strategic aim of what we now glibly describe as the Boko Haram insurgency all along. The daring attack on General Muhammadu Buhari also adds a new dimension to this fact, and to the significance of the on-going violence in the north.
The attack on Buhari happened within the hour of a large scale attack on the city of Kaduna. A suicide bomber we are told launched the attack against the convoy in which the General, Nigeria’s former military head of state was travelling. The reports say he escaped unscathed, even though some in his convoy were treated for injuries. General Buhari quickly assessed the situation, and in addressing the press, said he believed he was the main target of an assassination attempt.
Now, it has come to this? That a former Nigerian Head of state could now be the target of a brazen assassination bid on Nigerian soil, and can no longer be guaranteed his safety? This is an outrage. No matter what you might think of Buhari, his politics or his person, there is that symbolic boundary that ought not be crossed, and which when crossed conveys the symbolic failure of the Nigerian state. And that for me is the basis of this essay: the assassination of General Buhari would have unleashed a powerful wave of violence and acrimony in the land. The fingers would have pointed to the Jonathan government, and nothing it says would have mattered.
The government would not only spend its time distracted in defence of itself, but would be hard put on stemming the street violence by well sponsored street gangs in the North, who would embark on another massacre of the scale of the 1966 pogrom. Buhari was thus a guinea-pig in the long term goals of the masters of the insurgency. Let Nigerians be thus aware, that the failure of this bid gives this country one more respite. We must think back to the events of 1965-1966. In December 1965, the Western Regional elections had been disputed, and the violence that ensued was a culmination of three years of repressed anger and hope in a population where political differences had also led to assassinations and assassination bids, and street violence of the variety that became known as “wetie.” Western Nigeria had been rendered ungovernable and immobile; the Federal Parliament had authorized the Prime Minister to declare an emergency earlier in 1962; but in 1965, with the earlier disputes from the 1964 census results, the Federal government was broken, incoherent, and unwilling or perhaps even unable to stem the massive violence that had engulfed and convulsed Western Nigeria, much like today’s Boko Haram stirs the North. The upshot was the January 15, 1966 coup led by one of Nigeria’s most colourful Army officers, Major Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna, alongside four other Majors, including Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who manned the Kaduna or Northern end of the coup.
The Prime Minister, Balewa, died of heart failure on the road to Ibadan, and the powerful Premier of the North and leader of the NPC, Ahmadu Bello as well as this ally in the West, the premier Ladoke Akintola, was executed by the putchists. A rival group of coupists, including the Brigadiers Maimalari and Ademulegun, the Colonels Ralph Shodeinde, James Pam, Abogo Lagema, and Arthur Unegbe, were all eliminated by the Ifeajuna group, who in the end was unable to secure the General and Supreme Commander of the Army, General Johnson Ironsi. The rest is now all part of our blood-filled history: in retaliation against the killing of mostly Northern officers and politicians, a group of Northern officers, led by Gowon, Theophilus Danjuma and Murtala Muhammed, executed Ironsi and mostly Eastern officers, and set the stage for the devastating three-year civil war. This, it seems to me, was the aim in the attempt to assassinate General Buhari – to unleash a blood-filled tide.
It would have been a perfect excuse. The sad thing is that, from its current performance, the Nigerian security services could never have contained it. The world blames President Jonathan for inaction – for being too slow – because, quite rightly the so-called buck stops at his table. It is about time he does something: he owes this country the obligation of doing two quick things: present a plan before the national Assembly to reform the Ministry of Internal Affairs and equip it with newer operational capacity to deal with issues of domestic terrorism, and two, commission a massive reform of the Nigerian police Services, place it under the Ministry of Justice, and establish newer forensic and first grade operational capacity to deal with, and contain this ferocious enemy called Boko Haram and other insurgencies once and for all. It is about time for this nonsense to stop.