By Roger Williams Ikongbe
Some Nigerians are a hypocritical lot, including those who occupy exalted and influential leadership positions. Most times, when you listen to them, the impression which assails the mind defiantly replays images of weak leadership persona.
Some days back, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and leader of the anti-insurgency campaigns in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai canvassed for the spiritual engagement of Boko Haram ideology by Nigerians. And inexplicably, it elicited harsh condemnations and scathing outbursts by some Nigerians.
In the last four years, Gen. Buratai and our troops have been on the frontlines and trenches of the Northeast, battling Boko Haram insurgency. It’s unarguable that significant impact has been achieved in Nigeria’s campaigns against terrorism reflected in the decimation and defeat of the Boko Haram insurgents. But it has not been fully routed out, as it intermittently smokes in feeble strikes in obscure parts of the Northeast.
Gen. Buratai may have incurred the wrath of his adversaries in the country when he advocated for the spiritual engagement of the negative ideologies of Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists in Nigeria by religious groups. He said it, at a seminar of the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, Abuja, themed, “Countering insurgency and violent extremism in Nigeria through spiritual warfare.”
The Army Chief was specific that Islamic and Christian clerics across all Army formations, communities, families, and groups should enlist in the spiritual battle against terrorism.
In the simplest terms, Gen. Buratai opined, “It is easier to defeat Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists than their ideology because, while we degrade the terrorists and their havens, the narrative of the ideology grows the group.”
It was a hard fact, and by no means an admission of incompetence in confronting terrorism and terrorists. It is an additional angle, which reality indicates, it begs for inclusion in the holistic confrontation of this scourge of national insecurity.
But some Nigerians so irrationally lampooned the Army boss. Those who have been seeking for ways to have Gen. Buratai hanged for his exploits and continuous belief that Boko Haram must not be allowed to return back absurdly perceived his campaign of spiritual warfare on Boko Haram as a window to trumpet a renewed agenda for his vilification, citing the rehearsed very flimsy excuses.
However, some foresighted and clairvoyant Nigerians appropriately interpreted Gen. Buratai’s sermons in the proper context. And one writer and social economist who gave it a very punchy angle was Dr. Obadiah Mailafia in the article, “General Buratai and Spiritual Warfare,” (published on October 7, 2019).
Mailafia’s historical and contemporary expositions and interpretations of Gen. Buratai’s spiritual warfare campaigns against Boko Haram and ISWAP are grippingly fascinating and rich in contents. He calmly and diligently reeled out the enriching relevance of what some Nigerians seek to diminish by anchoring very sound arguments rooted in undeniable warfare histories of countries around the world, which have fruitfully practiced spiritual warfare.
But could Mailafia have been wrong in his assertions in backing the COAS? Certainly, such contemplations are severed from the truth. Nigeria’s basic problem is the overwhelming presence of pretenders and hypocrites. And they are irritatingly mouthy; most times senselessly.
Through scholarly works, sociologists have established a dominant sociological character of Nigerians as rooted in religion and spirituality. Whether as Christians, Muslims or traditionalists, Nigerians habour strong beliefs in solving all problems through the spiritual intervention of whatever they worship or adore.
Some Nigerians even believe in the totems of their tribes and beseech it with every problem. There are tales of certain rivers or streams in some communities, whose waters can spiritually heal and the people hold it in reverence. Simply put, all Nigerians go spiritual with virtually all the problems which confront them. Why should the case of Boko Haram be an exception, as canvassed by Gen. Buratai?
So, it becomes indiscernible why Gen. Buratai would be crucified because he canvassed for the engagement of Boko and ISWAP through spiritual warfare. It is even more senseless for critics who are attempting to push the argument that Gen. Buratai is now devoid of ideas to tackle the anti-insurgency campaigns in Nigeria. That is the height of dishonestly, proudly played out in public domain, because some Nigerians have an obstinate passion for untruthfulness.
Therefore, it is easy to forget for the sake of convenience or inured by the motivations of delight in covert support for festering terrorism that when Gen.Buratai sermonizes about spiritual welfare against Boko Haram and ISWAP, he must be chained to a stalk. Ironically though, he is only reminding Nigerians of a role they have played in the past based on the indispensable spiritual content in them.
But Nigeria’s history whiffs with several experiences of the use of spiritualism in solving problems. When Nigerians faced tough times under the Gen. Sani Abacha military junta, another former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon organized the “Nigeria Prays,” prayer sessions across the country.
Still, on the political turf, Nigerians are still conversant with the melodrama between Chris Ngige and Chris Uba consummated on the spiritual potency of a shrine in Anambra state. Until it eclipsed, the revered Ombatse cult in Nasarawa –Eggon was the spiritual home to many Nigerian politicians who besieged it for political prosperity and protection. Christian crusades grounds are filled to the brim in anticipation of spiritual healing or miracles. The instances are manifold.
Therefore, spirituality essentially defines the average life of a Nigerian. And so, it is strange that some persons would stoutly oppose Gen. Buratai’s spiritual warfare campaigns against Boko Haram and ISWAP. It is germane that those with such fixated mindset to oppose whatever Gen. Buratai does or says should have a rethink.
If truly, such clan of Nigerians share in Gen. Buratai’s mission and persuasions of completely routing out Boko Haram and ISWAP from Nigeria, the onus is placed on them to also fight this war from whatever spiritual angle at their disposal. There is neither anything unusual nor strange about it in warfare.
Our experience these past 10 years in battling insurgency have revealed enough for everyone to understand, he must play a role. The military alone cannot end insurgency, if its ideology continues to be watered. It was former President Goodluck Jonathan who identified three categories of Boko Haram -namely, the religious Boko Haram; political Boko Haram and commercial Boko Haram. And all are driven by satanic ideologies which grow the sects in leaps and bonds.
The Nigerian military has successfully decimated and defeated terrorism on the battlefield, but its shadows still manifest because the remnants, re-germinates these negative ideologies to win fresh converts. It accounts for the sporadic strikes of Boko Haram terrorists on obscure locations in the Northeast region.
And clerics, communities, families and groups owe their nation an obligation to confront the propagation of these negative ideologies which nourish and fester terrorism. And this noble assignment covers not only remnants of insurgents, who are sadly sheltered in homes they should be rejected. But also, the preachments should extend to populations susceptible to the influence of these negative ideologies from terrorists.
Dr. Obadiah Mailafia could not have been less accurate in his perception of Gen. Buratai’s evangelism on spiritual warfare on Boko Haram and ISWAP. His expose has deeply penetrated and captured the minds and hearts of Nigerians.
Gen. Buratai is truly the best in his generation. He is indubitably distinct on counter-terrorism and malicious criticisms will not diminish his status. We can only conclude as Obadiah has succinctly educated us, General Buratai is rich in philosophy and has exposed one of the cornerstones in his life as a successful war tactician.
Ikongbe is a pastor and wrote from Salem Christian Centre, Stratford, London.