I have previously written a two-part serial “The evolution of Boko Haram”, on February 1 and 8, 2012, that chronicled the various phases and people in the emergence of that fundamentalist terrorist organisation. My conclusion based on all the facts and analysis was that contrary to the contrived and pointless hair-splitting over whether it was religious, political or economic, “Boko Haram”, like all human and social phenomena, was multi-dimensional. There was religion, of course, at the core – an extremist religious ideology of a species of political Islam which opposes secular or western education, advocates hatred and murder of Christians and Jews (and even opposing Islamic clerics), tolerates and even endorses suicide killings on promised reward of paradise (plus seven heavenly virgins!), and seeks to overthrow the secular constitution in favour of an Islamic Caliphate. How can anyone deny that these are religious motivations?
There are social factors which predispose adherents to such mindless extremism – illiteracy, ignorance and social exclusion; and excision of young boys at very young ages from the family system through the Almajiri system of half-baked religious education, begging and occasional deployment by politicians, clerics and traditional institutions for violence in pursuit of political objectives. There are critical economic dimensions – poverty, unemployment, a complete absence in millions of young people, especially male, of any skills or competences and therefore their divorce from modern economic systems, and, of course, corruption which denies society the resources required to chart a different course for its citizens and leaves them without opportunity or hope. There are even aspects of a Kanuri “Liberation Movement” in the mix!
Finally, there are political factors – the early origins of “Boko Haram” in a clear political alliance with mainly All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) governors in the North-East region of Nigeria and Kano; its ostracism and attempted destruction by its estranged sponsors and appropriation by new mentors and financiers; its transmutation from a locally-focused to a national political agenda as federal power slipped into Goodluck Jonathan’s hands; and its deployment as an instrument of undermining the credibility of the Jonathan presidency, both at home and in foreign embassies and capitals. This article focuses on these political aspects of “Boko Haram” and how the “amnesty” discussion fits into the overall picture.
There is no doubt that in its early days, Muhammad Yusuf’s “Boko Haram” (BH) enjoyed a close relationship with the Borno State government under Ali Modu Sherrif and that Yusuf actually nominated a member of Sherrif’s cabinet. There is also no doubt that the group played a political purpose as enforcers to ensure ANPP’s defence against the federal Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The broader point, in fact, is that ANPP as a political strategy adopted Islamic intimidation as a bulwark against the rampaging PDP. While Modu Sherrif deployed BH, his Zamfara counterpart, Sani Yerima launched “political Sharia” and virtually all ANPP governors followed suit. While Modu Sherrif’s romance with BH is well documented, the group probably played a role in other ANPP states – plausibly assisting in the party’s take-over in Kano in 2003; Bauchi in 2007; and its successful retention of Yobe – Bukar Abba Ibrahim is an open and unapologetic supporter of Boko Haram’s agenda! There is evidence that some ANPP states made regular payments to BH. In the heydays of BH’s alliance with ANPP, its presidential candidate, both in 2003 and 2007, was Muhammadu Buhari who is inextricably linked, through his public comments before he became a politician, with the agitation for Sharia! There is no doubt that the underpinning of Buhari’s popularity in Northern Nigeria is the fact that the Islamic base trusts him.
Soon, however, Modu Sherrif would fall apart with Yusuf and the group and would seek to destroy the Frankenstein he had nurtured! A second governor would have similar incentives (and this is little discussed) – Isa Yuguda of Bauchi who was on his way back to the PDP having married then President Yar’Adua’s daughter. The attempt to destroy BH did not wholly succeed and the group would re-surface in 2010 as a pure terrorist organisation! It also changed sides in Borno, apparently (as the matters of Ali Ndume and Zannah, and late Ambassador Pindah suggest!) to the PDP! At the same time, national politics was changing and a Christian Southerner was defying Northern intimidation and opting to contest the 2011 polls. Soon BH’s agenda would transcend local and state politics! In spite of its military successes against the terror group, it is evident that the Jonathan presidency lacks the local insight and support required to completely eliminate BH, and that having resolved to ensure Jonathan’s 2015 re-election plan is thwarted, the region has no incentive to help him solve the BH problem.
As it is, Jonathan has two distinct but inter-related problems –the challenge of very difficult re-election prospects and a widening and intractable security challenge that undermines his governing credibility. “Amnesty” is being proposed to Jonathan as a magic wand to solve the two headaches, but I suspect it will solve neither! Amnesty will be meaningless to the core, religious BH and the spinoff Ansarul, for in their minds they do the work of God, and have with reinforcing links to AQIM and Al Shabab. But a political/security BH will emerge to accept the amnesty and receive the funds appropriated for that purpose. This other BH will merely be an instrument for extracting political and economic concessions for the Northern elite from Jonathan.