Boko Haram And The Politics Of The Ostrich —mac durugbo


The Ostrich, described in Webster’s New World Dictionary as ‘a large swift-running bird of Africa and S.W. Asia’, has a myth surrounding it. It does not fly because it has wings too small to lift its large body. But it has very long and huge legs with which it can outrun any fast moving vehicle, especially in the deserts of Africa and Southwest Asia. It also has sharp eyes sunk in a very large head on a long neck that can turn 360 degrees. But that is not the myth around this extra-ordinary bird.

The myth is that when the Ostrich senses danger, it buries its head in the sand and leaves the rest of the body exposed. No science has been able to explain this ‘defence mechanism’. I will attempt an explanation here. But my explanation is only meant to fire the readers’ imagination to also attempt to put a meaning into what the Federal Government is playing at concerning the imminent threat to national security posed presently by the activities of the religious fundamentalist sect- Boko Haram – in the country.

My explanation of the Ostrich’s peculiar defence mechanism is that having such a massive body, it has no where to hide it in the desert in the face of danger. Since, apparently, it could not confront the imminent danger frontally, it believes hiding its head and pretending that the danger is not there would make the threat go away. Considering that the Ostrich is a desert animal and for miles on end, there are only sand dunes in sight, it is possible that a predator may just dismiss the massive body of the bird as a sand dune and move on. That is my own explanation.

Now, how does this relate to the Nigerian situation? Since the threat of the Boko Haram sect took a bloody turn in the last few months, the Federal Government has been behaving like the Ostrich, hiding its head in the sand and hoping that the threat posed by this extremist sect will go away on its own. Unfortunately, while the body of the Ostrich could be mistaken for a sand dune by a desert predator, this fundamentalist sect has not mistaken the exposed country for anything else but something to ravage and devastate. This, it has consistently done with impunity. The members have practically taken over Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and are using it as a base to launch attacks on other parts of the country.

The question that is agitating the minds of many Nigerians is, why has the Federal Government chosen not to confront this menace frontally? Why has it chosen ‘to tread softly’ so to say, when thousands of innocent Nigerians are daily being wasted by this group? Why is it still talking of negotiation and settlement when the group has indicated abhorrence of any negotiation? The bombing of the Police Headquarters in Abuja on 17 June should have been a wake up call on the Federal Government to act decisively to stem the activities of this group. Instead, there are talks of negotiation. There was even an offer of amnesty by the Borno State Government. Also the State Security Service (SSS), which claimed to have arrested some members of the group, has said it has no intention of prosecuting them. But, perhaps, the most humiliating aspect is the arraignment of seven policemen who allegedly killed the leader of the sect, Mallam Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009 while he was being detained in prison after his arrest.

Again, I want to hazard a guess as to why the Federal Government is shying away front confronting Boko Haram. Not too long ago, some Northern elders in Borno State demanded that the Joint Task Force sent to Maiduguri to defend the ancient city against the sect be withdrawn. The names revealed in the story, which made headlines in many national dailies, was enough to convince anyone that the Boko Haram phenomenon is more than meets the ordinary eyes. Without pointing fingers at any particular individual or group, it is evident that some powerful Nigerians are behind the sect.

Having established this disturbing point, the next question is, what do the sponsors stand to gain? Without prejudice to the general and patriotic stance of a united Nigeria, there seems to be a grand plan to discredit the present administration headed by President Goodluck Jonathan by creating an environment of insecurity in the country. If this theory could be explored further, the ultimate goal is to ensure that the administration continues to be inundated with crisis so that it will lose focus. The credibility of any administration is rooted in performance and performance can only be possible in an atmosphere of peace.

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There is also the disturbing angle of an Al Qaeda connection. This theory is supported by the extent of violence being perpetrated by this sect. They do not operate with guns probably because that would limit the number of casualties and the extent of damage they could cause. The guns are inadequate for the magnitude of devastation and holocaust they desire to wreak on society. But with explosives, they are sure to cause widespread holocaust just like the Al Qaeda. Also, the ferocity of their operations is reminiscent of that international terrorist sect.

It is true that the Federal Government has deployed soldiers in Maiduguri to confront the Boko Haram sect. But it also looks like the soldiers are under instruction not to apply the stick. On several occasions, soldiers have been killed by members of this sect and I believe it is because this instruction has made them docile. Instead of putting the sect on the defensive, the soldiers have been put on the defensive. Which makes one ask whether it is different strokes for different people in this country? The incident that took place in Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State are still fresh in our minds. The “offence” committed in the two places are nothing compared to the holocaust being perpetrated in parts of the North of Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect. Yet all we hear is negotiated settlement, amnesty, non-prosecution of arrested members, prosecution of policemen accused of killing leader of sect in 2009 and even capitulation.

Let’s consider these options on merit. First, if we choose negotiated settlement, what are the parameters? The sect has made it clear that it wants to Islamise the North. Does the constitution of this country allow that? If not, what is the basis for negotiation? Secondly, granting amnesty to this sect is not even an issue for now. Amnesty talk comes when the enemy sees imminent defeat; when it has been driven to the edge of a precipice. But in this case, the Boko Haram sect seems to have the superior fire power. Thirdly, the rest of the options are, to say the least, disgraceful of a country like ours. It is quite humiliating to think that a small group of people can hold a nation of 150 million people to ransom and force us to pander to its whims.

The sooner the Federal Government begins to answer these questions, the better it will realise the true implication of this sect’s continued existence. There are two apparent dangers in the event that the government continues to treat the sect with kid gloves. One is that other militant (or terrorist) groups, both known and unknown, are waiting in the wings to take up arms and strike if this charade continues, especially if the Boko Haram sect decides to strike in any state other than the core North or they may just spark off reprisal attacks if they continue to kill citizens of other tribes.

Secondly, the sect’s demand for the Islamization of a part of this country amounts to sedition. Giving it any consideration at all is tantamount to courting secession. Such a consideration may spark off a chain reaction across the country which may finally see this country fulfilling America’s break-up “prophecy” for Nigeria even earlier than 2015. If, indeed, we desire to break up, let us do it in a decent and civilised manner. For many years now, there have been calls for a Sovereign National Conference to decide the future of this country. May be, the time to do it is now.

•Durugbo is a Political Analyst and social commentator

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