The Challenge Of Boko Haram —Osuolale Alalade



Boko Haram has dragged Nigeria into the turbulence of the mainstream of human history. It has also extended historic antagonisms into Nigerian domestic relations. It was not inevitable, but the prospect of escaping this fate was very slim. As a concept, Nigeria, like all post-colonial possessions that were imbued with international legal sovereignty by one power or the other, was a product of the first true globalisation-colonial expansion. The expansion was, first, of the Arabs into sub-Sahara and East Africa with their Islam. In West Africa, it took some time for the residual impact of Islam to get to the shores of the sea. The second intrusion was by the West into West Africa with their Christianity in more recent times. They came via the Atlantic and moderated their influence as they approached an entrenched Islam in the Sahel. These encounters in West Africa took place in the context of an unceasing global jostling for domination by the two global orientations. The loss of ascendancy by the Muslim world in world affairs and its retreat from a modernity fashioned along the values of Christendom over the last five hundred years has been the dominant undercurrents of the thrust of global history in that half a millennium. In the main, the Muslim world acknowledged the success of the West, but regarded Christianity as an earlier corrupted form of puritanical Islam. The Muslim world would not go into modernity on the terms of this corrupted faith. It would not go backward into the future. Hella! These two forces had been at loggerheads for over 500 years before Nigeria became a reality that was conveniently constructed according to the whims of our western colonisers. Both came to subjugate us and decisively succeeded in their enterprises. The whimsical construction Nigeria created was a local volatile frontline in a combustible environment. In this longitudinal span of the evolution of human history, the Cold War was a mere digression.

In a perverse way, Nigeria, with its massive population and huge potentials, had a rendezvous with global currents. It has now inched its way into this history. In any camp of the great divide, Nigeria would be a considerable asset. Al-Qaeda long ago appreciated this and formally put us on its radar. We aided our descent into the inferno by our inauspicious association with the Organisation of Islamic Conference. This association was bound to exacerbate the religious divide in Nigeria. And it did. The beheading of Akaluka in Kano and the public staking and display of his head as a trophy of religious madness marked a chilling juncture. The blood-curdling violence visited by Maitatsine on Christians gave some idea to international political Islam regarding the underbelly of Nigeria. Then came Governor Sani and his Sharia. The incremental manifestations of our polarity that had now acquired a deadly pitch finally culminated in the infamous December 2009 underwear bomber. Mutallab personified the beginnings of the coupling of Nigeria into the Arabo-Islam camp in the great clash of civilisation between it and the West. The execution of the West’s war on terror has been ferocious. This ferocity is only matched by the deadliness of Arabo-Islamic martyrs-to-be in what they perceive as a glorious engagement to defend their faith and civilisation against overwhelming ascendant global cultural machinery. The two antagonistic forces are powerful. As usual, they require pawns in the contemporaneous chapter of their deadly game that has gone on over half a millennium. We are always available. With nothing of our own that we perceive good enough to die for, we die and kill for anything. During the first Iraq war, militants rose in Northern Nigeria to fight on the side of Saddam Hussein. In the same vein Southern Nigerian militias were burning with enthusiasm to enlist in the American-led coalition forces. Boko Haram, having cultivated links with international political Islam, has frontally brought the historic confrontation home. We can now engage in a global war as proxies of historic forces. The fanatical faithful don’t have to go to Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan to die. They can do that in the mindless proxy war at home.

At the heart of the current travails of Nigeria is this decisive success of the historical polarities to which we have been exposed that have turned us into unquestioning blind faith quislings. At the heart of this heart is our proven susceptibility to appropriate every foreign imposition without any hesitation. We seemingly lack the capacity for constructive doubts as a people and society that allows for robust, even if civil and pacific, discursive interactions on profound questions of faith and of life and death. In fact the capacity to think is not rewarded. Where are the think-tanks? The only things that we have an ever ready appetite to question and to vigorously repudiate are whatever are indigenous to us. We have lacked the critical modicum of rationality that makes life in a plural society possible––both the Muslims and Christians. We even sneer at those who have chosen to go the way of our ancestors, including re-appropriating our indigenous understandings of our locus in the cosmos. And when we are not propagating our acquired belief systems with destructive fervour, we are busy being implacable tribalists. Accordingly, Nigeria has been riled to its foundations by a complete absence of a national civic theology––a lack of a coherent ideational framework around which the nation can revolve. Nigeria has been auto-driven to the precipice by the multidimensional dissonance in its fractious society. In this regard, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde were lucky with the principles of holistic cultural integrity as the foundation of multi-racial/cultural society advanced by Amilcar Cabral. It worked until some bigots overthrew that order in 1980. Tanzania had the Ujamaa of the eternal Mwalimu as another worthy try.

Boko Haram is the extreme expression of the entrenched value dissonance in Nigerian society. The Boko Haram phenomenon is a rejection of the fundamental underpinnings of the Nigerian state and the repudiation of the dominant ideational pivots and world view of its society. This translates into questions around the legitimacy of the very order represented by the Nigerian state and society, as presently constructed. Resistance is often at the pain of liquidation of the alternative views and their messengers. Boko Haram is therefore a revolutionary force. Revolutionary forces that challenge the legitimacy of an order do not compromise. A revolutionary force can only be defeated or destroyed. In the secular realm, it leads to the propagation of an extreme strain of the libertarian virus––lawlessness.

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The challenge before Nigeria is therefore historic, more transcendental than the civil war. It is even more challenging than the armed resistance of the Niger Deltans. It is important to make certain distinctions between Boko Haram and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND. MEND violently protested existential deficits imposed by the Nigerian state on the Niger Delta –– material deprivations that they felt strongly enough to seek a radical revision of the institutional structures responsible for the deficiencies in distributive patterns of the Nigerian state. At its worst, MEND was a revisionist-driven enterprise that was prepared to work within the status quo –– the Nigerian state –– if the Niger Deltans felt their legitimate grievances were being addressed. The validity of the cause of MEND was universally acknowledged, even if its violent methods were atrocious. Boko Haram is a different monster. It challenges the dominant philosophical and fundamental moorings of the Nigerian state and society. Boko Haram seeks to devalidate the legitimacy of the Nigerian-ideational and value underpinnings –– state and society. Added to this is the mass poverty of the North that churns out masses of alienated who are potential willing fodder for any cause. Local political Islam sought to tap into this alienation. The hypocritical trumpeting of the Sharia in parts of the North by local politicians clearly signalled to the purveyors of international political Islam that it had a viable constituency in Nigeria.

Against this backdrop, Nigeria should not negotiate with Boko Haram. The prevailing situation is not a moral equivalent of war. It is war itself and Nigeria must brace up for a bloody duel or capitulate. Boko Haram, unfortunately, is the culmination of the refusal of Nigeria––as state and society––to confront these tendencies howling for attention before now. Perhaps, Boko Haram may turn out to be of some blessing, if it forces a rapid institution of a Sovereign National Conference to put the cards on the table to revalidate the legitimacy of the Nigerian state as constructed, or tinker with it structurally to make less intense the friction generated by the different world views in its society. I hate to contemplate a third possibility. One thing is clear though. At the beginning of this third millennium, a state cannot rationalise incremental and perennial pogrom as a price of its continued survival.


•Alalade wrote this piece for TheNEWS magazine

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