By Raymond Oise-Oghaede

The existence of militant groups in the country is real and worrisome but more worrisome is that more of such groups will spring up in the foreseeable future if urgent steps are not taken in the right directions. Foremost amongst the steps is to identify the root-causes of their emergence and proffer workable ways to curtail the trend in order to forestalling their activities.

The attacks carried out in the recent past were so massive that major western powers listed them amongst terrorist groups.

The questions to ask at this point and which require urgent and sincere answers are as follows:

What are the factors responsible for the emergence of these groups in Nigeria?

Why are they carrying out attacks on innocent people in such ferocious magnitude?

Why are they still growing in strength and carrying out more deadly attacks in spite of all efforts of government to curb their activities?

The answer to all these questions is not far fetched. It simply means that certain things are not just right in the society which has prompted the people in this category or group to take their destinies in their own hands. There is a popular saying that ‘When there is life, there is hope’. Today, it seems that the fact of this statement is sounding irritating and annoying in the ears of the majority of the populace because the goings-on around them does buttress the expectations that there is hope for their future. It is, therefore, true that most of this people have constituted themselves into groups with the aim of fighting for whatever they could get in whichever way or at least to draw the attention of the people and governments to their plight.

This kind of agitations or conflict of interests is not peculiar to Nigeria; other Third World and Western countries have experienced same in the past and some are still experiencing difficulties in satisfying the numerous demands of their people. Curiously, most countries in this category are enjoying relative peace and violent-free environment because their governments have pro-actively nipped the root causes of the problems in the bud. The efforts of the government towards alleviating the conditions of the agitators are conspicuously seen and felt. This responsiveness on their part had to a very large extent given the people hope for a better future and that is why they are not up in arms against the society.

The reverse will be the case when leaders are perceived to show nonchalant attitude towards the plight of the people. Nigeria seems to be operating in this category and it is very unfortunate considering the vast material and human resources with which the country is endowed.

The present administration should not be perceived to be the architect of these problems in view of the fact that the factors that led to the crises are embedded in the system and have persisted over the years. However, this government will also share in the blame simply because they are in power today and all their efforts so far in curbing the menace have not fully achieved the desired result. The issues which were handled with levity in the past have degenerated to problems that have endured for years.

All the known vices in the country could be linked to the fact that millions of graduates are not gainfully employed as a result of the socio-political and economic situation in the country. The gap between the living standard of the rich and poor is incomprehensibly too wide. While the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. The situation is so frustrating that some people have opted to indulging in practices that could guarantee their aspirations regardless of the risks and cruelties involved.

Take the case of Boko Haram for instance; their grievances are tied to the belief that ‘Western Education is Sin’. A good number of the populace may have come to the conclusion that the proponents of this ideology are indeed out of this age and time. But, looking closely at happenings in the country from the past to the present, one would tend to ask the question ‘Is Western Education truly a Sin?

From the conservatives’ point of view, Western Education is a blessing because of the immeasurable advantages attached to it. However, considering the overwhelming benefits of education vis-à-vis the situation in the country, one would be compelled to ponder on the question earlier asked over and over again. Presently, obtaining a doctorate degree is not a guarantee that the holder will get a job in the Country. This is unlike  yesteryear when a School Certificate holder is sure of securing a teaching or at worst a Clerical Officer’s job. In those days, employers of labour besieged the NYSC Orientation Camps to scout for prospective employees. Today, a good number of corps members have to go through intense stress before getting a place for their primary assignments.

In the country today, we have graduates that have never been employed for up to 15 years after completion of the National Youth Service. In a situation where doctorate degree holders jostled to get employment as drivers, what will then be the fate of Masters and first degree holders and others in the lower perking order? In this kind of situation, can the people in this category see Western Education as a blessing? Did I hear you say capital No? If that be the case, what then will be the place of those who dropped out or who never attended school? It need be mentioned that, lots of people found themselves in this category as a result of circumstances beyond their control. In most cases, their parents could not afford to send them to school because of their economic situation while others are unfortunate to grow up in locations where there are no such facilities. A good number of our children are made to hawk or engage in street trading or menial jobs to be able to secure formal education. Even at that and, in most cases, the income generated is not even enough to put three square meals on the table let alone paying school fees or buying books and other materials.

In some areas where education at primary and secondary levels is relatively cheap and even free, the learning environment is embarrassingly far below standard or nothing to write home about.

The situation is even getting complicated by every passing day. Unlike before when the missionaries brought decent and affordable education to our doorsteps, the story is now different. Though most schools still maintain their good names and high educational and moral standards, the fees are far beyond the reach of the man on the street. Same is the story of privately established institutions by individuals and other religious bodies, though they could also conveniently say that the seemingly exorbitant fees are a fallout of the high cost of sustaining excellent values and other miscellaneous expenses.  Admittedly, a good number of them are tastefully furnished and well equipped with high calibre of teaching and non teaching staff but, the fact of the matter remains that ‘the institutions are no go areas for the less privileged masses’.

A lot of Nigerians benefited and millions are still enjoying the dividends of free education introduced in the old Western Region during the First Republic. What are we doing now to bring back smiles to the face of the nation?

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To be fair to the Fourth Republicans (1999 to date) a lot has been done to put back things on the right track. Presently, the federal and a good number of state governments have embarked on upgrading, renovating and even constructing modern structures for various schools. Some of them have even gone as far as equipping most of the schools with modern standard facilities.

Some have scrapped school fees, while others have reduced same to make education affordable and convenient for people in the lower cadre.

Others have re-introduced payment of bursaries and are even paying examination fees for their students. Today, there are talks in town about millennium, unity, rebirth and Almajiri schools to mention but a few.

These are genuine efforts in the right direction but they are not enough to stop the activities of the militants at this moment because a lot of damage has been done in the past to weaken the relevance of education. More so, a lot of youths have lost faith in the efficacy of education in guaranteeing a better future. At this point what is paramount is for the government to create jobs for millions of Nigerians who are not meaningfully engaged and are disgruntled.

The government should be prepared and committed to resolving the Boko Haram and other militants’ conflicts with the principle of ‘NO VICTOR, NO VANQUISHED’. If the issues raised by the groups had been pro-actively tackled and nipped in the bud, it would not have degenerated to this frightening magnitude.

The governments of states where the activities of the groups are paramount should play active role in bringing about ceasefire.

Military action will not achieve the desired results as it will lead to the shedding of more blood and this will not guarantee the protection of innocent lives. This is in view of the fact that there are no special features to distinguish members of the sect from other Nigerians. Otherwise, their activities would not have persisted to date. However, this is not to say that the sect members cannot be identified by the people in their immediate environment but the people are living in fear of the unknown. As the adage goes, ‘the devil you know is better than the angel you do not know’. At least the natives need protection and security from members of the sect they know too well than the security agents that are alien to them. In this kind of situation, would you blame the natives for not giving useful information about the sect? Your response is as good as mine.

Be that as it may, the only viable solution to the problem is to embrace genuine reconciliation through negotiations.

Government should make a categorical statement and desire to go into negotiation with members of the sect or their representatives without harassment and victimization. This step should not be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of government but a necessary sacrifice (price) for not nipping the problem in the bud in the first place.

Members of the groups are human beings and our brothers and sisters at that, so they deserve to be treated as such and be heard to pave way for amicable resolution of the conflict.

The government should also reach out to stakeholders in and outside government regardless of religious, tribal or political affiliations. The problem should not be seen as that of the Northerners or the Muslims alone. Happenings have shown that the sect do not limit their targets to people of a particular tribe or religion so it is a national problem and all well-meaning people should be involved in finding amicable and lasting solutions to it.

Negotiation/talks should start from the Villages. This should be the primary responsibility of the Local Government Councils. Representatives of the councils should start fence mending talks through the village and district heads. They will in turn liaise with members of the sect and before you know it terms and conditions for a ceasefire will be made.

If the government shows high level of commitment and sincerity to the project, the sect members will have a rethink and the natives would even encourage them to embrace the good gesture rather than continue with the endless battle. The aim of the exercise should be for true reconciliation and not to victimise or intimidate members of the sect and or the villagers (natives).

The government should not be blinded by the belief that the problem can only be resolved by destroying members of the sect. If that be the case, then it will be effort in futility as there is no known machinery on ground to prevent or curtail the growth and spread of its membership.

It is only when the country is at peace that we would be talking of National Conference in the true sense of it; free, fair and credible elections in 2015 and beyond.

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

NB: This article was written several weeks before the unfortunate incidents of the killing of 59 students in a Secondary School in Yobe and another 37 people in Adamawa State. I pray that the Almighty God will grant them eternal rest and their loved ones and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss. Amen

•Oise-Oghaede, a public policy commentator wrote from Lagos.