“There is no handy roadmap for reconciliation. There is no short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence. Creating trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge. It is, however, an essential one to address in the process of building a lasting peace. Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it, and above all transcending it together, is the best way to guarantee that it does not- and cannot- happen again.”
From Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s forward in: “Reconciliation after Violent Conflict”
A fortnight ago, on January 28 2013, most Nigerian media outlets beamed with the catchy breaking news headline that the dreaded Boko Haram group had announced a ceasefire with the Nigerian government, thus putting a hold on the terrorist attacks that had for months, threatened the peace, stability and unity of the entire country. The Nigerian Federal government and security agencies were said to have welcomed the news, though with restraint. It was also welcomed news for Nigerians at large, who were almost getting used to a daily life of fear and uncertainty brought on by the new wave of insecurity that accompanied the suicide bombings that were happening for the first time in Nigeria history.
Along with celebrating a ceasefire, the Nigerian Federal government now has within its reach, a golden opportunity for a more comprehensive and robust peace process. In light of this opportunity, it needs to ensure that the peace process will address the immediate and remote causes of the Boko Haram insurgency. It also needs to be a process that will aim at uniting a people who may have lost a great deal of trust for one another across religious, ethnic and political boundaries. These distinctions were the very foundations of Nigerian unity that felt the weight of the terrorist attacks which were clear to any discerning mind. Ideally, the Nigerian Federal Government will begin a comprehensive process that will incorporate both short term and long term peace measures. Not only will this require a great deal of thoroughness and openness, but it will also likely be a process that will require a sincere political will: one which will serve the interest of the entire country rather than the narrow and immediate political interest of any individual, or ethnicity, or political party. It will be a process that will shield the country from the vulnerability of future breakdowns of peace and security.
Violent conflicts are without a doubt, a major destabilising force for any nation, and even more destabilising are ones with separatist motives and agendas. One way for overcoming such destabilising motives behind a conflict has always been for the people of the affected nation to forge together and create a common front across every divide. It is therefore no surprise that post-conflict times for most nations that have in the past felt threatened by violent conflicts are less times to pursue narrow political agendas and more times to pursue less divisive political policies and more inclusive economic reforms. Usually, the peace process begins with embarking on important political and economic reforms and other reforms that may be deemed necessary for restoring normalcy and guaranteeing future peace and security. Even when a lack of these reforms may not have been the immediate cause(s) of a conflict, they nonetheless create an environment that makes terrorism more likely. Terrorism is known to thrive in any environment that harbours a greater number of willing recruits and also where other factors that would act as catalysts to exacerbate even a minor disagreement exit. Notable amongst these factors include abject poverty, youth unemployment, political differences that are not based on policies and political issues but on personalities and religious tensions, to mention but a few. These are some of the factors that most terrorist organisation would be willing to exploit to advance their agenda.
Nigeria is a country that is currently susceptible to terrorist recruits because of the existence of so many of the above-mentioned factors. As a result, the country requires reforms especially in the aftermath of Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. To understand the roles played by some of these factors in the months of violent attacks on the country by the Boko Haram and to underscore the urgency for such reforms, there may be a need to first look at some of the past events in the country that preceded the terrorist attacks.
Boko Haram was a group whose violent attacks were believed to have been felt by the country for some time, especially after the purported extra-judicial killing of their spiritual leader, Mohammed Yusuf, by the Nigerian security forces in 2001. But their attacks escalated shortly after the country’s 2011 general elections which produced the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. The timing of the escalation led most Nigerians to see Boko Haram, not as a terrorist organisation, but as a violent political pressure group doing the biddings of some disgruntled politicians. The political atmosphere in the country during the run up and after the general elections was so tense that it made it easy to blame the attacks on politics. The possibility of the attacks being political was an assumption that may not have dissipated in some quarters to date. Even the government blamed some members of the opposition parties and accused some of their leaders of having made inciting and provocative comments during the run up and after the elections which led to what it thought was a violent dispute of the election results. Although the accusations were denied by the opposition political parties, it was clear that they had become the first suspects in the government’s effort to unravel the motives behind the attacks.
Quite understandably, the other suspects became some members of the ruling party who were believed to be aggrieved with the party’s altering of their zoning formula to favour the incumbent President Jonathan. The purported zoning formula was understood to be an agreement within the ruling party to rotate power between the two major ethnic groups. Under that arrangement, the Presidential and the vice Presidential Offices have to be alternated between the northern region and the southern region for two terms of eight years. It was an agreement that was said to have been entered into in 1999 and started with the election of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the same year. After serving out his two terms of eight years, former President Obasanjo, who was from the Southern region, handed over his office, in 2007, to Former President Umaru Yar’adua who was from the Northern region and was expected to occupy the Presidential Office until 2015. As fate would have it, former President Yar’adua passed away in 2010 after a protracted illness.
The death of Yar’adua in 2010 became a turning point in the purported ruling party’s agreement and could have triggered off a somewhat constitutional crisis. Regardless of what the agreement within the ruling party was, the Nigerian Constitution clearly stipulated that in the case of the death of a sitting President, the Vice President should be sworn in as the de facto President. The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan who was the Vice President to the late President Yar’adua became the beneficiary of the constitutional requirement. However, some Politicians from the Northern region still expected President Jonathan who was from the southern region to honour the ruling party’s agreement by not presenting himself for re-election in 2011 general elections despite being constitutionally allowed to do so. The disagreement within the ruling party on whether President Jonathan should stand for re-election or not degenerated into a form of ethnic squabbles and became so heated that many believed it to be the motive behind the Boko Haram attacks.
The former National Security Adviser to the President, Late Andrew Owoye Azazi, belonged to the school of thought that believed that the source of the Boko Haram violence was most likely the fierce debate surrounding the ruling party’s rotational Presidency. Even the past comment from President Jonathan that Boko Haram had infiltrated his government can be understood to be a pointer to the opposition of his candidacy for the 2011 general elections within his own party. In these ensuing political disagreements, the possibility of the Boko Haram group being a terrorist organisation with links to foreign terrorist networks received the least amount of attention from the Nigerian Government and the Security outfits until recently.
Despite the now rumoured possibility that the Boko Haram group had an established link with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, it was clear that the Nigerian government already believed that the insecurity that followed the attacks may have been exploited for other reasons. These assumptions were what led some government spokespersons to distinguish different factions within the Boko Haram to include: Terrorist Boko Haram, Political Boko Haram and Criminal Boko Haram. The Terrorist Boko Haram was believed to be the main terrorist organisation with possible links to foreign networks. The Political and Criminal Boko Haram were believed to be gangs of politicians and criminals who cashed in on the insecurity in the country to advance their own political and criminal agenda. It is from these categorisations of the different factions of Boko Haram that the roles played by politics, elections, poverty, unemployment, etc, in Nigeria’s present state of insecurity becomes clearer and underscores the urgency for important reforms. Additionally, the link between terrorism and other factors that encourage willing recruits also becomes clearer.
Even when the important distinction had been made on the different factions within Boko Haram, the response from the Nigerian Federal government and the law enforcement agencies were focused on escalating military offensives against the perceived members of the sect and less focused on taking a closer look at the bigger picture in order to swiftly address other possible direct and indirect causes. The ethnic tension created by the ruling party’s internal affairs on rotation of power should have gingered a more robust discussion on the country’s party politicking. All issues relating to party politics in Nigeria have always been viewed as internal affairs, a description that is meant to shield them from external dictates and interference. Even the ruling party had in the past described some well known scandals of some of their party members as ‘family affairs’ even when they were in clear breach of rules for Public Office holders. With such perceptions about party politics, the resultant effects were such that corruption and scandals were covered, Party Officials and candidates for various elections are most times not elected by popular votes, party constitutions are fragrantly flouted, primary elections are sometimes not held or, even when they are held, the processes have not only lacked transparency and internal democracy but have often been shrouded in secrecy. When questions are asked, the most common answer to expect is a reminder that it is only but a family/internal affair.
If political Boko Haram were to have been caused by the ruling party’s internal affairs, the fact that the spill-over effects were suffered by the entire country underscores the importance of reviewing the laws governing Nigerian party politics in order to enforce internal democracies and transparent processes. The acceptability of engaging in “gentleman’s agreements” that are not within the country’s constitution should also be made a subject of debate. These are indeed areas the government needs a coalition of inputs and the engagement of all the political parties and civil society groups. Building such a coalition should be seen to transcend any temporary political interest.
The criminal Boko Haram that is based on the aforementioned classifications also underscores the urgency of important economic reforms to address the increasing youth unemployment, abject poverty, widening gaps between the rich and the poor and other social inequalities that are prevalent in most parts of Nigeria. The areas in northern Nigeria where Boko Haram was believed to have originated are areas populated by youths from very poor backgrounds and has one of the highest numbers of youth unemployment in Africa. These are classes of people that are vulnerable to shuffling between criminal activities and enlisting in the more dreaded Terrorist Boko Haram group. Questions need to be asked about how the huge resources’ accruing from the country’s Internally Generated Revenues (IGR), especially from oil, are managed (or mismanaged). Concrete steps should be taken to address impunity in public offices, mindless corruption and mismanagement of public resources. Development should be seen to be widespread and creating jobs for the youths should also be made a priority for the government.
The earlier the Nigerian government starts taking notice of the possible interconnectedness between the various criminal activities in most parts of the country, the unaddressed social inequalities and the lack of basic democratic principles, the better it stands the chance to address its security problems that are hampering its developmental efforts. However, there is unfortunately reason to doubt whether the government is ready to take these steps. The recent interview between President Jonathan and Christiana Amanpour of the Cable News Network (CNN) where he denied the possibility of any link between the Boko Haram crisis and poverty suggests that the Nigerian government may not be ready to look at the bigger picture of underlying issues that can create an environment that is more susceptible to the establishment of organisations like the Boko Haram. As a result, until real reforms are made, Nigeria’s future peace and security will continue to lie on a very weak foundation.
The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of Justice Africa.