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Boko Haram in North-Eastern Nigeria

Some Current Issues

Atta Barkindo with a Soldier Friend at one of the military Check Points
The current situation of things on the Boko Haram conflict is at best confusing from the
point of view of government policy. More importantly, the infiltration of Boko Haram
members within the northern states and around vast open border that connects BornoAdamawa provinces to neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Niger is at
worst uncertain. Based on the current situation, there are suggestions that the Boko
Haram sect has segmented into different factions either as a matter of strategy or due to
the pressure of the military onslaught against the group. However, in my interactions
with military and security sources, the major crack that has been confirmed is that
between the ANSARU and BOKO HARAM. This too was reiterated by Mr. Kabiru
Umar also known as Kabiru Sokoto during his arraignment at the Federal High Court in
Abuja. He clarified during the trial that disagreement over how to share the funds
received by Islamic extremist groups led to the splitting of the terrorist sect, Boko
Haram. It is safe to suggest that more and more splinter groups are coming up due to the
pressure of the military assault rather than ideological or deep theological motivations.
To demonstrate the extent to which different groups of the Boko Haram sect have
infiltrated northern Nigeria and beyond, a joint team of security operatives comprising
soldiers and officers of the State Security Service (SSS) raided a hideout of Boko Haram
members at Gidandare area of the Sokoto metropolis in July 2013, killing one suspected
Boko Haram member while one terrorist was captured. Addressing journalists in Sokoto
(I was at this news conference), the Commander, 1 Brigade, Nigeria Army, Brig-Gen.
Mohammed Tasiu Ibrahim, said the security operatives invaded the terrorists hideout
around 2 a.m. following a tip-off but were resisted by the insurgents, who engaged them
in a gun battle that lasted for over six hours.

The other issue is the alleged Civilian JTF which is purported to be helping the
Nigerian security forces in the fight against Boko Haram. It remains difficult to ascertain
who the leader of this new group is, when was the new group formed, who was
responsible for its formation and what does the group intend to achieve in a situation
where government policies of amnesty and state of emergency seemed to have failed? In
my interaction with security forces and journalists in Borno and Yobe states, the
existence of the Civilian JTF is undeniable, and for the military, a welcome development.
These youths, who formed bulk of the group, they claim, know the inner recesses of
Maiduguri and Yobe cities, interact with the ordinary people on daily basis and are
capable of helping the security forces identify who is and who is not a member of Boko
Haram. More importantly, most members of the security forces are indigenes of other
states, drafted from other parts of the country unfamiliar with the terrains and the
Kanuri language, consequently, the formation of a vigilante group like the Civilian JTF is
an added advantage for maximizing security.
However, in my analysis, the emergence of this so called Vigilante Group (Civilian JTF)
should be placed within historical perspective. First of all, the popularity of political
thugs in the north-eastern region is nothing new. Currently, political thugs that emerged
in the north-east, especially with Nigerias return to multi-partty democracy in 1999 bear
different names such as Ecomog in Borno and Yobe states, Sara-Suka in Gombe state,
YanKallare in Bauchi state, Banu-Israil in Taraba state and Yan-Shinko in Adamawa state.
There activities commences from the early stage of politicking and becomes intense at
election periods. Most of these groups of unemployed youths are sponsored by desperate
politicians who lure them with extravagant promises of employment and other
government patronage. Since 1999 to date, some of these youthful thugs have been
sponsored by desperate politicians to protect their political interest. After elections, these
boys trained to maim and kill political opponents are left helpless without any tangible
means of sustenance. In instances, even their sponsors are not spared from their acts of
violence as they equally attack them in public functions like wedding, political rallies and
so on, when they fail to meet their expectations or demand. Two major reasons why
politicians employ violence could be attributed to their quest for power and drive toward
primitive accumulation of wealth and competitive authoritarian nature of the Nigerian
state. This gave rise to the high level and sophistication of political thuggery in the
For instance, WeeklyTrust reported worrisome atrocities of Sara-Suka titled How SaraSuka held Bauchi state hostage revealed that hooligans tagged Sara-Suka from both
opposing parties ANPP and PDP and others fought, left some dead and many casualties
with injuries. A classic example of this is when Ali Modu Sheriff sponsored Mala Mallah
Kachallah to be the governor of Borno state in 1999. Failing to access funds and dictate
the space of governance under his supposed political godson, Ali Modu Sheriff formed
and mobilized the Ecomog militias against Mala Kachallah Ecomog political thugs turning
Borno state into a battle field, with the Borno state house of assembly complex set
ablaze. It was through this political thuggery that Ali Modu Sheriff became the governor
of Borno state. Failing to pay his dues, the most of the youths have been waiting to take
their own pound of flesh.
With this benefit of hindsight, it is safe to suggest that this Civilian JTF could be an
extension of historical political grievance in the context of urban violence rather than
some lofty vision of supporting the JTF. Interestingly, the Civilian JTF does not seem to
be after individual Boko Haram members. Rather, convinced that some of the political

elite in the state are behind the unending attacks by the Boko Haram Islamic sect, have
taken the law into their hands to put an end to elite impunity. Last week, they attempted
to raze the exquisite mansion of former governor of the state, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
The Civilian JTF has been seeking to bring the party chairman to justice for his alleged
complicity in the acts of terrorism for the last one week without success as he was
believed to have fled his house. There are suggestions that this could become a platform
for exerting revenge and settling scores due to spill over from community and
neighbourhood disputes. Arming this group and aligning them with the security forces
will be a dangerous game the government will be playing within the context of an ongoing conflict. First militia movements in Nigeria are fluid, elliptical and uncertain,
interests and motivations change over time. Former, allegiance and loyalty of these youth
groups, especially in north-eastern Nigeria are not defined by any national ideology or
interest, but by financial and material gains that will emerge as the conflict lasts. In fact,
more worrying is the resurgence of political thuggery as Nigeria prepares for the 2015
general and presidential elections. Arming young people already used to the culture of
thuggery and violence just ahead of the 2015 election could be a basis for legitimacy and
Empirical evidence suggests that government policy towards engaging with Boko Haram
is at best confusing. First, there has not been adequate explanation to the Nigerian public
by the government on the nature of the amnesty being pursued. It is not very clear if
Boko Haram members will be exempted from criminal prosecutions, or civil
prosecutions or both. Furthermore, there is no indication if all crimes committed will be
nullified. This is further compounded by the fact that the possible conceptual framework
regarding the nature of the amnesty has divided opinions in Nigeria. Jonathan himself
declared in Yobe state that he will not grant amnesty to ghosts, a reference to the
clandestine nature of the sect members. To add to this controversy, Matthew Hassan
Kukah pointed out that an offer of amnesty is not the same thing as declaration of
amnesty. The implication is that the government is not declaring amnesty but merely
inviting the members for negotiations. While the search for the type of amnesty to be
granted continues, the government not only proscribed the sect but also declared a state
of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. Yet it is necessary to ask, how will be
government negotiate with a group that is proscribed and declared illegal? Are
negotiations possible while in the midst of a state of emergency? The recent killings of 30
students in Yobe state despite the amnesty and state of emergency indicates that the
entire policy is drifting aimlessly.
Just this week, the Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Committee on Dialogue and
Peaceful Resolution of the Security Challenges in the North, Alhaji Kabiru Turaki,
claimed on behalf of the Federal Government to have signed a ceasefire with the
authentic members of Boko Haram represented by Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez.
However, media sources reported in Kaduna on August 5 that another leader of the
Boko Haram faction Mohammed Marwana, who claimed to have been the one
negotiating with the Nigerian government, declared that his team carried out the deadly
Kano bombings that killed over 40 people last week in Sabon-Gari area of Kano
metropolis. An audio message obtained by Saharareporters added a new twist to the
controversy surrounding the authenticity of the faction of the Islamists militant group in
talks with the federal government. This could also suggest that while government
unilaterally decreed this amnesty from above, it now decides for the Boko Haram sect
who is an authentic member and who is not. It further raises more questions than

answers regarding the best policy the Nigerian government should assume in confronting
Boko Haram.
Moreover, to what extent will such an agreement be legal and binding considering the
fact that the group has been proscribed and deemed illegal? Most worrisome is what
seems like a confused state of things when the Director of Defence Information (DDI),
Brig-Gen. Chris Olukolade said in an interview that the military had not been informed
of the agreement. We are not aware of any ceasefire. This fundamental crack in
communication between the military and the Presidential Amnesty Committee further
confirms the lack of seriousness in government policy towards the resolution of the
conflict. There are now suggestions that Boko Haram is regrouping within the border
settlements and the need to change strategy is inevitable. One of the strategies, according
to military sources, is to completely side-line the amnesty committee and confront Boko
Haram head on. Interestingly, there are signals from the International Criminal Court
(ICC) that indicate Boko Haram has been indicted for war crimes. However, the ICC in
its report titled Situation in Nigeria released on August 7, seems to suggest that after
the indictment, the next step will be to assess whether the Nigerian government is
working on conducting genuine proceedings in relation to those who appear to bear the
greatest responsibility for such crimes and the gravity of such crimes. Its left to be seen
if the Nigerian government has the political will to move from amnesty, to proscription,
state of emergency (SoE) to trials for Boko Haram members. ICC involvement could
also indicate the possibility of extending the investigations to include military and security
officers already indicted by the media and international agencies for committing atrocities
that could amount to war crimes. Whether the Nigerian government is prepared to allow
its security forces to be investigated will be a matter of time.
Finally, the current Boko Haram mystery leader, Abubakar Shekau, has after the ceasefire
declaration, released a video, denying any dialogue or truce with the Federal Government
of Nigeria. He further denied having any relationship with Sheikh Muhammad Ibn
Abdulazeez, the man who repeatedly claimed to be the second in command to Shekau,
and who led the declaration of ceasefire by the government. Meanwhile, the Christian
Association of Nigeria in the 19 Northern States and the Federal Capital Territory on
Sunday asked the Federal Government to disband immediately the Tanimu Turaki-led
Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in
the North. The association believes there can be no amnesty for unrepentant murderers
and insurgents without reconciliation with victims. While amnesty remains necessary for
the purpose of peace and stability, the Nigerian government must avoid turning amnesty
programmes into avenues for financial embezzlement. Furthermore, structures for the
rehabilitation of militia groups in or outside the country should be considered. Above all,
the structural poverty, socio-economic conditions and weak accountability institutions
that support the emergence of militia groups should be addressed urgently. Otherwise, it
is Boko Haram today and another monster tomorrow.