At last, the government of Nigeria has come to accept Boko Haram, the fundamentalist Islamic group, for what it is—-a terrorist organization. Government has, after years of delusional indulgences, decided to call the spade by its proper name. It has officially banned Boko Haram, having realized that it is in fact, and indeed, a terrorist group.
Government’s latter-day realization tells its own story. It reminds us of what we have been told time and time again, and which we know from experience, that reality is usually a late dawn. It is so because human understanding is very limited. In our limitation, reality which we seek to be at one with can sometimes stare us nakedly in the face, but we often mistake it for something else. In our mental flights, we exchange illusion for reality. This tendency often leads to tragic errors of judgment.
The government of the day was for a very long time, caught in this mess of illusion. But government’s lack of understanding of the true state of affairs was, to a very large extent, self-inflicted. It could have discovered otherwise if it had applied itself diligently to the facts of the matter.
For me, it sounds funny now, even childish, to begin to brand Boko Haram a terrorist organization. Government ought to have known this all this while and ought to have taken all the necessary steps that would, probably, have changed the tempo and direction of events in this matter. But it chose to play the ostrich, pretending as if everything was in order. I am amused at this volte-face because the issue of designating Boko Haram a terrorist organization was hotly contested in informed circles. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) led by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor was at the forefront of the controversy. It advanced many cogent reasons why Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In fact, Oritsejafor addressed the American Congress on the Boko Haram insurgency. The objective was for them to understand why Boko Haram should be designated an FTO.
Oritsejafor‘s point was reinforced by the fact that the American government had, shortly before his visit to America, declared three Boko Haram members as terrorists. America placed them on its global terror watch list because of their manifest link with foreign terrorist organizations. The question then was: why would members of an organization be branded terrorists if the organization itself does not qualify to be called a terrorist body?
America could not address this issue satisfactorily. Ambassador Jonnie Carson, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, had said then that the American government does not see Boko Haram as a unified group and therefore does it consider it proper to designate it a terror group.
That was how involved America was in this politics of terrorism. Up till this moment; critical segments of Nigeria are still wondering why America assumed such a sinister stance on the Boko Haram issue. But we must leave America out of this for the purpose of our analysis here and pay a little more attention to the Nigerian government that, three days ago, reversed itself on Boko Haram. Government had this Tuesday came up with an Order which has been gazetted as “Terrorism (Prevention) (Proscription order) Notice 2013”. The Act declares Boko Haram’s activities as illegal and acts of terrorism. Under the Act as well, members, supporters, and collaborators of the sect will now be prosecuted.
This presents us with an interesting dimension to an issue which government once treated with kid gloves. It is a well known fact that while Oritsejafor’s CAN was campaigning for the designation of Boko Haram as an FTO, the Nigerian government rose stoutly against the move. The government had argued then that labeling Boko Haram a terrorist organization would affect all Nigerians travelling to America, be they Boko Haram adherents or not. Government was therefore on the side of the American government, which was not interested in designating Boko Haram an FTO. Consequently, the issue went under. CAN’s pressure alone could not do the magic.
But in all of this, America had its reason. It was playing politics with the issue. But the Nigerian government hardly had a reason. The argument that an FTO designation for Boko Haram would affect all Nigerians was lame. America’s security agencies do not act indiscriminately. They act with and for a reason. The Homeland Security whose duty it is to monitor the movement of people in and out of the USA was properly disposed to Boko Haram being designated an FTO. The same thing was true of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Congress. It was only the State Department that was opposed to the move. Thus, with the Homeland Security already operating with a clear understanding of what Boko Haram means and represents, why would a Nigerian government think that the situation would change simply because it ((the Nigerian government) is not properly disposed to an FTO designation for Boko Haram?
Our government therefore had no argument. Its problem was that of lack of courage. When this argument was raging, Jonathan administration was still working towards appeasing a section of the country. It did not want to incur the wrath of the North by stigmatizing Boko Haram. Jonathan was even known to have said severally then that Boko Haram members are our brothers and sisters. He said he was against dealing ruthlessly with them. He said he was more disposed to making them see reason and returning them to the path of sanity. That was the disposition of the government. Now, all that pacifism has failed. Government has suddenly forgotten where it stood before. Boko Haram members are no longer our brothers and sisters. Maximum force has been unleashed on them. With the state of emergency in three states of the Northeast, a full-blown war is going on between government forces and Boko Haram insurgents. Freestyle bloodletting is now the order of the day. This is the case because government’s kid gloves approach has failed.
In the same vein, government has, through the new Act, moved against supporters and sponsors of Boko Haram. It is now ready to prosecute anyone seen or known to be cavorting with the terrorists. Again, this takes us back to where we were. One of the reasons why Boko Haram grew wings was that government was not prepared to tackle the menace headlong. While Boko Haram was unleashing terror and mayhem on the people, some highly placed Nigerians left no one in doubt that they have sympathies for the terrorists. It was even evident from their pronouncements and posturing that they were behind the insurgents. Nigerians who were infuriated by such effrontery had cause then to tell government to rise against those backers of Boko Haram. It was reasoned that the terrorists could not have been as daring as they are, with sophisticated instruments of destruction at their disposal, without linkage with powerful and wealthy members of the society. Some of their collaborators were as good as known, but government chose to look the other way. It chose to do nothing because it did not want to rock the boat.
Now, what has changed? Why has government decided to take steps to bring these devious characters to book? Why has government suddenly started doing those things it said it would not do before?
As we hinted earlier, reality has just dawned on our government. The battle of survival has opened its eyes to situations it once treated with levity. While government was trying to please some people in the hope that it would get their backing in its quest for continuity, it has discovered to its chagrin that while it extended an olive branch to them, they were paying it back with venom. Less than two years to the next general elections, it has become obvious to President Jonathan that those he has been trying to appease will be the bane of his 2015 presidential ambition. Since the quest for power, especially in the developing world, does not admit of niceties, Jonathan has decided to bare his fangs. He has decided that Boko Haram must be given its proper name if that will help him to remain in power beyond 2015. He has decided that war must be levied against the insurgents if their defeat will help him to consolidate his hold on power. He has also made up his mind to neutralize the sponsors of the terrorists so as to weaken the insurgent’s ability to strike. This is the reality of the situation. Our government can see clearly now. In the eyes of the government, Boko Haram is now a Local Terrorists Organization (LTO) but not yet an FTO. Will government in its new resolve approach the American government and urge it to see and designate Boko Haram an FTO? That should be the next logical step left for government especially now that the mote in its eyes has fallen off.