Boko Haram and a Nation Gripped By Fear

In most cultures of the world, a word exists for a frightening creature or the bogey man. In Hausa for instance, it is the dodo. A fiendish entity, other-worldly, yet beastly in its aggression and human in its scheming prowess, the dodo lurks, stalks and terrorises. Stories of the bogey man are used strategically by parents to whip misbehaving children back into line, because no one knows quite what the bogeyman is – it is everything and nothing.

In Nigeria’s North-East, the heart of the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency, the bogeyman may have traversed the realm of fantasy into cold reality. Boko Haram militants lurk at night, to murder school children while they sleep. In the last few days, we have been held spellbound by the brutality unleashed on defenseless school children in Borno and Yobe. 43 young people were killed in the attack on a secondary school in Buni Yadi, Yobe. About 20 female students were abducted by the militants from a school in Konduga, Borno.

Survivors have recounted spine-chilling stories of dormitories set on fire and of escapees gunned down. The few that evaded gun fire were chased, and slaughtered like cattle. Photos of charred remains of adolescents and of bodies drenched in blood from sliced throats and bullet wounds have flooded the Internet. The massacres occur daily. The bogeyman has come to life – it spares no one in its violent wake.

Naked fear is firmly embedded into the spines of most. The fear in part stems from the realisation that regardless of class or economic status, no one is safe. The ‘unknown gunmen’ who routinely terrorise others are hardly ever caught and prosecuted. The murders of prominent citizens such as Bola Ige, Saudatu Rimi and Sheikh Jafar are yet to be resolved years after, not to mention crimes against faceless and nameless ‘commoners’ in Bama or Baga. The Police, the Civil Defense Corps and the Army seem to be out-gunned, out-motivated and over-whelmed. In a country with massive economic and social inequalities, this collective insecurity is one area where all Nigerians are equal.

Mostly, this fear comes from confronting a deadly enemy which appears fluid, formless and extremely vengeful – a bogeyman. Boko Haram is a rapidly changing, complex and fragmented movement. Its doctrine is as fast changing as it is contradictory – anti-democracy, anti-secularism, and anti-establishment. Yet it liberally employs internet enabled smartphones and other tools of modernity and western education to perpetrate attacks. Any criticism of the group’s approach by ordinary citizens, Imams or traditional rulers in the North draws a swift and vicious response.

The eccentric pre-2009 hermetic ragtag sect, avenging the death of their slain leader Muhammad Yusuf from 2010, have quickly metamorphosed into a highly sophisticated terrorist group with deep local and global networks. From laying siege on police stations and army checkpoints, they have attacked churches, brothels, prominent Islamic clerics, mosques, northern traditional rulers and now they’ve added the murder of helpless school children to a blood-drenched résumé. It’s difficult to project what tactics they will adopt next.

So little credible information about the group is available. Boko Haram itself thrives on secrecy. The Army bragged about the leader, Abubakar Shekau’s death in August 2013 only for his taunting videos to resurface shortly. Whenever an evident victory is proclaimed by the authorities, a more daring attack is perpetrated. The insurgency has become like the monster in Greek mythology, Scylla – when one head is sliced off, three more sprout up in its stead. As the rise of the ‘yan Gora or the Civilian Joint Task Force – the youth vigilante fishing out suspected insurgents from the community – is celebrated, Boko Haram ferociously retaliates against such communities working with the authorities.

Where little information is available, speculation thrives. Where speculation is rife in the midst of unbridled fear about a formless enemy, conspiracy theories fill the gap. In Nigeria, these conspiracy theories are as numerous as they are destructive: Boko Haram is a creation of “disgruntled northern politicians to destabilise Goodluck Jonathan’s government”. “Boko Haram is a creation of the Federal Government in Abuja to destroy the North for political advantage”. The group “is a creation of the West to fulfill their prediction of a disintegrated Nigeria by 2015″. Some of these toxic opinions neatly overlap with people’s innate prejudices particularly in the wake of the divisive 2011 elections.

While these conspiracy theories are mostly ludicrous, anecdotes of suspicious events give them weight. According to the Yobe state governor, the soldiers guarding the school in Buni Yadi were mysteriously withdrawn from their duty posts a few hours before. The traditional ruler of Bama bemoaned that while the town was sacked and torched over several hours in February, frantic efforts to call local Police and Army chiefs were futile as they were all mysteriously unavailable. Ground troops, whose courage must be appreciated, are known to be severely under equipped relative to the sophisticated weaponry carried by Boko Haram despite the almost one trillion naira allocated to security in the national budget.

Most troubling is that recently, Reno Omokri, the President’s Special Assistant on New Media was identified as the author of a malicious article falsely alleging that the ‘suspended’ Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido is a Boko Haram financier. Many such unexplained events have planted suspicion in the minds of many in the North-East, and allow for dangerous conspiracy theories to flourish.

A Screen Shot showing the article and the author details. Source: Feyi Fawehinmi on Twitter @doubleEph

The reality is that fighting such an entrenched insurgency anywhere will be a grueling and bloody war of attrition. The difficult experiences of America in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, despite being a highly militarised super power are instructive. In this trying period, it is necessary to ensure that some semblance of national cohesion against the insurgency exists.

For a start, genuine efforts must be made at restoring the trust of residents in the North-East in the Federal Government. Symbolic gestures by the President to sincerely console victims of brutal murders would alleviate some of the widespread sense of alienation in the region. Greater efforts must be made to address lapses and incompetence by the security agencies in order to lay conspiracy theories to rest. Proper investigations of leakages in the security infrastructure must be made to understand why combat troops in the firing line are under-paid and under-equipped. President Jonathan must as a matter of urgency, take decisive and punitive action against the despicable act of his aide- Reno Omokri, failure of which would send the message that the frame up attempt was sanctioned by the Presidency.

Finally, Nigerians must be commended for the resilience and the solidarity in expressing collective outrage in the wake of the recent escalation of violence in the entire North-East. Despite the prevalence of fear and the sense of helplessness, we must have faith that Nigeria will somehow endure and emerge stronger from this all.

18 thoughts on “Boko Haram and a Nation Gripped By Fear

  1. May God help us..nigerians have so few options,we wl pray, hope and keep faith one day it will come to is sad indeed

  2. Well written. My problem with all these information and misinformation is why the soldiers have limited media access. No report from the affected areas seem to be accurate because there is no presence of media. Something must be done about this!

  3. it saddens my heart to hear Boko Haram is now targeting defenseless school children. Thank you for this write up Zainab…it has deeply nourished my understanding of whats going on in Northern Nigeria. I hope Jonathan’s government is able to sort its sh*t out and curb this daunting problem of insecurity in Nigeria.

  4. The trash will continue being fed, including this article. Am highly amused at your conclusion of that Reno saga, who identified him? Watching the usual drama at S4C.

  5. It is indeed amusing how the strategical “lurking”,”stalking”and “destructive” nature of Boko Haram is likend to the monstrous “dodo” or the bogey man.Though it perfactly defines and project a clear picture of their activities to a lay person.However, i find it childish the ideology behind this group.It quest to wipe away the existence of western culture for that matter anything connected to it is undeniably ineffective and not logical.How can a tree be totally out of existence if only the shoot is cut off?I presume they do their home work well and spare the good people of Nigeria and face the “root” of western culture instead……those poor kids….may God help us.Thumbs up Miss Zee

  6. Well-articulated, Zainab. Yes, it’s indeed pathetic considering the number of innocent souls massacred, and the conditions that this horrifying plague left the families of the deceased. Imagine the hopelessness of the parents whose children were mercilessly killed recently. The magnitude of the atrocity is inconceivable. It’s also worrisome that the whole puzzle is proving insoluble. We pray Allah will sail Nigeria through the storm of this trying time. Thank you for an excellent juxtaposition like this.

  7. We must begin to seriously interrogate many assumptions about Boko Haram and the violence we glibly attach to them in the north-east. I no longer believe that the BH of 2002 – 2009 is the same hydra-headed monster that re-emerged from 2009 to date. Those of us who time and effort to research the underlying ideology of the original BH as pronounced by them, today see a clear variation in the motives and senseless slaughters of the predent day insurgents terrorizing the northeast to whom we still ascribe the appelation of Boko Haram. While the original BH was clearly an Islamic movement, nothing in the hideous and dastardly conducts of the present insurgents can even remotely be characterized as Islamic – a position clearly elucidated by none other than the Sultan of Sokoto himself.

  8. > According to the Yobe state governor, the soldiers guarding the school in Buni Yadi were mysteriously withdrawn from their duty posts a few hours before.

    How can soldiers be “mysteriously” withdrawn? They must have been given orders to leave or they left of their own choice. Either way one could simply query the soldiers in question.

    >The traditional ruler of Bama bemoaned that while the town was sacked and torched over several hours in February, frantic efforts to call local Police and Army chiefs were futile as they were all mysteriously unavailable.

    This is Nigeria, attempting to contact the local police and/or army via phone is often futile even in the closest of proximities to their respective locations. I would know, I have tried.

    > Ground troops, whose courage must be appreciated, are known to be severely under equipped relative to the sophisticated weaponry carried by Boko Haram despite the almost one trillion naira allocated to security in the national budget.

    Are you aware of how much one trillion naira is? Sorry to burst your bubble but that amount is absymal and that is before you even consider what percentage of it we will lose due to corruption.

    These allegations give conspiracies no weight.

  9. it a pity for d innocent soul wel all dis is d goverment very sure a whole president cant look after his pupil rether than treavilling out often then d northen forum too cant stand anything it a pussy stroy whn north fall wht else wel all ur kids are out of d country u cant care bt all i knw is wht goose around comes around any body that fell heartles doing such an idiotic work wil never hv life it self turkles of other things in life


    I have said and I maintain that most of our Leaders are playing Politics with Security Issues in this Country because they are not yet DIRECTLY affected. In this light, I have maintained that IF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY IN FULL SESSION IS ATTACKED BY BOKO HARAM with the Natural consequences, the “Boko Haram” Politics will end in matter of hours in this country to the shock of many. The remnant of the National Assembly will sit in an extraordinary emergency session empowering the President to DO ALL within his Power, inclusive of bringing in DIRECT FOREIGN MILITARY ASSISTANCE, to end the Insecurity threat.
    As we all know, Boko Haram members have destroyed, killed thousands of innocent Nigerians[directly and indirectly] till present WITHOUT any SERIOUS Action except normal “We condemn the Actions of Boko Haram”, “ The Government is on TOP of the matter” etc. so SAD because the SPONSORS of the Group as well as those involved are well known within the Security circles.
    Since EVIL is like CANCER or POLLUTION which does not select its victims, the hand of the Evil Clock called Boko Haram is now turning. Recently, the Federal Government College in Yobe was attacked and about 42 innocent Students, who were just like others previously killed without attention/action, were killed and suddenly the following have happened:
    1. The National Assembly suddenly woke up directing [without authority] the Army to relocate its Headquarters to Yobe!
    2.The Senator representing the Area of attack zone called for the training of the local population on how to handle arms and defend themselves.
    3. Some of the OPPRESSORS, who passed through the Federal Government Colleges suddenly woke up and were and still calling FOR ALL MANNER OF ACTIONS inclusive of Deploying Troops to GUARD all Federal Government Colleges ONLY
    4. Some Women, who have BLUE BLOOD in their system by virtue of attending FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COLLEGES ONLY went on PROTEST throughout the FEDERATION.
    Let Me Stop here. The above ACTIONS have SHOWN “WHERE WE ARE IN THIS COUNTRY”. Let me ask: HOW MANY “POOR” NIGERIAN CHILDREN ARE IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COLLEGES?????? The Answer is clear: THEY ARE THE CHILDREN[ the Future] of most of THE “OPPRESSORS”. That is why the ACTION of Boko Haram on the Federal Government College has CAUSED the Level of FIRE, legitimate Noise and BARKING from the “Major Nigerians.”
    TAKE NOTICE that if the Boko Haram attack was on an ENTIRE VILLAGE of POOR Nigerians, which is the normal occurrence in places like JOS, MAIDUGURI etc, there would be mere “We condemn the Actions of Boko Haram”, “ The Government is on TOP of the matter”By the sad Death/Investigation into the matter of Miss CYNTHIA [the victim of Social Media], it is evidently clear that all the SPONSORS of Boko Haram and those involved are all well known at the Security Quarters through the TELECOMMUNICATION OPERATORS. There are those benefitting hugely from the unaccountable SECURITY VOTES in the direction of Combating Insecurity.

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