There are indications that Nigeria may soon get the required international assistance to deal with insurgents of Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, which has been terrorising the country in the past four years
| By Olu Ojewale | Oct. 14, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT HAS been a week of mixed emotions for Nigeria. The nation’s 53rd independence anniversary celebration on October 1, was partly overshadowed by the aftermath of the killings of 41 students of the College of Agriculture in Gujba, Yobe State, on Sunday, September 29. The killings, carried out by members of Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist sect, further raised alarm on the issue of security in the country, so much so that this year’s independence anniversary celebration was low-keyed, celebrated in Aso Villa. The major highlight of the anniversary was the commemorative presidential change of guards parade at the forecourt of the highly fortified Villa. It was the third time the nation’s independence celebration was held inside Aso Villa because of security concerns even though the government would like the nation to think otherwise. However, a heavy presence of security agencies in the Federal Capital Territory, on Tuesday painted a different picture.
The low-keyed celebration also helped to avoid the kind of incidents witnessed during the 50th independence anniversary on October 1, 2010, when two car bombings by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, near the Eagle Square in Abuja, venue of the ceremony, killed 12 people and injured 17 others. In any case, the Yobe killings seemed to have taken the shine off the independence celebration itself.
While congratulating Nigeria on its independence anniversary, the United Nations, Unite States and many others asked President Goodluck Jonathan to step up efforts to arrest and deal with violent elements in the country, especially members of the Boko Haram, terrorist Islamic sect. In its message, the US urged the Nigerian government, “to find and bring those responsible for this deplorable violence to justice.” The US government statement said in part: “The United States stands with all Nigerians to reject the heinous violence that continues to be perpetrated by Boko Haram and other extremist groups. These attacks on innocent civilians have no place in a democratic society. Following last week’s heinous attack in Benisheikh, where more than 160 people were shot and slaughtered, this weekend’s attacks in Yobe State took the lives of more than fifty innocent students and civilians. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in these senseless acts of violence.
“We encourage the government of Nigeria to work together with the families of the victims and affected communities to find and bring those responsible for this deplorable violence to justice, and to enhance the protection of civilians to ensure respect for the rule of law.” The US Congress was to start a public hearing on the Boko Haram insurgence in Nigeria and how to help the country in tackling it, on Tuesday, October 1. But the event could not hold because of the budget war going on in the Congress, which led to a partial shutdown of the US government. Leading the campaign to get the US government to declare Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, FTO, is Peter King, a US congressman. King is liaison with the Christian Association of Nigeria-American, CANAN, a US based organisation, which has been working relentlessly to ensure that Boko Haram is designated a FTO.
Speaking at its first anniversary with a gala and award night in New York, US, recently, the group warned that if not contained, the Boko Haram sect could also harm the US. James Fadele, a pastor and CANAN president, condemned the killings of Christians and innocent Nigerians by the terrorist sect, pointing out that it was time for all Christians to arise and fight as “we can no longer keep quiet.” Fadele said the organisation which had been recognised by the US and Nigerian governments, has launched and and is now disbursing a relief fund for victims of Boko Haram. During the awards, King was given the Friend of Nigeria award, for joining the fight against Boko Haram sect.
In his speech, King reiterated his determination to ensure that Boko Haram was designated a FTO so as to deal with it. On the killing of the 41 students, the CANAN said it wondered how easy it had become for the terrorists to do damage and “simply vanish into thin air even at a time of emergency rule,” and therefore, called on the international community to step up efforts to assist the Nigerian government in fighting the insurgence.
The European Union in its reaction, said in a statement: “The High Representative condemns the horrific terrorist attack perpetrated today in Yobe State and those that took place on previous days and weeks in Northern Nigeria, in Abuja and elsewhere.” Catherine Ashton, high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, said in a statement issued by her spokesperson that the EU was firmly against such unjustifiable violence, whoever be the perpetrators, and declared: “The EU stands firmly with Nigeria in the fight against terrorism, under the principles of the rule of law, including full respect and protection of human rights.”
In a similar statement, Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN, strongly condemned the dastardly act and called for the “the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.” Ban asked the government to put efforts to prevent similar attacks and ensure adequate protection of innocent Nigerians. The French foreign ministry said the attack was “odious and cowardly.” While it sent condolences to the families of the affected students, the statement said: “In these tragic circumstances, France recalls its commitment in the fight against terrorism and reaffirms its solidarity with the Nigerian government and people.”
In a similar message, John Baird, foreign affairs minister of Canada, said in a statement that the country strongly condemned the terrorist attacks and urged the government to track down and bring the perpetrators of the abhorrent act to justice. “On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest sympathies to those injured in the attack and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We sincerely hope that the perpetrators of this despicable act will be brought to justice. Canadians stand united with the Nigerian people in deploring terrorism. We will continue to assist the people and government of Nigeria as they strive to improve security and uphold the rule of law,” Baird said.
Amnesty International, a London-based human rights organisation, in a statement on Monday, September 30, urged Nigeria to take urgent measures to protect schools and students in the Northeast from attacks. “Since 2012, we have seen an escalation of lethal attacks against students and schools. On top of the tragic loss of life, children are being prevented from accessing education. It is high time for the authorities not only to investigate these deplorable incidents and take those responsible to justice but to take measures to prevent them,” Lucy Freeman, Africa deputy director at AI, said in a statement. According to her, it was a sad development that the attackers entered the compound of the college, ordered the students to assemble and opened fire on them. She noted that between February 21 and March 1, 2012, 10 primary schools were attacked in locations across Maiduguri, Borno State, and that in most attacks, the buildings were so badly damaged that they could no longer be used.
“Since the beginning of 2013, attacks have appeared to have become more targeted and brutal. They frequently happen when schools are occupied, and teachers and pupils are now being directly targeted and killed. Boko Haram and any affiliated armed groups or individuals in northern Nigeria must immediately stop all attacks on schools, students, teachers and pupils. This is a deplorable and absolute disregard for the right to life and the right to education,” Freeman said.
But the organised labour in Nigeria is holding the Nigerian government responsible for all the attacks. In a joint Independence anniversary statement, Abdulwaheed Omar, president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Bobboi Kaigama, president of the Trade Union Congress, accused the federal government of failing in its responsibility of ensuring the protection of lives and property of the Nigerian citizenry. The labour leaders said that the bombings, killings, assassinations, kidnappings and other vices in the society had become daily occurrences in the country and that the situation seemed to have overwhelmed the government.
The joint statement said in part: “The series of carnage caused by the Boko Haram insurgents in Borno, Yobe, Kano etc., the rampage by Fulani herdsmen in Jos, and the threat by Niger Delta militants to destroy pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructures have put the security of the nation to question.” The labour leaders also called on the government to lead the fight against corruption “by demonstrating the will and determination to enforce relevant laws and win the fight.”
Indeed, the president is mindful of his enormous responsibilities. In his independence celebration broadcast to the nation, Jonathan said: “While we celebrate our independence and good fortune, our hearts must grieve for those who have lost loved ones in numerous terrorist activities around the world. Back home, I admit being overtaken by deep feelings of grief, whenever news reached me of the appalling atrocities in some of our states, especially the North Eastern part of our country. Just two days ago, terrorist elements attacked the College of Agriculture in Gujba, Yobe State, killing a number of innocent students of the institution and other residents in cold blood, most of them in their sleep. This act of barbarism is a demonstration of the extent to which evil forces will go to destabilise our nation. But I assure you, they will not succeed.”
He condoled with those who lost loved ones and assured the nation that the administration would not rest until every Nigerian was free from the oppression of terrorism. “I reassure you that no cost will be spared, no idea will be ignored, and no resource will be left untapped in the quest to enable our people live without fear,” the president said.
Following the report of the attack, Jonathan held an emergency meeting with the service chiefs and asked them to do everything possible to arrest the situation. Apparently disturbed by the turn of events after the declaration of a state of emergency in three northern states in May this year, the president said: “Like I said earlier today (Sunday), sometimes one needs a lot of courage to move on. My seat as the president can be very hot and can also be very cold. I held a meeting with service chiefs on the killings of students in Yobe State before coming for this media chat. We discussed and resolved that we must do more. You will agree with me that incident of attacks came down after I declared a state of emergency in some states but it is coming up again. I have asked the service chiefs to meet again now and see what we can do to stop these embarrassing attacks.”
When asked to respond to allegations that operatives of the State Security Service, SSS, killed innocent people alleged to be members of Boko Haram at the Apo Legislative Quarters in Abuja, recently, he said there was enough reason to believe that those shot were suspected terrorists. He claimed that some of those arrested had made confessional statements, and that security agencies had even foiled several plots by insurgents to bomb Abuja in September. “I have been briefed about it and people have made confessional statements. That is why I say sometimes, some of these people who call for probe don’t mean well for this country. And I always say that when there are confrontations between certain operatives and criminals in a place where people live, maybe one or two people who may be innocent probably might be affected during the exchange of fire. But definitely, there were Boko Haram elements among them. Again, if you monitor global trends, there was this feeling about Al-Qeada network having links with Al-Shabab and Boko Haram because these criminal gangs have networks. And the feeling was that in September, they would bomb many cities across the world to commemorate 9/11. It happened in many parts of the world. What happened in Nairobi, Kenya, is being linked to that and people attempted to also bomb Abuja in September. Some were arrested and some were killed but people confessed. There were obviously Boko Haram elements among them.”
In his address at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, September, 24, Jonathan emphasised the need for global cooperation to fight terrorism to sustain global peace, stability and progress. He said: “Terrorism constitutes a major threat to global peace and security, and undermines the capacity for sustained development. In Nigeria, the threat of terrorism in a few states in the North Eastern part of our country has proven to be a major challenge to national stability. We are therefore confronting it with every resource at our disposal with due regard for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.” He also made reference to the terrorist attack on Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi, Kenya, by the al-Shabaab, a terrorist group from Somalia, on Saturday, September 21, where 67 people were killed. He, therefore, appealed that such assault should never be allowed again. “The reign of terror anywhere in the world is an assault on our collective humanity… We must stand together to win this war together,” Jonathan said.
Indeed, the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall further helped to put African terrorism back on the world spotlight. World leaders at the UN General Assembly, called for a coordinated response to deal with terrorist attacks in Africa. President Barack Obama said he was working with African leaders, including President Jonathan, to dismantle terror networks in the continent. “We maintain that terror anywhere in the world is terror on all of us. And, we call on global leaders to come together and fight terror,” Jonathan said at the UN.
President Francois Hollande of France in his speech said Africa had fallen prey to terrorism and that the barbaric attack in Nairobi confirmed it. However, the French leader said his country’s led intervention to drive Muslim extremists out of Mali earlier this year showed, “victories are possible against terrorism.” He said France would convene an international conference by the end of the year to get funding and expertise for training and equipping professional armies for vulnerable African states, so that they could ward off terrorist invasions.
While appealing for international cooperation among fellow Europeans, Hollande said: “We cannot leave them alone, faced with this terrorist threat. Everywhere chaos reigns, terrorism takes root and grows. “This is why the international community must assist African states to protect themselves.” According to the French president, the best approach would be getting more investment into Africa in form of renewable energy, healthcare and other infrastructural development. “The best weapon we have is policies that support development,” Hollande said.
Although West African troops, supported by French airpower, helped drive back an al-Qaeda affiliated militia group in Mali early this year, that would not stop terrorism in the Sahel, according to President Macky Sall of Senegal. “The gunmen in Mali are scattered, but the terrorist threat to the Sahel is not over. Only through ongoing coordinated action will we be able to address Africa’s emerging security challenges,” Sall said. President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso said the recent elections in Mali might have created a base on which to confront terror. Compaore thus, called the election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, as an encouraging sign in a dangerous region. “The Sahel has become a hideout for drug traffickers and terrorists whose destabilising influences are a real threat to regional security, even as the international stabilisation force and presidential elections in Mali have helped restore some order,” he said Compaore.
However, Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch, said that with ungoverned areas existing throughout the Sahel, democratic governance in Mali could only defuse the terror threat in his country and not eliminate it. “If Mali does move forward and restore its democracy in a genuine way, Mali may sort of have been able to keep at bay the worst elements. But there are a number of neighbouring countries that may be at greater risk in the light of a strengthening al-Qaida affiliate in the region,” Margon said. Indeed, Al-Shabab’s operation is believed to spread from Somalia to Kenya, which shows the magnitude of the threat posed by the organisation. Boko Haram is believed to be closely linked to the organisation.
Ban agreed that there are many challenges facing Africa on the terrorism issue but with international cooperation, the problems could be tackled. “Terrorist acts and transnational organised crime, including arms and drug trafficking, threaten stability. We must particularly beware of the evolution and appeal of radicalism and violent ideology among the region’s youth,” he said.
It was as if that was what Abubakar Shekau, the wanted leader of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, was waiting for to announce his being alive. On Wednesday, September 26, the terrorist resurfaced in a video shown in Maiduguri, Borno State, debunking claims by the Nigerian military authorities that he had died from gunshot wounds on August 19, 2013. Wearing a camouflage military uniform, Shekau said defiantly: “Here I am, alive, hale and hearty. Sagir Musa should bury himself in shame, President Jonathan should bury himself in shame, President Obama (of United States) should bury himself in shame, and President Francois Hollande (of France) should bury himself in shame; Queen Elizabeth (of England) should bury herself in shame.
“They said I am dead, but here I am. The world should know that I am alive and will only die at the appointed time. Everybody should be judged according to the dictates of his conscience. What I am doing is written in the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith and I will not stop. I challenge all the clerics of the world to question my deeds. Those underrating my capacity should have a re-think. I will never allow democracy to thrive.
“The concept of government of the people by the people, for the people, will never be possible and will never exist. Democracy shall be replaced only by the government of Allah, from Allah and for Allah.” Shekau vowed that the Nigerian military would never subdue his group. To buttress his point, he claimed responsibility for the September 17, attack in Benisheik, Borno State, where about 160 people were claimed to have either been shot dead or slaughtered. “Nigerian soldiers are late. After killing many of them in Monguno and Benisheik, we have snatched their armoured carriers and Hilux van and then hoisted Islamic flags on them. We now move freely with them,” he said.
Sagir Musa, a lieutenant colonel and the then spokesman of the Joint Task Force, JTF, had, in a statement, said that an “intelligence report available to the JTF Operation Restore Order revealed that Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted terrorists’ leader may have died. He died of gunshot wounds received in an encounter with the JTF in one of their camps in Sambisa Forest on June 30, 2013. Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon, for treatment from which he never recovered.”
When contacted, Ibrahim Attahiru, a brigadier general and director, Army Public Relations, said the matter was still being investigated. President Jonathan, during a media chat on Monday, September 30, said he could not confirm if the terrorist is dead or alive.
But the president expressed the belief that the challenges facing the country were “the creation of the devil to slow down our development as a nation but we have reached the turning point where we must all move to join the developed society.” Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, told Realnews that the nation’s security was too lapse and needed to be tightened. “People easily get away with all sorts of criminal acts. Nobody has told us what has happened to the cctv camera said to have been installed in Abuja and Lagos; whether they are working or not,” Ekpe-Juda said. He said it was unfortunate that despite the situation, the president still went ahead to celebrate the independence anniversary.
According to the security expert, what the nation needed at this point was for the government to declare national mourning. “The government should be more constructive in dealing with the issue of security. If the people in government don’t know what to do they should consult those who know and can help,” he said. According to Ekpe-Juda, the three fundamental things needed to tackle security situation in the country are the data of people living in the country, security camera and intelligence. “In some climes, when you cross the traffic line when there is red light, nobody needs to chase you to stop; the security records your violation of the traffic and the next thing that happens is that you get a ticket at your home for the offence. This is because the security would have recorded the violation and with your number plate, your name and address would be known,” he said. Ekpe-Juda expressed sadness that “there is no synergy among the Federal Road Safety Commission, police and the Vehicle Inspection Office,” because agencies have not been sharing information. He said data compilation could be done by one agency and shared by others to help sustain security in the country.
Nevertheless, he welcomed the promise of assistance by the international community to help tackle the problem of terrorism. “We need support of other countries,” Ekpe-Juda said. Besides, he said the government would need to get a new malware being used by international community to trace movement of money to locate sponsors of terrorists in the country.
Since Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009, thousands of people have been killed. As it has grown bolder and more deadly, it has also forged links with Islamic terror groups in the Sahara, including al-Qaeda’s north African branch. According to the president, Boko Haram has driven about 10,000 Nigerian refugees to Cameroon. With the international assistance, one can only hope that things would soon get better. But if the government is able to device more sophisticated means of tackling the problem, it may not take long before the effect of the terror group is minimised. That notwithstanding, what the nation needs now is peace and security. How that will be achieved is the problem of the government.