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After Boko Haram What Next?

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IN the midst of the fears and uncertainties raised by the ongoing orgy of blood in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, consequent to the accelerating war of attrition between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram insurgents, the most crucial question that has reared its ugly head is, After Boko Haram: What Next? The evolving spectacle of violence, in tandem with the possibility of a spillover to the rest of the country – a frightening scenario that is better not imagined – makes answers to this question all the more pertinent.
The gradual acceleration in the violent activities of BH has set off alarm bells across the country. Nigerians, who are naturally peace-loving people, have been forced to become spectators of an arcane form of violence that is alien to them. Since 2009, when the BH adopted a more forceful approach in agitating for the eradication of all forms of Westernization in the North-East, things have never been the same for the inhabitants of this geo-political zone. The tears, sweet and blood that have been expended by all the casualties  – Nigerian security forces, BH insurgents and the hapless civilian residents of the North-East – of the ongoing saga are sad graffiti of the unfortunate events of the last five years.
BH, a group that started off as a pressure group committed to reforming the practice of Islam, has suddenly metamorphosed into a radical extremist group that has run amok. From being a religious group demonstrating peacefully on the streets of Maiduguri for reforms, Boko Haram has graduated into an army of occupation. Thus, today, what started off as a low-intensity affair has ballooned into a frightening international crisis involving plethora of stakeholders.
However, in the midst of the apprehension generated by the bloody spectacle on full display in the North-East, the wider security implications for the rest of the country should be of primary concern to stakeholders–and not just focusing on hashing out stratagems for terminating the conflict. The accelerating inferno in the North-East – which has obviously overwhelmed the authorities – has the likelihood of becoming a precedent for other aggrieved groups in the country to copy. The quite impressive gain the BH insurgents have churned out so far has the tendency of seducing other such groups into following suit – inspire the rise of copy-cat groups bent on trying their own luck. After all, as the common maxim goes, “what is good for the goose is also good for the gander”.
For a country that has traditionally – since its inception as a political entity – been divided along primordial lines, the tendency for groups rising up to challenge the legitimacy of the state is a reality that cannot just be wished away. It would not be out of order to say that Nigeria, a country that has consistently shirked its primary constitutional responsibility of providing the good life for majority of the citizenry, is a breeding ground for insurgent groups. This is a country where the several groups constituting it have lost faith in the ability of the state, through its structures of governance, to meet their basic needs – a failing state that has lost the trust of its members. The symptoms of a country in dire straits are there for all to see: a failed Federal System of Government that is everything but federal, an unjust electoral system that gives room for unpopular candidates to take up public offices, an underdeveloped economy that has pauperized the majority, a pandemic of corruption that shows no signs of abating, a regime of joblessness that has increased the army of frustrated individuals prone to violent conduct, an increasingly disenchanted populace at the mercy of the ruling class, in tandem with other push and pull factors, Nigeria is a country in critical ferment.
There are several centripetal forces tugging at Nigeria’s fragile unity. From ethnic nationalities agitating for more inclusion in the processes of governance, religious/faith-based groups asking for more freedom to practice their faith, political associations fighting for larger chunks of power, criminal consortiums looking to cash in on the unsavory conditions pervading the country for quick profits, to others too numerous to mention, the Nigerian State is delicately perched at the summit of a slippery cliff – a country whose continued existence, as currently constituted, is at the mercy of the several parts constituting it. Groups such as the Oduah People’s Congress (OPC), AREWA Consultative Forum (ACF), Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) et al, are just a sprinkling of some groups that have at some times in the past confronted the state in respect of some issues they deemed detrimental to the interests of the sections they represent. There are so many peeved groups in Nigeria looking for the flimsiest of excuses to take up arms against the state.
The early warning signs are there for all Nigerians to see; signs of a country at the brink of a total war without end; alert signs that should no longer be overlooked. The facts emanating from the ongoing imbroglio in the North-East is that the Nigerian military is incapable of engaging enemies of the state in long-drawn-out wars; a fact very effectively demonstrated by the BH’s ability to brazenly undermine the country’s security forces. The implication of similar groups in other parts of the country adopting the same violent approach in agitating for their own interests is better not envisioned. Imagine the Nigerian military having to engage fierce groups like BH on several fronts at the same time – fighting several well drilled enemies, who are prepared to die.
If you destroy BH: what happens next? Destroying or defeating BH – a slogan that has become an anthem or cliché for the country’s leaders and security arrowheads –will not be a permanent panacea to issues of unrest in the country. Such an achievement – were it to happen – would definitely represent a major feat for the authorities. But that still leaves the structural/background causes of violent conflicts – structural violence– in Nigeria unaddressed; ad hoc victories that leaves the root causes of strife intact. The truth is that BH is just a tip of the iceberg of the fate that is likely to befall Nigeria if urgent and well- though-out steps are not taken to address the systemic cum structural incongruities that gives rise to violent agitations in the country. The causes of Violent conflicts are hydra headed monsters that must be decisively and systematically dealt with, putting the core issues, critical stakeholders, historical trajectories and defining contexts into consideration – all the knots and screws must be considered.
This column has always argued for a multi-pronged approach to checking the dark clouds of strife hovering over Nigeria from metamorphosing into gigantic squalls. In similar vein, this piece calls on all stakeholders – state and non-state actors – in the ongoing peace processes in the North-East to gird their loins and put in place a comprehensive peace plan that takes the peculiarities of the Nigerian state into cognizance; an all-encompassing model that is designed to address both the immediate and long term issues – bordering on the viability of the Nigerian State as currently constituted, and its ability to continue providing the good life for its citizens  – brought to the fore by the ongoing fracas in the North-East. In the same manner as removing a virus without inoculating potential victims, leaves room for the virus to reemerge and spread even faster, defeating an enemy, without addressing your differences, leaves room for future conflicts. This column –as in its previous submissions on these pages –posits that only a holistic approach can bring positive peace to not only the North-East, but to Nigeria in general.
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