Boko Haram: Focus on Internal and External Dimensions

(The Project for the New American Century/PNAC) is dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world, and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle“–William Kristol, PNAC Chairman

As it is among individuals, so it is among states. When one state claims to know what is ‘good’ for another, it is merely using that as a cover for motives that are at best, non-altruistic, at worst, sinister.“–Balogun, M J, HEGEMONY AND SOVEREIGN EQUALITY: THE CONTIGUITY THEORY IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, New York, Springer, 2011, p. 122

I was all set to post another article on Nigeria when I received an e-mail from a compatriot. The message basically raises the question whether we had not all along been looking in the wrong direction for the brains behind the Boko Haram insurgency. The e-mail pointedly argues that Boko Haram had nothing to do with Islam. The atrocities which the “sect” perpetrate are neither meant to endear Islam to anybody nor to propagate the faith’s underlying teachings among adherents of rival belief systems. What is remarkable about this is that the e-mail came not from a Muslim but a Christian. He is concerned about the persistent failure to think out of the box and to see Boko Haram for what it actually is–that is, an instrument perfected by the CIA to destabilize and subdue Nigeria. The dreaded group, the e-mail continues, fits into the US’s geo-political calculations by promoting the global super-power’s African interests at its rivals’ (and, as a collateral damage, at Nigeria’s) expense.

I was (and still am) hesitant to run with the CIA story for a number of reasons. First, I wrote a whole book drawing attention to the undue influence exerted by powerful states on the weaker states’ policy process, but the argument got no traction. In separate online articles (copies of which would be made available in subsequent posts) I alerted the Nigerian government (and public) to the risk inherent in supporting externally engineered ‘regime change’ or ‘regime propping’ in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Libya, among others. No-one listened. I approached Nigeria’s Foreign Service Academy (along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway) with a view to sharing with its high-calibre trainees strategies aimed at effectively managing the growing tension between internal preferences and external regimentation. The Academy (or the person I spoke to) was not interested. Rather than sound like a broken record–and considering the premium I attach to substantive policy discourse instead of attention-seeking activism–I decided to leave well alone. Second, I believe that if, as we are now being told, thinking out of the box is the answer to our predicament, we should either stay away from conspiracy theories entirely or put them all under intense scrutiny until only one is left standing.

I cannot of course look the other way when hundreds are being slaughtered in the north-eastern part of Nigeria and thousands are driven into refugee camps almost every hour. I also cannot feign indifference when the peace, stability, and survival of our country, Nigeria, are imperilled every day. In fact, any time my mind goes back to the “prediction” of Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015, I ask whether we should simply fold our arms and wait for the doomsday. The answer I get each time is that normal human beings do not wait for the worst to happen: they go all out to prevent it from happening. They go a step further to craft a better future for themselves and their children.

So, we are back to thinking out of the box. Who or what is behind the Boko Haram menace in our country? Are we being pushed to the precipice by the ambitions of deranged, power-hungry politicians, by the aggressive proselytizing mission of “Islamic fundamentalists”, by economic adversity compounded by social injustice, by corruption and bad governance, by the US’s global dominance aspirations, or by a combination of all or some of these factors?

One view of Boko Haram is of a group sponsored by politicians, mostly from the north, to commit mayhem and, in the process, destabilize the PDP-led Federal government. What is not clear is why these politicians chose their own region rather than the entire country as an arena of intrigue, subversion, and devastation. Unless their craving for power has muddled up their faculties, shouldn’t these conniving policians realize that killing and maiming their own people would never win over old enemies and assure them new friends? I personally think that the northern politicians deserve greater credit for rational calculation than they have been given by their critics. For all we know, the accusation that the northern politicians use the Boko Haram to give the Jonathan administration sleepless nights (and simultaneously terrorise their own region) may yet turn out to be politically motivated.

How about the allegation that Muslim “extremists” and “fundamentalists” are the Boko Haram sponsors? How many times have we heard that Muslim fanatics are behind it all? It is assumed, right or wrong, that these fanatics have only one mission in life–which is to “Islamize” Nigeria. And the extremists cannot rely on the traditional proselytizing methods (like dawah, acts of charity, exemplary conduct, etc) to get the job done quickly. The only method the “Islamic fundamentalists” can think of is wholesale massacre of innocent people, including school children, women, the aged and the infirm! Haba! Isn’t this stretching it a little bit? Whoever claims that Boko Haram is part of the Muslim plot to “Islamize” Nigeria is either being economical with the truth or is of the view that Muslims have not only stopped thinking but have also lost basic understanding of the simplest teachings of the Qur’an. No right-thinking and genuine Muslim would rely on wanton slaughter of innocent souls as his faith propagation strategy. Both the Qur’an and the Hadith consider as heinous precisely those crimes which Boko Haram routinely commits, notably murder, arson, and kidnapping. Even a kindergarten kid will know that Boko Haram’s terrorist acts are not intended to sell Islam but to have the exact opposite effect, that is, the effect of turning non-Muslims and non-literate Muslims against the faith. The question is why and how come? We shall return to this later.

For now, let us consider another theory of Boko Haram’s origin and/or trigger–that is, economic adversity compounded by social injustice. There is no doubt that poverty provides an “enabling environment” for terrorism. Where other social control mechanisms have broken down, poverty is capable of driving otherwise law-abiding citizens to desperate measures–measures like kidnapping, armed robbery, and ritual killing frequently reported in the south. Yet, it is quite a stretch holding poverty entirely responsible for inclination towards terrorism. If young and impressionable minds are susceptible to terrorist tendencies, there must be other factors at work.

Could corruption and bad governance be among those “other factors”? Even if corruption and bad governance did not initially “cause” terrorism, the combination of the two disorders can prove deadly to efforts at detecting, investigating, and ultimately, subduing the monster. Corruption, for one, attacks the government’s central nervous system. It does this by crowding the judgement of leaders and igniting in them the primitive accumulation instinct; impairing the key agencies’ capacity to anticipate challenges and to come up with cost-effective, real-time solutions; encouraging the average public official to look out for himself while neglecting the interest of the commonwealth; and, one way or the other, compromising national security.

By contrast, bad governance manifests as excessive fixation on the capture and/or retention of power, with the consequent neglect of matters bordering on national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In a season of bad governance, the energies of the state would be deployed to the harassment of the ruling group’s internal adversaries and not to the institution of measures aimed at securing the nation against external threats.

This brings us to what observers regard as one clear and present danger to Nigeria’s security–the US global dominance aspiration. Based on snippets from WikiLeaks reports, these observers have fingered the CIA as the principal backer of the Boko Haram. Isn’t this a little far-fetched? What does the US have to gain from Nigeria’s total meltdown to warrant authorising the CIA to launch and supervise covert operations against our country? Plenty, the observers insist. According to them, the US had come to resent Nigeria’s leadership role in West Africa and had decided it was time to bring the country to heel. The US often likes its “development partners” weak, dependent and submissive, so the argument goes. Nigeria was getting too big for its shoes, that is, too big to act weak, dependent and submissive in America’s presence. Look at Nigeria’s role in bringing order to Liberia, and to Sierra Leone. It did not wait for instructions from America before it mobilized other West African nations behind ECOMOG and imposed order in the two countries.

Nigeria was supposed to be big for nothing. Look how it flexed its muscle in West Africa without the US’s say-so. Leave the giant of Africa on its own, and no African country would see the need to run to Washington DC for help or inspiration. To put Nigeria in its place–to cut the giant down to size–the US resorted to undermining ECOMOG. It started in 1996 with what it called the African Crisis Response Initiative/ACRI. Nigeria was conveniently left out of the initiative. Instead, the US settled for seven Partner States (Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali Senegal and Uganda) all of which sent battalions that US Army instructors took through the art and science of “peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.”

Of direct relevance to the current theme is not the US AFRICOM programme, but what the US is alleged to have done to undermine Nigeria’s internal security. Drawing on confidential cables included in the WikiLeaks revelations, commentators have basically identified the CIA as the sponsors of the Boko Haram attacks (See and

Boko Haram: A CIA Covert Operation; America’s Destabilization Plots Against Nigeria–GreenWhite Coalition

As the story goes, the CIA provided N40 million as seed money for the operations of Boko Haram, out-sourced the recruitment and radicalization of jobless youth as well as the coordination of terrorist attacks to independent contractors from the Middle East, and maintained safe houses for terrorists and for the storage or disposal of weapons. Suicide bombers were never let loose until they had participated in mind-control sessions and had been pumped full of psychogenic substances (like LSD). Where it was considered expedient to do without real suicide-bombers, the CIA planted bombs at designated locations and remotely detonated them at the appointed time. It is further alleged that the CIA had an untraceable e-mail account which it routinely used to send out, in Boko Haram’s name, bogus claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks.

Fanciful story! Embroidered tale! Conspiracy theory gone wild! Whether the story is true or false is of no consequence right now. The CIA tale, embroidered or not, teaches us a vital lesson. If a foreign intelligence organization is running loose in our country while serving its principal’s interest, the fault lies not with that organization but with our government. After all, the government was elected to stay awake while we, the electors, sleep soundly. In a twist of irony, it is the electors who are now sleepless. They are sleepless because they are not sure that the government guards are wide awake.

This of course is no time for mutual recrimination. What we need right now is a national security strategy that places the external angle at part with, if not at a higher level than, the internal counterpart. In specific terms, the SSS needs to be immediately reorganized with a view to sensitizing it to its national security responsibility, and exposing its personnel to espionage and counter-espionage techniques.

When America embarked on its War on Terror, it trusted no-body. Our SSS should not trust any foreign intelligence organization with matters pertaining to the security of our country and its people. It does not matter whether it is the CIA, the Mossad, or the Ethniki Ypiresia Pliroforion. None has the mandate or the motivation to secure our borders. Foreigners that are suspected of coming to Nigeria under false pretences should be placed on a computerized national security watch-list. At the same time, the SSS should stop witch-hunting the government’s perceived enemies. The time and the resources that it expends, and the electronic surveillance devices that it trains, on these so-called enemies should now be reserved for those who are determined to spread havoc in our country–all with a view to ensuring that Nigeria ceases to exist by 2015.

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