The Dapchi Girls’ Dilemma

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The recent kidnap of over a hundred girls from a secondary school in Dapchi, Yobe State reemphasizes the upscale in the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group. The dilemma here is how to juxtapose the increasing number of casualties, and the growing efficiency of the group, with the official claim that it has been technically defeated (after being degraded).

Regarding the Dapchi incident, the questions for us here are: (1) What has become of pre-emptive intelligence in Nigeria? (2) When can a city, town or village be said to be appropriately policed in Nigeria and how? (3) Does the Federal Government believe that it is seen to be doing enough about National Security today? If the answer to the last question is “Yes”, then we are in far more trouble than we can ever imagine. If, on the other hand, the answer is “No”, then the government is not doing enough to show this awareness.

Those who say that the primary purpose of government is the welfare of the people and the security of lives and property have long since scored the President Muhammadu Buhari Federal Government low on all counts. Hunger and inequity walk the land (negative citizen welfare); lives are being routinely lost in communal classes and herdsmen/farmer conflicts (negative personal security) and loss of farmlands and cattle to herders and cattle rustlers, respectively (negative protection of property). It therefore seems fair to assume that the Nigerian State as it exists today is a colossal failure.

The good news regarding the Dapchi girls is that the government has set up a 12-man committee to probe the circumstances leading to the kidnap. The bad news is three-pronged: (1) The committee is to find out the circumstances leading to the kidnap, whereas such a findings should already have been made available to the government by the security agencies. (2) The armed services and security agencies have been trading blames and thereby telling Nigerians that they were not at their duty posts at the material time. (3) There are extant reports of how and why security forces collapsed before the insurgents in the past, bearing the case of Mubi, Chibok and several others in mind; which relevant reports seem not be within the radar at the moment.

While the army and police traded blames, they forgot that Nigerians know there are no off-duty provisions in the Service Rules that would leave a town made totally vulnerable for marauders to come in; spend hours locating their targets and spend even more hours hauling away over a hundred human beings. Think of the number of vehicles used and the time spent during the operation. Yet they were unchallenged!

One major but unfortunate issue that the armed forces and security agencies must admit, and which is not new, is that there has never been genuine and sustainable inter-agency collaboration in national security. Meanwhile, it is only with such cooperation that we can curb the purposeless and self-replicating malignity of Boko Haram. Will a government committee made up of security and government representatives, some of which have been trading blames, not be distracted by the efforts of some agencies to ensure that whatever report is turned in does not indict them? Besides, for a government notorious for abandoning its reports, is this not just another futile exercise just to be seen to be doing something while doing nothing?

Let us, for the record, take some time off and look at the activities of Boko Haram, the havoc it has wreaked and its reversal of all values, Islamic and Western. We shall, in the process, also note a few points about the growth of this insurgency and how it could have been contained long before now.

Local economies have collapsed in various parts of the North, traditional rulers have been killed, ‘replaced’ or driven out of their domains, bombings and the sacking of otherwise peaceful villages and neighbourhoods have led to the decimation and abandonment of farmlands, cash crops and fishing communities. The sugarcane trade, the mainstay of some of the local economies, has disappeared in many areas. Re-desertification has occurred in some places, after years of non-cultivation and irrigation. The traumatised lands show the absence of any meaningful productivity or economic activities.

The farmlands are desolate. The people have either fled to other parts of the country, or have been killed. Factories are shut down, many of them for over six years now. Most cottage industries are no more. Several of the schools are not in session; shut down by Boko Haram. Organised services, wherein labour is recognised and paid, are very limited. The absence of factories, farmlands and cottage industries automatically translates into lower productivity and lower input into overall GDP. Retrogression, or knowledge retardation, is only one of the consequences, with national development as the ultimate casualty in all of this.

Boko Haram started very quietly. Then it grew gradually for decades. While we can say that the negative social, economic, security and political activities that blew the lid, it was largely the inattention of the authorities to the progressive radicalisation of large sections of uneducated and economically vulnerable swaths of the population that got us where we are today.

With its claim to be focused on promoting purer and more spiritual values for a better humanity, the name, ‘Boko Haram` boils down to this: Western Education (boko) is sin (haram). It rejects every form of `modernity`, especially Western education, Western culture and science. The claim is that they pollute us, as human beings. But what does Boko Haram offer for its presumably superior moral and other values? Look around you. What you see everywhere is the group`s failings as a vehicle for genuine human development.

While it may not be true that the origins of Boko Haram can be traced to Mohammed Marwa, founder of an older militant Maitatsine religious group, it makes sense to argue that the circumstances that created this earlier group may have contributed to the emergence of the latter. The group`s goals includes the creation of an Islamic state in Nigeria and the achievement of an anti-Western education target by stopping all regular schools. Yusuf used a school in his mosque for the recruitment of jihadis, or warriors for Islam; wherein the far more ambitious goal of creating a team that would later fight for the creation of an Islamic state was a quietly pursued aim.

Denouncing official corruption, while promising better material welfare to the people, helped the Yusuf group to draw followers, while remaining largely peaceful within the first seven years. The group grew over the years, especially as it was providing stipends and jobs for the unemployed youths in its area of influence; where over 75 per cent of the people were said to live below the poverty line.

The Federal Government Committee on Security in the North-east reported that the critical propelling factors for the Boko Haram insurgency included high levels of poverty, illiteracy, massive unemployment of skilled and unskilled youths, the existence of private militias, failure of effective intelligence work which were set up, used and dumped by politicians. The ready availability of these abandoned militias of almajiris, in addition to the influx of illegal aliens through our porous borders, provides the needed cannon fodder for mischief. This is in addition to the provocative and inciting preaching of some religious leaders.

The dangers we now face in civil political stability because of Boko Haram are legion. The Dapchi Girls kidnap is symptomatic of a thriving trend that is becoming too frequent to count. For a nation in recession and desperately in need of resources, too much of our earnings are being deployed in the fight against Boko Haram. This leaves us with a lower GDP, lower expenditure on social infrastructure per capita and an unavoidable disregard for those essential economic activities and incentives that drive growth and productivity and national development. This cannot be right.

Regarding the Dapchi girls, we now have the first near-equivalent of the Chibok Girls saga by a “defeated” terrorist group. Coming in the midst of doublespeak and mutual recriminations among the security agencies, this is further proof that the Federal Government appears to be totally out of its depths on all fronts. These girls are not statistics and numbers, but fellow human beings: people`s children, who have friends, cousins and all. Added to the Chibok saga, this is one kidnap too many.

Today the issues go far beyond the Dapchi girls. The Nigerian State is under a grievous siege it appears unwilling to admit. Worse still, the government has a lousy and really pathetic information management machinery that does it no credit. Asymmetric warfare, wherein the enemy is not only mobile but part of the landscape, is not an easy engagement by any stretch of the imagination. But asymmetrical government reflexes, asymmetrical government communication and inter-agency interface, when put together boil down to one thing, namely, incompetent leadership. Wanted: some indication of focus, coherence and a problem-solving trajectory around here

NOTE: Olusegun Adeniyi’s Verdict will be back next week