On October 2, 2015 Suleiman Ibrahim Wada got a call from his friend Sani in Kano. Sani asked if a bomb had gone off in Kuje. Suleiman Ibrahim replied that he had heard a loud sound and noticed people going about anxiously but was not sure. The line dropped on the other end, and Suleiman Ibrahim decided to take a walk to a corner shop nearby to get some credit and respond to his friend. He made it to the shop, but he almost did not make it out.
As Suleiman Ibrahim stepped out of a shop along Zamfara garage in Kuje, a loud sound and huge wall of flame knocked him off his feet and dropped him in a pile of rubble with the decapitated and burnt bodies over 50 feet away from the shop.
The next morning, a mass burial was held in Kuje. About twenty Muslims were buried, and the local government chairman immediately announced at a gathering that those injured would get free treatment from the government.
The message was clear to many: the dead are gone and there seems no end to the massacre that is Boko Haram. It also seems obvious that Suleiman Ibrahim was not the first, and would not be the last of the casualties of the dreaded sect.
More than that, a town as peaceful as Kuje had now joined the ranks of places plagued with suspicion and fear of one another.
Any exit strategy for Boko Haram?
Speaking to the Al-Jazeera reporter Mehdi Hassan in the talk show UpFront, President Muhammadu Buhari made it quite clear that he intended to stay, and not resign, until the end of Boko Haram. He however did not give an exact date when that would happen.
This largely contrasts his promises during the election campaign. Promises that ushered him in and have maintained the nation’s morale of keeping the hope alive.
Among the many problems that have turned a group of rebellious citizens into diehard fighters for an incoherent cause were their realities: endemic poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of commercial activity in the region. The drying up of the Lake Chad basin has translated into the end-of-means of livelihood for millions of people.
These configurations still exist; these seeds that perhaps sprouted Boko Haram are still there.
A lot of good things can be said about the current government’s efforts towards combating Boko Haram. The president has in many interviews commended the military decisions. Occupied grounds have been gained back, trainings and re-trainings have been embarked on, and the tactical base was shifted from Abuja to Maiduguri to get a more onground response to the situation in the northeast.
But other related problems remain largely unresolved. Moreso, very little is being said about them. Take, for instance, the salary scheme for the Nigerian soldiers fighting in the heart of the insurgency, Several ivestigative reports have suggested they receive a paltry N1,000 a day — as against their colleagues in the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions that receive almost the same amount in dollars.
What may become of the Chibok Girls?
Whether the Chibok girls are still alive and recoverable, and if they are going to be released are among the questions that both the immediate past and current administrations cannot give a straightforward answers to.
Ibrahim Garba Wala, a member of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, labelled the activities of the group as seeking to keep every government reminded of their responsibilities to those who appointed them. He also added that, during a recent visit to Chibok, he spoke to an army personnel member who frowned on the group’s activities aimed at advocating the kidnapped girls’ release. “You people are the ones making the recovery of the girls hard,” the military man said.
According to this army source, not only has the movement inspired a worldwide awareness and support campaign, but magnified the strength of Boko Haram in the global terrorism space, and also might have given the terrorist the idea to hold the girls as political assets for future negotiations. All of the above has hindered efforts at the Chibok girls’ recovery.
State policing and intelligence gathering
Boko Haram’s transition is equally visible in its pattern of attacks. The group began by bombing and attacking police stations, and afterwards military facilities and churches. Then they sought international relevance by using the Internet, and pushed further by attacking schools. They have now shifted to bombing mosques.
What the seemingly stark disconnect between several attackers has revealed is that the group operates by using seemingly independent sleeper cells in different regions. The apprehended attackers have not mentioned their relationship with Abubakar Shekau or any other leader of the Boko Haram group.
The approach at curbing Boko Haram undeniably has to also go through a methodical follow-up. Three states in the northeast have begun advocating for state policing in the region. The use of the civilian JTF has benefited the Nigerian military thanks to the strong motivation and commitment of those being attacked have to ending the violence. Local people are better at spotting strangers, suspicious characters and activities in their location.
Will Buhari take the option of negotiation?
One of the first President Muhammadu Buhari’s steps after assuming office was going to Chad to discuss, with Idris Derby, critical approaches towards ending the Boko Haram problem. The security challenge was top priority for Buhari’s campaign, as much as it was for Nigerians in the northeast and other parts of the country.
But while speaking on Up Front with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan, President Buharihinted at the possibility of negotiating with the terrorist group. The dangers behind this possibility are almost limitless, most obvious being that it would encourage imitation by other groups that seek political relevance.
In truth, it seems the Nigerian government already has a platform for negotiating with Boko Haram. A platform which may have been used to release a French priest kidnapped by Boko Haram from Koza, a French family abducted by the group from Dabanga, and some captives of Boko Haram from Bama in 2013. Boko Haram had demanded the release of their members’ wives and children who were apprehended by the Nigerian security operatives. They did not ask for amnesty, and they did not state they would do away with their shared ideology.
As the government of President Buhari marches towards the December date set for the service chiefs to end Boko Haram, it is wise to point out that if this is to become feasible, a lot of things will become mandatory to solve. Beyond the brilliant blueprints aimed at eliminating the militants economically, ideologically and politically, the Buhari-led government must also dig deeper to reach the root causes of the problem in the region.
A depth which will truly be reached when we begin to talk a little more about poverty.
Ask me one on one.