BOKO HARAM: The Retrogression of Nigeria’s Northeast

Olutayo Irantiola
February 26th 2016
In 2007, I was posted to Maiduguri, which is the capital of the North-East of Nigeria, for my mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) assignment. I had the opportunity of meeting with fellow corps members who were from other parts of the country and it was also a good time to learn about the culture of the Kanuri before returning to my region. The Kanuri are an ethnic group from the Borno Province in Nigeria, and are over 3 million in the country. The acculturation was effective for our culturally, heterogeneous African country. Those eleven months of serving my beloved Nigeria gave me the opportunity to make friends with people from every part of the nation, which I appreciate always.
Northern Nigeria has always benefited more from the mandatory NYSC scheme because the initial contact they usually have is with a very dominant Arabian and Islamic culture while Southern Nigeria is largely exposed to the West as well as Christianity. As such, this has continued to determine the pace of development in these regions from the onset with the southern region experiencing more socio-economic and educational development. Under Nigeria’s quota system, recognition has been given to states in the northern region of the country and they are classified mostly as Educationally Less Developed States (ELDS). Many Southerners have also have been settling in the North for economic reasons for centuries, because industrial/commercial competition is not as keen as it would be in the South. Inter-ethnic marriages have been pivotal to the growth of the country as a whole as well.
Unfortunately, tribes have had challenges tolerating each other’s views, ranging from political views which lead to the 1966 coup as well as with religious ideology and a more subtle form of ethnocentrism which led to reprisal attacks. All of these issues slowed down the development of Nigeria as a whole until the final breakdown of law and order in the North-East in 2009.
The phrase, ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘western education is forbidden’. There are different factions of what actually led to the Boko Haram insurgency. One account of such, is the opinion that it was started as a retaliation of the face-off between a member of the sect and the Nigerian police where the member was killed as well as with when political power shifted from the North to the South at the demise of President Umaru Yar’adua. The level of insurgency escalated and extreme damage had been done to the Borno, Bauchi, Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano States. The National Youth Service Corps scheme that took me to Borno state before, now cannot take new graduates there and the aforementioned states because of the insurgency.
This development has brought devastating results on the nation as a whole. Many people have lost their lives in thousands. Gallant officers have lost their lives to insurgency while civilians in millions have been rendered homeless, turned into orphans, widows, widowers and many physically maimed forever. Nigeria now has millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are now aliens to their homeland and refugees in their country. Recently, 1500 women were reported to have given birth in these IDP camps. These camps are equally overcrowded as well as underfunded. Tension is currently heightened now that country is battling with Lassa fever after the severe outbreak of the Ebola virus.
Pathetically, the insurgents capitalized on the paralyzed state of security and have even kidnapped innocent school girls in Chibok community of Borno state. It’s going to be nearly two years since these girls were kidnapped, yet the hope of ever seeing them alive grows dimmer by the day. The former President, Olusegun Obasanjo made a categorical statement about the girls that they might not be found again as a group. However, some of them might later show up individually. People that had means of livelihood have been rendered jobless with activities stalled and they are at the mercy of the government and donors. For those who have stayed back in such communities, they are unbalanced psychologically as they live in perpetual anticipatory fear of imminent attack from the insurgents. The mental health of the population from these gory experiences, is also a major issue. Their experienced have conditioned them life long mental trauma.
Northern Nigeria is already having cipher of desertification with the endless bomb blasts that have greatly contributed to these processes. The little pasture available to livestock for grazing has been depleted while many towns have been totally deserted because of insurgencies. The North-Eastern region of the country is presently witnessing double desertification, both natural and human. There is mass exodus from that part of the country with many people having made up their minds to never to return again. Conservative estimates from experts show that it may take about three decades to rebuild from the destruction and damage of the region.
Boko Haram’s menace has also affected the political and economical life of the country as a whole. The erstwhile administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had to postpone the general elections so as to quell the militants and allowed people to perform their civic duties to vote. It was a six-week harrowing period in the history of Nigeria as many were jittery around not sure of the outcome of the deferment. The atmosphere was quite calm till elections took place but in recent times, attacks have become sporadic across the region again. Many Nigerians are begging for answers and want to know if the quest of the Boko Haram sect was to truly driven by political power, or religious ideology.
Many are mutually suspicious of pedestrians on the street, motorcyclists and even co-passengers on buses in order to ensure personal safety. People have employed various technological means to share the contact number of the police force. There have been numerous threats about the bombing of locations in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria. People are fearful of visiting family, which further makes it even more difficult for people to relax and unwind with their loved ones.
The perturbing happenings now include suppressed reports about the attacks on civilians. This is not known if it is a deliberate act of the government to make people assume that insurgency has been quelled by the military. Gruesome atrocities have now included the burning alive of innocent children by Boko Haram, who are now using the fire bombing of huts and civilian households to progress their initiatives.
The pace of development in Nigeria has been retarded further with the uprising of the Boko Haram insurgency which has consumed an entire region of the country. Nigeria has further retrogressed, because of the pockets of crisis that has engulfed the her. The economic contribution of the North-East to the nation has been grounded. All business activities have been disrupted while government offices continue to not operate optimally.
Western countries have indicated interest to aid Nigeria in crushing their Boko Haram insurgency. Neighboring countries have also helped in setting up military task forces to support. The Nigerian army has also been repositioned by the administration of President Muhmmadu Buhari to defeat insurgents. The first step of the present government was to move the Nigerian military command center to Maiduguri, which is believed to be the headquarters of the dreaded sect, Boko Haram. The insurgency-torn zone has been visited by Nigerian Vice President, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo and the Senate President, Mr Bukola Saraki. This political solidarity visit is a reassurance of the government’s commitment to restoring the communities. Although, there are still pockets of violence within these regions, hopefully the government’s tactics will ultimately bring the insurgency to a halt.
Military bombardments have been taking place most especially in the Sambisa forest, known as evil, where the insurgents are supposedly based. The military has employed new ways of combating the situation. The shelling of the area has hopefully sent some signal to the group that the Nigerian government is attempting to leave no stone unturned to stop insurgency. 
The future of Nigeria is still bright in terms of regional integration and unity. This insurgency will hopefully be a thing of the past. Nigeria has experienced different incidences of uprisings in its past. There was the Nigerian Civil war which came to a halt on January 15, 1970. Other Nigerian insurgent groups include Niger-Delta Militants, Bakassi Boys, Egbesu Boys, and even others have become a thing of the past. Everyone is looking forward to the time when all the IDP will return to their homelands and the government of the affected states can rebuild their communities beautifully. 

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(c)Olutayo IRAN-TIOLA, Lagos, Nigeria
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