Saturday, March 22, 2014

Boko Haram: A Look At Evil’s Face

To know evil, you have only to stand at the entrance of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State where, on February 25, 2014, 53 students were massacred in the most grisly manner. On that day, a band of insurgents that goes by the name of Boko Haram descended on the school while the students were sleeping.

The brigands had come with death offering, crudely packaged in discarded cans and network of wires – they call it IED. Then, like the devil’s rain, balls of explosion started falling on the harmless, defenseless students – while they slept.

To be sure their mission was clinically efficient and effective, they sprayed the rooms with showers of gunfire.

An eyewitness recounted:
“Students were trying to climb out of the windows and they were slaughtered like sheep by the terrorists. They caught them and slit their throats. Others, who ran, were gunned down.”
There were 24 buildings in the school; all were burnt to the ground by the attackers.
To know evil, you have only to see the skeletal remains of St. Andrew’s Protestant Church in Kaduna where, on November 25, 2012, bombs were hurled at worshippers. And by the time the smoke and dust had cleared, 30 bodies of the faithful lay grotesquely under the ruins. Or you can know evil by the apocalyptic visitation on a mosque in Dumba village of Borno State, where no less than 35 people were murdered on August 19, 2013.

This version of evil has stalked this land in the last few years. By the evidence of its indiscriminate delivery, it is hardly possible to associate it. It neither spares the young nor the adult; it neither has reverence for worship centres nor restraints for traditional institutions. Its motivations remain as shifty, even opaque, as they come. It murders by the legion, irrespective. Which is a recall of the words of Osama bin Laden: “We don’t differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians. They are all targets in this fatwa.”

It is a justification also of the incident of August 26, 2011 bombing of the United Nations Building in Abuja in which 21 people died. Many workers just getting their morning coffee jumped from smoking windows to their deaths or waited in full awareness as sections of the massive building collapsed on them. Few minutes later, a group of people announced with a sense of pride, justification and fulfillment that the act was its machination.

The problem of evil is indeed ancient. It might even be archetypal, so much a part of us that we will never eradicate it. Andrew Delbanco tells us in his book, The Death of Satan, that Americans have lost their sense of evil. But Delbanco might as well be not talking about Americans alone. All peoples of the world have lost their sense of evil. Can’t we even say that evil is as old as man? We can also say that evil, perhaps, is increasingly visible, yet we have lost a vocabulary for talking about it, and our explanations for it have never been weaker. The unending cases of hatred, brutality, and wanton callousness make it clear that there are people who intend great harm, not just to the other person, but to the other persons – the greater number.

Boko Haram has been with us since the last decade, but no time in the past was it as daring and devastating as it has become. And if the principles and the logic of terror and terrorism are any guide, then the nation may just be dealing with a good number of hosts from Hedes. How do you deal with a man who is not afraid of death?

Then you ask: How does the mind of perpetrators of evil work? Are they enamoured of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that superior men have no moral boundaries? Perhaps. And that could have justified the evil that came in the forms of Hunnic Empire’s Attila The Hun, Roman’s Caligula (famously “The Evil Emperor who proclaimed himself a god”), German’s Adolph Hitler, Russian’s Ivan the “Terrible” – even Uganda’s Idi Amin Dada. Human history is littered with evil personified.

To be true, evil comes in forms; one of which is terrorism. So, as Nigeria grapples with this one that presents itself in Boko Haram, the most urgent questions are: Is Nigeria winning the war? What lasting effects would the brigandage have on the psyche and consciousness of its direct witnesses? What quality of human persons would be left in the enclave and what would be the health of its (enclave) social interaction? These should bother us.

Their methods, tactics of operation:

Since members of the Boko Haram sect started operations in the North-Eastern region of the country comprising Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in 2002, a lot of lives and property had been lost to the terrorists attacks.

According to reports, the group’s attacks, which were later extended to Kano, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba states, were not initially too bloody until July 2009 when members of the sect finally broke loose and went on rampage and killing spree following the killing of some of its members by security agents during a raid on the sect’s hide-out in Maiduguri early that month.

Rather than abating, attacks by members of the sect have become bloodier resulting in heavy human and material casualties.

Some of the tactics and methods employed by Boko Haram in wreaking havoc on their targets include the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), suicide bombings, hit-and-run operations, assassination of politicians and traditional leaders, psychology, fear  and recorded video messages, among others.

In order to acquire technical expertise on how to produce and make use of IEDs, Boko Haram members were reported to receive training from Al Qaeda terror networks in Mali, Algeria, Mauritania and Somalia among a host of other nations.

This claim was confirmed by Algeria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abd-el-Kader Messahel who had declared during an Anti-Terrorism Seminar in Algiers: “We have no doubt that coordination exists between Boko Haram and the Algeria-based North-African branch of Al Qaeda. The way both groups operate and intelligence report shows that there is co-operation.”

Having acquired training on the use of explosive devices, members of the sect ran loose, planting bombs and detonating bombs in several parts of Adamawa, Yobe, Borno, Kano states, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.

For these states, residents could no longer sleep with two eyes closed, they could also not predict where members of the sect would strike or hit next.

Shootings from motorbikes at police and military personnel also gradually became a past time for Boko Haram terrorists.

Some of the places attacked by suicide bombers include the United Nations building in Abuja. A car loaded with explosives driven by a suicide bomber rammed into the building. Eighteen innocent souls lost their lives in the carnage.

Louis Edet House, which serves as the headquarters of the Nigeria Police, was also bombed by the sect. Two people lost their lives in the explosion.
Also in a coordinated attack in Kaduna State on June 7, 2012, both ECWA church and Christ The King Catholic Church were bombed by suicide bombers.

According to reports, at Christ The King Church, the suicide bomber had driven towards the church’s premises in a Honda Accord car, and while attempts were being made by security agents to carry out security checks on the car, the lone bomber rammed the car into the church building, causing human casualties and destruction of property.

And in Jos, capital of Plateau State, suicide bombers were responsible for scores of deaths of innocent souls, especially Christian worshippers who are often their target of attacks during Sunday services. It would also be recalled that the previous year, 2011, on the Christmas Day, members of the sect bombed a church at Madalla in Niger State leaving blood, sorrow and destruction in its wake.

While confirming that members of the sect have gone far into the use of explosives in the cause of their nefarious acts of terrorism, Kano State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris on June 27, 2012 revealed that 17 members of the sect that attacked a police post at Dala division used explosives. He added that the state police command detonated 14 improvised explosive devices planted in different locations in Kano by the sect members.

The hit-and-run tactics employed by the sect involve hurling explosives from moving vehicles into such targets like police posts, supermarkets, shopping malls, and stationary vehicles.

In what could be regarded as instances of occasions when members of the Boko Haram sect engaged in conventional or open warfare with security agents was the invasion of the ancient city of Kano on Friday, January 2012 in which over 200 people lost their lives.

During that attack, members of the sect were engaged in a shoot-out with security agents resulting in casualties on both sides. Civilians were also caught in the crossfire.

Military and paramilitary formations are also often attacked by members of the sect, and when such attacks occurred, they set free or attempt to set free their detained members  and others.
This was what happened on September 7, 2010 when the group attacked Bauchi Prison, and set free 700 inmates.

On April 22, 2011, members of the sect set free 14 inmates during an attack on the prison.
Innocent civilians or people suspected to be informants of security agencies are also targets of attacks by the sect in order to drive fear into the population.

An example was the assassination in broad daylight of the younger brother of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garba El-Kanemi who was shot dead by suspected members of the sect. Last year, members of the sect also carried out a deadly attack on the convoy of the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero. The revered monarch escaped death by the whiskers, but had to be flown abroad for medical treatment.

Last Friday attack on military barracks in Maiduguri, which left some people dead, was also another instance of daring attacks by members of the sect on security formations in order to drive fear into the minds of the civilians or set their detained members free.

The use of recorded video messages, psychology and fear are also popular tools employed by Boko Haram to carry out their operations.
Recorded video messages in form of audio-visual communication which were often posted on YouTube, and telephone interviews depicting havoc wreaked by Boko Haram are usually used to drive fears into the hearts of the people.

People often watch in awe, horror photos of beheaded and slaughtered victims on YouTube – the sight of the sect’s leader, Ibrahim Shekau, appearing in military fatigue, brandishing AK 47 rifles, boasting and threatening to unleash further terror has also become a source of concern to many. It is more worrisome due to the fact that many citizens have become weary that this is the same man that has often been touted to have been killed by security operatives.

South Not Immune – Latinwo

Group Captain Salaudeen Latinwo is a retired Air Force Officer and former Military Governor of Kwara State. At the time, security of lives and property was the order of the day and Nigerians had no choice but to comply with the Federal Government’s policy on War Against Indiscipline. Here, he spoke to GILBERT EKEZIE on Boko Haram insurgency and explained that the Southern part of Nigeria is not immune from the sect’s attack ravaging the northern part of the country.

What’s your view on the present spate of Boko Haram violence and insecurity in Nigeria?
Boko Haram insurgency in northern part of Nigeria is nothing but the major insecurity we have in Nigeria today. It has taken the lives and property of many innocent citizens. You cannot rationalize their ideology. They are claiming that they do not want western education, but they speak the best English. It is all about power and recognition. It is against the physical existence of the country and that shows they are our enemy.  Therefore, we should see them as one and join hands to fight against their attack on us.

What form should the fight against Boko Haram take in order to be successful?
When we fought the civil war, we fought it with everything we had. We used the economy through the Minister of Finance. Then the currency was changed, just to starve the opponents. There were sanctions of food all over the places. Every one should not be singing tangle- tangle. If the security wants to attack, they should know how powerful they are before doing that. Thereafter, should have the feasibility to defend themselves. It is a stigma to the economy of the nation. Good loving people should mobilize. There was a problem in America on chemical weapon and chemical shops were asked to report anyone that buys more than expected.

I observed that what makes it a serious problem in tackling the menace of Boko Haram is that they are part of the community. So, it becomes complex.  Army is taught on conventional war and not on terrorism. Also, money is playing a major role in gathering information. It seems Boko Haram pays people to give them information and that is why they penetrate and attack important places like military barracks, police stations, churches, mosques, markets, schools, etc successfully. We should use everything we have, be it radio, newspaper, television and other means to fight against it. We should stop the tangle –tangle of a thing. But should face the reality.

Why do you think it is persisting?
I think, it is persisting because when it first started, the government was not serious about it. They were handled with levity, so they grew to become what they are today. At a stage when they began to see money and support, their power increased and they became so difficult to handle.

Incidentally, the military never had the programme to tackle suicide bombers and that is why they seem to be difficult to deal with. They go to the drinking joints, markets, churches, mosques, schools and other public places, shoot, throw bombs and kill hundreds of people. People give Boko Haram information on how to get the military and that is why they succeed in attacking the army.

Most regrettably, everyone is blaming the Federal Government, without knowing that there is a limit to what the government can do without the assistance of the people. They will not do it alone.  You could imagine how the Governor of Benue State was attacked and people were calling on the Federal Government to assist. How many soldiers do we have to tackle all the civil issues in Nigeria? I think, we can do it, if we are ready.

Do you think the South is immune from Boko Haram’s insurgency?
Not at all, let us be honest to ourselves, when it is a war, it becomes a war. When it starts, it can get to all areas, including the South you are talking about. There is no evidence in the world where war has boundary. For instance, a man in Ekiti State was asked what if the Boko Haram insurgency is happening in his state? He said he would collapse. So, that is to tell you how serious the pains are. In fact, it’s very frightening and deadly. You hear people from Rivers and Edo condemning the action, crying against how our children are being killed. They did not say the children from Yobe. So, it is an issue that affects everyone.  It is our country. You could see that they have penetrated Benue State where they attacked  the state governor. So, it could be the turn of any other state. The presence of the police in Lagos and some other southern states showed that the South is becoming more security conscious and preparing themselves against the unknown.

What is the solution to the insecurity in the country?
The people should be vigilant and need to work with military, police and other security operatives by reporting the activities of the perpetrators. If strange people are seen gathering, they should be reported to security agents. Also, dealers of chemicals and explosives should report anyone seen buying items in a large quantity because it could be for the production of bombs. The idea of not accepting amnesty, peace move will not help the matter. We need peace because when the problem comes, we are too large that no country will be able to accommodate us.

It is unfortunate that the so-called Boko Haram sect interact, wine, dine and do all sorts of things with the community. But somehow, there has not been any report of any sort, of people coming to report on how to get them. When the information is given, they get loose.

So, until when people begin to see it as a community affair and report anyone suspected to be of questionable character to the appropriate authorities, the issue of Boko Haram insurgency will continue. Also, people in top positions from the affected areas have important roles to play in fishing out those behind the crime.