By AYODELE AKINKUOTU
In spite of what the nation’s security agencies would want us to believe, the Boko Haram surely holds Nigerians by the jugular. Or how best do we interpret the carnage the terrorist group inflicted on the nation on Friday, November 4? While Muslims worldwide prepared for the Eid El Kabir festival and a few hours away to pilgrims performing the final rites of this year’s pilgrimage in Mecca, the dissidents unleashed mayhem in Damaturu and Maiduguri, capitals of Yobe and Borno states respectively. By the time they were done, some 150 people had been mowed down. Those felled were hapless citizens going about their normal daily chores. Many of the casualties, likely to be mostly Muslims, must have been in the thick of preparations for the festival. With their morbid sense of humour, Boko Haram presented their corpses as a gift to the nation. The large percentage of the dead would never know why the dissidents eliminated them.
The families left behind to mourn them would still be wondering what hit them. It is not just enough to say this is the will of Allah. The Almighty certainly frowns at the killing of an innocent person. The group, which condemns western education and seeks to promote the Sharia, surely makes many Muslims wonder from which holy book they have taken their doctrine of hatred and wanton bloodletting. It is doubtful whether they understand the Koran or the injunctions in the Hadith. They do have role models though: the late Osama Bin Laden of the Al Qaeda fame is one. And the Boko Haram is now popularly referred to in security circles as the Nigerian Taliban. And the original Taliban, based in Afghanistan, is surely the devil’s incarnate. They gave the Soviet Union a bloody nose. No dictionary has such entry) in a war that spanned nearly a decade, but not without the active connivance and support of the United States. The latter, along with other western powers, has been at war with the same group for several years now. There is no end in sight in that very expensive encounter which has cost the US billions of dollars. Surely the nation can ill-afford this guerilla war as defined by the Boko Haram. That is why the security agencies need to gird their loins and rally to find an effective way of check-mating the dissidents. The impunity with which they strike seems to suggest that they are always a step ahead of the security agencies. It was only after their latest act of infamy that the nation was told that the Boko Haram had relocated their headquarters from Borno to Yobe. At what point did the agencies become aware of this? Was it in the aftermath of the November 4 devastation? Or if they knew much earlier, were steps taken to keep a tab on them? Telling the nation of the movement amounts to getting wiser after the act.
That brings us to the State Security Service’s brickbats of the US embassy. The development came in the wake of the warnings to American citizens in Nigeria, asking them to steer clear of three luxury hotels in Abuja. The alert stated that these hotels were likely targets of the Boko Haram during the Muslim festival. Surprisingly, the embassy did not share this very vital information with the relevant officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter and the SSS thus called a press conference to condemn the warning, and at the same time warned the US from spreading panic. The security agency said it had been aware of the plan for about three months and had taken adequate steps to nip it in the bud. Many people think this is one diplomatic face-off the nation can do without. A period the US is said to be training personnel of the Nigerian Army on counter-insurgency is a most inappropriate time to foul up the cordial relationship between our two countries.
In this face-off, one issue stuck out like a sore thumb. Why did the US officials fail to intimate Nigerian authorities on the alleged plot to bomb the three high-brow hotels? Was this out of frustration? Perhaps, the security agencies are not known to take such threats serious. Imagine the claim by Aliyu Tishau, a leader of the dreaded sect, who said the police knew well in advance that the Force Headquarters bombed last June had been targeted. No effective measures were taken to frustrate the terrorist act. That is not all. The nation had ample chance to make our soil infertile for terrorists, which members of the Boko Haram are. A North African country was said to have stumbled on the link between dissidents in Nigeria and the Al Qaeda Maghreb in 2007 and promptly alerted the nation’s top security officials. Nothing was done to break the link and ensure the dissidents got no breathing space. Perhaps, the failure to act with dispatch is the harvest we are reaping today with Boko Haram’s campaign of terror.
So where do we go from here? From all indications so far, the dissidents seem not in a hurry to be dislodged. In the campaign to curb their activities, there is something seriously missing. There is a seeming lack of intelligence about the character of the organisation. How large is the membership? What is the mode of recruitment? We have been treated to plans by security agencies to unveil the barons behind Boko Haram. So when shall we know who the big masquerades are? How are the dissidents’ activities funded? Unfortunately, to these germane questions, many believe the security agencies are unlikely to find answers. That will not be because of incompetence, but rather the absence of a political will to smoke the members out of their dens. Just like we have handled the less challenging crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping by erecting police and army checkpoints, the nation can continue to deploy troops in the pursuit of Boko Haram. That is no more than a slap on the wrist. Thus they may for long continue to give us a bloody nose in their meaningless campaign until President Goodluck Jonathan recognises that the Boko Haram problem is a slap in his face and an affront to his presidency. We hope it will not be too late.