Boko Haram and The Limit of Two Narratives, By Adeolu Ademoyo
Two narratives have dominated the “understanding” and “solutions” to the evil called Boko Haram. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan, his party, PDP, and the defenders of the government hold the first narrative.
Two categories of Nigerians subscribe to a second narrative. First category of people are associated with the opposition party-APC- and those who are critical of the government of President Jonathan.
The second category of people who subscribe to the second narrative have nothing to do with PDP/APC politics. Out of genuine concern and some dose of naïveté they defend this second narrative without seeing how their position eventually strengthens the evil Boko Haram, which they genuinely oppose.
Nigerians are aware of these narratives because some defend and or betray these narratives either consciously or unconsciously. I will however restate them.
The first narrative wrongly sees Boko Haram as a tool of the opposition-APC –to harass President Jonathan out of power. The limitation of this narrative is the reason President Jonathan has failed woefully to correctly address the Boko Haram evil.
The second narrative focuses only on President Jonathan’s abysmal failure in engaging Boko Haram. In doing this and ignoring the cause of a problem that predates Jonathan’s government, the defenders of this narrative consciously and unconsciously shield the main evil-Boko Haram, and the social, economic, political, and “ideological” environment for its fruition, constant mutation and re-appearance.
For ethical and pragmatic reasons, we must reject the way the two narratives have been constructed in our search for lasting solutions.
The ethical issue is about taking moral responsibility for a duty and for one’s actions. The pragmatic issue is the need for a practical solution, which is to engage what re-currently enable Boko Haramic acts at their source.
Boko Haram is not a mystery. It has a social cause even if, like all terrorist groups, it can be infiltrated and hijacked by myriad interest groups for multiple purposes. So the government narrative, which sees Boko Haram as a tool to displace President Jonathan’s government, and the second narrative, which avoids centering Boko Haram as the major issue, fail to address the cause, the enabling environment. Given the nature of these twin narratives, no one can be held responsible for the constant mutation of Boko Haramic practice, which in itself is a product of a doctrine in an enabling environment.
Hence, with this kind of limited narratives, one cannot but ask simple questions: What kind of environment constantly produces Boko Haramic acts? What failed historically in these spaces? Who failed to do their job or who did their job wrongly at local, regional and national levels such that the country birth one of the worst evils ever in contemporary period?
In modern societies the language of moral discourse in public affairs is that “ good and bad the buck stops on my table and I take responsibility.” No member of the Nigerian political class in both PDP and APC (including the so-called “progressives” in APC) has shown this basic understanding of the ethics of public governance. Hence the country is in big trouble today and tomorrow and on all fronts including the twin problem of corruption and terrorism.
Given the preceding observations, it is reasonable to say that the problem of terrorism will remain unresolved because the proposition that Boko Haram is a tool deployed to displace President Jonathan’s government is ahistorical and devoid of any serious thinking, it does not solve this particular Boko Haram problem in 2014, nor will it prevent its mutation (including other terrorisms) beyond the present government.
Similarly, the proposition that it is the duty of the federal government to provide security is valid, and we have seen the catastrophic consequences of President Jonathan’s ineptitude in this regard. However, this reading is too formalistic because any understanding of Boko Haram that fails to put the more substantive social, economic, political and “ideological” environment that breed Boko Haramic practices on the spot as the primary problem is limiting. Also, it shields local responsibility.
Hence, we must strongly reject the way these narratives are constructed because they strengthen Boko Haram and give these them a lot of sadistic and masochistic pleasure. Government, PDP and opposition-APC, their spokespersons and defenders in the media are- through their disingenuous narratives- indirectly strengthening the hands of Boko Haram.
In view of this, the argument can easily be made that just as President Jonathan’s disastrous ineptitude in misreading Boko Haram is negatively instructive, the silence of major leaders of APC and their failure in coming out openly against Boko Haram is equally instructive. This is why neither the PDP nor the APC has the needed objective moral capacity to fight and end terrorism in the country because both are playing politics with something that is defining the fate of the country.
Thus, given the unethical disposition of both parties to this evil, it is reasonable to say that while Boko Haram Northern terrorism is the thorn in the flesh of PDP and President Jonathan, the South South creek terrorism is lying fallow waiting for APC any time.
Let us end this on a comparative historical note. Those who did “ground and street work” with Nigerian working peoples and social movements (from the 1970s) know the uneven nature of social and political consciousness across the country. The relevant questions in this regard are: what kinds of social, political, ideological environment, and political consciousness make it always difficult to mobilize evenly across our country for social justice and change while on the other hand it is easier to mobilize using Boko Haramic, Gideon Akalukaic, Maitatsine medieval doctrines in some parts?
Why is it difficult to mobilize evenly across the country on basic issues like gender equity, equal rights of our female children to education, yet it is easier to mobilize on parochial issues and agenda? Why are the bodies of our female children objects for phallic anger and sadistic pleasure for Boko Haramic stone age patriarchal groups, while some members of our patriarchal political class and their associates have the audacity to publicly package and burnish the stories of Boko Haram and even get cozy with them?
Why has this been the case since 1960s without fundamental change? To whose benefit is this kind of illiberal environment?
Uncomfortable as it is, let me end with an observation for those who will misread as usual the critical message here. It will be more productive if they scrutinize the message rather than get caught on the individual and which “party” this “helps” in their weird and wild political imagination! This is because together with other noble Nigerians across the geographical spread of the country, our consciously reserved, self effacing, non-pecuniary commitment to the country is historically dated and without strings attached; from the 1970s, it predates, in a historical sense, the unethical, crude, morally dubious and nefarious politicking going on between the PDP and the APC.
We will say the blunt truth for the sake of the country because we are not in search of pecuniary gains from any civilian or military “politrickcian”-West, East, North or South. Those who belong to this category ask what they can do for the country; they had never and will never ask what the country can do for them.
Like some other Nigerians, we are honoured and pleased to serve our country and humanity self effaced, out of public sight and move on. If it is about “payment” then we get “rewarded” only in spirit and by the immaterial and inestimable value added to a desired national ethics. That is who we are.
So those who may wish to misread this should take a deep breadth, think and take a broad historical look at the social character and behaviour of social movements in the country north, south, east, west; the crudities and fraud called “politics” (which had impacted negatively on the abducted Chibok girls and other serious issues in the country) going on among members of Nigerian political class, the PDP and the so-called “progressives” in the APC and deny the arguments before responding.
Epilogue: “The Man Dies In He Who Keeps Silent in the face of tyranny”-Wole Soyinka.
Tyranny includes both state and non-state tyranny. Boko Haram is an epitome of that non-state tyranny and evil. To keep quiet, spin, burnish and make a case for Boko Haram when over 200 schoolgirls who would be our next leaders, scientists, career women, professionals, in this century are in the forest under highly vulnerable conditions is sickening and morally complicit.
To reconcile oneself with this, as some members of Nigerian political class have adroitly and subtly done through their complex and loaded silence; spins, muddling, through sponsored postings in the media, is emotionally depressing. It is an abuse of our collective humanity.
Any moral being anywhere in the world has a moral responsibility to undermine, and ground Boko Haramic acts, Boko Haram and their private and public associates in Nigeria and abroad. They must not be given any breathing space to hide, burnish and spin events and stories in defence of one of the greatest evils ever known to humankind in modern times.
This is a pure and an unconditional moral duty.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.