How Research Can Mitigate the Resurgence of Crises in Nigeria’s North-East, By Philip Olayoku
It is thus important that the Nigerian federal government initiates steps towards developing a research driven victim-centred policy for intervention in the area. It is important that this research is centred on managing the context by creating a system of justice that emphasis accountability and forgiveness as enduring processes of transaction.
The recent conduct of the Exercise ‘Egwu Eke’ (Python Dance II) by the Nigerian Army in the South-East brought a temporary shift of discussions from the Boko Haram Insurgency in the country. The development in the South-East, in the federal government’s estimation, had to be taken more seriously in the past month with the emergence of a video of the inspection of guard of the Biafran militia by the self-styled leader of the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) who is now posing as the commander-in-chief of the yet to be realised Sovereign State of Biafra. The momentum that IPOB and its leader have gained in the media since he was granted bail on April 25, has been a distraction from the emerging context in Nigeria’s North-East, which reflects a resurgence in the spate of Boko Haram attacks. Within the same period, the insurgency has claimed about 381 civilian lives in Nigeria and Cameroon between April and September, 2017 according to reports by Amnesty international. The deadliest of the attacks was reported on July 25, 2017 during which the Boko Haram fighters killed about 40 people and ambushed three others who were on oil exploration in the region. This particular attack contradicts the claim by the federal government of Nigeria to have technically defeated Boko Haram since 2015. Apart from the direct attacks by Boko Haram members, other types of attacks in the region have increasingly included the use of abducted girls as suicide bombers, which align with what Alain Bauer refers to as the feminisation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
While the link between Boko Haram and the Islamic State has remained a subject of contestation among scholars and researchers, this trend alongside the pledge of allegiance to ISIS in 2015 are indicators of ideological and operational links between the two groups. This pledge also led to the fractionalisation of the sect with the emergence of Abu Musad Al-Barnawi as the leader of the Islamic State of West Africa. Nonetheless, the recent videos released since the turn of 2017 indicate that fractionalisation does not imply weakness, with the videos mocking the government and the Army who were not able to capture him after a 40-day ultimatum. While the Nigerian government has been conservative in labelling the Boko Haram a terrorist group, political and economic corruption in the country had smeared genuine efforts at combatting the insurgency; as well as repelled international involvement with the Nigerian military. The challenge of funding also undermined the effectiveness of the Multinational Joint Task Force and this has not helped in the fight against insurgency across the Lake Chad Basin, as Boko Haram fighters continue to repel national armies. Also within the international framework, the challenge of trust remains a front-burner issue with the allegations that interests in oil by some European countries (specifically the French) have led to support for the insurgents. There have thus been criticisms that the monetary contributions of the United Kingdom and the European Union towards the establishment of the Multinational Joint task forces were hypocritical. This is not to say that there have not also been applauds to some individual governments and international organisations, as exemplified in the commendation of the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that helped in negotiating the release of the Chibok girls.
…while a lot of efforts have been put into redeveloping the North-East, there is need for the harmonisation of interventions, through the creation of a database for major actors and their roles in the region. This would help in tracking the efforts so far within specific contexts and also highlight neglected areas which deserve urgent and sustainable interventions.
Beyond Europe, the victory over ISIS in the countries of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East has led to more frequent visits by high-ranking members of the group to some North African States, particularly Libya. The proximity of Libya to the Lake Chad Basin is thus a significant factor that further ossifies the link between the insurgents and the Islamic State. In the midst of these dynamics, the civilian population remains very vulnerable as they suffer the most casualties. What is more, they have to cope with the trauma of the losses incurred from attacks and violations during the insurgency. The complexity of the situation is such that they themselves have been muddled up as perpetrators in spite of their initial abductions. On the one hand, the men returning to the communities remain suspected of being compromised by the Boko Haram ideology, with the same applying to those who remained in the communities that were captured by the Boko Haram fighters. On the other hand is the most vulnerable group of women and children, especially young girls married to Boko Haram members (often with kids that belie their age), and are currently used in the ‘feminisation’ of the sect as suicide bombers. These also remain suspects in a largely traumatised society with a lot of people displaced from their homes and others having lost all their means of livelihood. There is also an emerging context of a lack of trust of community leaders who had earlier been recommended due to their collaboration with some state agents to divert relief materials meant to alleviate the suffering of victims in the community.
Security agents, as well as members of the Civilian Joint task Force remain culpable parties in this highly monetised region as major beneficiaries of corrupt practices and abuses in the region. The sanctioning of the military initiative of the Operation Safe Corridor by the federal government has also created a feeling of neglect amongst victims who remain uncomfortable, that surrendered ex-insurgents were being granted a sort of conditional amnesty, while they still suffer from the attacks. As it were, the prevalence of distrust among these actors creates an environment for Boko Haram to thrive as shown in the increase in the number of attacks in the past few months. It is thus important that the Nigerian federal government initiates steps towards developing a research driven victim-centred policy for intervention in the area. It is important that this research is centred on managing the context by creating a system of justice that emphasis accountability and forgiveness as enduring processes of transaction. Though the military initiative at reintegrating the repentant Boko Haram via a safe corridor is commendable, there is need for further research on best ways to create legitimacy for the process among communities within which the integration will take place. In legitimising the process, it is important that adequate sensitisation is done through a fact-driven campaign process to convince community members of the benefits of gradual reintegration of the Boko Haram fighters. This would entail the generation of data through research on how the process could help rebuild the economy and social stability of the war ravaged communities. There is also need for researchers to help develop a monitoring mechanism for religious education both within formal and informal spaces to prevent the radicalisation of the youth, especially girls, who are susceptible to recruitment as suicide bombers. Finally, while a lot of efforts have been put into redeveloping the North-East, there is need for the harmonisation of interventions, through the creation of a database for major actors and their roles in the region. This would help in tracking the efforts so far within specific contexts and also highlight neglected areas which deserve urgent and sustainable interventions.
Philip Ademola Olayoku has a doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies program from the University of Ibadan and is currently a Senior Research Fellow with the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA-Nigeria) and conducts research across the Northern Nigeria.