There is always a temptation in viewing Nigerian politics to concentrate on the political, the social and the economic issues confronting the country as separate and distinct entities. To a large degree this can lead to misguided conclusions. There are few aspects of Nigerian life which are not governed or shaped by the search for money, the preservation of ethnic supremacies and the concomitant search for political advantage; all at once. There is also an overweening belief among Nigerians that the rest of the world doesn’t understand Nigeria and can be bamboozled by empty rhetoric.
Boko Haram is the latest issue which is engaging discussion and speculation inside the country and in the international community. The levels of violence against Nigerian targets are a step up on the levels of violence which characterised those of the Delta militants, especially MEND. The Boko Haram demands for a Nigerian Muslim State are not new but are promoted by fanatics tied in to international terrorist groups, like Al Qaida. In reality Boko Haram is a creature created and funded by the Northern political elite for its political ends, just as MEND and the Delta militants were created and funded by the political elites of the South-South for their own ends. In many cases the actual leadership of these two groups, Boko Haram and MEND, were trained together in Libya at the same terrorist school in Benghazi.
The earliest groups to form were MEND and the Delta militants. They were funded by the South-South governors of Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa states and their political allies to make it difficult for the forces of law and order (the ‘Kill and Go’ police and the Task Force) to interfere with the stealing of oil in the region; known in Nigeria as ‘bunkering’. Every day the Nigerian economy loses between 150,000 and 320,000 barrels of oil. These are stolen by 'bunkerers', who have small tanker vessels which load the oil in the Delta and tranship this stolen oil to offshore tankers which deliver this stolen oil to other West African states. In addition to the theft of crude oil, other inland illegal tanker trucks load the imported refined products and drive these into neighbouring countries for black market sale. At $100 a barrel that amounts to around US$30 million a day for crude oil and around US$8 million per day for gasoline (PMS) and diesel. In short the bunkering of oil and refined products in the South-South brings in an illegal $42 million a day or over US$12 billion a year.
This illegal trade was pioneered under President Abacha when Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe and his naval colleagues Victor Ombu and Ibrahim Ogohi established the smuggling of petroleum products from Port Harcourt and Warri to neighbouring West African countries. This naval assistance was important as over fifty vessels were engaged in the bunkering. A few years ago an aerial surveillance of Lagos coastal waters revealed no fewer than fifty vessels and boats being used for oil theft. Despite the connivance of the Navy fifteen vessels engaged in the trade were seized.
The most shocking bombshell in the hearings on these seizures was dropped by a ship owner and active stakeholder in the industry, Isaac Jolapamo. Testifying before the House of Representatives panel probing the vessels, Jolapamo alleged that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), major and independent oil marketers all patronised these vessels which he said were "owned and managed by known international crooks." According to Jolapamo, these vessels and their customers engage in round-tripping with stolen crude oil and refined products. He also revealed that the bunkering vessels change their names regularly and that three Nigerian banks were funding this bunkering. They funded the charter of the MT African Pride. MT Jimoh, MT Efunyo, MT Cape Breton I, MT Destiny and MT Betty Nello. Investigations of the vessel charters brought out the names of the President (Obasanjo) and the Vice-President (Atiku Abubakar and former President (Babangida) and the National Security Adviser (Aliyu Gusau) as alleged major players in the trade.
The political agitation (or ‘wahala as the Nigerians described it) that these revelations caused was an instigator for the funding of MEND and the Delta militants. Soon the conflict with these groups between the military and the ‘terrorists’ took over the news and the public attention. The issues of losing USD$12 billion a year to theft receded in the public (and international) consciousness as the battles with MEND and the others took their attention. The international oil companies in the Delta, other than for the periodic inconvenience of the occasional kidnapping and ransom of staffs, were not terribly concerned, largely because most of the terrorist activities were concentrated on-shore and in the creeks. The international oil companies have production-sharing agreements with the NNPC which delivers the major part of the oil revenues for onshore production to the NNPC. For oil garnered from deep water production the oil companies receive around 60% of the revenue. They are financially better off delivering crude from their deep water wells so were not terribly concerned by the shutdowns of onshore production by MEND or anyone else.
Within a relatively short period of time these terrorist groups were ‘settled’ – a Nigerian term which signifies the transfer of cash for a designated behaviour. In several states the South-South governors continued to fund the militants, who also acted as their election agents, ‘Area Boys’.. The militant leader of MEND, Asari Dokubo, was a graduate of the Benghazi school and was imprisoned for a while in Abuja. He is free and many of the MEND arms suppliers (primarily in South Africa and Angola) are back in business but at a lower level of activity. Their common nom de guerre, Jomo Gbomo, makes their public pronouncements. Henry Okah of MEND was arrested in Angola and brought to trial in a sealed courtroom (under Yar’Adua), and released. ‘General’ Boyloaf, who had taken over was also settled and they both resumed a less adventurous life.
Boko Haram emerged around 2002 in Maiduguri led by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. In 2004 it moved to Kanamma, Yobe State, where it set up a base called “Afghanistan”, used to attack nearby police outposts, killing police officers. It started as a cell of the Muslim sect called Jama’atul Ahlus Sunna Lid Da’awatis Jihad but advertised itself as Boko Haram from the Hausa word boko meaning “Animist, western or otherwise non-Islamic education” and the Arabic word haram figuratively meaning “sin” (literally, “forbidden“).
From its earliest days it received support from the Northern elites. The elite’s power was waning and the Nigerian Army, which had always been the backbone for Northern political influence, had been changing to an army dominated by the Middle Belt officers (mainly Tiv) as the Northern Fulani military caste was ageing, retiring and withdrawing from military activities. The Army was becoming less Muslim and more Christian or Animist, particularly the junior officers. The traditional Northern (mainly Fulani-Hausa and Kanuri) elites were Muslims and represented mainly sedentary farmers, operating under a system of feudal Emirs or Sardaunas.
Their ethnic groups extend far beyond Nigeria’s borders. The Fulani (Peul) are the remnants of the old Fulani Empire which dominated much of West Africa, and can be found in Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Chad, Mauritania, Sudan, Egypt, Ghana, Togo and Côte d'Ivoire. They are a minority tribe in all but Guinea. The Kanuri (of Bornu State) ware the descendants of the Bornu Empire (1380-1893) which was a continuation of the great Kanem Empire founded centuries earlier by the Sayfawa Dynasty. In time it would become even larger than Kanem, incorporating areas that are today parts of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. These two Muslim ethnic groups make up the large majority of the members of Boko Haram.
The sense of diminishing power and the concomitant rise to power of the South-South (particularly the Ijaws) was threatening to the Northern elites, They had been fighting running battles in Plateau State and elsewhere with the largely Christian pastoralists and the felt their interests would only be maintained in Nigeria through the formula of “zoning” in which the powers of the state are divided among the various ethnicities; theoretically sustaining balance. The President, Obasanjo (a Christian Yoruba) was seeking an unprecedented Third Term; the Northern Atiku Abubakar was being forced out of his Vice-Presidency by Obasanjo; and the Efiks. Ibibio, Igbo and Ijaws of the Delta were getting very rich on the production of oil which had reached over USD$135 a barrel on world markets.
The Northern elites decided that they would have to insist that there be no Third Term for Obasanjo; that they would put a Northerner (Yar’Adua) in power as the President and head of the PDP party; and that they would send many Fulani and Kanuri children from the Northern madrassas to Libya and the Middle East for training. Under the pretext of sponsoring youngsters to study in the Middle East, they sent them to terrorist training camps.
Although Boko Haram officially started in 2002 there had been several terrorist activities which preceded it. These young ’jihadists’ proved their worth to their sponsors and the best of them got overseas scholarships to terrorist schools. In the early months of May 1986, thirty-six Jihadist hardliners went on a rampage, attacking Christian students of the University of Sokoto. According to a participant in that raid in that same week, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of General Babangida mobilised the jihadists and provided them with some military vans and Army uniforms which they used to start killing innocent and defenceless Christians all over the Northern states The following year, March 5, 1987 to be precise, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida secretly armed the jihadists through one of his close aides by the name of Captain Hassan Abubakar. They attacked Christians and foreigners across Kano and Borno. Their ‘success’ led to them being chosen for training outside Nigeria.
The jihadists claim to have been trained in eight different countries namely Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Egypt and the Niger Republic. They travelled as a group and received basic and advanced training. As proof of the success of their training they sport a mark (tattoo) showing proficiency. The mark is in the form of a sword held in a hand. That is regarded by those who went through the training as the “license to kill for Allah”. These included Ali Baba Nur, Asari Dokubo, Jasper Akinbo, Mohammed Yusuf, Salisu Maigari, Danlami Abubakar, Cletus Okar, Ali Qaqa, Maigari Haliru and Asabe Dantala.
The raids on Christians increased. The militancy exhibited by the leaders brought out a lot of support from Northern youth. This was not entirely because they had become hard-line jihadists but mainly because the substantial financial support from the Northern Emirs, General Babangida, the Northern governors and the Northern PDP political and business elite made jihadism a career choice. As the Christians fought back, it became easier to recruit jihadists.
One of the key demands of Boko Haram is the creation of a Muslim state in Nigeria which would be governed by the Sharia Law. The question of the legal co-existence of a Sharia law system in parallel with Nigerian civil law was raised in 1999 when the civil government of the former General Obasanjo was begun under a new constitution. Islamic law was allowed to exist under the British but elected Nigerian governments after independence did not recognise Islamic law as equal to civil law or binding on citizens unless they wanted to be so bound.
Despite many misgivings, in 2000 several states were given the option to use Sharia law. Since 1999 Sharia has been instituted as a main body of civil and criminal law in the Muslim-majority and in some parts of three Muslim-plurality states for Muslim citizens. In 2002, in defiance of the authorities in Oyo State, the Supreme Council of Sharia carried out a ceremony in Ibadan's central mosque to inaugurate a panel to rule on civil matters in the region; to be empowered to decide on matters such as marriage, divorce and land disputes... The extension of Sharia law to a southern Christian state (actually the West) was a bold move by the Muslims. It was strongly rejected by the Christians. What they objected to the most was the cruel punishments of stoning to death and the cutting of hands of the convicted as part of Sharia.
The Muslims of the North, despite their religious preference for Sharia were also appalled by the primitive punishments being applied. They were attracted to Sharia for different reasons. The Nigerian civil administration has always been riddled with corruption and injustice. Justice is a commodity not a birth right. They viewed the Sharia law as practised by their neighbours and religious co-believers as more likely to be fair and timely than a disinterested civil administration which was not inherently fair or just. The predilection for Sharia law was a powerful boost to the jihadists.
The militancy of Boko Haram was muted under the short Presidency of Yar’Adua, a scion of one of the most powerful Northern families. He kept Northern political hegemony in power and most of his close associates were from the Northern elites. They kept Boko Haram in check. However, Yar’dua was far more ill than anyone knew and died during his first term after a protracted stay in a Saudi hospital. His Vice-President, Jonathan Goodluck, became the accidental president; much as he had become the accidental Governor of Bayelsa when his mentor. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the Governor was forced from office in 2005. In 2007 he was Vice-President and in 2010, at the death of Yar’Adua, he became President. In the meteoric rise to the top he had very little chance to pick up the skills and abilities needed for the job, especially in dealing with political sophisticates like Babangida, Obasanjo, Aliyu Gusau and David Mark; all of whom had years of plotting, coup-making and intrigue. Those who could have helped him, like General T.Y. Danjuma, were ignored and isolated. Jonathan has bungled his way in the Presidency ever since. His cardinal sin, in the eyes of the North, was to run for President on his own instead of allowing a Northerner in to finish the ‘Northern turn’ cut short by the death of Yar’Adua. On 18 May 2010, the National Assembly approved Jonathan's nomination of former Kaduna State governor, Namadi Sambo, an architect, for the position of Vice President. In the last three weeks Sambo has been conducting lengthy meetings with the Northern elite, on his own, and no one is sure what their topic of discussion has been.
With Jonathan’s election as President in his own right the Northerners turned up the heat on the government by activating Boko Haram. There have been bombs, church-burnings, communal violence and a campaign to cause havoc in the country. The stated vow of Boko Haram has been to make Nigeria ungovernable. This is an amusing thought as there are very few Nigerians who have ever operated under the delusion that Nigeria has ever been governable. In 1965 there was widespread violence in the West as the Action Party turned on itself and killed large numbers of Yoruba. The Biafran War followed with the Igbo being driven from the north and calamitous battles fought between the two forces which left the East in famine and disease. Years of military rule followed, where kleptocracy and corruption thrived, even during a brief interlude of civilian rule. The roads have deteriorated and become largely impassable. There is no good drinking water in rural areas and in most cities. The boreholes which were paid for have never been drilled. Rural electricity has suffered from the widespread theft of copper wire and blackouts of electricity are frequent and generators the rule. The creeks are polluted with oil spills. The rail system has largely disappeared, the universities are frequently in a state of strike; the hospitals are without medicines and the refineries barely function. What is it that Boko Haram can do to make Nigeria ungovernable?
What Boko Haram has found, much to the displeasure of the self-appointed Northern elites is that there are a very large number of Christians in the North. Other than in three states there is a large Christian presence; a presence which is being activated by the open support of the Northern elites; a Christian presence which is gathering its forces together to repel the excesses of Boko Haram and Sharia. The Igbo are sending buses to the north to bring back Igbos and the Muslims of the South are starting a trek northwards but these are trivial movements. There is nothing in the Northern economy which even hints at an ability to survive without the South and its oil revenues. The North needs the South but South doesn’t need the North.
The whole edifice of what passes for governance in Nigeria is grounded upon the production of oil and the theft of its revenues. Most of the Northern elites have wide business interests in the oil industry. Babangida and his son and acolytes like Mike Adenuga, have heavy investments in the South and overseas, like Fruitex in Equatorial Guinea. Obasanjo and his colleagues Odetola and Folawiyo have major stakes in the oil industry. They aren’t going to risk these in allowing the system to fall. Nor will Atiku and his interests in Intels and other companies. Boko Haram is a tool to gather more power, not a tool to destroy the system. The danger comes when the jihadists of Boko Haram get tied in with Al-Qaida and actually seek to act on principle as opposed to protected self –interest. That is where the concentration should lie.
Despite the famous CIA prediction that Nigeria will split as a single state by 2015 it is a pretty safe bet that the possible perpetrators and supporters of that scheme will have too much to lose by pursuing such a self-defeating scheme. Unless there is a sudden outbreak of democracy or a change in policies to take account of the wishes of the people, Nigeria will carry on as it has carried on since 1963 – as both a rich country with poor leaders and a poor country with rich leaders.