By Ahmad Sajoh

Recently there has been an upsurge of kidnappings and other security challenges in the North. This upsurge is actually as a result of the Nexus of the evil forces operating in Northern Nigeria. The North is bleeding and silence is indeed not the option. I heard the government through the Presidential spokesperson describe the current mass kidnappings as the activities of sub-Regional geopolitical forces. I think the government needs to think much deeper and connect the dots in the axis of evil that is now bleeding the northern region. I don’t think it is so simplistic as to be pinned on the sub-Regional contest for relevance taking place in the Sahel and parts of West Africa. It has deep roots that are both social and historical. And the tap root is Boko Haram.

More disturbing is the expectation that America or the West will help solve the problem or help recover the victims of recent abductions. That again is over simplifying it. The West is an interested party in the stability of Nigeria or lack of it. A stable Nigeria will be a bulwark against the free-for-all exploitation of the natural resources of the countries of the Sahel and sub-saharan Africa especially West Africa. The West also sees Nigeria as the potential power house of the region with capacity to upset Western dominance of the economy of West Africa. This much is clear after the coup in Niger. Our destiny as Africans is actually in our hands. The Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians and many other Asian and middle eastern countries have since realized that the destiny of any nation lies in its ability to confront it’s challenges squarely by itself.

To understand the nexus of all the forces of evil bleeding the North, one must delve into the origin of the evil network established in the North and the nature of the fertile ground created that enables such evil to germinate and flourish. Beyond the assumed interests of the so-called “sub-Regional geopolitical forces” Boko Haram is today the root of all the evil forces in Northern Nigeria. But Boko Haram itself would not have flourished if the North and indeed Nigeria had addressed it’s leadership insensitivity to the plight of ordinary citizens.

The excruciating poverty and it’s weaponization as a means of power ascendancy is a major culprit in breading evil forces in Northern Nigeria. In addition the widening social inequality and the near total absence of empathy on the part of a greedy, selfish and self-centered ruling class all combine to exacerbate an already bad situation. Little wonder therefore that these narratives were used to recruit young people into Boko Haram at it’s formative level by its founder Muhammad Yusuf.

It should be realized that the emergence of Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria can be traced to the Maitatsine uprising of the early 1980s in Kano. After the disbandment of the group in Kano it’s elements dispersed into many places including Borno, Gombe, Adamawa and Niger states. Those in Borno, Adamawa and Gombe rose in Bulunkutu, Jimeta and Jeka da fari. They were routed in 1982, (Maiduguri) 1984 (Yola) and 1985 (Gombe). But not all of them were crushed. A splinter group organized itself and withdrew from Maiduguri to a place called Kanamma in Yusufari LGA in the current Yobe state. They referred to themselves as the “Nigerian Taliban”

Between 21st December 2003 to January 2004 the Nigerian Taliban carried out attacks on government buildings and police formations across areas in Borno and Yobe states. Boko Haram is an offshoot of the Nigerian Taliban. The group’s founder Muhammad Yusuf was initiated into the Nigerian Taliban by it’s leader Muhammad Ali.

When the Taliban was crushed, Yusuf went into self-exile in Saudi Arabia. It is assumed that while in Saudi Arabia he toured other middle eastern countries and made contacts with several terror groups. He was also said to have developed interest in sociology and the dynamics of society while on exile. This much was manifest in his preachings when he returned to Nigeria from his self imposed exile. He always laced his topics with contemporary societal situations. This was how he and others of his ilk were able to convince jobless University graduates that their certificates had no value. Hence Western Education itself had no value. They burnt their certificates in a public display of defiance. Hence they got the appellation “Boko Haram” or Western Education is forbidden being valueless.

From his self exile Muhammad Yusuf returned to Nigeria. He settled in Maiduguri and built a mosque where he preached daily. He was also a guest scholar preaching in many mosques around the North East. I was a witness to one such preaching foray in my hometown of Mubi. He and the sect took interest in the serene and peaceful town. That peaceful town was later occupied by Boko Haram made the capital of their Caliphate and renamed “Madinatul Islam”

The messages of Muhammad Yusuf’s preaching are often centred around denunciation of Western Education and the rejection of the legitimacy of the secular Nigerian state which he considered as evil. He blamed this “evil” form of government as responsible for all the problems afflicting Nigerians such as poverty, unemployment, high cost of living, lack of value for certificates obtained by the youth. The most worrisome message he proposed was that such a bad governance template is responsible for the promotion of nepotism, and the social inequality in our society. These occurrences touch the nerves of many citizens. Such narratives jelled very well with a jobless, hopeless and despondent youth population in the North East particularly Maiduguri the largest and most populated city in the region.

I dwelled so much on the origin of Boko Haram in order to draw an appropriate Nexus with other evil forces operating in Northern Nigeria and the connection with what is happening today. I will equally draw the attention of the reader to the fact that the fertile ground that made Boko Haram flourish in the North East has been the narratives around bad governance, the greed of the ruling elites and the unsympathetic manner we have configured our society as a people. This is seen as the reason behind the social inequality in our societies and the attendant weaponization of poverty as a means of attaining power. This is not helped by the penchant of the ruling class to shamelessly display opulence in the face of abject poverty within their populations.

Of course we all know that at the start of the uprising the leader Muhammed Yusuf was killed. After the death of Muhammad Yusuf, there were three groups that emerged with different ideologies and concepts of how the group should be run and the nature of activities to be carried out. First was the issue of leadership. There is a group that believes leadership should be determined by bloodline. Such a group wanted the leader’s son to step into the father’s shoes. Another group wanted the existing hierarchy to be respected making the second in command in this case Shekau the natural successor. A third group was not so much concerned with leadership, rather they wanted the bloodletting to abate.

To the outside world those contentious positions were neatly hidden and Boko Haram as a group maintained a semblance of cohesion. However these three contending forces continued to be antagonistic within it. Eventually the group headed by Shekau which believes hierarchy should determine leadership and wanton bloodletting should be unleashed prevailed. The other two splinters were subsequently marginalized.

One of the splinter groups went to ISIS and declared allegiance. They were accepted on the condition that they formed a province of ISIS in the West Coast of Africa. Thus, emerged the Islamic State of West Africa Province or ISWAP. With time they became so strong due to their connection with foreign terror finances and firepower. The free availability of small arms within the Sahel empowered them. Eventually they were able to subdue the Shekau group and become the dominant wing. Shekau was eliminated and his dominance broken.

The third splinter group became what is known as ANSARU and they moved to the center of the country joining other hardliners in Niger and Kogi states. The majority of the ANSARU leaders are from these two states. Therefore most of the jihadist activities taking place in the North Central are products of the Ansaru. But where does the North West come in?

If there is one group Nigeria has ignored for two long it’s the herder group. The migratory nature of animal husbandry by the Fulani nomads had been long outdated. The most profound negative impact of such migrations is that it made the migrants landless. They have no hometowns and hence practically no homes. Without homes they have no lands. Their world view is shaped by this fact of “being owners of all lands, and being owners of no land” In the past they had some understanding with farmers that in the dry season they lived on their farms so that the animal droppings serve as organic manure to the farmlands. It was a worthy symbiotic relationship that served both groups very well. With the introduction of inorganic fertilizer this relationship became less attractive. Farmers now rely on chemical fertilizer. Cow dung was of little or no value. Leasing land to herders for animal droppings was not necessary anymore.

Then the northern elites came into the mix buying lands, fencing them and denying the herders access to even free ranges. The new realities created pressure on the herders. The land speculators bought off all lands including grazing reserves and cattle routes. Most of these lands lie fallow with no activities on them. But they deny the herders access. Herders began to move into farmlands with the attendant harmful effects. A new phenomenon known as farmer herder clashes began to take place. In the past these incidences were peacefully resolved. But now the resolutions are often carried out with bloodletting.

Another reality is that most the animals herded by the herders do not belong to them. They belong to the rich folk within the cities who give them to the herders as a store of wealth. But today with quick money being made in oil business, dollar speculations and sundry political patronage, buying animals as a store of wealth has become unfashionable.

To add salt to a troubling situation cattle rustling became rampant. In the past cattle rustling was minimal as only few cows were stolen at a time. But because of the extreme social connections between the herders and their animals, such isolated cases end up being caught at the cattle markets because most of the herders easily identify their cows even in the markets. The rustlers then resorted to taking away the whole heads of cattle. When a situation happens where all the animals are taken away from the herders, they instantly become jobless in addition to losing their means of livelihoods. But disposing of herds of cattle by the rustlers also became another challenge.

Those who lost their animals became frustrated and in some instances evil minded. The rustlers had difficulty raising quick funds from stolen cattle. Both groups began to think of alternatives that could raise quick money and in large quantities. Suddenly kidnapping for ransom became attractive to both groups. And it provided more money than cattle rustling. A Nexus was instantly created between the more enlightened urban criminals in the cities who serve as godfathers and the illiterate dispossessed cattle herders/rustlers who became the stage hands. Kidnapping for ransom became the new means of making money for the miscreants in the bush and the powerful godfathers in the cities. These powerful godfathers are the real ones responsible for laundering all the dirty money given as ransom. They are tucked away safe in luxury villas while searchlights are beamed on the dirty looking rag-tag miscreants in the forests.

What is the real Nexus of the evil forces bleeding the North? The Nexus created specializations and core competences. Those with contacts to Arms suppliers became specialized in arms dealing. They know where to get arms and how to move them to safe houses and later distribute them to the criminal gangs. The kidnappers and cattle rustlers became the major fund mobilizers. They are the ones that became the sources of funding most of the evil agenda that fuels the insecurity in the North including even some of the communal clashes. The Boko Haram/ISWAP militants became military trainers. Over the years with their ISIS contacts they have become experts in weapons handling. They are now the major trainers of the evil forces operating in Northern Nigeria whether in the North East, North West or North Central. All others including those attacking communities on vengeance mission keyed into this Nexus.

My postulation is that all of the axis of evil operating in Northern Nigeria and bleeding the region are connected by both their evil agenda and activities. We need to widen the dragnet of our intelligence gathering to establish this Nexus and destroy their connections. They are not isolated and independent groups operating on different fronts for different purposes. They are not different groups pursuing different agendas. They are not different groups aligned to different “sub-Regional geopolitical forces or power centers. They are a unified group united in criminality and evil intentions, each following a different evil pathway designed to achieve the same goal of bloodletting.

The fastest way to address the security challenges in Northern Nigeria is through effective intelligence gathering, processing and sharing among all the security agencies. This is imperative. Security Agencies fighting a common enemy cannot afford to work in silos. They must unite forces, because the forces they are confronting are united.

In addition a scotched earth policy is required in all the forests of the North. It was a superior force of arms that defeated Maitatsine in Kano. It was the same that dislodged the misguided jihadists in Bulunkutu, Jimeta and Jeka da fari. Good intelligence, fierce jackboot and good community engagements will deal a fatal blow on the evil forces that appear to have overwhelmed the state.

When non-state actors take up arms against the state, there is only one remedy, uprooting them. However in doing so, community engagements are necessary. Fear is the key elements terror groups use to subdue communities. The counter terror activities must work to reverse that. Additionally, terrorists enjoy publicly alot. Community engagements should include effective counter narratives as well.

However, the most enduring solution to all these nexus of evil is a governance template that addresses the current poverty challenges in the North. A governance template that stops this weaponization of poverty as a means of attaining power. A governance template that addresses the widening gap of social inequality in our society. A governance template that stops giving people handouts but creates opportunities for people to self actualize. If only Governors and Legislators in the North will stop distributing items that are sold instantly by beneficiaries and establish mega farms and mega workshops for learning trades it will reduce dependence and enhance productivity.

If we turn every forest into a farm we will produce enough food to fight food insecurity and deny the evil forces operating hideouts in our forests. If every government opens a ranch and makes open grazing unattractive we will contain the migrants and confine them into protected enclaves. If we open mega workshops such as garment making, carpentry or fabrication we will move our communities to productive hubs and make our people to becoming skilled workers. I believe this is not too difficult to do.

We either take care of our populations or we end up lamenting and blaming others for security challenges we are quite capable of overcoming. I hope someone is listening.

Ahmad Sajoh writes from 35 Oran Street Wuse Zone 1 Abuja


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