The Fall of Sambisa Forest, the end of Boko Haram?

Source: Author: Marie de Smedt

The Nigerian media has been awash with the news of the army’s victory against Boko Haram and crowning this was the capturing of the terror group's largest base and its de-facto capital of Sambisa forest (roughly the size of Switzerland, and just a fraction of Borno state in north east Nigeria). This feat coming on the heels of the yuletide has made the end of year celebration free of threats of terror attacks and a good outlook into the year 2017. Congratulatory messages in their thousands have been sent to the president and commanders on the ground for this feat, so also have bloggers and common Nigerians who have taken to social media to appreciate the gallantry of the soldiers with memes praising the bravery and service to the nation.

Even as I and many well-wishing Nigerians receive this news of what appears to be a positive and giant step at achieving peace and stability across the north east of Nigeria, we can’t help but to wonder what the security along with socio-economic/socio-political environment will look like after this military feat, especially in the three most affected states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. The arrest of a Frenchman in what is said to be the camp zero of these armed terrorists;  how deep do such ties run, or are we looking at a state level influence and/or support for the group? The present killings and maimings in central states of Nigeria especially the southern Kaduna axis of Kaduna state in the north west, though clear parallels exist between these blood thirty terrorist we will try to find relationships and links that exits between the two.

Life will definitely not be the same for local residence and businesses of these affected states of Nigeria with countless lives, billions in investments lost. It is no doubt that it will take the people and government decades to rebuild and give the affected communities a semblance of normality. Aside the economic cost of rebuilding these communities is also the challenge of reestablish the social decorum, trust, kinship and inter/intra communal relations that existed prior to the advent of these deadly scourge that has taken hold of these communities, how will the various government inventions such as the establishment of North-East development commission and many other pilot schemes that will be put in place help in addressing such losses, grievances and above all generational suspicions of the domineering attitudes of the majority with its calculated and cold cleansing of groups of a divergent ideologies and believes especially religion.

Throwing in huge amounts of capital will only do so much in addressing social injustice that has prevailed in many communities of Nigeria over the centuries. For true reconciliation and forgiveness to occur which is a panacea to lasting peace and security, the Nigerian government its leaders, and citizenry have to, devoid of any and all prejudices have a deliberate and open dialogue to heal the wounds of this long cruel and devastating terrorist activities. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, what exactly does the fall of Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s ground zero, portend for Nigeria’s security and unity? In as much as the government and other interest groups will want to tone down or completely turn a blind eye to the Islamist jihadist perspective, to the Boko Haram phenomena, the underlying trusts and facts on the ground beg to differ. Once more let’s explore the Hausa/Fulani ideology, civilization, and culture, and how it relates to its neighbours; especially those that hold onto different views and ways of life.

One issue that is not in doubt is the history of jihad conquest of central Nigeria, with a vision for a continued push down south to fully encapsulate the whole of Nigeria in the 19th century, with only the colonialization of Africa putting a stop to it. There is the existence of an old guard that are determined to ensure the continuation of the conquest towards an Islamic state. Secondly there is a total disregard for constitutional authority, recognizing all Nigerians as equal citizens with full rights to live and make any social choice of their liking, is a major sticking point between the Hausa/Fulanis and their neighbours. To have a semblance of understanding and truly grasp this phenomena, welook into precolonial Nigeria and the civilization of the Hausa/Fulanis of northern Nigeria. Due to its early contact with the Arabs and a fairly advanced civilization at the time, the Hausa/Fulani nation was “civilized” having a central administrative authority and head (sarki and later emir/sultan) along with a court, a quasi-formal legal system, and law enforcement. While on the other hand the non-Hausa tribes of the north and central (their neighbours) Nigeria, were at the early stages of their civilizational evolution, with practices that were frowned upon by the “enlightened” Hausa/Fulanis, which included being and walking about almost naked (as late as 1923 the indigenous non-Hausas of the north and central Nigeria were all but naked only with animal skins or leaves coverings for their private parts), among many others which was no fault of theirs, as their course of development was only running its course. The Hausa/Fulanis will have been credited with “enlightening” their neighbours and were they not too obsessed with the spread of Islam as a precondition for any form of exchange, till this day the Hausas claim to have been responsible for enlightening the non-Hausa tribes of the north and central Nigeria.

The assertion holds for communities that fell to the jihads of Usman Danfodio, or accepted Islam to save their heads, who after many years have lost all their identity within the larger Muslim Hausa culture and community.But for non-Hausas who resisted that claim, it is questionable as the “feat” can be attributed to the European colonialists.These tribes absorbed western values and evolved, they overnight found themselves on the same pedestal as their erstwhile “enlightened” neighbours, and in some cases even overtook them. This was a bitter pill too difficult to swallow and accept, the new realities were a nightmare for these groups who will do anything to rewrite history to once more sit at the top of the socio-political and economic pyramid, as being stuck in their medieval minds. How can that be the case, to be same with people they considered low-borns in just over a generation, savages that by their standards a little over a century ago were slaves to them? Thus in present-day Nigeria to a large extent this perception still feeds the disgust and hostility that the jihadist Islamists of Boko Haram have towards people of different faiths, especially non-Hausa/Fulanis tribes who are Christians. Finally, the ideology that drives this hate by extremist groups around the globe is very much still alive within the surviving and surrendering members of the “erstwhile” Boko Haram terror organization, along with the continued radicalization of other members of the society by Wahhabist, Salafist and other non-tolerant ideologies.

The old guard of Jihadist conquerors from the Usman dan Fodioera and what can be termed neo-Jihadist have a deep sense of divine calling and feel the burden of solemn responsibility to propagate Islam at whatever cost, these is in no way different from Hitler’s vision of a pure Germanic people and world, based upon his own ideas of their exceptional “qualities”, and on that basis he formed a fascist ideology to wipe out whatsoever and whosoever objects to that dream. History has told us in a thousand ways how that ideology brought the world to the brink of destruction particularly targeting certain people and civilizations for extermination. If we can in the 21st century wake up to the horrors of ISIS and their vision of what the world should be based on their own ideology, it is then not totally absurd to think that there are persons and groups at different levels of the Nigerian society who think and work in their different capacities to actualize a Nigeria as an Islamic state. The shocker is that these group are diverse and imbedded in all levels of government, military, local administration, law enforcement etc. Even if the Nigerian state has succeeded in flushing out Boko Haram from its haven of Sambisa forest, the ideological battle rages on, how they will manifest in the distant or not too distant future is anybody’s guess.

As the military was routing and dislodging the Islamist from the Sambisa forest, another carnage of killings and maiming was on the way in southern Kaduna north-west Nigeria (that part of the state also referred as part of the middle-belt). Innocent lives were cut short by herdsmen and properties worth millions destroyed by the same assailants, with the government at both federal and state level doing little to stop the killings or provide succor to the victims of the attacks, the reasons for these attacks are many which we will look at more closely at a later date, but this is not unconnected with the strings of defeats that the Islamist have suffered, as it is known that in their ranks are Fulanis and other west and central African pastoralists like the Fulanis, who have fought along with Boko Haram.  The attacks on these communities predates the Boko Haram insurgency, but the huge spike in such attacks in recent times and now coinciding with successes in the military operations in Sambisa forest suggest that part of these Boko Haram members have slipped through the Nigerian armed forces net and found their way deep into the country to carry out this dastardly acts of violence. Also the Fulani herdsmen already within and around these communities are carrying out a sort of illogical reprisals which judging by their vengeful and primitive psyche is admissible, or an evil combination of both. Another theory is the continual loss at a steady pace of pastures for the herdsmen due to desertification in the core north of Nigeria and other western and central African states, and are forced to migrate south through Nigeria’s porous borders, and are now clashing with farming communities such as southern Kaduna, which before them attacks have been recorded in the Jos-Plateau, Nassarawa, Benue, and Enugu states (all in central Nigeria with an exception of Enugu which is in the east).The federal government should show concern about its citizens and avoid events such as what we are witnessing. When five cows were killed in Ékiti state, the government sent a powerful Presidential delegation to the state to forestall a re-occurrence. When cows went missing in Zamfara, our President, in his excellence, left Aso Rock to go and inaugurate the cow rescue team.

But as the marauding terrorist herdsmen maimed and left devastated communities in their wake cutting across 5 Local Government Areas, attacking 53 Villages, 808 killed, 57 injured, 1,422 houses raised, 16 Churches burnt, 19 shops, 1 school, 5 cars were destroyed in Southern Kaduna, a certain Mr. Femi Adesina (spokesperson to the president) said the President has no business making comments because there's a Governor in Kaduna. This is no joke but a nightmare of a statement and situation that I want to snap out of, our President apparently loves cows more than Nigerians. Could it be that cows don't complain, they don't earn salaries, nor do they need human rights, they apparently don't need the constitution, neither do don't care if Premium Motor Spirit sells for N500/liter.

The President loves animals so much he appropriated N40 Million for the privileged ones in Aso Rock (the presidential palace zoo) in the 2017 budget. This sends a very bad signal that if one wants to live in peace in Nigeria he/she should choose the animal he/she wants to be.

The arrest of a foreigner in the militant’s camp have sent tongues wagging and have added credence to the long suspicion of foreign interests. The Frenchman arrested is undoubtedly a specialist for the group drawn from its pool of mercenaries, could it be state sponsored special ops in the guise of covert terrorism or what exactly is at play here? Could this be just another isolated case of individuals acting for personal economic gains? If even in Syria there are any lessons, it is safe to say that there are state actors to this problem, as we see the conduct of such governments in the Syrian war, along with repeated denials of involvement, only to find military equipments, and other logistics in terrorist’s hands such as ISIS, Jabhat Fatahal-Sham and their affiliates. Could it then be that the same scenario is at play in Nigeria? With rife suspicion of the government, an official report from their investigations may do little to shed light on the culpability or otherwise of foreign governments. A wait and see approach should unravel this mystery over time.