While the world is outraged by the Paris attacks, no one seems to remember that the IS threat is wider than our TV broadcasters says and Nigeria is the best example.
Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS in March 2015 and vowed to continue its terror campaign against the Nigerian government. The group is responsible for over 20,000 death since 2009 and many analysts consider it the bloodiest of all terrorist organisations currently in operation.
President Muhammadu Buhari, sworn in May 2015, pledged to defeat the terrorist group by the end of December, as well as fighting corruption and mismanagement that crippled the Nigerian economy.
Buhari was elected amid a historic vote, where for the first time an actual political transition from the majority party PDP to the opposition APC was completed, and was elected by huge popular demand, surrounded by huge expectations. Buhari is remembered as an ex-ruthless military that in 1983 took power, by overthrowing the corrupted civilian government of Shehu Shagari, and tried to clean the incompetence and corruption although with a poor human right records. Thus, many acknowledged that in those years, no one was untouchable and for the first time politicians and even members of the powerful military élite were under serious scrutiny. His return to power after 30 years, after being ousted by Babangida’s 1985 coup, arrived after a slanderous campaign from majority party PDP and after Buhari had lost every single presidential campaign since the return to democracy in 1999.
Buhari, supported by this aura of hard men who takes no nonsense, has been especially looked upon by Nigerians to solve Boko Haram insurgency once and for all. His party, and people, accused the ex-President Jonathan Goodluck and the PDP to underestimate Boko Haram fighters, to have reduced military capability and diverted funds destined to procure equipment through corruption and bribery.
However, the first six months of cabinet have not been easy for Buhari, since his arrival attacks continued with the last in Kano on 18 November, killing 12 people and wounding several others. In the last, of a series of bloody attacks, the authorities said that two female suicide bombers detonated their vests at a cell phone market. Witnesses and Red Cross officials said that the death toll could be higher than the authorities claim, although the number could not be independently confirmed. In another attack, at least 32 people were killed by a suicide bomber on a vegetable market in the north-eastern city of Yola days before. Still the bombings have continued in regular patterns since Buhari was sworn in, involving especially civilians targets such markets, schools, shops and even spilling to areas of Niger, Cameroon and a village in Chad, prompting officials to call a state of emergency there.
In a statement, following Kano attack, President Muhammadu Buhari called for Nigerians to stay vigilant, saying that even his recently intensified military operation against Boko Haram could not prevent every attack. “President Buhari reassures Nigerians that his administration is very much determined to wipe out Boko Haram in Nigeria and bring all perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity to justice,” the government release said.
Nevertheless, some are now starting to doubt about the real possibility of the government to fight back, although President Buhari has announced recent victories against Boko Haram, including seizing bomb materials, destroying territorial bases, training camps and winning battles in the North-East where Boko Haram wish to establish a new state. Security experts, regional authorities and Western military officials have nevertheless credited Buhari for showing greater strength than the predecessors in fighting back, in giving troops higher morale and proceeding to undermine Boko Haram control over the territory.
However, the fight is not only a military matter, and president Buhari after six months of careful negotiations has finally unveiled his 36-members cabinet, tasked to make his programme a reality. Those who criticise Buhari for this long time taken, should also take into account that choosing a cabinet in Nigeria is a complicated task made even more difficult by the heterogeneity of the country under an ethnic/religious point of view, as well as require wise and skilful political balancing. Buhari had to take into account the need for professional leaders but also to repay political allies and supporters, reshuffle the security apparatus and avoid undermining the already fragile capacity to fight. Then there is the need to carefully maintain an ethnic and religious balance, and to make sure each of the 36 states that compose the federation are represented.
“Impatience is not a virtue. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results” said the president to his critics, who thought that the long delay in naming a new government was a sign to bad things to come. Thus, on Wednesday (the same day of the attacks), Buhari unveiled the 36 ministers at a ceremony in the capital Abuja. To maintain and deliver his pledge of cutting the costs and a huge but inefficient political machine, he said that not all the thirty-six will get their own ministries, and in fact, he eliminated eight departments, meaning that eight members of the cabinet are deputy ministers. The most notable of the exclusions was the petroleum ministry, where Buhari himself has taken charge of the ministry, which for years has been associated with gross mismanagement and corruption on a grand scale. Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has been forced to import refined petroleum as a result of the failures of this ministry, while most part of the country suffers from chronic power shortages. However, it is the security situation that received utmost attention from Buhari.
He chose Dan Ali, a retired brigadier-general, as defence minister who shares with Buhari a total mistrust on the operate of the security forces under the previous government. Dan Ali earlier this year attacked Alex Badeh, the former army chief, by criticising his counter-terrorism measures and since then has been replaced, with the Nigerian army’s poor record against Boko Haram now recovering.
The other important appointment is Abdurrahman Dambazau as the new interior minister who is in charge of the police. As Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff between 2008 and 2010, he led a successful campaign against Boko Haram. After his removal, seen by Buhari’s supporters as an example of the incompetence of PDP dealing with Boko Haram, the militants regrouped in 2011 and since then, thousands of people have been killed with the insurgency spreading to neighbouring countries.
Nevertheless, the best example on the determination of President Buhari to fight insurgency and corruption was given this week when he accused the previous administration’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki of embezzling public money destined for the army. Even before the election, Buhari vowed to investigate corruption in the previous government, in which Mr Dasuki served. Dasuki is accused of pocketing more than $2 billion that had been allocated for four fighter jets, twelve helicopters and ammunitions to fight Boko Haram, allegations that Dasuki has denied.
Soldiers have long complained that despite the military’s huge budget, they were ill-equipped to fight and Dasuki, who was already under house arrest, has been indicated by Buhari as the main culprit. He was under house arrest as part of an ongoing trial for allegedly possessing illegal firearms, and although the court for that trial allowed him to travel to the UK for treatment for suspected prostate cancer, the government has now refused to let him leave the country.
For many Nigerians this is the strength of Buhari in tackling issues without any concerns, but it will be enough? Soldiers have reported they are better equipped since President Buhari came into office, but the previous president’s supporters say this is because those weapons were ordered while Jonathan Goodluck was in power. Same apply for the recent military successes, for which ex government officials claim Buhari is just benefiting on the effects of legislations passed by the previous president. Nevertheless, for many Nigerians the debacle of the Chibok girls kidnapped and never found was more than enough to show the complete inefficiency and incompetence of the security forces, as well as the incredible loss of international credibility.
The bigger problem for Nigeria, and Buhari, is that Boko Haram cannot only be considered an internal insurgency but has a wider implication on the West African security system. In this will be decisive to bring into a full understanding the regional and world powers that currently have severely underestimated Boko Haram capability in attacking Nigeria’s institutions. Action across the borders to Chad and Cameroon show how the group has grown from just internal actions until 2009 to a more capable military machine able to seize territory and attack on a wider front on several countries.
Western powers have seriously not taken into account Boko Haram successes in destabilising Nigeria that, if not supported, can have serious repercussion on all other weaker governments of the area. A collapse of West Africa security defences, taking into account that Nigeria has always been considered paramount as a stabilisation force, could seriously affect the wider struggle against IS. Turmoil in Libya and the presence of various non-identified groups whose allegiance is not always clear pose a great threat to states economically fragile, and struggling to control their own porous borders.
While Muhammadu Buhari is trying to rebuild Nigerian capability in fighting Boko Haram, one of the weapons he needs to rely on is international recognition as a partner in a struggle against a common menace. Unfortunately, the distortion caused by our euro centrism and hypocrisy of the events on the ground are distracting us from taking notice of the bloodbath happening in Africa that soon or later will have an effect also in our own countries.