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Who are the enemies?

The killing of Mrs Funke Olakunri, daughter of the chairman of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the previous week, elicited the usually politically correct responses: instant and furious condemnation of the dastardly act, a promise to fish out the killers and a marching order to the police to immediately take on that responsibility. Official fingers pointed at armed robbers, although there was no indication that the woman was robbed; the other finger pointed at Fulani herdsmen, the shadowy group of killers before whom a terrified nation now trembles.

The hunt for the killers is on. I hope, for her sake and ours, that her murderers are found soon, if only for us to know who they are and why they did what they did. I do hope that this hunt would not be lost in the thick wilderness of insincerity and the police, would either come up empty handed or, anxious to give results to satisfy the public, arrest and parade a few straggly men and hang the crime around their necks. It has happened before and has indeed become a murky blind alley where inefficiency finds a ready excuse.

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There is no denying that our country faces serious existential threats. In the face of these horrendous challenges, one question sticks out: Does the Nigerian state and its security agencies really know the enemies they are either fighting or trying to fight? The killing spree that has been our lot since the emergence of Boko Haram in 2009, is blamed on three groups. In the North-East, they are called Boko Haram; in the North-West, they are called bandits and in the Middle Belt, they are called Fulani herdsmen. Are they one and the same group wearing different labels or are they different groups correctly identified with their current labels? We do not seem to know for sure but what we are dealing with is much bigger and more threatening to our national existence than we seem to take for granted.

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At Chief Olusegun Osoba’s book launch July 8, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, drew attention to two other killer groups, namely, ISIS and Islamic State West Africa Province “and others in the Lake Chad islands and parts of southern Borno.” We are not just walking in the shadows of Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen but we are actually under a thickening cloud hovering over our country. The problem is that the security agencies do not know for sure which group they are taking on each time the killings happen. For instance, given what the vice-president said, should we blame Boko Haram alone for the killings in Borno State or should we see beyond the hands that pulled the trigger? Are bandits entirely to blame in the North-West? Are the herdsmen responsible entirely for all the killings attributed to them in the Middle Belt? If we look closely, for instance, would we see the involvement of ISIS and the Islamic State of West Africa Province in the killings and kidnappings in Borno and Yobe states?

The threat to our nation and its people is much larger than we thought. The killings are not isolated criminal activities perpetrated by a few sick minds who lust for the blood of fellow human beings. There are rhyme and reason to their evil. According to Osinbajo, these killers “have no redressible grievances, so there are no terms of reference for peace. They are fanatics committed to a twisted creed. They exploit the ignorance of the tenets of Islam, poverty and exclusion….

“They are motivated by a satanic desire to control communities by murder and terror. Whether it is in Iraq, Borno or Syria, their victims are men, women and children, Muslims or Christians, so long as they do not share their sick ideology; they target churches, mosques, markets and motor parks where people gather, using children as human bombs to kill randomly, regardless of tribe or faith.”

I have quoted the vice-president at length in order to make two points. One, we have remained largely ignorant of the threats that our nation faces in the hands of these killers because we think it is a war that our security forces could win so long as they have bullets. These groups bearing their various labels are not just killers, they are also killers with a mission that might not be impossible unless the Nigerian state quits sitting on its haunches and rises to the real threats posed by them.

Two, our security forces are overwhelmed by these killer groups because they do not know for sure at any point of time the enemy or enemies they are taking on, their strength and their reach. It is common sense that if you do not know your enemy you cannot fight him. And that is why the Nigerian state is reactive rather than proactive in the face of the enormous security challenges.

At least, two things are urgently required if our security forces are to make and sustain a winning streak in the war. The first should be a return to the drawing board to fully appreciate what the Nigerian state and its security forces are up against. We should know our enemies, whatever may be their identifying labels.

Secondly, war is as much won by the barrel of the gun as by propaganda; or to be polite about it, education. So far, the Nigerian state has relied on the gun and neglected the propaganda aspect that should sensitize the populace to the threats they face in the hands of these groups. It has failed to rally the troops, as it were, to do the battle both of the gun and of the mind.

“The challenge for us,” Osinbajo pointed out in his speech under reference, “is to recognise this extremism for what it is. To form alliances across faiths and ethnicities, to destroy an evil that confronts us.”

It has been 10 years or so since Boko Haram began the slow but steady process of holding our country and parts thereof hostage in a killing spree. Their continued success gave birth to the bandits and the herdsmen. The Nigerian state feels rather helpless because it has not taken steps to unite the people across faiths and ethnicities to save our nation. It is a magnificent failure with frightful consequences.

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