Nigeria’s House of Cards

During the Jonathan administration, we were made to understand that there are three types of “Boko Haram”: first, criminal opportunists who feel they have found a new cover for their crimes; second, the real Boko Haram whose agenda whilst framed as religious, increasingly appears to be purely terrorist; and third, a Political Boko Haram (PBH) – that would seem to commit Boko Haram-style crimes in order to manipulate the political situation in the country. President Jonathan claimed they were in his cabinet; El-Rufai alluded to them at a point and before his tragic demise, the former National Security Adviser, Owoye Azazi made the outrageous claim that Boko Haram was in the PDP. If this PBH creature were to exist, what could have led to its emergence and what is likely to be its agenda? This is worth considering, as it might well be the most unappreciated element of the “insurgency”. Who knows, perhaps the elimination of the PBH element might just bring down with it a House of Cards.

There has been an increase in the spate of bombings and terrorist activity in Nigeria in recent weeks. At first glance it might appear to be a counter offensive by a Boko Haram that seemed to have been on the retreat since the dying moments of the Jonathan administration. In his inauguration speech, the new President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari gave marching orders to the security forces when he directed them to relocate their command and control center from far away Abuja to Maiduguri, a place much closer to the theatre of combat against the insurgents. Some expected that this action would corral and contain the attacks. So, are the recent attacks in Zaria, Kano, Maiduguri, Potiskum and so on, entirely the work of the real Boko Haram? If not, apart from the criminal element, where else could we find a smoking gun?

Nigeria is a corporatist state whose sociopolitical configuration is determined by a combination of elites from major interest groups, such as religious, ethnic, business, politics, the establishment, labour, activists, military, patronage, etc. on the basis of common interests. Typically, the direction of state policy can be inferred from the peculiar combination of groups that manage to capture state power usually to the detriment of other groups. In the early days of Nigeria’s nationhood, disagreements amongst elites from these groups led to the early coups. The coups and further disagreements led to the violent attempt to restructure the Nigerian state by redrawing the map to carve out a State of Biafra. Each time power changes hands, the overall power configuration changes and there is more or less of a struggle to rebalance interests with the losers trying to reduce their losses and the winners trying to hang on to their gains.

Sometimes, as in the lead up to the 2003 elections in the Niger Delta, where Amnesty International maintains a low intensity war was fought, the violence is actively sponsored by local political elites to bring the Federal Government back to the negotiating table over a number of political issues. There was the resource control argument; the derivation principle; the on-shore, off-shore dichotomy; arguments over resource mobilization and revenue allocation which pitted the Niger Delta States against the Federal Government. On the on-shore, off-shore dichotomy, the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the Federal Government but by sheer weight of the terror campaign that ensued, there was a negotiated settlement over the definition of the extent of the littoral state for purposes of working out how much revenue was due to whom in the calculation of the 13% derivation (also agreed after a lot of bickering over whether it shouldn’t have been a 25% derivation).

The emergence of Goodluck Jonathan threw out the rotational presidency principle within the PDP and shook the confidence of elites who thought they had settled the question of where from and when new leaders would emerge from within the PDP. The bitter struggles to allow Goodluck’s emergence from Vice-President to President and the struggles over his bid to stand for election coincided with the deadly spike in frequency and step change in the sophistication of Boko Haram attacks on the Nigerian State. Question: Who wants so badly to restructure the Nigerian state at this point in time? We have also seen that those who lose out try very hard to escalate their issues till some accommodation can be found for them and they are able to attenuate their loses. So, who is the biggest loser that feels the need to have the outcomes of the emerging political structure of Nigeria re-negotiated?

The biggest battles have been over questions of resource mobilization and/or allocation – what is the current upsurge in PBH attacks about? Around the world wars have been fought and terrorist groups born over the issue of control of strategic resources. Some have alleged that oil has been found in the Chad basin and preparatory to its development, some people want to carve out a special Caliphate through the instrumentality of a Boko Haram? As usual, these are like the arguments of the poorly informed – passionate but perhaps without basis. Can someone who is better informed please consider the possibility of a Political Boko Haram? Since the criminal types are easier to control and the ideologues can be profiled, can we not do the same with the political variety if it exists? You might think that intrigues permeate Nigeria’s House of Cards, but on that, I could not possibly comment.

About Author: marho

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