NIGERIA stands at the doorstep of dynamic change. It is the principal oil producer in Africa and the world’s fourth largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. In fact, it hosts the greatest natural gas reserves on the continent, coupled with a budding telecommunications sector and a steadily rising agribusiness industry (with 80% of its land arable for continued cultivation). Importantly, the nation is further blessed with human capital and from it, future potential.
Yes, Nigeria can truly climb to the forefront of global markets and serve as the symbolic capital of Africa’s opportunity. However, clear challenges to this ascendancy, most notably a doctrine of complacency and a lack of in-depth intelligence gathering executed to understand the nature and complexity of grave threats such as the Boko Haram radical nation-building movement, may stifle this juggernaut’s rise and cost dearly the future of Nigerian citizens while doing so.
As I have written previously, I will continue to support the dream of the Next Nigerian Century, as I remain truly optimistic of Nigeria’s future. However, I share in the skepticism of many of our country’s accredited political scientists when such ambitious projections such as those put forth from global forecasters Oxford Economics (prognosticating Lagos to overtake Johannesburg as Africa’s economic first city by 2020) are juxtaposed next to images of residents fleeing from the north-eastern Nigerian cities of Izghe and Maiduguri.
Indeed but a few weeks ago, scores of fundamentalist Islamist insurgents, this time dressed in military uniforms, stormed the Christian farming village of Izghe, Borno State, opening fire unabashedly on citizens. At least 106 casualties have been claimed thus far.
Nearly every week, morbid reports such as these arrive, documenting that dozens, if not hundreds of innocent civilians have been brutally murdered due to insurrection, carnage no stranger to Borno State, ironically once entitled the ‘Home of Peace’. And recently, a watershed moment took place in the history of Nigeria’s territorial integrity, when Borno Governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, declaring that the terrorists are “unstoppable”. “Given the present state of affairs,” the Governor continued, “…it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram”.
As the world globalizes and factions such as these align, gaining the capacity to strike in more and more urban centers; as attacks accidentally and sometimes deliberately spill over Nigeria’s borders, we must recognize that this destabilizing organization is a growing concern. It is an engine which continues to rev, with a mission broader than the international community may presume. It is a threat to the future development and present stability of a nation abundant with promise.
It is only as of late that our partners have taken a forward position to counter Boko Haram. In November of 2013, the United States formally designated it a terrorist organization, joining a list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” that includes al Qaeda, Hamas, the Real Irish Republican Army and many others. This guerilla command can therefore be engaged effectively and legally, with global partners such as the U.S. now enabled to work in concert with Nigeria’s military and Joint Task Force (JTF). The Multinational JTF already comprises troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, with its mandate expanded purposefully to include combating the Boko Haram insurgency.
Despite the remarks of Borno State’s Governor and perhaps in response to the latest onslaught to hit Nigeria’s northeast, United States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, expressed confidence in the ability of the Nigerian government and its military to tackle the growing threat of insurgencies.
Concluding a two-day Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission (BNC) meeting on good governance, transparency, and integrity, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield steadfastly stated that she “does not think it is a failure of the U.S. government if Nigeria fails to defeat Boko Haram; I think the Nigerian government will do so”.
“We are giving the government a tremendous amount of support and advice,” she continued. “It is our hope for the people of Nigeria that Boko Haram is defeated”.
Such support, such advice, I would argue, is simply not enough. Autonomously, Nigeria may be ill-equipped to tackle growing attacks such as these with a scalpel, as opposed to a broadsword.
There is, however, a present recognition of the need to look at other options of engagement – Nigeria’s House of Representatives has recently urged President Jonathan to immediately relocate the headquarters of the National Army to Maiduguri in order to curb the systemic onslaught.
According to the Nigerian daily newspapers such as This Day and The New Telegraph, the House resolved that this action would enable the Chief of Army Staff to be in touch with the “reality” of the situation and perhaps further “motivate him to devise ways of properly tackling the matter”.
Despite this palpable threat, the world has predicted great things for Nigeria. Nigeria’s promise must therefore be bolstered with a global commitment to intelligence gather, engage and check those who wish to hold the nation from its ascent.
Projections such as Oxford’s are most welcome and highly accredited. Let us ensure the prosperity of this emerging market through checking this layered, multifaceted cabal collaboratively and understanding its nature and intentions in order to do so.