Will Boko Haram Cause Nigeria’s North and South to Separate?
Just six years ago, Nigeria’s problems were so familiar and repeated, they were almost musical in nature: The government is corrupt, the electricity grid is shoddy, the infrastructure could be better.
The populace could almost sing this run-of-the-mill refrain of Nigerian issues, with a sense of acceptance that they would never be resolved.
“Radical Islamist terrorism” was not a concept that Nigerians would have considered six years ago, because advanced geopolitical issues such as terrorist cell networks with an extremist Islamic bent are very new to a country that had been chugging along in spite of its tribal and religious differences. Boko Haram, the much-derided terrorists of Nigeria, who massacre towns and kidnap innocent victims, was barely known.
Now, Boko Haram and terrorism are on everyone’s lips — the average Nigerians’ and those of other nationalities — as onlookers clutch their hearts in anticipation of how Boko Haram will affect Nigeria again.
One good guess is that Boko Haram will cause Nigeria to separate, if the group is not brought under control in the long term.
For starters, Boko Haram has exposed the disconnect between the north and the south of Nigeria and exacerbated their previously well-hidden tribal and religious differences.
Thanks to the new and never-ending Boko Haram conversations of today, those singsong problems that once united Nigerians against governmental incompetence have regressed into age-old “north-versus-south” sentiments.
The north and south had been merely tolerating each other after the country won independence from Britain in 1960, and after the 1967 Biafran Civil War, during which the largely Christian Igbos in the south attempted to secede from Muslims in the north and failed.
The two regions gradually chose nationalism over tribalism, once they realized that they were bound for better or for worse.
Now, because of skyrocketing Boko Haram activity in the north, secession discussions have resumed in the south of Nigeria, and many southerners blame the north for the country’s previously unheard-of “Islamic terrorism.”
Some in the south even argue that the north brought the curse of Boko Haram upon itself, since northerners had seized the country by violent coup on several occasions in the past, harmed Christians during religious riots, hoarded resources once they got into power and ignored the south while ruling the country for much of its existence.
Tables have turned, these Southerners say, and Boko Haram represents the north’s karma returning to punish the region for its greedy history and catastrophic approach to social welfare.
Southerners also point out that northerners have always been hesitant about Western education, and that the north’s anti-Western lifestyle created an obvious haven for groups like Boko Haram to establish extreme Islamist schools in 2002 and then escalate their educational mission into a full-blown attack in 2009.
The south of Nigeria watched as that first Boko Haram attack in 2009 in the northern city of Maiduguri led to several more Boko Haram bombings over the years and then to the kidnapping of roughly 276 girls from Chibok in the north last year.
As a result, the south is increasingly disengaged from the north — and is slowly choosing tribalism over nationalism.
To be fair to the south in its reluctant nationalism, any government that can watch some 276 girls completely vanish from its territory, without alien abduction as an explanation, runs the risk of being viewed as a failed state.
Any desire in the south to secede from such a failure is a natural sociopolitical response to bad governance and threats of violence that could trickle down from the north to the south.
How far the south’s attitude of disengagement from the north will go is unclear, but eventual secession is not that far-fetched if Nigeria continues on a path of unchecked terrorism.
Boko Haram, with its northern stronghold and its threat to the south, has revealed that Nigeria is not only too misgoverned to quell terrorism but also too ill-prepared to handle 21st century matters of defense.
On a broader scale, Boko Haram has highlighted just how much Nigeria and the world have moved into a new era of conflict.
No longer is conflict confined to coups that aim for presidential takeover, nor to national wars, nor to other run-of-the-mill security issues; there are new forms of political discord, new tactics and new concepts such as terror cells, cyber wars and bioterrorism that African governments must manage.Boko Haram’s hybridized “civil and foreign” war is also new. The group’s members attack Nigerian soil from within but also view non-Islamic Nigeria as a separate, foreign state that they must conquer and convert.
Nigerian officials have yet to spell out a clear strategy against these new conditions introduced by Boko Haram or develop any specific nomenclature for defining and controlling the Boko Haram problem.
Consequently, Nigeria’s true vulnerabilities have bubbled to the surface, damaging its claims of greatness as an African giant — claims that had previously inspired the north and south to stay together.
This giant has been compelled to join forces with smaller neighbors Chad and Niger to fight Boko Haram, as Al-Jazeera reported this week — further demonstrating the weakness of Nigeria’s defense and thus creating a sense of insecurity across the north and the south.
Now, one could certainly argue that giants need help too, or that Nigeria deserves some credit for teaming up with those nearby nations; but the country has been ill-equipped in forming dedicated intelligence teams, finding the missing Chibok girls and understanding the logic of Boko Haram, much less in fighting it alone or as part of a team.
Consistent reports of poor military training and abuses also mar its efforts.
As a result, the threat of Nigeria’s disintegration or regional secession at the hands of Boko Haram, though unspoken, continues to lurk at the back of many minds.
It’s scary to think that things fall apart, and Nigeria may not hold, but the country has gone so far as to move its presidential elections from Feb. 14 to March 28 of this year to “keep voters safe from Boko Haram,” revealing just how deeply the terrorist group has influenced the nation’s politics.
Before Boko Haram, north and south Nigeria would vote subtly along regional lines, with hopes that their candidate would win, no matter how little that candidate might do to improve the country or their regions.
Now, Boko Haram’s treachery in the north has made their north-versus-south struggle more visible: The sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian from the oil-rich south of Nigeria. His challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, is a Muslim from the north.
The country debates fiercely whether “the northern candidate” or “the southern candidate” can best contain Boko Haram.
In truth, neither candidate is particularly promising.
Jonathan has been criticized for his failure to resolve the bizarre loss of the 276 girls from Chibok, not to mention the mind-boggling loss of $20 billion dollars from the country’s oil revenue.
His challenger, though a former military leader who has promised (as they all do) to stamp out Boko Haram, has been a three-time presidential election loser.
These choices are bleak, but no matter who wins, the real race is against Boko Haram, a cancerous threat to African stability.
China Okasi is a journalist, media personality and creative producer with award-winning experience in new media enterprise. She has contributed to CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News, Current TV/Al-Jazeera America, CW, PIX 11 News, local Fox channels and other news operations. Her website is www.chinaokasi.com.Wait, before you go…
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