Monday, May 19, 2014


With the abduction of 200 school girls last month and the threats by the group's leader that it will sell them into slavery or marry them off, Nigerian rebel group Boko Haram have become he new poster boys of world terrorism.

The group which is actually called "the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad"  was formed in 2002 and operates in the north eastern parts of Nigeria. Boko Haram is a Hausa nickname that loosely means that they reject western education.

The group while claiming it wants to bring under Sharia law the region it operates in, has not been averse to bombing mosques and killing civilians indiscriminately.

This group is a painful throw back to our own Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who initially claimed they wanted to overthrow the government and rule Uganda by the ten commandments. The kidnap last month of the girls was not unlike the 1996 abduction of 139 girls from St Mary's College - Aboke by the LRA. A hundred of the girls were released after deputy headmistress Sister Rachel chased the retreating rebels into the bush and negotiated for their return.

Clearly not only did the abducted Nigerian girls not have a sister Rachel but Lagos, probably out of embarrassment, remained silent about the abduction with president Goodwill Johnson coming out after two weeks to speak publicly on the matter.

But there are also reports that the when intelligence was received that the group was turning towards militarism to further its goals the security forces either turned a blind eye or dragged their feet in acting on the information, that by the time the group went fully violent in 2009 Lagos was caught flat footed.

Our own experience with anti insurgency operations is that they quickly get messy as local populations get caught in the crossfire and their allegiances are tested by both sides, but rapid response times are critical against highly mobile rebel movements -- Boko Haram whiz around on motorbikes.

But drilling deeper these kind of insurgencies happen or are sustained in communities where poverty is predominant.

Last month after rebasing its statistics Nigeria announced that it was now Africa's largest economy with a GDP of $510b. But the continent's most populous nation, which derives nine in ten dollars of export income from oil and has been bedeviled by bad government since independence, has huge wealth disparities among its people with eye popping opulence on one side of the pendulum and sub human poverty among almost half it's population on the other hand.

Economic growth makes good headlines for politicians but the equitable distribution of this wealth among its people is the more telling statistic in terms of national stability. In fact great wealth disparities in a country are an indictment on the government of the day. Wide income inequalities suggest governments are unable to not only distribute the economy's growing wealth by providing social services and physical infrastructure and in so doing creating an environment for more people to climb up the social ladder

To the extent that the people see no hope for advancement is the extent to which they will clutch at straws, even insurgency, to provide for their families.

An insurgency can not be sustained without people. Boko Haram has grown into enough of a force that large parts of northern Nigeria are under emergency law because of their activities.

Recent military adventures against the Boko Haram have not endeared the continent's largest army to the citizens of north eastern Nigeria.

The politicians have no choice now but to show they are doing something, but in the long term Nigeria as do other African countries, need to seat back and take a long hard look at the wealth inequalities in their respective nations, not least of all as these may serve as the tinder of revolt that will sweep them out of power.

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