In the wake of alleged violent reprisals on the part of Nigerian military operatives dubbed the Joint Task Force (JTF) against the Islamist terrorist organization called Boko Haram, the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, announced the implementation of guidelines and other measures aimed at drastically reducing such incidence of violence on the part of the state (See “Nigeria: Borno Governor Admits Army Boko Haram Excesses” BBC News: Africa 7/17/11).
Significantly, Governor Shettima also pleaded with the leaders of the fast-growing terrorist organization to lay down their arms in order to constructively negotiate a mutually acceptable code of conduct. This call comes in the wake of widespread criticism by some Nigerian human rights activists who fear that unless the activities of the Joint Task Force are strictly monitored, the country may well experience a hitherto unprecedented rise in the spate of religion-related violence.
The problem with this kind of official admission of excessive use of the coercive apparatus of the state, is that it tends to inadvertently legitimize the gratuitous application of violence in the name of Islam by the Boko Haram leaders. For historically speaking, the language of symphonic violence, such as only the Nigerian army is professionally capable of unleashing, is just about the only form of effective language that is perfectly appreciated by clinical basket cases like Boko Haram, which threatens to seriously regress the stability and development of a remarkable percentage of Northern Nigerian citizens in the specious name of the promotion of Islamic purity.
As of this writing (7/18/11), hundreds of residents of the Borno state capital of Maiduguri were reported to have fled the city in fear of Boko Haram-engineered violence, which has largely come in the form of suicide bombings by people on motorbikes. As a result of the latter disturbing trend, Governor Shettima recently banned the use of Okada, or motorbike transportation and even threatened to extend the ban to the entire Borno State, if the locus of Boko Haram-related violence was reckoned to have spread to the other parts of the state not covered by the ban.
And here must also be recalled the fact that while Maiduguri and Borno State remain its primary operational range, nonetheless, in recent months, the group has been involved in acts of violence in the central Nigerian capital of Abuja and elsewhere.
At any rate, what makes the need to empower the Joint Task Force in such a way as to guarantee the total uprootment of Boko Haram is that as a formidable regional power, Nigeria also serves as the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and therefore as a country whose fortunes are likely to impact the West African sub-region much more than any of its closest rivals.
The second and even more significant factor is the imperative need to effectively contain fringe organizations like Boko Haram in order to guarantee the peaceful and salutary development of the entire West African sub-region. This means that the mesh of state security ought to be cast far and beyond Maiduguri and Borno State to encompass the sixteen, or so, countries that constitute ECOWAS.
Of course, the fundamental civic and human rights of even subscribers of Boko Haram ideology or creed need to be jealously guarded; still, the extent of such safeguard ought to be squarely predicated upon the willingness of the Boko Haramites to adhere to the sacred principles of peaceful coexistence with all their neighbors, irrespective of ethnicity, faith or political affiliation.
Indeed, the 2009 apparent murder of Mr. Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram leader, may well have constituted an act of criminality of the first order, particularly occurring as it did at the hands of the Nigerian police, to whom Mr. Yusuf had been entrusted for custody pending his arraignment and trial for the heinous act of terrorism.
Indeed, the Boko Haram leader may well have suffered the negative effects of gynecomastia, as his published nude picture appeared to clearly indicate. Nonetheless, his apparent death at the hands of the Nigerian police may well have conferred the patently unsavory honor of martyrdom on the woefully misguided young man. It is primarily on the latter score that as paradoxical as it may seem, nonetheless, Governor Shettima’s reluctant decision to modify the operational mode of conduct of the Joint Task Force may be clearly seen to have some validity.
Mr. Shettima, himself, clearly appreciated the crippling nuisance that some human rights advocates could readily make of some of the soundest policies aimed at stemming the tide of terrorism, such as eerily represented by Boko Haram, when he made the following observation: “We are going to provide hotlines and oblige the JTF with a code of conduct – rules of engagement – so that they do not break the rights of the people. But it’s quite easy to agitate, to call for the removal of the JTF; but what is Plan-B?”
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and author of 22 books, including “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011).