Simon Kolawole: How did Boko Haram become so powerful?

by Simon Kolawole

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How did Boko Haram become so powerful that the state is becoming powerless? 

You hear the proverb all the time, don’t you? “He that sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Let’s stop being sentimental and face the truth: the security challenges that we are facing today are exactly the outcome of our handwork. That’s a bit harsh, I know, but let the truth be told. We sowed the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. Or, to put it more graphically, as you make your bed so shall you lie on it. Nigeria must be one of the few countries in the world where the leaders do not realise that there are consequences for every action and inaction.

I’ll go straight to the point. Why is Boko Haram pummelling us from every angle and we are so helpless? Why are we being battered and bruised? How can insurgents roam so freely within our territory, take over military barracks, slaughter teenage students in their hostels, abduct hundreds of young girls without trace for three weeks, burn down their schools, kill our soldiers at will, attack and kill innocent citizens at any location of their choice and then we are here, unable to stop them? How did Boko Haram become so powerful that the state is becoming powerless? How can the tail be wagging the dog when it should be the other way round?

Let the Federal Government tell us how much we have budgeted and spent on security in the last few years – 10 years, five years, one year. Let them tell us how the money was actually spent. We were told some years ago that we were investing in satellite for security surveillance. How much surveillance has the satellite done and how many attacks has it exposed or prevented? The word around town is that the satellite project was just a conduit for some senior government officials. It would be good for the government to debunk the rumour with concrete evidence.

If we had indeed invested the security votes wisely, we would not be reaping the whirlwind.
We hear that Boko Haram insurgents possess superior weapons. The common rumour that our soldiers were ordered to vacate certain road blocks shortly before impending Boko Haram attacks may not be baseless. Apparently, it is an unfortunate admission that the enemy is better prepared, better armed and better motivated. The enemy has superior strategies. The boldness and efficiency would shame us any day. After we have spent billions of naira acquiring arms that are reasonably considered to be inferior to the ones in the possession of the insurgents, we are reaping the whirlwind.

Successful militancy is a clear signal that we are not ready or prepared to defend our integrity. The militancy – either in the Niger Delta or in the North-east – did not start overnight. Camps were set up. Hundreds of youths were recruited. Arms were acquired. Yet all these facts went under the radar. That means some people were not doing their jobs. There is no local government in Nigeria without security agents, both police or SSS. Youths were being recruited into militancy and the security agencies did not pick up the information. If they picked up the information, what did we do with it? Did we allow political considerations to take precedence? We are paying the price now.
Meanwhile, the vulnerability of our Northern borders to insurgents is not a new thing. What action have we taken over the years to check this security threat? I started hearing about cross-border crimes some 20 years ago. Rebels from Chad would invade the Nigerian territory, rob our citizens and retreat to their camps which were quite close to our borders. What did we do? Has this not become a template for the Boko Haram insurgents? Is it a co-incidence that Borno State has become the hotbed for insurgency, having played host to cross-border crimes for decades?

I once stayed the night at Maigatari, a border town in Jigawa State. The ease with which foreigners were coming into Nigeria alarmed me. With just N1,000, you can bribe an immigration official and cross over. Yes, we’re paying the price now. Of course, I know that terrorism is very difficult to fight. I will never deny that fact. But we have even made things more difficult for ourselves. If an organised society is finding terrorism hard to contain, how much more a dysfunctional system like ours?

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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