By Femi Babatunde
The war against terrorism being persecuted against Boko Haram has entered another phase in which the terrorists are trying to resurge. They were sufficiently degraded when they were defeated in Sambisa Forest in December 2016. The war against terrorism was fought at that time with the impression that Nigeria was up against religious fanatics, whose driving force was a burning desire to impose their own brand of Islam, a strict implementation of the Sharia Code. Recent events highlighted the significance of revisiting the ideology behind Boko Haram following their attack on a group of Nigerian workers that were out on an oil exploration mission. It revived the imperative of interrogating the relationship between Boko Haram’s campaign of terror and crude oil.
It is certainly not the first time that the allure of the revenue accruable from crude oil exploitation has been at the root of acts of terror. In Nigeria’s Niger-Delta, violent activities were once hidden behind agitation for better attitude towards the environment before it later degenerated into kidnapping to make demands and later full-blown acts of terror perpetrated by diverse militant groups in the region. Eventually the militants betrayed the impetus for their acts of terror: it was never about the environment but about them bunkering the crude oil – a process that did more damage to the environment than the legal commercial exploration while none of the accruing revenue trickled down to the impoverished population contrary to the funding claims. Even more perplexing is the trend of these militants bunkering oil with and for other nations.
Between Nigeria and Cameroon, the animosity over Bakassi Peninsula is well documented. Nigerians expelled from their ancestral homes continue to face harrowing experiences. Cameroon, drawing on the backing of its former colonial power, France, would like to argue the case as its efforts to correct a historical wrong but would it have been interested in Bakassi Peninsula if it were a wasteland without oil resources? But for the fact that the aggression against Nigerians that were forcefully evicted from the peninsula were committed by Cameroonian Gendarmes they would have squarely qualified as terrorism.
The conciliatory disposition of the Nigerian authorities, it appears, has not saved citizens from the harrowing experiences that come with resource conflicts. The peace bought in playing soft with the former French colony could well be the incentive that guaranteed that Nigeria’s north-east has been a killing field nearing a decade now. The Boko Haram insurgency, once explained away as religious fanaticism, has deftly transmuted into a war for the control of resources. Curiously, there is the French connection playing out again because Cameroon, Chad and Niger – all francophone neighbors in the northeast of Nigeria could have pitched in better than they did so far in the effort to rid the sub-region of terrorism.
The oil exploratory team that were killed are working in the Lake Chad Basin region, which could potentially be excised to join any of the three neighboring countries had Nigeria not fought hard to defend its territorial integrity. Of interest is the curious coincidence that saw a degraded terror group replenishing its ranks of fighters and apparently so from outside the borders of Nigeria.
While the military operations against the terrorists have been robust, responses on the political and economic have been tame, not much different from the peaceable approach to the Bakassi Peninsula affair. The military option would have to be continued, actually scaled up, to confront the deadliness that Boko Haram somehow manages to work up with the acquisition of sophisticated weapons that this group continues to mysteriously acquire each time it is degraded. Nigeria must therefore take that bold step to turn on the economic and other pressures of countries that are using Boko Haram for a proxy war to corner the oil resources in the Lake Chad Basin.
For one, there is no point feeding one’s enemies, even hidden ones. Saudi Arabia knows this principle well when it imposed its blockade on Qatar after establishing that it was a state sponsor of terrorism and regional instability. Further lesson from the Middle East nation is the way it got other nations to back its measures against Qatar. Nigeria must give strong consideration to imposing its own version of blockade, which should extend to access to over land haulage of goods to errant neighbors.
Nigeria should enlist the international community to leverage diplomacy in getting all those involved to back down and allow it have peace and enjoy the freedom to exploit its natural resources. In this, Western nations would be great assets in calling any of their own to order, as in the case of a country like France that have been mentioned as having geo-political interest in the region. For whatever it is worth, the positive disposition of the United States’ President Donald Trump is one to take full advantage of. It should be impressed upon the west that its options are limited as it were: the world is too interconnected to stoke crisis in one country and not expect matters to go full circle. A Nigeria wracked by terrorism would eventually become a global headache when the terrorists return to their francophone countries and from there into France and subsequently into other countries that have visa-free policy with the European Union.
This is where Mr Trump must prevail on his counterparts in these countries since he risks his anti-terror efforts being rubbished. If they create conditions that allow terrorists like Boko Haram to thrive it is a matter of time before they make landfall on the American continent in waves. In addition, he should escalate the sale of military hardware to Nigeria so that the country can locally contain this menace while there is still time.
There is no doubt that there are international NGOs waiting in the wings to unleash fake news propaganda against such genuine move to deal terrorism a decisive blow. They will do this with sole goal of slowing down any onslaught to crush Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau and what is left of his fighters using blackmail or any trick in the book to weaken the war on terrorism, which has mutated into something else anyway.
The world must know that Boko Haram in Nigeria is no longer a ragtag horde of religious fanatics frothing in the mouth. They have become an economic army, soldiers of fortune that have been commissioned to carve out a piece of Nigeria for their paymaster. Will the world boldly challenge their sponsor?
Babatunde is a conflict resolution expert and writes from Abuja.