I’m not surprised by the conspiracy theories flying around in the aftermath of the return of the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls. In a country where the wounds of hate and distrust have pierced deeply, events like this will no doubt open a floodgate of conspiracy theories and rumors.
What I find rather surprising is the apparent lack of interest in studying and understanding the insurgency by people who style themselves as journalists and public intellectuals. Those people, either through blundering ignorance or deliberate mischief or both, have contributed in sending the conspiracy mill into overdrive.
I believe Lai Mohammed that the girls were returned without paying any ransom. The Buhari government has paid ransom and conducted prisoner exchange with Boko Haram before. While maintaining official ambiguity over such deals before as is the standard practice in international conflict resolution, this is the only time that the government is coming out to categorically deny any deal.
To believe this, one has to understand the internal politics of Boko Haram and it’s inner workings.
The Dapchi girls were abducted by the Abu Musab Albarnawi faction which is affliated to ISIS. That’s why there was no any Shekau video claiming responsibility. Chibok girls were abducted by the Shekau faction. At the heart of the Albarnawi-Shekau split is the legitimacy of killing Muslims or taking them hostages.
Shekau believes that every Muslim that refused to join or support Boko Haram has automatically apostatized and should be meted the same violence as non-Muslims. That’s why Shekau’s violence is indiscriminate, targeting mosques, market places and other Muslim gathering.
Albarnawi on the other hand believes Muslims under Nigerian rule should be liberated into his fake Islamist utopia and not killed. That’s the soft jihad of the late Bin Laden years, winning hearts and minds through selective violence against select targets.
Therefore, the Dapchi abduction is at the heart of the fundamental difference between the two factions. It is in conflict with Albarnawi’s jihadi principles. Allowing Dapchi to stand is akin to condoning what he accused Shekau of doing and led to their splitting away. Not that there is any honor among terrorists, but since Muslims cannot be held captive according to the Albarnawi doctrine, then the basis for collecting ransom does not apply.
The question is why did Albarnawi carry out the abduction in the first place. Here I adduced 3 major reasons. One is that the abduction was a mistake, an accident. Two is that they realized they have the wrong girls after finding all of them Muslims except one which they are still holding. Three is that Albarnawi carried out the abduction to prove a point, to punch a hole in FG’s claims of victory and show that the terrain is still contestable.
The fact that the lone Christian girl is still held confirms that no ransom was paid and Albarnawi’s BH released those girls on their own accord. Boko Haram respects ransom and hostage agreements. They released Christian Chibok girls and Christian University of Maiduguri lecturers as well as Christian police officers when ransom was paid. It is inconceivable that they will be holding one lone Christian girl if ransom was paid in this case.
Now to the issue of military withdrawal. The fact that BH struck Dapchi to abduct those girls in the first instance means BH are monitoring Nigerian troops movement and even taking advantage of it. The fact also that the military withdrew temporarily when the girls are being returned is standard security practice of ceasing hostilities and confidence building in managing hostage situations.
Even in civil, Evans – style hostage situations, the police stand down when hostages are to be handed over.
On the other issue of Dapchi residents hailing Boko Haram as they return the girls. Two things are involved.
One is that some people are hailing BH out of self-preservation in order not to invite their wrath for appearing not supportive enough. Many people have learnt to adapt to situation like this to survive. And given BH draconian and arbitrary justice, those people have little or no choice.
The second reason is even more ominous, something that’s so far not adequately explored, that is of BH enjoying significant support among the rural population in Borno and Yobe States. BH was able to survive nearly 10 years of sustained Nigerian military offensive because of that. It owes its resilience and sophistication to its ability to blend with rural populations, buying or coercing their cooperation and acquiescence.
Two years ago, BH attacked Geidam and the military successfully repelled the attack, with its back against the wall, BH received reinforcement from unlikely quarters – the local population – who trooped out raining gunshots and takbir in support of BH, forcing our soldiers to temporarily withdraw from the town until reinforcement came.
The pattern of BH support is predominant in Kanuri speaking areas where it has succeeded in selling the insurgency as a Kanuri islamist liberation struggle. Anyone familiar with the Kanuri otherization of non – Kanuri Muslims will understand this. That does not mean BH is a Kanuri conspiracy, far from it. What I am saying is that the insurgency has a distinct Kanuri flavor the same way the Taliban drew support from its Pashtun identity or ISIS primarily from its Iraq’s Sunni minority.
That’s why BH is only active in Kanuri speaking northern and central Borno with the exception of Maiduguri which erupted against BH because of its urban nature. But BH sleeper cells still exist as explained by the ease with which BH infiltrates the city with suicide bombers. That’s another reason why the civilian JTF experiment only succeeded in Maiduguri and struggled elsewhere in northern and central Borno.
On the contrary, the non-Kanuri speaking Southern Borno is largely immune from BH violence since after Chibok. Bonded by existential necessities and age old inter-tribal feuds, they were able to fend off Boko Haram advances through community militias.
We also have to understand that the BH insurgency has some cultural triggers beyond the hackneyed narrative of underdevelopment. Areas of Jigawa and Zamfara have the same poor socieconomic indices like Borno and Yobe. It is no accident that while in the case of the former, the consequences are manifesting as cattle rustling and rural banditry, they are manifesting as Islamic terrorism in the latter. Those conflicts have their roots in the histories, politics and cultures of those places.
And unless we eliminate those underlying conditions that allow BH enjoy local support, the future will augur very badly. When our elites consider leaving our people in ignorance, poverty and disease as an official policy and elevate corruption to a status surpassing all good virtues, we ask for Boko Haram and Boko Haram we shall get.
For now, for any meaningful development or rehabilitation to thrive, we have to win the war to preserve the peace. We have to up our game. Our capabilities should keep pace with BH dynamism. Negotiating with terrorists may bring temporary lull and short -term political benefits but risk emboldening them in the long-run, setting a dangerous precedent.
Nations do not buy peace through appeasement but through sacrifice. Boko Haram’s jihadist utopia is incompatible with true Islam and the realities of our 21st century. They cannot be reconciled by any stretch of compromise. Boko Haram and its terror allies know only one language, defeat. We have to do whatever it takes to defeat BH and the murderous ideology that fuels it, even as its consequences will continue to echo long after it is militarily extinguished.