Nigeria has been at war for some time. Many of the crises it has managed to keep stumbling into have been troubling enough to be the moral equivalence of a war. For a few years now, there has been a low grade shooting war gnawing at us. But now more people are dying from it than from many major civil wars around the world.
Nigeria and similes of war, as well as metaphors of conflict, have been associated, for a while. Many years ago, I was invited to speak at a Spring meeting of the World Bank in Washington. As we waited for my session, we engaged in a light banter with some World Bank staff members. One of them, Peter Mousley, an English gentleman, was responsible for three countries, Nigeria, Sudan and Sierra Leone. I wondered what the three countries had in common. At the time, Sierra Leone and Sudan were struggling with long running civil wars. Mousely laughed and said there are those who wonder at the awkward grouping and there are those who see all three economies as post-conflict economies of sorts. Nigeria was not at war but the metaphor of a conflict economy seemed to suit it.
In the last few years, conflict has moved from metaphor to what we live. Like, the Florida Everglades, a slow moving river, so slow many do not actually realise there is flow, creeping violence has crawled out from the Niger Delta, as criminals and party toughs became militants and went from kidnapping for criminal ransom to armed environmental activists. To the North-Central where Robert Kaplan saw the coming anarchy violence reigns, finding manifestation in the cleavages of religion, ethnicity, and economic injustice; to marauding Fulani herdsmen going into a murderous rage on the matter of indigene rights and nomadic people; and, eventually the Maitatsine and other religion-based waves of uprisings and pogroms degenerating into a full-blown insurgency in the face of a failing state and a political class choking on the vomit of its voracious appetite for corrupt enrichment.
Nigeria, denial and make-belief notwithstanding, has been in a full-scale war that has not been declared, with an enemy that is anarchic and whose identity is known only by a name: Boko Haram.Many things are puzzling about this major war we have a way of pretending is a “police action” some nutheads who hate in the name of God whereas it is a situation as bad as Sudan before the outbreak of peace that would soon be betrayed. One of them is how it seems our military do not seem to have recourse to modern technology.
I recall the Falklands War of as far back as 1982. Its end came while I was on the telephone with the late General Joseph Nanven Garba. I was putting finishing touches to my Ph.D. thesis in Bloomington, Indiana and Garba was a Fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard.
I was running some of my conclusions by him on the phone when he suddenly said, “It’s over”. He had apparently had an eye on a television set as we spoke and saw the breaking news of Argentina’s surrender. “American technology won it for them”, he commented. Indeed, American satellite intelligence helped Britain win that war. That technology is today so advanced you can pick up the name tag on a soldier from outer space. So, how come rocket launcher vehicles can travel through desert-like conditions around Maiduguri and arrive at an Army barracks undetected, when even Google earth can track such movement? Then, there is the case of the biggest victims, the local residents. They are being slaughtered like chicken in these attacks and it seems improbable insurgents can function without locals knowing enough to provide intelligence that can aid proactive actions of deterrence.
Then, there is also the calculus of this descent into anarchy. Man may be an emotional being but many of the conflicts of Africa only barely mask the goals of those who prosecute them. Many times, it is for control of mineral resources so the contending groups can have access to the economic rent. In the Boko Haram case, you see slight traces of the benefits of political actors who may support from the background.So, why can people with intelligence on sources of covert support for the violence not be properly engaged? Everyone is losing. The zero sum game has become lose-lose so the real incentive is for reconciliation to stop the rot. A military solution is not optimal but the military needs to up the containment game so a political resolution can be attained.
There are those who think the prolonged conflict is creating a whole class of people, including those in the military-industrial complex, who profit from it. If that be the case, the urgency to end the conflict, is even more, because interested parties could make the culture of death a living and thriving industry.It is time for a gospel of life to expel this culture of death consuming us. We can start preaching it in the North-east.
Utomi, political economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership