Today, Boko Haram can be said to be unrecognisable from the evangelical group and semi-guerrilla army it used to be when it broke into the scene few years ago. With its fighters frequently being killed by the military recently, Boko Haram members have now resorted to mass kidnapping, banditry and extortion to replenish the group and keep it going.
The cadre of hard-core members inspired purely by devotion to a jihadist vision is being reinforced by child soldiers, forced conscripts and criminals.
Rightly, President Muhammadu Buhari said this week that members of Boko Haram in the North-east region of the country are bandits and the federal government would continue to treat them as such and flush them.
The president said this in Abuja while receiving President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mr Peter Maurer.
“Boko Haram has been degraded, but its members are still a nuisance around Lake Chad and surrounding islands,” he said. “That is why we are cooperating with Chad, Cameroon, Niger Republic, and other countries. We are also using the Air Force quite effectively. They are bandits, and we will continue to treat them as such.”
On his remarks that the Boko Haram members are bandits, the president, of course, cannot be further from the truth mainly because as ideology has become less important for recruitment, other incentives such as money and access to loot and women have become bigger means of recruiting and sustaining the terrorist group.
And, as a result, the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does on evangelism, if it ever did that, and fighting Western education. Therefore, the group, like other bandit groups operating in the North-west of Nigeria, possesses the potential, like it always did, to harm people of Nigeria and its neighbours, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
And, of course, Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015 remains a magnet drawing foreign jihadist fighters to West Africa.
Thus, while the military cannot remain on a war footing forever without turning the country into a police state, something must change if Nigeria is to adequately address the problem posed by Boko Haram.
It is said by many that the military alone cannot defeat Boko Haram. Many have argued too that the Boko Haram is a political issue, social and economic issue, and until these issues are addressed, banditry, terrorism and other forms of extremism can hardly be defeated.
Agreed, putting in place measures to improve the economy, like the Buhari-led administration is doing, will take years or even decades to have an effect, still, the administration, in the short term, should device means to defeat violence.
Gratefully, the government is now repairing damaged infrastructure, rehabilitating internally displaced persons and securing their communities so that they can return home.
Gratefully too, the Buhari-led administration is also focusing on education and healthcare, along with rebuilding of infrastructure. Still, the government can use the de-radicalisation measures to dry up the reservoirs of disenchanted youth from which Boko Haram recruits.
On its part, then the military can continue fighting the inveterate ideologues who are unlikely to lay down their arms voluntarily. This selective application of force and persuasion will help deal with this longstanding insurgency and banditry.
Again, the government needs to reorganise and remodel the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to do its work properly. After all, a country wallowing in a socio-political crisis as Nigeria must have a national agency like the NOA operating, though its operations are hardly appreciated by Nigerians.
Ideally, the NOA should put in place a national re-orientation programme with a view to regularly interacting with youth. The NOA should be able to discover talents of youth and train them with a view to making them contribute their quota to the country’s development.
Building infrastructure for economic development
Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari’s love and desire for building of infrastructure is truly undying and when, recently, he said that Nigeria will provide its counterpart funds for all agreements reached with China for the provision of infrastructure, nobody was surprised.
Receiving Yang Jiechi, Special Envoy of President Xi Jinping of China, the president expressed his deep appreciation for China’s sustained and genuine efforts to improve Nigeria’s infrastructure development, especially in the sectors of road, railway, aviation, as well as power and water resources.
“…know the provision of infrastructure is very important,” he said. “Infrastructure provides job opportunities and economic sustainability which are very important for political stability.’’
Why is physical infrastructure so important to a country’s development? The simple answer is that once goods are produced, they need to be transported to the ports and airports for transportation to other states and countries.
This means that excellent roads are needed, like the president said, to transport the goods or otherwise they would be delayed leading to economic and reputational losses for producers. Indeed, if a manufacturer produces goods quickly but is unable to transport them to the destination as fast as they can, then, there is no point in making the goods in an efficient manner in the first place.
Moreover, good roads are also needed for manufacturers to obtain raw materials and other components. In addition, ports that are well functioning and where ships do not need to wait for longer periods of time or, in other words, are not congested, are very crucial for economic growth.
Otherwise, loading and unloading of goods from the ships would cause losses to the exporters and importers. There is the need to develop airports that are modern and efficient for freer and easier movement of people in and out of the country.
For all these reasons, therefore, there is the need to appreciate the president’s desire for the country to quickly develop its physical infrastructure make them to be as efficient and as productive as possible.
Undoubtedly, no nation develops without investing in infrastructure and no one knows this better than the president. Indeed, this is the reason why in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Western countries massively invested in infrastructure. It is also the reason why Japan and South Korea and later China undertook a drastic improvement in their infrastructure so as to ensure that it enables faster economic growth and development.
These reasons, and many more, clearly underpins why Nigeria and African countries must follow suit to develop their infrastructure without which the issue of socio-economic development in the continent can never be addressed.
Infrastructure is supposed to facilitate and spur economic growth by providing better connectivity and enhancing productivity and efficiency.
In fact, there are no shortcuts to success and development and, of course, there are no substitutes for infrastructure development and there are no shortcuts for faster economic growth. In this respect, there are lessons for Nigeria and other African countries that are trying to grow and leapfrog into the elite club of developed nations.
Clearly, unless developing countries like Nigeria invest in all elements of the infrastructure component, their development would be slow and retarded and they would miss the bus again and lose out in the race for economic competitiveness.
This is the hard truth and the bitter reality which should, hopefully, spur president and other leaders in the country to invest in infrastructure.