The menace of Boko Haram is not just a military issue – it is an ideological one. The west should help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram and win the battle of ideas.
The kidnapping of more than 200 school girls by Nigeria’s terrorist group, Boko Haram, has attracted outrage and condemnation from different parts of the globe.(1)
People across the world have joined the online campaign to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and pressure the government of Nigeria to do more in combating the menace of this Islamist group.(2,3).
The US, the UK and France have offered to help Nigeria rescue the girls and bring their abductors to justice.
But some people are speculating that an intervention by western countries could turn Nigeria into another Afghanistan. They are suggesting that Nigeria be left alone, that no assistance be given to the country as it battles this Al-Qaeda linked organisation.(4)
Personally I think those making this submission are mistaken. I have been writing about Boko Haram and the activities of other muslim fanatics and theocrats in Nigeria for many years.
It is obvious that Nigeria needs military and intelligence assistance to rescue the abducted girls and defeat Boko Haram. Unfortunately, efforts by the Nigerian government to contain the insurgency and attacks have proved largely ineffective. So Nigeria needs help, urgent international help to boost its counter terrorism initiatives.
If international assistance is provided to countries when they are hit by natural disasters, or when countries experience aviation mishaps as in the case of the missing Malaysia airline flight MH370, why should countries – western or eastern – not extend help to Nigeria and ensure that these girls are brought back to their families? Nigeria is grappling with a humanitarian crisis with a international dimension. The government is fighting a transnational terrorist group that recruits members from neighbouring countries.(5) Boko Haram has already carried out trans-border raids and kidnapping(6). It has attacked the UN building in Abuja.(7) If it gets the opportunity, Boko Haram could attack embassies of western countries or business interests in Nigeria as al-Shabab did in Kenya.(8) The menace of Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian issue. This terrorist group poses a serious threat to peace and security in the region and beyond.
There is no doubt that western intervention could worsen the situation in Nigeria. This could happen if western countries think that the Boko Haram issue requires only a military solution. It does not. The menace of Boko Haram is both a military as well as an ideological issue. And defeating this terrorist group needs – and would need – both the force of arms but also the force of ideas – secular democratic ideas. It will require mental reorientation and ‘value change’. Boko Haram is an armed group of suicide bombers driven by virulent Islamic extremism and existential nihilism.
The name ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘western education is forbidden’ in the local hausa language. This speaks volumes about the ideological leaning. The group is opposed to ‘western education’ and secular government. It is an offshoot of the ‘anti-western’, jihadist, islamist, theocratic ideology that prevails in many parts of northern Nigeria, hence its agitation for the establishment of an Islamic state.
Boko Haram is a radical fall out of this quest for sharia law andIslamic theocracy by muslim majority states in the country. Like Al Shababa, islamism is its ideological power base for mobilization of support and for recruitment of members. The abduction of the school girls is a radical demonstration of its islamist perception of women and its opposition to secular ideals of gender equality, dignity and human rights.
Secularists, feminists and human rights campaigners should explore ways of counteracting the indoctrintation, ‘dogmatization’ and brainwashing of young muslims in mosques and Quranic schools across northern Nigeria. It is at these ‘praying’ and ‘learning’ centers that clerics radicalize young muslims and turned them into mechants of death and destruction. Human rights campaigners should liase with secular oriented groups and institutions to promote educational reform and inculcate the values of critical thinking, separation of mosque and state, tolerance of other religions and world views, free and open society and universal human rights.
Western intervention should be geared towards helping Nigeria defeat Boko Haram militarily and ideologically.
Leo Igwe is a humanist activist currrently doing research at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies(religious studies), University of Bayreuth in Germany