[Photo: A petrol station attendant counts Nigerian’s currency, the naira, in Abuja, Nigeria. Photographer: Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg]

Between 2002 and 2011, the BBC and the British newspaper, The Guardian, consistently rated Nigerians as the world’s happiest people.[1] In sharp contrast, by 2013 a Forbes Magazine survey ranked Nigeria as the twentieth saddest place to live on earth and the country was ranked 123rd out of 142 countries on the Legatum Prosperity index.

An analysis of where it all went wrong would constitute a voluminous series of papers. One major factor responsible for this negative transformation in attitudes, however, is the rise in militancy in the south and of terrorism in the north of the country, with the associated havoc wreaked in terms of lives and property, and growing insecurity.  Most notable among those wreaking havoc is Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group that has plagued north-east Nigeria and captured international media attention. The contention to be made here is that certain members of Nigeria’s elite sustained Boko Haram’s stature as chief security menace since it had become a cash cow for them.

Corruption and Impunity

Between 2013 and 2015, Nigeria’s press was awash with stories of military defeats and soldiers fleeing battle with Boko Haram. In 2014, a case of fifty-four soldiers who were accused of mutiny for refusing to fight Boko Haram brought to the fore what Nigerians had begun to suspect – the country’s military, once arguably rated as Africa’s best, was under-equipped and in no shape to fight a terrorist group nowhere near its size.[2] Surprisingly, observers failed to ask how this could be since budgetary allocations for Nigeria’s defense had been rising since 2012.

From $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion respectively in 2010 and 2011, the defense budget in Nigeria was increased over 100 percent to $5.7 billion in 2012. The Armed Forces alone received $2.1 billion that year exceeding the whole of the 2010 defense budget (including allocations for the police and the Defense Ministry). The Armed Forces allocation rose further to $3.6 billion in 2013, this time exceeding the whole defense budget for 2011, and the $6 billion received by the defense sector in 2014 was 20 percent of the entire country’s budget that year.

These increases were premised on the need to fight Boko Haram. Yet from 2013 until early 2015, Boko Haram was on the ascendency because Nigeria’s military was grossly ill equipped. Where did all the money go?

The short answer is that it became a target for corruption. In a country seriously lacking in accountability, the increased defense allocations meant more money to misappropriate. Conventional wisdom holds that – money spent on defense is hardest to trace, especially in times of conflict, since it is impossible to account for every bullet used. So, as long as the Boko Haram threat remained, a great deal of money was to be made by certain members of Nigeria’s elite, irrespective of the number of lives lost or hardships imposed on the country’s citizens as the result of its misery.

The signs of misappropriation of defense funds as the budget increased were obvious from the military’s battlefield performance from 2012 through 2014. Although the discrepancy was glaring, Nigerians did not seem to notice nor question until late 2015, when a $2.1 billion arms deal scam came to light involving the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki.[3] The furor that greeted this revelation, now popularly known as Dasukigate, was appalling, not because of the crescendo it attained, but because of how beguiled and aloof it showed Nigerian society to be. With popularity at an all-time low and elections around the corner, the Goodluck Jonathan administration tried to plug the leakages in funds. The momentum quickly swung in favor of the Nigerian Armed Forces, but it was too late to save his presidency.

Something Darker

Nigerians’ suspicion regarding the sustenance of Boko Haram focused largely on power brokers in the north, who were opposed to political power residing in the south, and was bolstered by statements of some northern thought leaders about making the country ungovernable for President Jonathan’s regime. A certain Lawal Kaita, for example, had averred in 2010 and again in 2014 that a northerner must emerge from the presidential elections else there would be no Nigeria.[4] Based on such claims, the late General Owoye Azazi, former chief of army staff and chief of defense staff stated in a 2012 interview that, beyond the root causes of poverty and religion, the desire of some to rule Nigeria was perpetrating the Boko Haram menace.[5] Azazi noted too that: “The issue of violence did not increase in Nigeria until when there was a declaration by the current president that he was going to contest.”[6]

Now power is back in Nigeria’s north, and Boko Haram is depicted as severely incapacitated. Are the forays of a rejuvenated military entirely responsible or has the objective for sustaining Boko Haram been achieved? Where did all the men and guns go? If Boko Haram had political backers, what task would these patrons put their militias to? Two recent developments bring these questions to the fore and provide clues to the answers.

First, it is well known that Boko Haram was a bigger problem and has been present longer in Nigeria than in Chad and Cameroon. While the latter states have prosecuted captured members of the sect and found them guilty, Nigeria which likely has many more captives, has succeeded in prosecuting just three and this made national headlines. Who is stalling the judicial process? Even now, there is talk of granting these murderers amnesty.[7] In general, truces are negotiated when it is apparent that without one, conflict will continue, casualties will be high and the cost grim. Now that the Nigerian government has pulverized Boko Haram, why consider granting amnesty? This action defies all known theories of conflict and justifies the contention that Boko Haram was part of a grand-ethnic-elite strategy, whose patrons would not allow their stooges to hang.

Second, it is quite a coincidence that, with the gradual dispersion of Boko Haram from the north, there has been a systematic rise in attacks by well-armed Fulani herdsmen on villages in Nigeria’s mid-west and the south-east.[8] Newspaper reports of a recent attack on the south-eastern city of Enugu alleged that the Fulani herdsmen who coordinated the raid numbered about five hundred. Where and how could so many of these nomads have organized themselves, and where did they get their sophisticated weapons? It is not extreme to contemplate that the patrons of Boko Haram have found some other cause for their misguided radicals. After all, attacking “infidels” and burning non-Islamic places of worship, as have taken place in this and other attacks by Fulani herdsmen, is part of the dictum of Islamist extremist sects.[9]

Boko Haram arguably was, and likely still is, a tool in the hands of certain members of Nigeria’s political elite. The group was used to prosecute an agenda, and it served as a cash cow as its actions justified increased defense expenditure which was siphoned into private pockets. With the mission of relocating power to the north accomplished, and Boko Haram’s members still around, its patrons are compelled to find some other “worthy cause” to satisfy their misguided ideology. History has shown that once created and unleashed, it is difficult to rein in and tame such monsters.

If the amnesty deal for Boko Haram pulls through, it comes as reward for its role in the grand plot of getting power back to the north. This and other events in the near future will tell if Boko Haram was really an international terrorist group prompted by deprivation and religious bigotry to redress a status quo, or if its bloody existence was part of a grand plan for which millions of innocent Nigerians paid the price.

This article was  originally published by Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars’ African Program Blog and republished here with permission from the author and the center.

The original article can be found here: https://africaupclose.wilsoncenter.org/boko-haram-cash-cow-of-the-sahel-or-part-of-a-grand-strategy/


[1] See BBC News, “Nigeria Tops Happiness Survey,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3157570.stm; The Guadian, “Nigeria the Happiest Place on Earth.” https://www.theguardian.com/global/2011/jan/04/nigerians-top-optimism-poll.

[2] See US News, “Lawyer Justifies Acts of 54 Young Soldiers Sentenced to Death for Refusing to Fight Extremists,” December 18, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/nigerian-court-sentences-54-soldiers-death-article-1.2049241.

[3] See Al Jazeera, “Nigeria Orders Arrest of Ex-Adviser Over $2bn Arms Deal: President Buhari Orders Arrest After Money Meant for Weapons to Fight Boko Haram Goes Missing,” November 18, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/nigeria-orders-arrest-adviser-2bn-arms-deal-151118043340314.html.

[4] Nigerian Bulletin, “Lawal Kaita Was Right: They Made Nigeria Ungovernable after 2011,” discussion in “Political News” started by Jules, March 26, 2015, www.nigerianbulletin.com/threads/lawal-kaita-was-right-they-made-nigeria-ungovernable-after-2011.109388.

[5] Emmanuel Ogala and Bassey Udo, “NSA Azazi Blames PDP for Boko Haram Attacks,” Premium Times, April 28, 2012. www.premiumtimesng.com/news/4853-nsa_azazi_blames_boko_haram_attacks_on _pdp_s_politics_of_exclusi.html.

[6] See Flashpoint News, “2ND South South Economic Summit: The Comprehensive Reports,” April 30, 2012, https://flashpointnews.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/2nd-south-south-summit-the-comprehensive-reports/

[7] Armsfree Ajanaku, “Amnesty for Boko Haram: Carrot Approach to Ending a Damaging Insurgency,” The Guardian Saturday Magazine, April 17, 2016, www.guardian.ng/saturday-magazine/cover/amnesty-for-boko-haram-carrot-approach-to-ending-a-damaging-insurgency-1/. The Vanguard. “800 Repentant Boko Haram Insurgents Undergoing Training – NEMA DG,” May 9, 2016, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/05/800-repentant-boko-haram-insurgents-undergoing-training-nema-dg/.

[8] This Day, “The New Terror Threat,” May 2, 2016, www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/05/02/the-new-terror-threat/; The Vanguard, “Bloodbath in Enugu as Fulani Herdsmen Kill 40,” April 26, 2016, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/04/bloodbath-enugu-fulani-herdsmen-kill-40/; Hadassah Egdebi, “One, Two, Many: Nigerian Fulani Herdsman among the Deadliest Terrorist Groups in the World,” Ventures, February 29, 2016, www.venturesafrica.com/terror-groups-one-two-many-nigerian-fulani-herdsmen-are-one-of-five-deadliest-terror-groups-in-the-world/;

[9] Conor Gaffey, “Scores Killed in Suspected Attacks by Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria,” Newsweek, April 26, 2016, http://europe.newsweek.com/nigeria-scores-killed-suspected-attacks-fulani-herdsmen-enugu-452524?rm=eu; Punch, “Fulani Herdsmen Kill 20, Raze Church in Enugu Community,” April 26, 2016, www.punchng.com/fulani-herdsmen-kill-20-raze-church-in-enugu-community/. Several articles provide insights to this discourse. See, for example, Bolaji Omotola, “Between Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen: Organised Crime and Insecurity in Nigeria” (paper presented at the 5th Institute of Security Conference on Crime and Crime Reduction, Sandton, South Africa, August 14–15, 2014), www.issafrica.org/uploads/5th-Crime-Conf-2014/X002-Bolaji-Omitola.pdf, and Ludovica Laccino, “Nigeria Fulani Militants: Who Are the Muslim Herdsmen Linked to Boko Haram?” International Business Times, March 30, 2016, www.ibtimes.co.uk/nigeria-fulani-militants-who-are-muslim-herdsmen-linked-boko-haram-1552202.


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