On 4th Jan 2012, an alleged ultimatum of the illusive Boko Haram was published in which the Boko Haram gave Christians (living in Northern Nigeria) three days to vacate the North. Language is important here. Does it say non-Muslims, Christians or Southern Nigerians. This Boko Haram statement, even without answering the posed questions, implies Christians, non-Muslims and Southerners in the mind of a Nigerian who has forgotten to differentiate between these in a country immersed in tribal rhetoric.
I forgot to mention that the ultimatum surfaced just after the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) decided to embark on strike and protests as a reaction to the shady petroleum subsidy removal (a unilateral decision). This was a very convenient time for such threats to National Security to come up because any protesting crowd could be dealt with in the context of the crowd potentially having Boko-Haram-agenda. First NLC planned a protest on the 7th, the we hear Boko Haram giving a 3-day ultimatum on the 4th, then protest was shifted to 9th. Who knows how reliable the information is, but the circumstances make the unreliable-government’s claim even more questionable. But there is a second aim that can be derived from the appearance of this timely information.
Divide and Conquer
Now is a time where Nigerians are probably as unified as they have been since the finals of the 1996 olympics football finals; under their disapproval of petrol subsidy withdrawal. Politics in Nigeria (as in other places) strongly depends on identity segregation/wars to achieve goals of ambitious politicians. Two methods are being used by the government to break up this unity.
The first is through the convenient Boko-Haram ultimatum (mentioned in the introduction). This information will catalyze the us-versus-them sentiments already infesting Nigerians. Southerners/Christians in the north will not feel safe and possibly see Muslims as threats.
The second is not as obvious; it is by the recent fortressing of churches by security agents especially on Sundays. Churches have been destroyed (for lack of a better word) recently including the famously dubbed Christmas-day-bombing (which Boko Haram has refuted the allegations). This has necessitated extra protection to churches. Some attackers on the churches have not been caught but we can see why Muslims/Boko-Haram are the suspects. However it seems we are forgetting that there is a recorded cases that a caught church-attacker was not a Muslim but dressed to look like one (there are other similar stories). But how does all this fit in the divide and conquer master plan?
Roads to churches are now barricaded on Sundays (at least in Abuja) but not mosques on Fridays. This image of security (or lack of it for Mosques) establishes the belief that only Christians are at risk of Boko-Haram attacks. Therefore the Muslims are safe because we expect that they are cool with Boko-Haram. Casualties in most recorded (and alleged) Boko-Haram attacks are not religion-specific. At the beginning of a Sunday mass, a Christian is reminded how he/she is not safe when they pass the new-found security. At the end of the mass, the feeling of security (in form of guards outside) comes to an end. The Christian is reminded that they are moving in to hostile territory. Even if the Muslim does not feel cool with Boko-Haram, you can see how the Christian may take certain measures for security. These measures are fueled by an us-versus-them paradigm. This is a threat to the unity of the country, be it in light of the ongoing protests or after it.
One more thing…
Just to illustrate the second method, the president said in a speech on 8th Jan 2012:
Some of them (Boko Haram) are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought. During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from … But the challenge we have today is more complicated.
Worst of all, Mr President said this in a church during a remembrance service for the armed forces. Now the claims of this post don’t even sound like conspiracy theory.
As evidence of the success of this strategy, a mosque was burnt in the south and a church was burnt in the north yesterday (9th Jan 2012), despite the brief disappearance of tribal/religious segregation. It is imperative we see through these harmful devices.
I am skeptical to give the government officials credit for this master plan, not because they are the nicest people but because it may seem very thoughtful of them. Whatever the cause, the effects are the same. Keep vigilant! Don’t fall in to these sectarian traps.