‘Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War’ by Mike Smith is a tour de force into the failings of modern Nigeria as seen by a reporter on the spot. Focused as an in-depth study of the Boko Haram movement through accounts of those whose lives have been affected by it, this book holds little to surprise but informs us of the repercussions of fighting organized terrorism.
The story indeed regarding Nigeria is a mixed one. Nigeria belied those who believed it would fall of the map. That hasn’t quite happened despite upheaval and a civil war from 1967-1970. Yet the potential for internal combustion exists because Nigeria is a vast mix of diverse sub-nationalities superimposed over which is the great fault line between Islam and Christianity. This however is not something unique to Africa or Nigeria. What makes it dangerous to Africa and particularly Nigeria is the tentativeness of state institutions, seen specifically by the increasing ineffectiveness of the Nigerian armed forces according to the International Crisis Group which had indeed carried a report to that effect earlier this year. This is particularly worrisome when we consider it in the light of a phenomenon such as ‘Boko Haram’ who are trained killers out to spread death and destruction.
Such a state of affairs also makes the situation promising for international intervention. However such interventions have rarely stabilized the situation as seen in cases such as Iraq or Afghanistan. It makes it dangerous because it could provide the very impetus that could lead other sub nationalities to be emboldened to move towards ethnic assertiveness or outright independence. From the experience in the rest of Africa, Nigeria would be at particular risk in such an eventuality of a schism between an Islamic North and a Christian south. That however is a best case scenario. There is always of course the probability of a Libya type scenario where there is unparalleled chaos with rival centres of authority battling it out. This is because whatever the claims of international intervention, foreign powers ultimately have their own agendas. None of this need necessarily happen. All I am pointing out at this stage are the dangers inherent when foreigners are introduced into a situation avowedly to fight terrorism but which can quickly change into something entirely different.
The challenge in this case specifically for Nigeria is to substantially reform the Nigerian armed forces, most substantially by eliminating corruption or minimising its hold. This is fundamentally important because ultimately any threat of internal chaos as represented by terrorism or ethnic nationalism will have to be overcome by Nigeria’s own army and indeed they did so during the Biafra civil war in the past. Foreign aid in this struggle can at best be auxiliary. Ultimately this is a battle which Nigeria and Nigerians must over come on their own if Nigeria is to survive intact.