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Opinions of Saturday, 5 July 2014

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

Don't Forget What Sustains Boko Haram - Poverty

Before the kidnapping of over 250 teenage girls from their school in an obscure Northern Nigerian town, the activities of Boko Haram were just a local nuisance. Perhaps, they were just a pinprick in the under belly of the African giant. I often wondered whether that brazen act was a cry for attention or an unintended own goal. However, the repetition of that audacious act about a week ago pulverises any amateurish analysis of this deadly organisation.

When America was attacked on 9/11, and subsequently declared war on terrorism, many wide eyed liberals claimed that they brought it on themselves. A lot of decent people in the Islamic world felt that they were immune to such a barbaric assault on civilisation. They did not see the need to condemn such a bold shaheed. I believe there are some people in Nigeria who might have jubilated like it did happen openly in the Middle East. They never thought for a minute that the chicken will come home to roost. Obviously, it’s no longer a laughing matter, because the unacceptable slow pace of our development is further being stalled by these convulsive outbursts of anger when every inch of progress is more than welcome.

We live in a copycat world. Whatever happens in any part of the world is splashed instantaneously on our televisions, on the airwaves and on the internet. Just think about the Arab spring, which started in Tunisia and copied across the sub-region with devastating consequences in places like Libya while Syria still burns. Many people erroneously think that suicide bombing was started by the Palestinians. It was actually pioneered by the Tamils of Sri Lanka and perfected by the Palestinians. It is now a global lethal weapon of war that is copied by the so called freedom fighters all over the globe. Therefore, nobody is immune to terrorism, when the conditions are at a tipping point it will just go bang.

Any good examiner will tell you that understanding a question is half of it solved. Clearly, Boko Haram is not a question, but a toxic problem. Alternatively, the question above can equally be substituted with problem and Boko Haram can be neutralised without the uproar, pain, fear and the emotional trauma supping our energies needlessly. There are those who will blame it on religious extremism. There might be a shard of truth in it. However, it does not provide comprehensive solutions to all the queries churning in our minds. Therefore, we need to process the historical facts in the light of current experiences. Christians and Muslims have lived together based on conservative estimates for over a century in Nigeria. And I also believe traditional believers existed in the same melting pot. Why did they not experience these sectarian violence, but now?

We might take comfort in the fact that the leader of Boko Haram is uneducated and his evil beliefs are fuelled by ignorance. To characterise him as such is to miss the point. The fact is there are very well educated people with equally insidious ideas. You will be surprised to know that quite a few wacky professors are dotted around European and American universities who believe that, because the black man has not been able to come up with, for example, the theory of relativity we are subhuman. And these people wouldn't blink to sign our death warrant. However, those ridiculous ideas are kept alive only in a little corner of their brains. The evils of the Nazis existed in fragments in the minds of some individuals and they were synthesised and brought into lethal focus by Adolf Hitler courtesy of the social evils of the meltdown of the German economy after the 1929 stock market crush. Likewise, there are lots of people who subscribe to hideous ideologies, taste and beliefs. For example, there are people who believe that the world is over populated. However, they will never consider education, the most effective way of curbing population explosion, but birth control through the use of the pill, condoms and other ridiculous practices that does not work. On the other hand, if you should follow the premise of their argument to its logical conclusion, it means some people should be deprived of life. What pops to mind is the sterilisation of people in Nazi Germany. Thank God, there is a huge difference between them and Boko Haram, their ideas only flourish in their little cranium.

Now, the question is what keeps this Boko Haram cancer alive? What sustains and fuel this monster? You don’t have to stretch and bend your mind for the answer. It is poverty. Poverty is the fertilizer of this preposterous medieval belief. A drowning man will clutch at anything. The foot soldiers of this primitive Al-Qaeda franchise are people who have given up on life. The leader of Boko Haram does not go about kidnapping and detonating bombs himself. They are wrought by his lieutenants and foot soldiers. Unfortunately, these are people, as a result of their life experiences; do not value their own lives. It is much easier to identify with life after death and the promise of endless debauchery, besides the icing on the cake induced by 77 virgins on a journey of unlimited pleasure. Graduates and undergraduates in European universities, who have everything to live for, are being brainwashed to kill themselves and their fellow citizens. How much less a hungry man? What do you think if you cannot afford a decent square meal a day; don’t you think it is a good prospect?

This is what African leaders have bequeathed to us. And I personally think that they are just a waste of space and oxygen. It appears their middle name is corruption. The few who are not, also adopt some worthless economic and political ideologies that produce the same effects as corruption. The monstrosity of the vice taking place on the continent is mind boggling. What the perpetrators don’t realise or perhaps don’t really care is that its effects are providing a giant crucible likely to mould a megaton bomb ultimately to explode in our faces. The sad fact is, time is on the side of these goons who don't care to blow themselves up and the rest of mankind to hell. Cutting edge technology like the internet, mobile communication is providing perfect platform for these dangerous radicals to fuse together. And they have abundant raw materials to work with as a result of high unemployment.

Ghana, for instance, is one of the capitals of cyber crime due to high unemployment especially amongst university graduates. Politicians don’t think about a prodigious problem like this and keep rolling out policies that will help keep them in power like GYEEDA. Obviously, when it comes to corruption what happens in Ghana is just a small change compared to Nigeria the turf of Boko Haram. The national coffers are looted in billion trunches. The famous villain that comes to mind is Umaru Dikko who is reputed to have done away with $7 billion, though conservative estimates put it at $1billion. Can you imagine the number of thermal plants that could have been built with such amount for the people of Nigeria at the time? Funny enough, there is a joke in Nigeria that the acronym for the former electricity company NEPA is ‘never expect power always’.

Also, there are unsubstantiated reports that Abacha stashed away over $4 billion in foreign banks. Though, that is very difficult to prove, however, a more credible lead is the freezing of accounts worth $485m by the United States government department of justice. If this is what one man is able to get away with, just conceptualise his lieutenants who will be working below the radar. Can you quantify how much Nigerians are losing to unproductive government officials to the detriment of sick people in hospitals and inadequate resources for schools and what have you?

In this deplorable state of affairs, the little glimmer of hope we have is protest. And even that is a dangerous turf. If you are a big mouth who questions their modus operandi you will be sent to the gallows like Ken Saro-Wiwa who was railroaded through the legal system and hanged. In effect, it seems like a state of hopelessness. All the people who are running the country are Western educated; and for all that the eye can survey Western education turns our leaders into thieves who ransack their various national kitties. So I am not surprised that Boko Haram means Western education is sin.

In our own backyard, our population is expanding at an alarming rate consistently. Our population census provides us with such information. Strangely, the first action to come out of it is to increase the number of parliamentarians instead of thinking about the energy or educational needs of a growing population. All their manifesto promises experience still birth. Those that excruciatingly see the light of day succumb to their first infantile disease. In my candid opinion, our democracy has become an oscillation between those who will dip their hands moderately into the national kitty and those who will do it with caution. The SADA programme, for instance, will be scuttled and sunk beneath the waves due to corruption and incompetence. A very good idea that, in reality, could have lifted people out of poverty is at the mercy of vultures. I don’t indulge in loose talk, but Ghana is sitting on a time bomb. I must make it more explicit; we are playing with a lighted fuse as far as graduate unemployment is concerned. And the solution is clear, the government don’t need to do anything in particular, but just make it easier for people to start their own businesses: by keeping interest rates down. Reducing the bureaucratic nightmare that would be entrepreneurs are forced to endure. And most importantly all African governments need a lean leviathan not a monstrous juggernaut.

The truth remains the truth it doesn't matter whether it is coming from a scoundrel or a saint. As a result of anger against colonialism and imperialism, leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and many more abandoned a system that we practiced long before the European landed on our shores. They opted for some ridiculous ideologies such as socialism and communism. Capitalism is inherent with our traditions. It does not even have a reference point in the past. But we eluded ourselves and embraced foreign concepts, which kept us in retrogression. All countries that kept their minds and eyes open are advancing at neck breaking speed with capitalism while we are experiencing unpardonable atrophy. And the sad thing is our leaders still can’t see that capitalism is the way forward and keep banging their heads in the dark. While they grope like zombies, the little wealth that is created is also at their mercy. They behave like the spider arm of the Indian goddess dipping their hands into the national kitty from all directions.

Boko Haram is a destroyed reaction to the status quo. In the past it would have been a military coup, but that is gone out of fashion. In the current raping of the country, about thirty years ago I would have advocated for a coup d'etat, but that would be tantamount to being thrown from the cauldron into the furnace. If the sub-region want to neutralise Boko Haram practice capitalism – the half way house is the worst form of it. Crony capitalism is as bad as socialism or communism. PPP is a delusion. Anything short of the above and Boko Haram will live forever.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr London baidoo_philip@yahoo.co.uk