By Daniel Omale
On September 11, 2001, the United States of America woke up to the most horrific act of terror on its soil which claimed over 3000 lives. In retaliation, the U.S. government initiated two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan. While the war in Iraq was seemly conventional, the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban has been unconventional, with sporadic insurgencies over and over again.
My reference to these two wars is to show both the financial and human costs of war. To date, the United States has spent about $3.3 trillion dollars and still counting. The costs of human lives to the U.S. and its allies are in excess of 6500 people, and over 2 million Iraqis and Afghans have lost their lives.
War is expensive; whether conventional (Civil or interstate) or unconventional like the Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram groups. The fundamental issue here is not the associated cost of war, but whether an unconventional war like the Boko Haram’s frequent attacks are containable. The answer is simply not defined, because the insurgents, caught up in the web of their own ideologies, live and dine amongst us.
They are part of our society— those with unachievable grievances against the government. Nigerians should not expect that it is an exaggeration to spend $1 billion to fight Boko Haram. This is a protracted war that has consumed over 100,000 lives, and there is no visible solution to curtail it without the necessary, huge expenditures.
It is quite hilarious to listen to Governor Fayose’s remarks: “Ekiti people are suffering from hunger Haram”, he claims. His people would require part of the $1 billion being approved to fight Boko Haram, he loudly trumpeted.
Like most Nigerians, I did not understand the costs of war until I enrolled in Harvard University a few weeks ago for a master’s degree in Global Affairs (International Relations). My very first class, “International Conflict & Cooperation”, has exposed me to the rudiment of the various types of wars; the human, economic, and psychological costs.
Indeed, the costs of war generally ensure that states can do better by finding a negotiated settlement of their disputes if the war in question is between two countries. As war becomes less attractive due to the costs, states will be more willing to make compromises in order to avoid it. But what happens if the emerging war is unconventional, without visible actors? How does a country contain its explosion and protraction?
Although a variety of definitions of terrorism abound, one thing is certain: it is a highly unconventional war within a state or on an international scale like the ritual threats of the Islamic States (IS), or Al-Qaeda. Boko Haram’s main objective is premeditated threat or use of violence against noncombatant targets– to instill fear. Unlike conventional warfare, terrorism is an attempt to win concessions not by defeating the Nigerian armed forces in combat. Boko Haram attacks have sown fear among some target population, especially those in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria.
But we should not forget so quickly the level of their expansion into Kano, Kaduna, and to some extent, Abuja, during Jonathan’s era. Nigerians were gripped with fear as scores of lives were destroyed in the various attacks on the nation.
In the first place, it is difficult to understand the emergence of Boko Haram in our country, but people or groups that use terrorism are motivated by a number of interests. As for the sect, their idea of a utopian society, devoid of Western education, is not only illusory, but highly unattainable. It is also laughable when the same group uses western made clothes, vehicle, and armaments in their regularly recorded videos of threats.
Al-Qaeda has, unsuccessfully, sought to eradicate Western influence from the Middle East in order to bring about Islamist governments in the region. Also, the Shining Path is a Marxist terrorist group that has operated in Peru since the 1980s and sought to destabilize the government and bring about a communist revolution. One thing is certain about all the terrorist organizations: they are weaker than the society they operate; therefore, the only mode of expressing their existence is the act of terror. Like states, terrorist organizations use violence or threats of violence to raise costs to the other side in hopes of eliciting concessions. In this way, terrorism and threats of terrorism are a form of bargaining.
It is no secret that some influential Nigerians immensely use the Boko Haram sect as a means to achieve some form of financial benefits at the expense of human lives. After nearly six years in operation, it is still unclear why those sponsoring the insurgents have not been identified; but certainly, the bigwigs, the grand patrons live amongst us with the intent to make money through constant threats.
Like the war on drugs, the war on poverty, or the war on crime, the global war on terror is unlikely to have a permanent end. As long as perpetrators have different interests, and as long as individuals retain the ingenuity and ruthlessness to devise means to kill others, terrorism will remain a visible possibility. Extremism, combined with problems of information and credible commitment, will continue to lead terrorist organizations to launch attacks to boast of their prowess or ability to do so.
But can the terrorists be deterred? Unlike interstate or conventional civil wars, terrorists do not possess a clearly identifiable location against which government armed forces may respond. The Boko Haram sect has remained in the assumed “Sambisa forest”, hiding in unknown location, undetected. They are secured in their enclaves, and will therefore, continue attacking from there.
While Boko Haram’s frequent attacks have waned over the years, there is no visible sign of a terminal remission of their activities. We should not, at this stage, be complacent of the inimical act of terror that looms over the country.
The quest for money, through illicit means, has blinded us from seeing the virtue of a human life. This is quite disheartening. Our elected representatives in the National Assembly view money as the core objective of their services to the nation, and, to those they represent. Why should there be a scramble for a piece of the $1 billion earmarked to fight Boko Haram?
The heroic effort of our military should not be undermined now that security and safety of lives and properties have marginally appeared on a distant horizon. Those who only look at the financial costs of the war on terror, should also remember that many lives are being lost each day an attack by the remnants of this deadly organization occurs.