Sam Amadi, Senior Lecturer, Baze University
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From Afghanistan with fear 06 Sep 2021
On the day Kabul fell to the Taliban, in spite of 20 years of US and its allies propping the Afghan army to defend the Afghan government, many Nigerians feared that the Afghan experience may be replicated in their country. Nigerian social media trended with fear that the country’s Islamist movements could overcome the Nigerian army and take over Abuja. Some crazy folks joked that they are waiting for announcement that President Muhammadu Buhari had fled and handed over power to Boko Haram or its ISIS partners.
Beyond the false equivalences implicit in such scenario analyses, the symbolisms and similitudes are not entirely false or farfetched. For years, Nigeria has been battling the deadly Boko Haram terrorists who seem committed to overthrow the Nigerian state and implant an Islamic republic. Although their firepower and control of northern Nigeria are nowhere like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the resilience of their campaign and its recent mutation, synthesized with ISWAP, suggest that we should worry more about what is happening with Afghanistan.
The insurgence in the northeast is becoming our own endless war. And we are not recording decisive victories. We are suffering reversals. At some times, the terrorists look like bandits; at other times, they look like terrorists. Official government policy mischaracterizes religiously induced terrorism as banditry and misapply solutions. We are re-admitting into society jihadists who once threatened to bring down the state on the flimsy justification that they are theologically misdirected. We think that with wise imams they will warmly embrace the secular state. The unproven allegation is that re-admitted jihadists are finding their way into the military to degrade the morale and effectiveness of our fighting men and women.
A few days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, more from compromise than firepower, Nigeria’s elite military academy, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), was invaded by gunmen, two officers were killed, and another taken as hostage. This is the most humiliating assault on the nation’s military fortress. Some reports alleged that the terrorists evaded detection because the officers at the CCTV fell asleep. This is taken as another evidence of a degraded and demotivated military. A more serious allegation is that the terrorists could easily get through such a fortress because of the compromise and complicity of senior officials in government. We are infiltrated. Our enemies are our defence.
This is not the first time we feared that Boko Haram and its enablers are seated at the highest positions of authority in Nigeria. In 2014, at the height of Boko Haram suicide bombing, the Nigerian president expressed worry that he was sitting in Council Chamber with persons with loyalties and sympathies to Boko Haram and other jihadists. The failure of that administration to defeat the terrorist derived more from internal betrayal and lack of commitment than the terrorists’ firepower or strategic manoeuvres. President Goodluck Jonathan was frustrated by high-ranking officials who were either closeted members of Boko Haram or benefited politically from the insurgence. Recently, a former Deputy Director at the Nigerian Navy alleged on television that defence investigation in 2014 fingered persons who are now at the highest offices as involved with Boko Haram insurgences.
The similitude with Afghanistan is that we are an ineffective state, degraded by widespread religious fundamentalism in high places. But Afghanistan is not Nigeria. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are about 20-50% of the population. Taliban is a Pashtun fighting force. In Nigeria, Boko Haram and other jihadists fighting the democratic state in Nigeria are numerically a minority. They may have influences in seat of power but cannot put the larger population to the knife. So, the Nigerian state will not fall like the Afghan state.
As we mourn the fall of Kabul, Nigerians should be worried that our cuddling of religious fundamentalism makes us as vulnerable as Afghanistan. Failing states, weak states and disorderly states are better defined by the absence of strong civic values that are often predicated on constitutional norms and state institutions that are ideologically oriented to protect and promote those norms. In most matured democracies the centre of gravity is the constitution. In more authoritarian or hybrid societies, it is the military or the public service.
The real tragedy is that we do not have a constitutional order that can protect Nigeria from the religious firepower of jihadists. The constitutional text and its livid experience have been incoherent and outdated. Sadly, now, we are losing the military, the real centre of gravity. We should be worried that the hierarchy of the Nigerian military is in the grips of religious fundamentalism.
That is ‘the fear of Kabul’.
Dr. Sam Amadi, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.