Thursday, 18 April 2013

UNDERSTANDING ARMED GROUPS IN NIGERIA

           UNDERSTANDING ARMED GROUPS IN NIGERIA
 

A group is said to be armed group if its members are armed and they act without State sanction and control. Armed group, not directly springing from recognized government authority such as the military and police forces falls into three basic divisions along a continuum, ranging from the poorly organized, disjointed and motivated by greed to the highly organized, coordinated and motivated by ideology. Identifying where any particular group falls on the continuum can help reveal how and why the group behaves as it does. This invariably will assist in determining how to effectively and efficiently separate and deal with these groups.

 

At the one extreme of the Armed Groups Continuum are criminals who are haphazardly organized and are motivated by the simple prospect of plunder. At the other extreme are ideologues that are well organized; are driven by strong motives; and are seeking to change socio-political and economic conditions. In between these extremes are groups in transition. They are neither here nor there. They are primarily motivated by greed, but with time, information and resources they mature and want a bigger stake in the socio-political and economic order. At this level, they seek the trappings of authority more closely associated with traditional political power. Thus, threatening the government in power.

Identifying where a particular armed group is on the continuum is very important in determining how to separate and deal with it. While, these categories often overlap in their purposes and motivations, a common thread is their inevitable connection to an established economic and socio-political power. Irrespective of its type, armed group requires some form of support from an existing State or Patron, covert or overt, if it must move beyond the stage of routine criminal annoyance or fanatical fringe element. 

The classical example of the first group on the continuum is Pirates. Pirates have long history and they are group of poorly organized criminals. Their goal is money. They are not interested in changing society or overthrowing existing governments notwithstanding that their actions may eventually contribute to both. They simply want to prey on society and steal from others. Their livelihood depends on the prosperity of the society on which they prey. Because their plunder comes from the wealth generated by productive activities of the society, it is in their interest not to disrupt the society to the point of decline or collapse. The focus of pirates is to skim the cream from the top. As criminals driven by profit, they are usually found taking the path of least resistance. From ancient Greece over 2000 years ago to today’s Nigeria, the lucrative, easily taken merchant vessel is their target. They rarely challenge a constituted authority in any region. Their desire is only to exploit the trade routes, not control them.

The International Chamber of Commerce recently described the Nigeria waterways as piracy and armed robbery prone areas and equally warned mariners to take necessary precautionary measures when transiting Nigeria coast.  The report said that pirates and robbers are often violent and have attacked, hijacked and robbed vessels, kidnapped crews along the coast, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters, categorizing all waters in Nigeria as risky, “Generally, all waters in Nigeria remain risky”. In this group are also kidnappers and hostage takers.

The advanced manifestation of the pirates group is the sea-raiders. Like pirates, the sea raiders are sea robbers who threaten trading routes, attacking shipping and coastal settlements in a more organized and coordinated manner. They occupy midrange on the scale, somewhere between simple criminals and their opposites, the religious zealots. They are fierce pirates whose focuses are far beyond rapine and plunder. They exhibit unique culture, sense of government, and commerce, reinforced by the need to change the prevailing economic, social and political set up of society.

Although, the sea raiders are neither representative of society’s criminal elements nor are they proselytizers seeking to change societal cultures, they are part of the society they are looting, but gradually spreading their own unique criminal traits and trademarks. And as marauding pirates they are thoroughly professionals, but usually sought easy victims. If prevented from gaining sufficient power to displace or supplant a reigning government, or they meet with difficulty or military resistance, they look elsewhere for plunder or attempt to fit into the society through marriage and other social integration processes (Philip Gosse 1932).         

In some jurisdictions, governments have sought to buy over the sea raiders with tributes like the case of Alfred the Great of England, (Richard Drake 2000). And because they are insatiable, they keep coming for more; often with renew threats and renewed attacks.

The Nigerian ethnic militia popularly referred to as Niger Delta Militants fall within this category. Although the operational areas of this group extend beyond the sea, they exhibit the characteristics of sea raiders in their targeting and attacking of targets. They threaten trading routes, attacking shipping and coastal settlements and are offensive against oil pipeline and oil and gas facilities in a more organized and coordinated manner. In most cases they warn before they strike and their focuses are far beyond rapine and plunder. They exhibit unique culture and sense of commerce, reinforced by the desire to seize economic and/or political power. Apart from making the waterways unsafe, they are interested in government and their interest in politics is reinforced by their support for identified politician or political group, and they also engage in crude oil smuggling and illegal bunkering.

Occupying the extreme end of the scale from ordinary criminal gangs are organizations that are motivated by ideology, are armed with sufficient military capability, and possess organizational infrastructures capable of implementing their ideological visions. Such armed groups are formidable. Example of such group in Nigeria is Boko Haram. What many Nigerians are yet to come to term with is that Boko Haram is bent on religious conversion through colonization and conquest. Boko Haram members are Islamic jihadists. It is a military order founded in Maiduguri in 2002, representing the religious spirit of Islam.

Boko Haram is not limited to Nigeria; the proselytizing zeal of jihadists propelled their banner throughout the Islamic world. Nor are they confined to Christians and Southerners. Pagans, heretics of every ilk, and surprisingly, Muslims that are political opponents and those who speak out against their mass murder, are all marked to see the shadow of the Boko Haram’s flags and to feel the steel of their swords and to experience the boom of the bombs.

Born of and nurtured by religious fervor, Boko Haram has made its greatest imprint in northern Nigeria; with most attempts to penetrate southern Nigeria especially Lagos being met with difficulties and military resistance. Despite keeping Boko Haram away from the south, our security agencies mustn’t relax or slumber or sleep. Real Boko Haram members will not succumb to amnesty and cannot be bought over with tribute.    
The religious zeal, organizational abilities, and military skills of Boko Haram are being employed by selfish northern political leaders to serve their own ends. In fact, what makes the Boko Haram Islamic sect a powerful force is not their ideological zeal and organization and military might but simply the support of numerous patrons who are motivated by religious affiliation, political interest and financial rewards. Armed groups, irrespective of underlying aspirations, are often used as pawns by established powers. When the group serves some political, economic, or military purpose for an existing power, patrons do not only turn a blind eye or provide support; they also provide a soft landing ground in case the LAW frowns at their activities

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