Is Boko Haram Above the State?


I grew up with the notion that no single individual or group (illegal personality, that is) can fight the state and win. I was taught to accept that fact, and from happenings around the globe, evidence supporting the theory abounds. The state is bigger and stronger than anybody. Some people may act above the law, but no one can be above the state. The state has the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. Even in Marxist terms, the state is ultimate. Lenin had described the state as a product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. In the existentialist sense of class conflict, those more powerful and privileged take the centre-stage in the control of the state, pushing the defeated less privileged class into the shadows. The “control” of the state here is ultimate; it is a zero-sum game. Class conflict must end up in “control” and the most potent instrument to gain “control” of is the “state”.

From the foregoing, it can be gleaned that social forces struggle to gain the state because the state is stronger than anybody. The state should be stronger than any single individual or group, including the group that legitimately gains control of it. That is why leaders can be thrown out by popular revolution or votes. And that is why it is difficult for dissidents, no matter how dangerous and potent like Al-Qaeda, to gain control of any particular state: not Afghanistan, not Pakistan, nor Somalia. However Al-Qaeda has tried, it cannot control these states. But why does Al-Qaeda want the state? Why does it want to gain Yemen and other states? It wants to because the state is ultimate. The state is a means to all other ends.

But for Nigeria, where is the state? The spate of insecurity for the past two decades calls for serious concern. What is wrong with the Nigerian State? The palpable state of insecurity in the Niger Delta and the porosity of the borders from where small arms and light weapons infiltrate the ranks of hoodlums question the relevance of the state. The emergence of Boko Haram marked the peak of the failure of the Nigerian State to perform its primary responsibility. For years, innocent persons have been felled by police bullets, while armed robbers have been on the prowl without check, and assassins have snuffed out lives without arrests.

There have been ritual murders with the unconcern or aid of security agents, and rival gangs have clashed and created a state of fear in communities. Militants have held individuals, communities and governments to ransom; as kidnappers perpetrate their acts without containment, and soldiers and police officers cut down one another in senseless and dumb clashes. The list of cases of insecurity is inexhaustive.

Boko Haram became a phenomenon in 2009 when they went on rampage in Borno State, professing their hatred for western education and attacking government, the people and the police. Their wanton destruction and killings attracted a sledge hammer from the security forces. With the subsequent hype that they had been “eradicated”, we went to sleep over the group until their resurgence in recent times. Now, they are more equipped, fiercer and more technically adept at planning and striking. Their skills and method of operation leave a question mark on their abhorrence of western education. These guys operate like commandos. They take out their target and evaporate, leaving no traces until they come out to claim responsibility. In this manner, they killed the ANPP gubernatorial candidate in Borno, set time-bombs in churches, killed the brother of the Shehu of Borno, and perpetrate other atrocities that endanger the nation’s security.

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The bombing of the Force Headquarters in Abuja on Thursday June 16 puts the biggest question mark on the continued relevance of the state in the happiness and security of the people. The last place any miscreant should be able to penetrate is Police Headquarters. But in Nigeria, the Sani Abacha or Mogadishu Barracks, Eagle Square where the President and his guests are gathered, and the Police Headquarters have come under bomb attack. This is preposterous and unbelievable. Why should such ostensibly impregnable places be so vulnerable?


The answer is not far from the prognosis. The Nigerian government is very weak. Only a weak government would patronize militants and grant amnesty to such enemies of the state. Government could have turned the Niger Delta region into another paradise like Abuja, this would naturally cause a ceasefire. Again, almost a decade after the murder of the nation’s Attorney-General Bola Ige, the security agencies have not been able to make any arrests. The wave of crime cannot be curtailed. There is anarchy in the land. Boko Haram capitalizes on this weakness of the Nigerian State and strikes at will.

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Government should be strong-willed and stop these miscreants. President Jonathan has to be decisive and strong-willed to quash this Boko Haram rebellion. Amnesty is not the answer. Dialogue with terrorist groups is not a strategy. What must be done has to be done: force is required to bring the rebellion to an abrupt and permanent end. The state alone has the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. No Boko Haram, nor MEND, nor the Jihadists in Jos can share that legitimacy with the Nigerian State.

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Dr. Folarin, of Covenant University, just returned from the United States.

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