Considering the way Nigeria is reacting to Uncle Sam's designation of the fundamentalist Islamist sect, Boko Haram and its break-away faction, Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organisations, FTO, it's as if the intervention is one that comes with all gain and no pain. Both from official circles and the average Nigerian, the story is the same. Everyone is seeing the classification as a step in the right direction.
The Nigerian government reacting to the designation in a statement by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ogbole Ode said it's "a welcome development, as it will strengthen cooperation between Nigeria and the United States in the fight against international terror; enhance the capacity and legal basis for concerted actions against both groups; and enable the two countries work more closely towards reducing the capability and capacity of the groups to unleash terror".
Earlier on, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Adoke SAN, in his reaction said: “The US stance is a welcome development; we salute the US government for partnering with the federal government to root out terrorism. This step will assist this nation to deal with these renegades. It will also help in strengthening the proscription of Boko Haram by the federal government."
Our Defence HeadQuarters too couldn't resist the urge to join the fray. It spoke through its spokesman, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade thus: “It is a welcome development, we hope it will further bring the required international understanding and co-operation to deal with the terrorists. It shows a better appreciation of the security challenges that we are dealing with.”
A serving military general reacted to the issue by pontificating that the designation takes away all political colouration to the crisis. He stressed that those who support or identify with the two sects risk forfeiting their wealth and other interests outside the country and could be picked to face the wrath of the United States at anytime.
For members of the Free Readers Association of Nigeria ie. those who congregated at a popular news stand visited, majority concluded that Boko Haram has met its waterloo by the designation. Two specifically advised the federal government to spare its energy for other engagement and allow the Americans go all out on the radical Islamist sects. One expressed concerns about what the decision portends for the sovereignty of Nigeria, while another saw it as a minus to the push for dialogue in resolving the crisis wrought by the sects.
Going by these reactions, I'm tempted to believe that if Washington decides to take over the governance of our country today some of us would simply oblige without asking questions. Those at the power corridors would quickly relinquish authority after securing mouth-watering deals for themselves and then tell us 'it's a welcome development'. But, let me perish that thought and instead pray that subjecting our country to another bout of colonialism doesn't catch the fancy of Uncle Sam.
As exhilarating as their reactions are, I still refuse to utterly buy into this move by the US government. This is based on some equally palpable reasons. But before these reasons are reeled out, it'd be very appropriate to first illuminate on the new branding of Boko Haram and Ansaru. For one, the classification makes it a crime under US laws to provide material support to the groups just as members of the groups, wherever they are, will now be targets of air strikes from the US military among other decisive actions.
It gives Washington the legitimacy to clearly view the threat of Boko Haram as part of wider Islamist militancy in Sahel region that covers Niger, Somalia, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Libya. The FTO listing will bring many aspects of the US pursuit of Boko Haram to the open and systematise certain activities. It is believed that US had sent surveillance drones to Nigeria as early as last year, albeit not in an overt manner. But with this latest act, we should expect drones, any type of drone that is, without the US government being cryptic about it.
Indeed, any type of drone should be expected. While Washington has said it doesn't expect to deploy troops and drones, it is yet to be seen how such stance would be sustained should Boko Haram went ahead to prove its newly-bestowed international acclaim or aggressively go after US interests.
Already, the US flies unarmed drones from an airfield in Niamey, the Niger's capital which helps collect some intelligence information on the movement of militants with links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It then means it could easily arm those drones should Boko Haram or Ansaru misbehaved.
Put in another way, the interpretation of the designation is that members of Boko Haram and Ansaru alongside their partners could be tracked down anywhere in the world by US law enforcement agents and prosecuted in the US. It also directs US law enforcement and regulatory agencies to block business and financial transactions involving the Boko Haram and Ansaru sects along with their members.
No doubt, the classification would come with extra scrutiny from US law enforcement officers in search of sponsors and financiers of the groups, not leaving out the militants from the close study. This will pose an encumbrance for travel plans, ease of transacting business and transfer of funds across countries. Oh! I forgot, this should be about elucidating the designation, why then am I already delving into the implications? It is because they are inweaved as you can't talk about one without inadvertently talking about the other. That's why it calls for surprise that we can't see the downsides to this move.
While we essay to stomach Abuja's acceptance of the intervention, it becomes too large a morsel for our throat for Abuja to tell us that the designation does not come with any consequence. Did government really say that? Yes it did! That much was said in the same statement by the spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs Ministry thus: “It also wishes to assure the public that the designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru by the US government as FTOs would not lead to any negative repercussions for Nigeria and Nigerians."
Holy Moses! Our government can be preposterous sometimes. Isn't this tantamount to adjudging charcoal as snow? Or claiming that 'good morning' is very appropriate for a hot afternoon? Well, since government wants to take us for a fool, let's refer it to what one of its own told us about a year ago. Or don't you think somebody in the pedestal of a Nigerian ambassador to the US is one of government's own?
The ambassador, Ade Adefuye in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP newspaper sometime last year gave five reasons why Boko Haram shouldn't be designated a foreign terrorist organisation. He began by saying it'll mean 'that Nigeria is not able to deal with Boko Haram'. He continued that 'it will give such psychological boost to Boko Haram among other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, which can be tempted to embrace them and support them.'
For the third reason, the diplomat said it 'would discourage investors from coming to Nigeria because nobody wants to go to an area where a terrorist organization resides.' He also said then that designating Boko Haram an FTO would betray US as illogical since they failed to declare Niger Delta groups, which also threatened their interests, an FTO. For his last reason, he opined that an FTO listing for Boko Haram would subject Nigerians travelling to the US to 'horrendous search at US entry points'.
With all these grounds, as germane as they are, proferred by the envoy, what other ground remains for a government official to stand and tell us that that act of US government wouldn't be detrimental to us? Let's hope that as they lie to us about the matter, they aren't acting on that lie. Better still, that they aren't lying to themselves as well. They'll be acting on that lie if they do nothing to mitigate the fallouts from this intervention by the US.
Our government must take care so that the case of Pakistan doesn't become our lot. We know how the US military in that country unilaterally launch military operations there in the name of fighting terror. That can worsen the crisis instead of dousing it.
There is this report by the American newspaper, New York Times which quoted Edward Snowden to have identified Nigeria’s SSS as one of the security agencies in the world that America’s NSA had been bugging. Our government haven't found it expedient to react to this. Yet it has gone ahead to welcome their intervention in taming the Boko Haram and Ansaru sects. We had better be mindful before Aso Rock itself becomes bugged (that is if it's not already).
Now, don't get me wrong. It's not as if I'm against the US wading into the matter. Why should I be when the situation seem to have defied the handle of our government? My point is that Abuja must insist that Washington doesn't cross the line. It must ensure that the territorial integrity of Nigeria as well as the rights of Nigerians are upheld even as they intervene. Let's not go to sleep thinking that it has now become the headache of Uncle Sam. If we do, we'd wake having migraine instead.