NIGERIA: United States $7m Bounty On Boko Haram Leader: A Dimension Of Failure Of Global Security Strategy

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau


Maintenance of international peace and security in the post-World War II era was made the strategic focus of the United Nations when it was formed in 1945. The UN Charter specifically talked about the need to prevent another scourge of war. And true, there has not been a new scourge of war, but there has been a scourge of crises and conflicts. The interpretation of a scourge of war implied that there would be no more inter-state wars. And true enough, there has not been any inter-state war and no regional (in the sense of UN definition of a region) security has been threatened by intra-state crises and conflicts that currently exist.

However, peace and security, at the national, regional and global levels, has not been achievable since end of World War II. Following the end of World War II, the hot or shooting wars that characterised World War II were quickly replaced with Cold and non-shooting hostilities. There were proxy wars, not only largely driven by superpower politics, but also largely predicated on balancing political terror and military error. Emphasis partly shifted from general balance of power to balancing of superpower rivalry at the level of the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Following the politics of glasnosts and perestroika (opening to the world and internal restructuring) which led to the Soviet Union’s self-effacement, the politics of bipolarity or Cold War politics came to an end in 1989, leaving the United States as the only superpower to shape global politics. But true again, maintenance of international peace and security has not been easy in the post-Cold War era, simply because inter-state wars have been replaced with intra-state wars, and perhaps more disturbingly, with the rise in international terrorism. International terrorism began being a protest against global power politics, especially by the great and super powers.

Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, were then the main targeted victims of terrorist attacks. And by that time, terrorism had not become so sophisticated as it is today. Terrorism was then at the level of sending letter and parcel bombs essentially to diplomatic agents. The terrorist tactics later changed to hijacking and skyjacking, and then re-strategy to murder and political killings.

Today, terrorism has evolved into full-time bombing business. It is become an open warfare in which there is no conscious respect for humanitarian law. Terrorism is now a specialised form of the law of the jungle, with unprecedented manifestations of excessive brutalities. This has made the maintenance of global peace and security extremely difficult. It is against this very background that the placement of a bounty on the head of international terrorist leaders by the governments (first by the Barack Obama, and second, by Donald Trump) of the United States should be explained and understood.

The Bounty: Misjudgement and Failure

On Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020 the United States Department of State renewed its placement of a bounty on terrorist leaders, especially on the factional leader of the Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, considered by the US government as a ‘cancer tumour.’ As noted by the US Department of State, and as reported in the social media, ‘the United States Department of State offers a reward up to $7 million for information that can lead to the arrest of the terrorist, Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram.’

In addition, the Department of State said ‘this cancer tumour must be eradicated!’ It also noted that ‘stopping the terrorists is a collaborative effort.’ Consequently, it strongly believes that there is the need to ‘work together and bring peace to our communities.’ In this regard, it is officially requested that, ‘if you have information on any of the Boko Haram leaders, contact as quickly as possible Telegram (@RFJ_Francais_bot) and WhatsApp (+12029759195). This is an important call on whoever wants to live in peace, sleep with his or her two eyes closed. The call is a desideratum. Put differently, the placement of a fresh bounty by the Diplomatic Security Service of the Department of States, following that of 2013, on Abubakar Shekau, is not only welcome a development, but also coming against many other thought-provoking truisms.

First, it is coming against the background of the failure of the first bounty placed on Abubakar Shekau and some other terrorists in 2013 for various reasons. The then Barack Obama administration considered then that the Boko Haram group was a ‘foreign terror organisation,’ and therefore, blacklisted it along with its splinter group, Ansaru, because of its linkages with the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The US government considered that the AQIM was responsible for ‘thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years, including targeted killings of civilians.’

And true enough, there is no disputing the fact that the Ansaru group has been fighting tooth and nail to have an Islamic State established in Nigeria since 2009. On August 26, 2011, the United Nations building in Abuja was victim of a suicide bomb attack that led many people wounded and dead. In November 2012, the terrorists raided police stations in Abuja, the Federal Capital, killed Nigerian police officers and escaped with detained terrorists in the prisons. In fact, September 2013 witnessed many indiscriminate attacks in Nigeria’s Benisheikh.

It was in light of this development that the Washingtonian administration not only designated Abubakar Shekau a terrorist in June 2012, and, therefore, froze his asset, but also had to decide to place a bounty of $7 million on him. This bounty is two million US dollars more than what was offered in the case of Afghanistan. What is noteworthy about the policy decision of placing a bounty on the Boko Haram is two-fold: that Abubakar Shekau made a mockery of the bounty and that, indeed, the placement of a bounty has not attained its objective.

Secondly, one probable reason that may also explain the failure of the policy of bounty can be traced to the policy advice of a US plenipotentiary to and friend of Nigeria, Ambassador John Campbell. In his book, entitled, United States Policy to Counter Nigeria’s Boko Haram,’ Special Report No. 70 in 2014, John Campbell, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Acting Director, Office of the Historian in the Department of State, submitted that the Boko Haram should not be seen as another foe in the global war on terrorism, since the group’s grievances are primarily local.

In warning the US government not to consider the Boko Haram ‘as simply another foe in the global war on terrorism’ said that ‘the Boko Haram insurgency is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalisation of North-eastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.’

Without jot of doubt, Ambassador Campbell may be right in his view that the Boko Haram may not be simply considered as another foe in the fight against international terrorism. However, Ambassador has ignored some plain truths. It cannot but be quite arguable to have Ambassador Campbell suggest that the main rationale for the Boko Haram is ‘a direct result of poor governance by the Federal Government and the State Government. This observation can be tenable but not really one of the raisons d’être for the emergence of the Boko Haram. In Nigeria of today, Nigerians, as a whole, are still grappling with the challenges of poor governance and human rights violations. In spite of this, Nigerians have not brought religious fundamentalism into the equation.

Ambassador Campbell also drew attention to another factor: the ‘region’s accelerating impoverishment.’ Questions should be asked as to whether the Federal Government had not been allocating development resources to the northeast in the same manner it is done to other regions and states. Is the problem not traceable to the difference in political and cultural objectives of the leaders of the northeast and those of the political leaders in other regions of Nigeria?

The political leaders in the northeast appear to have a yet-to-be-explained agenda, that is poorly understood by other leaders outside of the northern states, and which is largely responsible for the poor situation of the people in the north. In other words, if we are to admit the considerations of Ambassador Campbell to explain the raison d’être for the establishment of the Boko Haram group, then they must not only be categorised as secondary factors. The secondary considerations must also be traced to other Nigerian and extra-Nigerian factors, without which a lasting solution may be quite difficult to achieve in the near and distant future.

In terms of possible solutions, for instance, Ambassador Campbell advised the US government ‘to follow a short-term strategy that presses Abuja to end its gross human rights abuses, conduct credible national elections in 2015, and meet the immediate needs of refugees and persons internally displaced by fighting in the northeast.’ More interestingly, even though the US government might have had little leverage over the Government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Ambassador Campbell observed, the US government should ‘pursue a long-term strategy to address the roots of northern disillusionment, preserve national unity and restore Nigeria’s trajectory toward democracy and the rule of law.’

We do not have any qualms with these suggestions, except those of gross human rights abuses and the need for credible elections which US foreign policy underscores, but which have very little for what the Boko Haram stands for. Indeed, it is at the level of the Boko Haram that we should be talking about human rights violations, brutalities, disregard for the rule of law. Most unfortunately, the international community says very little when terrorists kill law-abiding people. When, in the spirit of legitimate self-defence, terrorists are attacked, noises about human rights are made. Should terrorists be entitled to human rights protection?

In terms of Ambassador Campbell’s recommended short-term strategy, it is mainly predicated on a pentagon of calculations: support for Nigerians working for human rights and democracy; supporting credible elections in 2015; supporting humanitarian assistance in the north; investigating credible claims of human rights violations and prosecuting the perpetrators; and preservation of national unity and democratic trajectory.

Comparatively therefore, the long-term strategy is more of a tripod of sanctionary and preventive measures; At the level of sanctions, for instance, he recommended the revocation of US visas held by Nigerians promoting ethnic and religious violence, and also committing financial crimes. At the preventive level, he wants the US to encourage Nigerian initiatives to revamp the culture of its military and police, as well as identify and support individual Nigerians working for human rights and democracy.

When we espy the foregoing recommendations, it can be noted that US foreign policy on Nigeria is currently and largely derived from the perspectives of Ambassador Campbell. However, it is useful to note that the policy recommendations hardly address the main rationales for Boko Haram terrorism, which is the objective of establishing an Islamic State in Northern Nigeria. The objective of an Islamic State has very little to do with the problems or observations of poverty or poor governance identified by Ambassador Campbell.

If the arguments of poverty and poor governance are to remain valid, then the question of how the Boko Haram is more funded than even the Nigerian military should be asked. How do we explain the fact that the Boko Haramists are wealthier and more solvent than the soldiers of the most powerful and most populous country in Africa? Why has the Boko Haram become invincible? Why are they stronger than ever before? Are there no people in government quietly aiding and abetting the objectives of the Boko Haram? Is Boko Haram also an instrument of the disturbing agenda of Fulanisation? Many issues and many questions that have little relevance to poor governance, economic poverty. Deepening institutional corruption, insecurity and fears of Fulanisation are Nigeria’s current challenges. Thus, the challenge of the Boko Haram should be seen at the level of its quest for Islamic State and the quest for Fulanisation. These are the issues that should be internationally addressed and which should go beyond the placement of any bounty.

In this regard, for instance, there should be explications to justify or reject the suggestion of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi that the only enduring solution to Nigeria’s recidivist insecurity is to divide Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South. What informed this suggestion was never told before Gaddafi died. What is noteworthy, however, is that his recommendation appears to be what is currently guiding the Boko Haram as at today.

Attacks now appear to be specifically directed at Christians to neutralise the foundations of anything Christian in the north. Christian leaders are killed brutally. Even when they are beheaded, it is done with fanfare, with the mind of wickedness and joy, a situation that has prompted several public protests and street walks led by Catholic leaders. There have been protests, not only against Government’s acts of remissness, but also against Boko Haram brutalities in the face of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which provides for religious secularity. What is it that the Buhari administration being able to do?

And true enough again, religious beliefs, faith in God, worship, etc, is basically supposed to be a matter for the individual Nigerian to carry as a responsibility. It is not, and should not be, a state responsibility. Most unfortunately, however, the contrary has been the practice in Nigeria. PMB is frequently accused of both Islamic and Fulanisation agenda, but he has not seriously availed the opportunity of the criticisms to defend the public allegations. This is what mostly explains Nigeria’s political contradictions and problems.

In this regard, the promotion of democracy and protection of human rights, as well as supporting humanitarian law can help to achieve good governance, but are most irrelevant in quenching the objective of an Islamic State or that of Fulannisation. Additionally, the name, Boko Haram, simply means non-acceptance of western values of education, political system, and in fact, whatever the West represents in terms of ideological values. It is against this background that the conflict between Ambassador Campbell’s policy prescriptions and the declared Islamic objectives of the Boko Haram should first be explained and then related to the renewal of the bounty placed on the leader of the Boko Haram.

The contention of this column is that the policy of placement of bounty does not address the problem of objective of an Islamic State, which is a fundamental objective for which the Boko Haramists are always ready to go on a suicide mission. Boko Haramists are not interested in gospels of democracy, orderliness, etc, being preached by the Western world. They simply want to replace western values with theirs by use of criminal force. The foundation of the dispute between Fulani herdsmen, who are private individuals, and farmers who are the legitimate titled-land owners, is not in any way different. The truth as it exists today in Nigeria is that the Fulani herdsmen are using brute force to acquire titled land outside of their own domain in the north. And most unfortunately, the attitude of the Federal Government leaves much to desire, as it is seen to be acquiescing to it.

Perhaps it should also be submitted here that, even if Abubakar Shekau were to be arrested today, his demise is most unlikely to bring an end to the strong belief in the need to still have an Islamic State in the northern part of or in the whole of Nigeria. Abubakar Shekau is simply a leader, if he is removed as the leader, regardless of what might have also been responsible for the removal, international practice has shown that he is most likely to be celebrated the more, buried with honour, and a successor gracefully named. This will be winning the battle and not the war, to borrow the idea of a former French president, General Charles de Gaulle.

Nigerian Dimensions of the Failure

And more ridiculously, the Government of Nigeria claimed it had actually killed Abubakar Shekau. There is no good justification to believe in the claims of the Federal Government. If he had truly been killed, how do we explain the fact that the same person from whom life has been taken, has again resurfaced and is still threatening global peace in a widely spread video?

Government also has it that the Boko Haram has been pushed back to the Sambisa forest, that the Boko Haram feathers have been sharply cut, and more importantly, that their sovereign flags have been uprooted. Good development! However, where were the Nigerian troops who sent the terrorists parking and who effectively occupied the territories controlled by the terrorists, when the terrorists returned from the Sambisa forests to the cities? Are the terrorists in the Sambisa forest or are within the Government and its agencies?

How do we explain another fact, according to which there is proliferation of light and weapons within Nigeria. The latest report on the issue has it that the NDLEA seized 1,360 rounds of live ammunition on Bauchi-Jos highway? (Vide The Nation of Thursday, March 5, 2020, front page). Is this not enough another major reason that again why there is the need to go beyond simply renewing the placement of a bounty on a terrorist leader? Southern westerners have come up with Operation Àmòtékùn. Northerners have reacted by putting in place Operation Shege Ka Faya. Operation Àmòtékùn has a leopard logo while Operation Shege Ka Faya has that of a lion. Meaning that the fight between the lion and leopard is in the making.

The people of the South East have said that they want Ogbunigwe (symbol of power and strength of Igbo resistance during the civil war) and not community policing as an antidote to regional insecurity. In fact, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is reported to have been given approval to stage a one-million public demonstration in Capitol Hill, Washington in agitation for the Republic of Biafra. It has also been said that if the Igbo people are not given the opportunity to produce the President of Nigeria in 2023, it can then be concluded that it will be ‘to thy tents O Israel.’ It will be a breakaway. This was made clear last week Friday by a former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife. Where is Nigeria heading to with these developments?

On a serious note, merely placing a bounty on terrorists, and particularly on the heads of their leaders, is quite far from constructively addressing Nigeria’s dilemma. Nigeria’s political lull is deeper than that of Boko Haram terrorism, which is nothing more than an instrument of yet-to-be acknowledged political objectives. This is why we have strong reservations about whether or not the placement of a bounty on Shekau can really be of any essence.

Without scintilla of doubt, the placement of another bounty to the same tune of $7 million and still on the same Abubakar Shekau, necessarily reaffirms the 2013 bounty. However, it is largely a manifestation of policy failure and strategic miscalculation, which reflects non-seriousness of purpose, non-commitment of purpose, and nonchalant great power-style of attitude. If, for instance, the United States offered the sum of $7m as bounty in 2013, and as at the end of February 2020, there is no attraction of interest, why should it be now expected that the new $7m bounty will be attractive enough to get whistleblowers and prompt the arrest of Abubakar Shekau? If there is to be a good foundation for the prevention of a new scourge of war, the global community will need to give sustained support to President Muhammadu Buhari in his anti-Boko Haram war. Without this, the future of global peace and security cannot be bright.