I watched the House of Commons debate on the crisis that occurred in Nigeria’s northern territories last month, you might have caught the coverage in the media, but I highly doubt it! In Paris and her northern provinces, 17 people died in the country’s worst terrorist attack. Over 80,000 police and security service personnel were involved in the siege and subsequent manhunt, whilst 2 million people took to the Republic’s streets with a further estimated 2.5 million across the country in a show of solidarity and defiance with the world leaders at its helm – a united stand against the atrocities. The satirical magazine that was the primary target of the terrorists went on to publish 3 million copies of its magazine, the “Survivor’s Issue”, up massively from its usual circulation of 60,000.
The emergency debate in Parliament discussed the bewildering terrorist attack carried out in the north eastern town of Baga, Nigeria. Amnesty International and the UN reported that Boko Haram is alleged to have executed 2,000 people. This wouldn’t just be the extremist group’s greatest massacre in the country, but the largest single terrorist attack since the World Trade Centre was felled 13 years ago. So why has this particular attack taken such a back seat across the globe? Why did just 39 British politicians attend the debate, and why is there no significant action being taken against Boko Haram or indeed IS?
Boko Haram have been permitted to steadily cultivate their base in the North East region of Borno which runs along the border of neighbouring Cameroon, in the process causing sporadic, indiscriminate murder and crimes that would leave The Hague aghast. Not only have thousands been slaughtered, 300 school girls were taken last year by Boko Haram, many still believed to be apprehended in the Sambisa Forest with the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau declaring that he would sell the remaining captives as slaves for as little as £7.
Of course Downing Street were ready to condemn the kidnapping as, ‘pure evil’. Whilst the White House called the abduction an ‘outrage and tragedy’ and seemingly was willing to do whatever was needed, yet no significant action was taken. The debate in early January after the latest attack discussed aid and advice to Nigeria but the Minister was forthright in his reassurance that there would be no British military response to Boko Haram. It was deemed unnecessary.
The coverage of both the hostage saga in Sydney and the attacks and stand offs in Paris monopolised the attention of the International media, whilst the massacre in Nigeria passed by with little more than a murmur. The fact, that a form of Islamic State is growing in Africa, a country entrenched in corruption with a seemingly inept military, huge levels of poverty and distinct lack of leadership which has been exacerbated by the President Goodluck Jonathan. The Nigerian army is immersed in bureaucratic bottlenecks to secure funding approvals for military operations and has actually seen funding cut over the last three years, despite intensifying internal security challenges caused by Boko Haram.
It could be deliberated for many, many months as to what specifically is needed to fight Islamic extremism in Nigeria and stop the spread of its barbaric ideology – and it probably will be for further than that! The West is terrified of the threat from IS, I imagine that security services have possibly never been so busy, policies are introduced at break-neck speed and there is a vast escalation in Islamaphobia across Europe which must surely be a reaction to Islamic extremism within the Federation.
Despite the West’s resolute stance against IS and the spread of the group in Iraq and Syria, which has significant backing from countries within the GCC, let’s not forget that it’s not just US and British sorties flying – UAE and Jordanian planes are bombing IS with support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia – the threat from IS is recognised by Muslim states as an attack on religion and regional stability, not just the West. However, are the bombings alone enough to crush IS?
There is significant evidence to support that these bombings have pushed IS out of several strategic strong holds whilst depleting their numbers on the ground. We learned recently that Japanese journalists were added to the list of the beheaded and a Jordanian pilot was burnt alive. Bombing raids will eventually run out of pinpointed targets and intelligence on the ground will become ever more imperative – the time for troops is coming fast – is there a UN, NATO or other mathematical formula that states how many beheadings is enough for significant action to be taken?
So why is Boko Haram left to fester? It could be one of the reasons mentioned or it could simply be a war on terror that the West doesn’t want to justify; no Boko Haram members have attacked the West… yet. Whatever the reason for the lack of action, only the civilians on the ground will suffer. History is awash with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ wars, those that were justified and hailed as a success and liberation of a people, whether it be the allies landing in Normandy or the KFOR intervention in Kosovo (eventually) putting an end to crimes against humanity in Europe in the 90’s. There are undoubtedly many wars that have been hard to justify and seen as being far from a success. Vietnam, and more recently Afghanistan were drawn out with an ever evolving and confusing answer as to the operational objective. Then there are the non-wars, the times the International community has not put its hand up. For 100 days the World sat on its hands, condemning afterwards of course, as 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda. The number of dead in East Timor reached an estimated 200,000 as the Indonesian government subjected the people to extrajudicial executions, routine and systematic torture, massacres and deliberate starvation. The UN acted by passing numerous resolutions that condemned the occupation in 1974. 24 years passed until military action finally put an end to this genocide. To date, the lowest estimate of genocide since the end of 1945 sits at 3.5 million – over half as many Jewish people executed by the Nazi’s… Have we learnt nothing? Can we allow such massacres based on extremism and terrorism to continually manifest?
A nation ‘war weary’ was sighted as reason not to intervene in Syria. Not only does that war still rage, but its offspring crafted the monster that is IS. Any notion that there may be a situation where ‘boots on the ground ‘was an option, were quickly brushed aside by both the British and Americans. Was Iraq a mistake, possibly also Afghanistan? These question marks over recent or on-going conflicts should not obstruct political decisions, we should never aspire to be governed by a political ruling class that governs by sentiment or opinion polls – rather, we should be governed by conviction and more importantly a conscience and belief that we can help. I personally would love a strong, coherent UN, a resolute NATO and a UK Parliament that produces more than just 39 MP’s for a debate on the largest terrorist attack since 9/11. If terrorism and the threat of extreme Islamic fundamentalism are real, if the world wants to act, which it undoubtedly should, then the path to crush IS and Boko Haram is with the only resource that carries impact – boots, I’m afraid, on the ground.
This is probably an idealistic stance and even seen by some as war-mongering, but this former soldier has seen the reality of those left to fend for themselves. The idea of moral internationalism isn’t a bad idea at its core and when western troops are deployed with a concentrated cohesive plan, they tend to execute it extremely well. The invasion and overthrow of Iraq and Saddam Hussein was executed clinically by the allies (don’t confuse this with the political post war planning), the intervention in Kosovo, Mali by the French and Sierra Leon under Blair, were all a success.
Boko Haram and IS are relatively concentrated, military operations could be much more clinical than those against the Taliban. If it’s a real threat, military intervention must not be off the table. Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, this may well be a fitting quote to end on, but he later went on to say something that should sit on the conscience of all western leaders’ minds at this time, “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Yes, horrendous and simply unethical wars have been fought, but don’t let that ever detract from the intervention in genuine times of humanitarian needs – to do nothing is in itself a crime against humanity; Nigeria in particular needs us and all willing, let’s not leave her to suffer because we made mistakes elsewhere, ultimately, only her people will suffer.
By Edward Marsh, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.
Follow us on Twitter: (@DailyPoliticsV)