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What’s Fueling Boko Haram Attacks in Nigeria?


Baba Aye of Nigeria’s United Action for Democracy argues that the West’s obsession with military solutions will ensure the dominance of groups like ISIS

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The African continent was shaken by a series of terrorist attacks this week. In Mali a group of gunmen took over a luxury hotel, killing at least a dozen people and holding hundreds hostage. This developing story has yet to confirm who is responsible for the attacks. But in Nigeria, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in the cities of Yola and Kano, and have claimed the lives of at least 49 people. The news comes after a report from the Institute of Economics and Peace that states that Boko Haram has killed more people in 2014 than ISIS, a terrorist organization that Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to. But what is fueling all of this terrorism in Africa, in particular Nigeria?

Now joining us to answer this question from Cote d’Ivoire is our guest, Baba Aye. Baba is the national convener of United Action for Democracy, the largest rights-based coalition in Nigeria. Thank you so much for joining us, Baba.

BABA AYE: Thank you so much, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So Baba, here at the Real News we’ve really tried to point out how the Islamic State is fundamentally a product of U.S. policy in the Middle East. We were wondering if you could do the same regarding the genesis of Boko Haram. So let’s begin by looking at this important contradiction between the fact that Nigeria is the biggest producer of oil in Africa, and the fact that over 60 percent of its population lives in poverty. How can you link terrorism to poverty?

AYE: Definitely terrorism in Nigeria, Boko Haram [inaud.] has a lot to do with poverty in Nigeria [inaud.] and particularly in the northeastern part of the country we have, Boko Haram has as its bastion. Like you said, almost 70 percent of Nigerians are below the poverty line. And [inaud.] up to 90 percent. You have the largest number of pupils that should be in school, school-aged students, [inaud.] so you also have a lot of illiteracy. It is by all standards the most backward part of a rich country with [more] people. And then you also have, there is such, there is also a tradition of resistance right from the time of, even before the colonial rule. Again, the [inaud.].

So you have poverty, has been an issue in a context we have, people have been used to [fighting]. So this is a very, very dangerous [inaud.]. And you also have a state that makes it difficult for legitimate expressions of [inaud.], and that tries to demonize people that for the–a good example, a few days back, one [woman] and five soldiers in the [inaud.]. What did the [army] have to say when the [inaud.] newspaper. Nigerians [inaud.] sure that he said that. Oh, this is not, this is because they like the way of life of Boko Haram. You have other locals very, very [untoward] stuff by [inaud.] in trying to hide the fact that what they are facing is much more than just what can be defeated militarily. It has such economic roots, and that snowballs beyond what can result in meeting a December deadline or [inaud.] as the president stated a few months back.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s pivot and discuss how people who are fighting poverty and the extraction of Africa’s wealth into corporate hands–there’s a whole history behind this. And this year Nigerians are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. For those who don’t know, back in 2009, oil giant Shell paid $15.5 million as part of a settlement that accused the company of collaborating with the Nigerian army to kill Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists.

So for many around the world this lawsuit helped bring to life the extent to which companies and the government worked together to crush social justice movements. So Baba, I want to ask you, is this crushing of civil society opposition, is this to blame for the rise of ISIS as well? And if so, can you explain how?

AYE: I would rather say attempt at crushing social movements. Because unfortunately those who sow the wind, they reap the whirlwind. The case of Saro-Wiwa that [inaud.] is very instructive for several reasons. The movement for the survival of the [inaud.] people, which came Saro-Wiwa late, actually stood for civil disobedience, peaceful struggle. But with the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the genie was let out of the bottle in the [inaud.] and it was the context within which there was a [inaud.] to arms later. And you see that 20 years after the death of Saro-Wiwa, even his memory and attempts to commemorate–that is an attack, an attack by the Nigerian state. The social action and the [organization] of society for which are put [inaud.] of the United Action for Democracy. They tried to, they did import what they called the commemorative [force], which was, it was something from a competition when the 20th anniversary of Saro-Wiwa was, judicial [model] was done in the UK. And it was to be used as part of the symbolism for marking the 20th year. But the customs refused, refused to allow this to pass through into their [inaud.]. [Inaud.] like the general, popular general of the [council]. But for the same tribunal that [inaud.].

So you see, there’s a trajectory of repression. But unfortunately what the [inaud.] brings about is more violent response. You see this also with what you have in Boko Haram. Don’t forget that it was a killing of the leader of Boko Haram, [yusuf], in 2009, that led to [inaud.] of Boko Haram. And you find it also with regards to ISIS. You see, this is the fact that the system breeds, breeds a macabre [dance] with the entire society. [Inaud.]

DESVARIEUX: But hold on, Baba. Because there are certain people that are going to say this is not about poverty. This is not about repressing people. This is about ideology. This is about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the world. So what do you say to people who approach the issue that way?

AYE: I think they miss the point. They miss the point that you cannot separate ideology from the lives of people. You have always had [inaud.] for centuries now, but you have not always had them [inaud.]. It is not, if you ask me, it is not accidental that you had the [inaud.] in [inaud.] they were [inaud.] the mujaheddins in Afghanistan, the Iranian revolutions. You know, about the same time you had the coming of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who we have the extreme right [inaud.]. You see, when people can not live–when material existence becomes so maddening for people, it provides ready ground, it provides the soil for recruitment into projects that [inaud.] or from [inaud.] they decide, you know, people within [inaud.] or people within a [inaud.] war.

So I think that, thinking that ideology is [inaud.] the life of its own is one of the most, pardon me if I use the phrase, [inaud.] nonsense. But that’s just as soon [inaud.].

DESVARIEUX: All right. Baba, let’s pause the conversation here. In part two we’ll discuss the West’s response to these attacks and how corruption is getting in the way of curbing Boko Haram. Baba Aye, thank you so much for being with us.

AYE: Thank you so much, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.