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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Azorka Boys and Bamba Boys: the coming Boko Haram in Ghana?

Residents pass by a burning police headquarters in Kano
Residents pass by a burning police headquarters in Kano
The Azorka Boys and the Bamba Boys have not yet become Boko Haram (i.e. terrorist group). At the moment they are still obediently taking orders from their political masters and being fed with the crumbs that fall from the tables of their NDC and NPP financial and logistical backers. But anyone with critical eyes will agree with me that Azorka Boys and the Bamba Boys have all the hallmarks and characteristics of Boko Haram.

The transformation of Boko Haram from obscure religious sect into a force that now threatens to disintegrate Nigeria is a topic that has engaged the attention of many terrorism and counterterrorism experts in West Africa, Europe and the United States. In less than ten years Boko Haram has transitioned from an unknown force structure to a prominent and vital part of the global network of terrorism with capabilities to strike anywhere in Nigeria with no difficulties. Boko Haram now threatens to annihilate not only the social, economic and political foundation of Nigeria but also the country’s ten year constitutional order.

On Friday the 20th of January Boko Haram members placed several bombs in key locations in the city of Kano and detonated the bombs, which were accompanied by shootings with security forces. More than 211 people lost their lives making it one of the bloody days in the history of 'democratic' Nigeria. In addition to the Kano bombings, the Boko Haram terrorists have been behind a series of bombings in Nigeria including the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja on Friday 26th August 2011; the Damaturu and Maiduguri attacks which occurred on 4th November 2011; the Christmas day bombing on 25th December 2011 that killed 41 and injured more than 57 people; the 5th and 6th January 2012 assaults on churches and businesses in the cities of Maiduguri, Gombi, Mubi, and Yola that killed more than 37 people; and the Easter bombing of 8th April 2012 which killed more than 38 people.

Many of the group’s terror activities have been directed against state institutions and Christians and their houses of worship. By deliberately targeting churches and Christians the terror group hopes to aggravate the religious polarisation in the country and to ignite a sectarian warfare that will ultimately cause Nigeria to implode.

But the violence that has engulfed Nigeria is not limited only to the north. In the South of the country especially in the oil producing region of Niger Delta, a petro-dollar armed insurgency has been going on for years. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and other ethnic militia groups and criminal networks operate freely with the style of American gangsterism: robbing civilians, kidnapping oil workers for ransom, bunkering oil, attacking oil and gas installations, pirating cargo ships in the Gulf of Guinea and murdering rivals of their political masters.

In 1982 Chinua Achebe noted in his book “The Trouble with Nigeria” that General Olusegun Obasanjo before handing over as Head of State of the coup that brought Murtala Mohammed into power, predicted that Nigeria would be counted among the “ten leading nations in the world by the end of the [20th] century” but that prediction was never to be. Instead the country descended into chaos, then into crisis, and has ultimately become a failed state. In other words things have fallen apart and there are fears that Nigeria may disintegrate altogether.

Professor Wole Soyinka, in a BBC interview, described members of the Boko Haram group as not lawyers, bankers, engineers, or doctors; but rather people schooled in the Islamic madrassas in Kano, Kaduna and Maiduguri in the north of the country; then employed by the northern elite who supplied them with arms and other weapons to cause mischief and mayhem. Along the line the Boko Haram boys grew powerful until their handlers could not control them anymore.

But members of Boko Haram also realised that they had been misused by their political and economic masters and decided to demand a share of the cake that the elites have stolen from the people of Nigeria. When the masters refused, the Boys joined forces and with the support of Al Qaeda metamorphosed into a radical movement i.e. Boko Haram. They however, continued to receive the backing and support of the northern elite who are still bent on using violence to maintain and control the country. In November some senior figures of the Nigerian political class including Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume were arrested after it was discovered that they had met and supported Boko Haram.

In January 2012 President Goodluck Jonathan announced that members of his own government were supporters and sympathisers of the Boko Haram terror group. It was a child-cry that did not surprise anyone who is familiar with corruption and political patronage in Nigeria. In fact some experts believe that Boko Haram is both a project and a product of the corrupt political and economic system that has been allowed to fester since the 1960s. It is a project developed and used by the corrupt political and economic elites to advance their political and economic interests and ambitions to the neglect of the country called Nigeria. At the same time the violence that has come to be associated with Boko Haram is both a product and a response to the corrupt political and economic system that allows the rulers to deny the poor masses their share of the national cake.

In the south of the country unscrupulous politicians, using stolen oil money, pay thugs to cause mayhem, steal ballot boxes, disrupt voting exercises and cause destruction to life and property. Nigerian politicians of all colours hire unemployed youth as political hit squads and assassins to kill and disorganise the political machinery of their opponents. The Area Boys, as they are popularly known in Nigeria, are provided with guns and money (stolen from the state coffers) to attack their political opponents. Afterwards these same guns are used to rob oil tankers, kidnap oil workers for ransom and to terrorise the population.

In Ghana I can see similar pattern being fashioned out by the ruling NDC with their Azorka Boys and the opposition NPP with their Bamba Boys. In Ghana it is common knowledge that the Azorka Boys and the Bamba Boys are not men of any magnanimity or good behaviour.

Like the Boko Haram group in northern Nigeria, the Tamale based Azorka Boys and Bamba Boys are no lawyers, doctors, or engineers. They are known to be violent and lawless thugs who are paid by their power hungry political masters to criminally cause mayhem and disturb the peace of Ghanaians before and during elections.

Like their counterparts in Nigeria, the Azorka Boys and the Bamba Boys follow orders given by their NDC and NPP pay masters. The ruthless tactics used by these Boys and the political support they enjoy in the NDC and NPP are no different from those used in southern Nigeria. During elections they are supplied with all kinds of weapons by their masters to undermine the integrity of political processes in the country. The behaviour of these Boys during the Akwatia by-election and the 2008 elections are clear examples of the threat they pose to the security architecture of Ghana.

The Boys have not yet become Boko Haram (i.e. terrorist group). At the moment they are still obediently taking orders from their political masters and being fed with the crumbs that fall from the tables of their NDC and NPP financial and logistical backers. But anyone with critical eyes will agree that the Azorka Boys and the Bamba Boys have all the hallmarks and characteristics of Boko Haram.

Is it by accident that the Azorka Boys as a group is based in the north? Is it also coincidental that majority of the Bamba Boys, if not all of them, belong to a certain religious order? The question that security analysts are grappling with is: will the Azorka Boys and Baba Boys evolve into Boko Haram in Ghana? The answer is a strong yes.

At the moment the politico-socio-economic problems in Ghana particularly in the north have created a fertile condition and all that these violent, lawless and ruthless thugs need is a radical person who will indoctrinate and radicalise them with dangerous jihadists’ ideologies and philosophies and turned them into bombs and killing machines as Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria.

Some of the conditions that is likely to turn the Boys into bombs and killings machines include the extreme poverty and inequality in northern part of Ghana; the massive illiteracy in the three northern regions, the neglect of the northern youth by corrupt and insensitive government; massive unemployment faced by the frustrated and restless northern youth that has sparked migration to cities in the south and the poor and failing educational system that offer little or no skills to graduates. Others are the massive corruption on the part of the elite class i.e. politicians, top civil servants, judges; the politics based on ethnocentric, tribalistic, jihadists, and highly inflammable language; the use of these boys by the politicians to fuel the northern conflicts and most importantly the NPP and NDC penchant use of the violent Azorka and Baba Boys to achieve political power.

Given these conditions the Boys can easily be exploited by Al Qaeda linked terror groups to destabilise Ghana just as they have used Boko Haram to do in Nigeria.

By engaging the Boys to commit acts of violence on their behalf, the NDC and NPP are slowly sowing seeds that will one day germinate into terrorism and militancy in Ghana. The already violence nature of the Azorka and Bamba Boys makes their transition to become horsemen of apocalypse very easy. In other words the country risks being infested with the Nigerian disease i.e. terrorism, militancy, instability, anarchy and disorder if the use of violent thugs by the NDC and NPP is not discontinued.

However, there is opportunity to prevent Ghana from going the path of Nigeria. One key solution is for the NDC and NPP to dismantle these lawless groups and also disarm all of them, give them productive and employable skills, find jobs for them and turn them into useful human beings rather than violent machines. It is in the long term interest of Ghana and indeed both the NDC and NPP that the threat posed by the Boys is eliminated before it becomes an albatross around our neck. And who said there cannot be politics without violence?

By Lord Aikins Adusei,

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