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Borno’s New Boko Haram-Loving Governor

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Babagana Umara Zulum, Borno State’s new governor, is shaping up to be a flippant,...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Babagana Umara Zulum, Borno State’s new governor, is shaping up to be a flippant, insensitive airhead, which is distressing given that the fact of his being a former professor had heightened expectations that he would be refreshingly different. In the midst of Boko Haram’s interminably murderous devastation of the state he has been elected to govern, he appealed to the federal government to not requite Boko Haram’s violence with violence.  

Even after admitting to State House correspondents on Wednesday that, “two, three days ago…about 40 people were killed [by Boko Haram] in Konduga,” he insisted that, “there is need for the Federal Government to also open other opportunities of bringing down the crisis rather than the kinetic force [sic]. It is also important for those people who have been forced to join the insurgency; if they are integrated into the society, I think this will be good.”

In other words, even though Boko has made it clear that it wants to conquer and dissolve the Nigerian state through the indiscriminate mass slaughter of everyone in its path, Governor Zulum nonetheless wants the federal government to mollycoddle its members and “integrate them into the society.” The downright callousness and buffoonery that that sort of reasoning betrays, especially from the governor of a Boko Haram-ravaged state, is unsettling.

In any case, that has been the strategy of the Buhari regime in the last four years. Buhari, who had said during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that the sustained military offensives against Boko Haram were “attacks” on the “North,” instructed that captured Boko Haram terrorists be “de-radicalized” and “reintegrated” into the society. Several of them were, in fact, recruited into the same military that has been fighting them.

The result of this perversely wrongheaded policy has been predictable: “deradicalized” Boko Haram members have infiltrated the military and have continually divulged military secrets to their still “underadicalized” members. That’s why it came as no surprise to me when it came to light that more soldiers have been murdered by Boko Haram during Buhari’s regime than at any time since the insurgency started. By many international estimates, in 2018 alone, more than 2,000 Nigerian soldiers were murdered by Boko Haram.

The statistics are getting even grimmer this year. No day passes without the mass murder of Nigerian soldiers on the front lines, which has prompted Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai to concede that Boko Haram is winning the war, although he coldheartedly attributed this to “insufficient commitment to a common national and military cause by those at the frontlines.”

Recall that honchos of the Buhari regime routinely claim, even in the face of manifestly contrary evidence, to have “defeated” Boko Haram. At other times, they insist that Boko Haram has now been so “degraded” that it now just attacks “soft targets.”  “Soft targets,” of course, is a stone-cold euphemism for poor people who, in the estimation of the Buhari regime, are inconsequential and worthless. To call victims of murderous terrorist brutality “soft targets” is to dehumanize them even in death.

Perhaps the worst insult to the memories of the thousands of soldiers and civilians who were slaughtered by Boko Haram in the last four years came from Buhari himself who told his cabinet members on May 22 that they should be “Proud [they] were part of a government that ended Boko Haram.” Ended Boko Haram? In which universe? That was sky-high presidential mendacity that was outrivaled in its perverseness only by its rank hard-heartedness.

A commander-in-chief on whose watch more soldiers are being killed than at any time in peacetime Nigeria, as a consequence of his obstinately boneheaded policy to pamper the enemy, went ahead to declare empty triumphalism even in the face of humiliating defeat, and a clueless rookie governor wants  even more of the same policies that have rendered Nigerian soldiers sitting ducks on the battle front. Why is there no outrage?

Zulum should be told that you can’t fight violent nihilists with “integration.” Buhari has already been doing that, and it has been disastrous. As I pointed out in a May 25, 2013 column, until the Nigerian government militarily conquers and contains Boko Haram, talks of giving them amnesty and reintegrating them into the society are not only premature but smack of cowardice. You have to speak the language of the enemy to communicate and reach an understanding with him. I once called this “Malcolm Xian logic.”

 On February 14, 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X addressed a crowd of supporters about the ironic communicative and dialogic utility of retaliatory violence. He was talking about the best way to confront the persistent violence of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist, negrophobic group that used terrorist tactics (including lynching and other kinds of extra-judicial murders) to intimidate and overawe American blacks. During the speech, he said:

“You can't ever reach a man if you don't speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can't come to him with peace. Why, good night! He'll break you in two, as he has been doing all along. If a man speaks French, you can't speak to him in German. If he speaks Swahili, you can't communicate with him in Chinese. You have to find out what does this man speak. And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he'll get the point. There'll be some dialogue, some communication, and some understanding will be developed.”

The only language Boko Haram terrorists speak and understand is the language of violence, and you can’t speak or dialogue with them with the language of peace and integration. It will never work. There will be a communication breakdown—the kind that would result if you speak Mandarin Chinese to a farmer in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. We have already seen evidence of that in the last four years.

Retaliatory or preventive violence doesn’t always eliminate violence, but it sometimes provides a, if not the, basis for the negotiation of the cessation of violence. That’s why Gandhi’s oft-quoted aphorism that “an eye for an eye will only leave the whole world blind” is not entirely accurate. It unduly pampers the aggressor, unfairly restrains the victim, and defeats the logic of proportionality of justice.

 A potential eye “plucker” may hold himself in check if he discovers that one eye “plucker” nearby has had his own eye plucked in retaliation. Freedom from the consequences of our action can encourage a repeat of the action. Boko Haram terrorists know that more than anyone does.

Plus, you can’t offer to forgive and “integrate” a vicious enemy who has—or thinks he has—an upper hand in a confrontation with you and who has not asked for and is certainly not interested in your offers. The federal government should first militarily subdue Boko Haram before it would be in a position to “deradicalize” and “reintegrate” its penitent members. To paraphrase Malcolm X, the Nigerian state has to understand and speak the language of Boko Haram. Then, there will be some dialogue, some communication, and hopefully some understanding.


  1. Thanks Prof. It couldn't have been said better. I wish those in government today will take the message & not condemn the messenger. This is the blunt truth

  2. Thanks Prof. It couldn't have been said better. I wish those in government today will take the message & not condemn the messenger. This is the blunt truth

  3. What you said about the governor is totally not true,and you dont know what is happening at the moment regarding the issue of boko haram in Borno state.Please respect yourself first before others will respect you.

  4. Hmmmm...BH understand Buhari's language but Buhari doesn't understand theirs!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. It couldn't have been better said. Boko Haram speaks brute and violence,the Nigerian state can't afford to speak anything else save violence, the language Boko Haram speaks and understand clearly..

  7. Are boko haram condemned forever?Sometimes the environment determines an individual's actions(fundamental attribution something, something...) Researchers have pondered the motivations of Nazis under Hitler.

    Dr. Fatima Akilu spoke to BBC Outlook about her work with terrorists. A reformed Al qaeda operative Aimen Dean helped prevent attacks by going under cover.

    Perhaps the governor knows of some repentant militants.

  8. Dr Akilu made some interesting observations

  9. You cant dialogue with terrorists. That has never worked and still it cant work now. Obama used Bin Laden's Doctor to get to him and killed him. So why cant FG devise intelligence means to defeat BH? Well i think the service chiefs are too tired, too old, have nothing to offer again and yet PMB have refused to get new brains to tackle insecurity in the land. Nigeria has tech savvies that has innovation on ground to end BH, but seems like an agenda to me.

  10. I think prof you are deliberately ignoring what is happening in the theatre of war in the NE. Despite the fact that they(BHT) some times don't be on the same page with FG but there's going to be light at the end of the tunnel by his grace. The FG is approaching them with carrot and sticks and it will definitely work despite the dounting challenges as it seems. I watched on both print and electronic media how the previous gov built many schools with internet, that will go a long way in mitigating what is happening in that state cos education is the key to open door to success.

  11. Dear prof, I read your write ups and comments from various readers.I salute your courage and perseverance,sir I would like you to also suggest to the FG that ,who are the sponsors of the Book Haram,and where are they getting their weapons? As prof mass communication, have studied in USA and still there.Hopping the war that engulfed over 30 thousand people and displaced over 2 million people will come to an end.

  12. If the Federal Government would take the trouble of sincerely going into unearthing the cladenstine sponsors of Boko Haram, it'd be horrified to find many Borno and Yobe state politicians implicated.

  13. If the Federal Government would take the trouble of sincerely going into unearthing the cladenstine sponsors of Boko Haram, it'd be horrified to find many Borno and Yobe state politicians implicated.


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