The Federal Government, yesterday, linked the Boko Haram insurgency to the 2015 presidential election, saying that this was because people fought for power each time elections were around the corner.
Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made this known in an interview conducted in her car with Reuters in Abuja as she headed to the airport en route New York on Sunday.
“There is no war…there is an insurgency. We are not in a Colombia situation,” she added, rejecting comparisons with Colombia which has, for decades, battled a major left-wing insurgency that often affected large swathes of its national territory.
“We tend to notice that when the electoral cycle comes in, all these things heat up. What we are going through now is democracy in raw form, because people are fighting for power and they will use anything to get there … and to win the election,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She said Boko Haram, which has raided schools, churches, government offices and security posts in their bid to carve out an Islamist enclave, mostly affected around five percent of the nation’s territory, the North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
But she acknowledged Boko Haram had shown it could strike further south. A bombing at a bus station this month killed at least 75 people in Nyanya, on the outskirts of Abuja, which is hosting a World Economic Forum on Africa next week.
The minister however, said that the Federal Government was working on strategic plans to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
According to her, the plans include recruitment of more people into the Armed Forces, increased spending to tackle the sect’s threat and a Marshall Plan for the northeast aimed at lifting the area out of poverty and underdevelopment.
She further said Boko Haram was receiving “cross-border” backing from supporters in Cameroon, Niger and Chad, pointing out that there were plans to cut off its financiers from other militant Islamic groups in the Sahel.
“We need to look at the source of this financing,” she said, stressing that President Goodluck Jonathan was working to obtain regional cooperation to remove Boko Haram’s support from Jihadi groups in the Sahel.
She said that although the impact of the five-year Boko Haram insurgency had cut half a percentage point off Nigeria’s GDP last year, it could be contained.
According to the minister, Nigeria had earlier halted insurgencies like attacks on oil facilities by Niger Delta militants in the past decade, noting that Boko Haram did not pose the same threat as the Biafran War that split the country from 1967-1970.
A mass abduction of teenage schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, by suspected Boko Haram gunmen this month has outraged Nigerians and raised fears that the insurrection, coupled with persistent inter-communal violence in the Middle Belt, could strain Nigeria’s unity.
However, the Minister said: “We recognize that this is an inclusion problem … the fact that the human development indicators in that part of the country are among the lowest,” and hoped that politicians would heed President Goodluck Jonathan’s appeal for unity.
“Everybody has now come together and said this is ridiculous, crazy, unacceptable, for our children to go to school and be sleeping in their beds at night and for some people to come and abduct them,” Okonjo-Iweala said, referring to the schoolgirls’ abduction in which hundreds are still missing. Nigeria as a nation will overcome this,” she added, even as she stressed that the government was working to obtain backing from donors for the programme.
Boko Haram’s attacks have stopped farmers from growing crops. Several thousand people were killed in the insurgency last year and at that rate it could hurt Nigeria’s GDP in 2014, which is estimated to grow by nearly seven per cent.
“We think we can absorb it, but of course, if like last year, it continues, then we have to make an estimate of the impact,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She added that investors are looking more closely at Nigeria since a GDP rebasing last month made it the continent’s largest economy ahead of South Africa did not appear to be turned off by the security challenges.
“Nobody who is making an investment has so far said they will not make one, that we know of,” she said. [Vanguard]