#YIssueOfTheWeek: Is the South really safe from Boko Haram?

by Mark Amaza

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But how safe is the South really from Boko Haram? Is it because they cannot attack anywhere there or because they have not chosen to?

For the past five years that Nigeria has battled terrorism since the emergence of the Boko Haram terrorist organization, all the attacks have been in the North. The three North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have been under emergency rule for a year now, and most of the 19 Northern states and the Federal Capital Territory has experienced an attack or two.

Luckily and thankfully enough, no attack has taken place in the Southern part of the country. As a matter of fact, the most Southernmost attack took place near Okene in Kogi State in December 2012 and that was claimed by Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram that has by far fewer attacks.

The relative safety of the South has made a lot of people there to believe that they were covered by some immunity to the terrorism that is plaguing our nation. Many times, they are detached from what is going on because it seems to be only news on TV and in the press from a land far away. They have not experienced what is going on and as such, they cannot relate to it.

Many times, I have conversations with people in the South where they even display some braggadocio about the terrorists not being able to operate there. Someone remarked last week that the terrorists are not bold enough to operate outside “their area”, which is the North. I regularly get implored upon to move to Lagos and “be safe”.

But how safe is the South really from Boko Haram? Is it because they cannot attack anywhere there or because they have not chosen to?

I am more inclined to go with the latter, that there has been terrorist attack because the terrorists have not desired to. I have been to the South numerous times, and frankly, I have not seen anything special being done in the name of security that will prevent a terrorist attack. In fact, the environment is by far more relaxed than many cities in the North with checkpoints all over and always being checked for weapons with a metal detector as one is entering buildings or churches.

Save for intelligence, it is impossible to identify a suspected terrorist from within a community. This is because they can be as harmless-looking as your next-door neighbor; they blend in as often as possible, and sadly, many times, their presence is only made known when they carry out an attack.

This is not to say that I am wishing for an attack in the South – as a matter of fact, that is about my worst nightmare. This is because it is very likely to spark reprisals that will end up with totally innocent people falling victims, when you hear groups like the O’odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and Afenifere telling Boko Haram that they are ready for them if they ever carry out an attack in Lagos. An attack by Boko Haram in the South-South that is still dealing with a militancy problem can likely cause reprisals.  This, added to the fact that there is a great misunderstanding of what is driving this insurgency, makes such an attack likely to tip us into tit-for-tat clashes across the country and a possible civil war.

Not only that, an attack in a place such as Lagos will cause severe damage to the Nigerian economy, as it is the economic nerve centre of the country. The bulk of Nigeria’s economy has been unaffected by the crisis as the main economic production centres in the South have not experienced any terrorist attack, thankfully.

That said, it is important for the South to be as vigilant as the North which has been falling victim to attacks. It should not take the relative calm it is enjoying for granted and consider itself impregnable to these mindless terrorists. Security agencies in the region must not let themselves be caught off-guard by these merchants of death.

Hopefully, Nigeria will end terrorism in due time without the terrorists expanding their sphere of bloodshed.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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