A chilling countdown has begun, with all eyes glued on May 31, the date fixed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to launch Operation Barbarossa. "The bombings of mosques, hajj camps, Islamic institutions, large congregations in Islamic events and assassination of clerics that propagate doctrines of hate will form the core mission of this crusade," its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said in an e-mailed statement. The motive, according to the militant group, is "to save Christianity in Nigeria from annihilation."
It is intriguing that the group claimed it was speaking "on behalf of the hapless Christian population in Nigeria." Clearly, the immediate questions raised by this posture are: Who made MEND protector of the Christian faithful? What are the group's credentials qualifying it to play the self-assigned defensive role? What is the basis for the premise that the Christian faith is in grave danger? Why is Islam the target of the planned campaign?
Certainly, it is more than a coincidence that MEND spoke out following the dramatic rejection by Abubakar Shekau of the idea of a governmental amnesty for Boko Haram, the Islamist group terrorising the northern part of the country. The leader of the religious fundamentalists stunned the Federal Government, arguing that his group had done no wrong, and that it was the government that should be considered for pardon.
Inspired by an unrealistic dream to Islamise the country and enthrone sharia, Boko Haram has become increasingly radical since 2009, and its terror tactics has resulted in a reported death toll of 10,000 victims. In its reign of terror, the group has been particularly hard on churches, a fact that helps to put MEND's reasoning into perspective.
However, it is not difficult to detect an opportunistic angle in MEND's new-found love for Christianity. Before the announcement of Operation Barbarossa, there was Hurricane Exodus by which the group resumed open hostilities this month against the government, prompted by the trial and imprisonment of its leader, Henry Okah, in South Africa, on charges related to terror acts carried out by the group in Nigeria. True to its threat, the group claimed responsibility for the killing of 12 policemen on the waterways of Azuzuama in Bayelsa State, and the destruction of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited Well 62 at Ewellesuo community, also in Bayelsa.
Now that the reversal triggered by Okah's fate has been expanded to accommodate what is obviously conceived as a counter-punch against Boko Haram, the development casts a reasonable doubt on the group's actual motive and the sincerity of its pro-Christian campaign. It is instructive that the group named Okah among those who could intervene to arrest the operation. Will he do this from jail? Also, it is noteworthy that the group clarified the status of Hurricane Exodus, saying that it is on-going and would be carried out side by side with Operation Barbarossa.
If MEND gives bite to its threat, the consequence will be a balance of terror. It remains to be seen, though, whether such development would tame Boko Haram. It is indeed remarkable that MEND was itself a beneficiary of governmental amnesty and its renewed insurgency demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the pardon approach as a deterrent for champions of terror.
For the government, this is, without doubt, a case of double jeopardy; and the situation will certainly put it under immense pressure as it struggles to find solutions. Dubious self-help, which is what MEND's move represents concerning the Boko Haram challenge, is definitely out of the question. Equally defective is the government’s insistence on considering amnesty for Boko Haram, which has rubbished the thought.
There is no escaping the fact that the government will have to address the security challenges with all the creativity that it can summon. However, in the final analysis, nothing succeeds like good governance, with all the positive implications for political and socio-economic development. That is the way the government should go.