Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Ideals and principles are some two very interesting concepts which are not bad of themselves. It is therefore quite interesting to note that northern Nigeria is a society which harps quite strongly on some fundamental religious principles and ideals. The predominant language which is Hausa has a lot of derivatives from the Arabic language, and so it is not strange to say that Islam is the core religion of this society. Albeit dedicated proponents of Islam say that it is a religion of peace, and I do not disagree because I have seen a lot of them and lived among some. They can be quite nice and very peace-loving. With this background already established, it is pertinent to point out that to every principle and ideal, interpretation is always a key factor and where you have the balanced perspectives, you cannot run away from the fact that there will also be divergent views which could border on the extreme. Put in drama parlance, at this point enters the Boko-Haram sect. There have been various religious sects in northern Nigeria over time and there are still many more which hold very strong and extreme views up to the point of radicalization.
Before we go on, it would be quite helpful to interpret the word ‘Boko-Haram’ for those who do not speak Hausa or anything close to Arabic. It means ‘Western education is an abomination’. The sect accuses western education as the principal factor behind the ills currently experienced in the society, and they advocate a return to the tenets of ‘basic Islamic education’ such as is common in ‘medrasas’ or Arabic schools in northern Nigeria. Boko-Haram is only one of many sects but one that has distinguished itself over the last two years as a pain the side for governments of key northern states in Nigeria, and in turn the Federal government. In putting this together, I would be writing with an insider perspective, especially having lived in Maiduguri the capital of Borno, a major state in northern Nigeria for a whole year and this happens to be the core base of the radical sect. I must mention that the Boko-Haram sect is not a new one, because it has been around for sometime in excess of six years but until now it has been managed as an in-house issue. Reliable sources say that they have had cause to parley with the government at different times allowing for some compromise over the years and that effectively kept the whole issue under check.
The above, I had to mention in all fairness to them, because they have not always been this violent and that is why a large percentage of interested parties in this whole issue have not heard about them until very recently. Whilst the finest details of the ‘Government-Radical Sect’ parley are not totally known, it must be mentioned that the recognised leader of the sect, a man named Mallam Mohammed Yusuf had been invited for questioning by government agents at different times, and later let of the hook after some lengthy quiz. He was also said to have been warned at different times and his activities were monitored. All of these went on until the group felt that the government had reneged on some of their agreement and in their view, it had wholly embraced the dictates of western education. They felt it was an action that had led to the ‘fast declining moral standards in the society’, one which was unacceptable. After a couple of skirmishes which some members of the sect had with the authorities more especially, the police as regards issues like: compulsorily putting on helmets, double standards and corruption, they declared all-out war. In principle, they also defined their targets being the police, soldiers and any other proponent of the government of the day. They kept assuring members of the public, the fight was not against civilians but against the government, so technically barring accidents any other persons could go about their activities without fear. An explanation, they seemed to have stuck too not regarding a few who began to interpret it as a war against people of other faiths, something you can never discount when issues such as this arise.
All of these continued, and finally got to a head in June, 2009 when the whole issue degenerated in to a full-scale riot that spread across at least five states in northern Nigeria, namely Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Borno and Kano. For close to ten days, there were real blood-shed and heavy casualties on both sides. According to the news, it was common sight to encounter body piles scattered across the various cities especially Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, where the leader of the sect was based and their battle strategy marshalled from. Not quite long, the leader was captured and in no time the uprising came to an abrupt end. If this was a victory for the government and for ‘peace’, it was soon to turn sour by the very despicable style of crisis management shown by the authorities. Less than two days after arresting the sect leader, rumours filtered out that Mallam Mohammed Yusuf had been murdered in cold-blood, the subject of a gory and most unreasonable extra-judicial killing. Pictures flew around on mobile phones of captions while he was arrested alive, and now shots taken of his bullet-ridden body. The blame game began, with soldiers accusing the police of carrying out the killing, because they had taken him alive and handed him over to the police for prosecution. The police did not have much to say in their own defence, possibly with the thought that this would just be another case swept under the carpet, at least the target had been eliminated and seemingly sanity had returned.
Anyone who could study these trends would have known that definitely the issue was far from over, and there was bound to be reprisal attacks. Some human rights groups protested against the killing, but it all largely went unheralded. The group trailed off for almost a year, launching a few attacks here and there, but that was all that was there to their names for that period. For neutral people who thought that was the end, they had something else coming. The sect regrouped and declared total war, this time around, not just on the government but a wide range of targets which included schools, churches, clerics who spoke out against them, families they had issues with and a whole lot of others. All of these they carried out in their crude manners largely until after Nigeria’s Independence Day bombing which suddenly made them tech-savvy. They realised that they could also introduce the use of bombs with much farther-reaching consequences and that was the point the whole issue blew out of proportion. Now it is not news anymore to hear of an average of four bombs going off on a weakly basis. Scary you would say, but that exactly is what the situation looks like at the moment, not forgetting that even the police headquarters car park was fire-bombed and I even heard of a church that was attacked on the same street that housed the offices of the state security service in Borno state.
Two wrongs they say never make a right. The government has a fair share in the blame, so does the radical sect. The question therefore arises “how do you deal with a sect which says it is fighting the cause of its god and death is an inevitable option?” The dilemma remains to negotiate or to fight them in return. Which would be the most reasonable option? The answer remains to be seen, but the world is growing restless at the number of innocent citizens falling prey and the United Nations is being constantly questioned about the state of events going on in Nigeria. One solution would be to engage the use of effective intelligence by the security services to get to the root of this issue which some have also tied to the fall-outs of the April general elections. Whatever it is, the unanimous chant is that this whole madness must stop and everyone who could do something had better gotten involved while the chance remains else we might soon be sharing a different story, a tipping point many would prefer we stayed away from.