A Critical Appraisal of the Boko Haram Insurgence

Note: This is not an attempt to justify the Boko Haram insurgence which I and many other Muslim maintain is a transgression of the limits set by Islam. It is rather an attempt to understand the genesis behind the violent orgies perpetrated by the group that is claiming innocent lives by the day, preventing peaceful coexistence and threatening the whole of Nigerian national security and unity.

Boko Haram started in 2002 as a peaceful Islamic splinter group that nurtured a controversial ideology against western education. The group never called itself Boko Haram but was named by the public and given a raving attention by the Nigerian media when the sect leader Muhammad Yusuf declared and propagated that boko (western education) was haram (sacrilegious). Among the reasons he gave were some theories he regarded as contradictory to the principles of Islam. An example is the theory human evolution found in western science books which excluded the divine hands of God in the creation of man and the universe. This, he explained opposed a fundamental principle of Islam which holds God as the omnipotent creator of the universe and all it contains. Other reason he sighted was the immorality that youths commonly engage in at western schools such as semi naked dressing, fornication, alcoholism and substance abuse etc. He also castigated the western education system as being deficient in solving the issue of joblessness among the Nigerian youths but rather robs them of the time needed to skill themselves in non white collar jobs.

His ideology was challenged by many Islamic scholars including his former teachers who regarded the western education as a thorny tree that has its good and bad side but maintained that Islam allows and encourages the quest for knowledge in its entire ramification. Although attempt to bring him to order by these scholars fell on deaf ears, he continued to lure many, especially the youth, who were mostly shackled by the bondage of escalating poverty and joblessness. Many were said to have dropped out of schools and took to menial jobs and trading. Many tore their school certificate although in an interview with BBC Hausa, he denounced the allegation of ever telling any of his members to discard their certificate.

The sect continued to propagate their ideology and also called for the creation of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. They continued to operate as a benign and non violent group until when the police killed a number of its members (about 14) during a funeral procession on the flimsy ground of not using a helmet.

The sect leader wrote series of letter to the Borno state government and the Borno commissioner of police. He called for the compensation of the family of victims killed extrajudiciously by the police during the funeral procession. He followed his letter with practical visits to the police but all appeal fell on deaf ears. He then called severally to the IG of police and the Yar’Adua administration to intervene but to date, nothing was done to the culprits.

He began to send threat to the government and the police. He castigated the Yar’Adua government in an out and called Yar’Adua an oppressor and declared the government as unjust. For those Muslim leaders and scholar who opposed his threat against the government, he declared them as hypocrite and even declared some as unbelievers. He and his member began to arm themselves while receiving support from many who sympathized with them and had grievance against the jungle justice of the Nigerian police. He was said to have received sympathy even by some non Muslims who were alleged to have bailed him out on some occasions that he was detained by the police on the ground of perceived breach of peace due to his threats to the Yar’Adua governement.

According to Dr. Aliyu Tilde “Possession of arms is a crime, a serious one for that matter, because if for any reason all the 165 million Nigerians will resort to possessing firearms, then there will be endless bloodshed that will not appease God in anyway. Government owes other citizens the responsibility to check the group. In checking any such excesses, however, government should have followed the law and respect the fundamental rights of citizens. It can arrest and charge BH leaders and members with treason, possession of firearms, etc. But Yar’Adua regime did none of these; instead, it chose to exterminate the group. Had government adopted due process and patiently abided by it throughout its conflict with the group, things wouldn’t have reached this level. But it chose to err first, and its error compelled the group to adopt the dangerous strategy of operating underground.

Dr. Aliyu further said “Let us not forget the “finish them” order that President Yar’Adua gave to the security forces that morning when he was leaving for Brazil. In fact, he even timed it that by 4.00pm that day, the job must have been completed. In Maiduguri, Government went for total extermination of the group without recourse to any due process. The world was witness to how their centre was leveled by soldiers; Muhammad Yusuf, their leader, was executed(see Transcript of Muhammad Yusuf’s interrogation); Muhammad Foi, a former member of Sheriff’s cabinet, was executed on the street after his arrest”

Muhammad Fugu, the father in-law of Muhammad Yusuf who never part of the group was declared wanted by the police. He brought himself willingly to the police station where he was killed on the spot without any interrogation but for simply being a relative to Muhammad Yusuf’s wife. The police and the military went about killing anyone that resembled their members to the extent that people started shaving their beards en masse; etc. A senior police officer was reported in the press saying that he cannot guarantee the life of anyone wearing such features. So many were arrested along with their wives. They remain in prison to date without trial. Extermination is still the strategy of government in dealing with the group. Video footage of Mr. Yusuf’s extrajudicial muder soon went viral, but no one was tried and punished for the crime.

When the group protested at a police station in Bauchi did not actually necessitate an all-out war against it. In Bauchi, it was estimated that over seventy members of the group were massacred at their centre behind the airport. Apparently, they were even unaware of the conflict at Dutsen Tanshi police station that started that morning. By evening, the state commissioner for special duties led a team of government agents that leveled the centre with bulldozers. Passengers at the Yankari Park in Bauchi also witnessed how eight unarmed members were arrested and killed instantly by soldiers as they were boarding a bus to Maiduguri. The governor, Isa Yuguda, would later claim credit for the “decisive way” in which his government dealt with the group in his state.

The world condemned the actions of the authorities on the highhandedness they showed. The government apologized to the United Nations after it was condemned for the human right abuses, promising that it will bring the perpetrators to book. Actually, it did nothing. No disciplinary action was taken against anyone until when Boko Haram bombed the Police Headquarters in Abuja in 2010. Two police officers were then reportedly dismissed from service for the murder of the Boko Haram leader.

Since the government chose to negotiate with bullets and bombs, Boko Haram therefore went underground. It took time to heal its wounds, regroup and re-strategize before returning to revenge what Imam Shekau described as the “the injustice meted against it”. Seeking revenge, Boko Haram targeted the police, the military and local politicians

When it reappeared in 2010, Boko Haram started to selectively kill people that assisted the authorities in identifying them. The initial victims were grassroots traditional rulers- all of them Muslims, the lawanis as they are called in Borno. Among the high profile killings made in this category were those of the junior brother to the Shehu of Borno, the state chairman of the ruling party in the state and its gubernatorial candidate during the last elections. After killing the first few, Boko Haram issued a warning that it will go after all those that aided the authorities in persecuting them. These included a number of ulama, traditional rulers, and the three governors of Borno, Gombe and Bauchi states. It demanded pubic apologies from the governors and got it from the last two.

Immediately the group started its selective killings, the ulama realized their vulnerability and none of them dared again to condemn the group publicly or repeat to assign it the Kharijite nomenclature. At a point, Boko Haram also issued a warning that they will also go against anyone who publicly condemns its activities, including journalists who do not live by the ethics of their profession in reporting it’s activities.

The very day their massacre started in 2009, the Bauchi State government sought and obtained from the ulama in the town a fatwa which served as a license for authorities to kill Boko Haram members without recourse to justice. Only the most elderly sheikh in town opined differently, insisting that in Islam no soul should be killed without a ruling from a judge. That is why some of the ulama fled the country when Boko Haram staged a return the following year. The governor too has abandoned the Government House and practically relocated to Abuja since he received the death threat.

The government has been unable to protect its informants and other citizens from these attacks. This partially explains the silence of the Muslim community over Boko Haram.

Whatever the case, None of this excuses Boko Haram’s killing of innocents. The group has swayed off the mark and has gone too far when it considered criticisms as attack. By so doing, they instill fear in the population and loose public sympathy. Appeal to its members to put down its weapons and negotiate with government and they will rebut in this standard format: “How can we trust any negotiation with people who are amassing arsenal to attack us”

Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York had this to say “Instead, approximately 25 percent of Nigeria’s budget for 2012 is allocated for security, even though the military and police routinely respond to attacks with indiscriminate force and killing. Indeed, according to many Nigerians I’ve talked to from the northeast, the army is more feared than Boko Haram. Influential Nigerians from Maiduguri, where Boko Haram is centered, pleaded with Mr. Jonathan’s government in June and July not to respond to Boko Haram with force alone” (Read her full article here Boko Haram is not the Problem)

There is nothing, once said the UN Secretary-General after the bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja last year, which cannot be amicably resolved through dialogue. The government has to accept full responsibility and start a genuine process of reconciliation and rehabilitation. The Muslim society as whole must continue to condemn this baseless killings and check the activities of extremists – mainly youths who lack the wisdom to see things in different shades. They need to be guided accordingly by leaders of their sects and relevant authorities. Otherwise, they will continue drifting away from the centre until they reach a point where they dream of a whole world drowned in an ocean of human blood. Certainly, this will not please God who has described Himself as the Most Merciful.

By Dialog NG

Excerpts from “The New Challenges of Boko Haram” by Dr. Aliyu Tilde and “Boko Haram is not the problem” By Hean Herskovits Published: January 2, 2012

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20 thoughts on “A Critical Appraisal of the Boko Haram Insurgence

  1. Pingback: A Critical Appraisal of the Boko Haram « MuhdLawal

  2. As I have mentioned in the beginning, this is not an attempt to exonerate the BH group or its off the mark senseless killings. Whenever the embers of hatred are rekindled and blood shedding is let loose, only God will know its bounds. So it will not auguer well for anybody, indeed anybody, to allow it but lets us bring to mind certain circumstances that makes me insist the government and its security forces have a large share of responsibility in instigating this catastrophic menace that has put everyone on edge

    Muhammad Fugu the father in-law to Muhammad Yusuf was said to have opposed Muhammad Yusuf’s sects, his ideologies and his proposed plans of revenge against govt and its security so much so that he once demanded yusuf to divorce his wife (Fugu’s daughter) and bring her back home. But the police went ahead without any fact or evidence of proof and gunned down fugu despite the fact that fugu brought him to their custody without any resistance when he heard he was declared wanted. That was led to the FG to compensate the family about 100 M last year. Now that is for fugu. But there are others families whose relatives have been in detention for years and months despite not having any link with the BH group or its activity but simply because they have marital ties or blood relationship with a sect member whose ideology they even opposed.

    Someone was telling me about a man interviewed over the radio after the bombing orgy in Kano. The interviewed guy happened to be in detention in one of the police station at kano. He said news got to the station that some of the police stations were bombed by unknown gunmen, immediately the police at that station heard they began to flee s. The gunmen later attacked the station and ensure that every police was dispersed or killed. They then began to go shoot at the bolts in the cell and released the entire inmate. They supply those who wanted to join them with arms, and release those who wanted to go. They even gave money to some as transport fare to help them escape home. This goes to show that there are people who were never part of BH at its inception but are joining the group by day with a promise by the BH to help them set their relatives free from police custody if the join in the unsuspected attacks against the security

  3. The issue of church bombings has been very dicey and too controversial for anybody to comprehend let alone conclude for the following reasons

    1. The SSS has shared with the public the involvement of some Christians in the church bombings linked to Boko haram. Sometime last year, a Christian woman went to her own parish Church in Bauchi and tried to set it ablaze due to grievance she had with the church. Again, recently, a Christian man, dressed in Muslim garb, went to burn down a Church in Bayelsa. In Plateau State, a man purported to be a Christian was arrested while trying to bomb a Church. Armed men gunned down a group of Christians meeting in a Church and now it turned out that those who have been arrested and under interrogation are in fact not Muslims and that the story is more of an internal crisis. All this were initially linked to boko. This has made it difficult for anyone to nail them over some of the church attacks.

    2. Even if boko haram was involved in any church killings, any sane and knowledgeable muslim will tell you that collective punishment to Christians is not only a transgression of the limits set by Islam but it is totally haram. The group has sited reasons for its grievance with CAN like the brutal killings of Muslims in various parts of Kaduna and Plateau State since the Kafanchan crisis. They mentioned how Muslims were killed in the various crises with video and eyewitness evidence of hows ome group of Christians in plateaus state were eating the flesh of murdered Muslims, their women subjected to dehumanizing treatments. The worse ones are the reported trafficking of children of victims and the sex-slavery of Muslim women, did not receive any condemnation from Christians or their leaders. Government also declined to prosecute perpetrators clearly identified by their victims, despite the availability of hardcore evidence like pictures, videos, etc. Silence over such atrocities by Christians, their support for the perpetrators or their manipulation of public opinion in the Christian-dominated media to shift blame to the victims may have generated this grievance. But even then our learned ulamas will tell you that the sharia judgement does not justify the killing of even innocent plateaus Christians talk less of innocent Christian elsewhere who were mostly clueless about the events in Jos and Kaduna. Killing of innocent t Christians only exposes Muslims to retaliatory attacks in the communities where they are a minority, thus feeding the vicious mill of violent bloodshed.

    3. Other things that boggle the mind is why Madalla, Yola, Gombe and Mubi. The ratio of Christians to muslim in Maiduguri is almost 50:50. There is a place called jerusalem in Maiduguri that has more of Christians of both northern and southern origin than either kanuri or hausa Muslims residents. Why didn’t boko haram attack the Christians in their domain? The church attacks only made them loose public sympathy even from Muslims as evidenced by the sudden turn of events that followed those attack like the case of Muslim groups, in both Northern and Southwestern parts of the country, have started visiting Christians in Churches, expressing their support for living in their communities. Some have even taken the extra-measure to give protection to churches on Sunday.

  4. Opinion of Muhammad Qaddam Sidq

    To be fair necessarily entails being objective in addressing any issue no matter how much generally stereotyped. So, in as much as the violent campaign of Boko Haram is completely unjustifiable, some of the theoretical aspects of their mission deserve consideration. Ironically, Boko Haram as an organization is also a victim of its own miscalculated adventure to engage in violence in the first place, because it blocked its own chance of being listened to, understood, possibly accepted or at least tolerated.

    Though the general stereotype about them and their mission is to abolish Boko i.e. western education in its entirety in Muslim societies, this is not the whole reality. But as I have just pointed out, due to their obvious intellectual deficiency, they are unable to articulate their mission intellectually.

    The huge mutual misunderstanding between Boko Haram and the public was reflected in the widely circulated brief recorded video clip in which some police officers were shown interrogating the Boko Haram’s late leader; Mohammad Yusuf before they extra judicially killed him. During the said interrogation, the police asked him to explain why he claimed that Boko was a sin i.e. Haram, while he (as their leader) used all products made as s result of Boko, citing the cloth he (i.e. Mohammad Yusuf) was wearing and a few other technological products he was using.

    His arguments though not articulated enough during the interrogation, were to the effect that, contrary to their misconception, such things they had cited were not products of Boko instead they were products of knowledge, which is obviously much wider than Boko. And that, science and technology are not necessarily parts of Boko, instead they are parts of knowledge which could be learned from any source possible and disseminated accordingly.

    The police also argued that, Islam encouraged knowledge seeking, but Mr. Yusuf replied that not any knowledge Islam encouraged its adherents to seek. He went ahead to cite sorcery, which was a knowledge but is Haram i.e. prohibited for Muslims to acquire. It was obvious that, despite Yusuf’s deficient Islamic knowledge, the police interrogator though also a Muslim was not his match anyway, which explains why a police officer’s voice (possibly the same interrogator) was heard terminating the interrogation, after which Mohammad Yusuf was apparently showered with bullets.

    The bottom line is that, Boko Haram never claims that western education is prohibited per se, instead their argument is that, whatever knowledge be it western or eastern or whatever that contradicts what Islam maintains is prohibited for Muslims to learn and disseminate. However, due to the prevailing socio-political, cultural and historical circumstances in Nigeria, in addition to the fact that almost the entire educational system and contents particularly that relate to socio-political and economic aspects of life and academic activities emanated from the west, the whole system came to be known as western education i.e. Boko amongst particularly the Hausas.

    It is however noteworthy that, in as much as there are of course some theories which contradict Islamic principles in Boko, they aren’t that many to warrant abolishing the entire system, let alone engage in violence to get it abolished.

    After all, all over the world, there are individual and institutional initiatives by various Muslim individuals and organizations aimed at refining the contents of knowledge from wrong theories in particularly natural and social science fields. People like the erudite Indian jurist Dr. Zaker Naik and respected Turkish scholar Haroun Yahya are some of the most prominent individuals, who address this issue. They also tour the world to deliver public lectures, and their published books, audio, video and online speeches are all over the world.

    As a matter of fact, it is right in the United States of America that a whole international organization committed to this course is based. Headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, the organization; International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), proudly adopts (Towards Islamization of Knowledge and Reform of Islamic Thought) as its mission and slogan. And it maintains branches and affiliate organizations in various countries in particularly Europe, Asia and Africa. Its office in Nigeria (as far as I know) is within the premises of BUK old campus.

    Moreover international conferences are held in different parts of the world to highlight the inherent compatibility between all scientifically substantiated natural and social scientific theories and relevant Islamic theories, in most cases to the astonishment of the particularly non Muslim scientists and thinkers.

    Therefore, the phenomenon of subjecting some generally accepted natural and social scientific theories to further scientific and academic scrutiny with a view to determining the extent of its compliance with the reality is not new. And though not only Muslims and Islamic organizations undertake this mission, Muslims are particularly interested in it due to the fact that, Islam is the only religion that boasts of divine principles of various scientific theories, which can never be contradicted by any substantiated scientific finding.

    Likewise, the phenomenon whereby some people isolate themselves from the mainstream society is not new either. On a visit to the United States, a good friend of mine; Ustaz Abubakr Siddeq Muhammad; a respected Abuja based Islamic scholar, narrated how he came across an enclave in which a Christian community of people isolated itself from the mainstream American society, maintaining only the least inevitable links with the larger society. They were motivated by their peculiar understanding of Christianity, as result of which they reject many technological products including automobiles. However, they don’t engage in any violence hence they are tolerated.

    I believe Boko Haram would have been effective had they focused on enlightening their audience and alerting the public on those so-called Boko theories, which are not in tune with Islamic principles. For instance, they should have intellectually dwelt on those economic and financial transactions theories that promote usury derivation tactics and/or fraud, and those theories that degrade man by claiming to trace his origin to monkey.

    Moreover, as far as I know, even the curriculum history book taught in Islamic junior secondary schools in Nigeria still maintains that, man was in his earlier age uncivilized and savage, which obviously contradicts the Qur’anic account of the history of man on this planet. Incidentally, this particular example represents a challenge to Boko Haram, because I wonder if they would also outlaw the entire Arabic/Islamic studies curriculum simply because it contains such obviously wrong historical account.

    In reality, Boko Haram’s mission should have been totally intellectual in principle, peaceful in approach, realistic in style and particularly sensitive to what are actually prohibited in the so-called Boko theories, which are anyway relatively very few in Nigeria’s educational curriculum contents. However, since this task obviously takes a very sound intellectual capability to undertake, it necessarily entails pursuing knowledge dedicatedly in order to achieve it.

  5. Enlightening indeed. Maybe u should write another artice explaining d role of christians and churches in the murder of the boko haram sect members during its early stages,to warrant d condemnable attacks on christains and churches. Ure blog is not OBJECTIVE ENOUGH..tnx though.

  6. Pingback: When Boko Haram Became Christians…. « naija info-man's notes

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  8. Pingback: Boko Haram, Media and Government: Three Sides of the same Coin « naija info-man's notes

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  11. In 2002, before the graveyard massacre, before the need for such an unsanctioned attack there were factional disputes within the group which involved loyalist to Lieutenants loyal to Mohammed Yusuf that had generated internal conflicts which would have got to the ears of the boss ‘MY’ but weren’t even topics for deliberations…the way it played out led to their first interaction with the police. It was reported(grapevine) that someone used ‘their’ (factional head) ‘connections’ to punish the loyalists of its rival(for?.. Purely subordination). Also reported, there were arrests, detentions, bail & confrontations with the police. Mind you these all occurred before the graveyard massacre.
    Additionally, and importantly you should have included in this appraisal the initial politically motivated finger pointing and propaganda that the plague BH (mindful of your fact that this was a nickname) as a phenomena has become and was used. The sect’s motives, psyche, objectives and motivation has been over emphasised. You need to research and investigate the other forces,.defined and still unknown to many. For that you can be excused the lack of insight. Overall, very good information. (knowledge)

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  15. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you
    are not already 😉 Cheers!

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