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