THE CLASH AND THE CRACK DOWN
(Over) I7 Days ago, we looked at the possible genesis of the Boko Haram ideology and the dynamics of Muhammad Yusuf’s followers. We saw how the group may have possibly expanded beyond a religious composition and became a complex mix of disgruntled individual with revolutionary intent, thugs with criminal element and extremist with militant intent. Those who did not follow can, if they wish refer to the part 1 of the write up titled “THE ROOTS OF BOKO HARAM IDEOLOGY” and part 2 titled “THE DYNAMICS OF BOKO HARAM FELLOWSHIP” running currently on the I Am Almajiri page or on the wall of those who are currently tagged for this piece.
Nigerian government has several been condemned internationally for failing to prosecute police accused of brutality and extrajudicial killing. Amnesty International Report points out that the Nigerian police are responsible for hundreds of extra judicial killings and disappearances each year across the country that goes largely uninvestigated and unpunished. Today we will look at how pervasive police brutality may have contributed to the radicalization of Boko Haram sect.
CLASH WITH SECURITY OPERATIVES
The Operation Flush was a Borno state owned joint military and police patrol security outfit launched to curtail robbers who had become very daring and were terrorizing residents, motorist and commuters plying highways. At the onset, the Operation Flush tackled robbery to a near standstill. However innocent people subsequently become the squad’s victim. The security outfit became notorious for brutalizing people in Maiduguri, causing traffic disorder, extorting money from people and usurping the functions of the law enforcement agencies on the state.
Trouble began when the Boko Haram sect members were on a funeral procession to bury four of their members who died in a motor accident along Biu- Maiduguri road, a day earlier. Some of them who rode on motorbike were intercepted by an Operation Flush petrol team for not wearing crash elements. The sect members did not take kindly to the enquiry which they thought was a provocation given that they were in a funeral procession. A dispute led a member of the patrol team to open fire that led to the death of 14 Boko Haram members instantly and 4 deaths from excessive bleeding on the way to the hospital.
The extrajudicial killing of members on the ground of not wearing helmet provoked the group, and the sect leader Muhammad Yusuf, wrote severally to government authorities to bring the perpetrators to book and compensates the families of those killed. The letters, which he often reads out to his followers before dispatch, were said to be addressed to the Borno state governor, the Borno state commissioner of police, President Yar’adua and the Inspector general of police.
When the government refused to heed to his request, Yusuf began to openly castigate the authorities calling Yaradua an oppressor and an unjust leader. He addressed the IG with demeaning remarks like calling him an insignificant insect. Yusuf made a pronouncement through his well articulated Friday sermon to retaliate the killing of his men, boasting that his group would be prepared to confront all the security agencies in the state as well as government. For the Muslim clerics who tried to call Yusuf to order over his threat to the government, Yusuf declared them as hypocrite and apostates.
The movement thus became increasingly militant in character and there were reports that members were arming themselves for retaliation. They were said to have created a military wing in their camp for preparing members for a jihad against the Nigerian government. Government sources claimed that President Umaru Yar’adua and the National Security Adviser, General Abdullahi Sarki Muktar were adequately briefed on Yusuf’s threats but they dismissed it as a bluff.
THE FIRST ATTACK AND THE CRACK DOWN
On July 26, 2009, 30 Boko Haram members marched towards the Dutsen Tanship Police Station in Bauchi town around 6.00am. All of them were carrying assorted weapons that include machetes, bows and arrows, daggers and dene gun. The police seemed to be prepared as they opened fire on them as soon as they attacked. Five of them attacked were left dead instantly. President Yar’adua gave a “finish them order” to the security forces that morning when he was leaving for Brazil. He timed it that by 4.00pm that day, the job must have been completed.
Soon the police in conjunction with the military swiftly surrounded and seized the entire headquarter suspected to be the abode of Boko Haram members. They took an extreme measure of total massacres and killed even Members who were unaware of the protest at Dutsen Tanshin police station. It was estimated that over seventy members of the group were killed in their homes and by evening, the state commissioner for special duties led a team of government agents that leveled their 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.
In Maiduguri, Government resorted to the same total extermination of the group. The combined team of soldiers and policemen embarked on a house to house search and went about killing anyone that resembled their members to the extent that people started shaving their beards en masse. A senior police officer was reported in the press saying that he cannot guarantee the life of anyone wearing such features. Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York had this to say
- “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”.
Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was arrested and killed while in police custody. Muhammad Foi, had reportedly gone to the police headquarters to give himself up after having been told that the police were looking for him. He did not even wait for his lawyers before going to meet with the police. He was reportedly detained with his gown removed and handcuffed. It was later on the day that the family heard that he had been killed and his corpse deposited in the mortuary. His corpse alongside with others was reportedly dumped in a mass grave in Maiduguri. Many members of the group were killed by security personnel in a manner that has kept human rights organizations raising alarm. More than 800 were killed and many were arrested along with their wives. They remain in prison to date without trial.
While some Muslim Clerics justified the killings saying that the sect is Kharijite, the world condemned the actions. 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 2011)
Most of their belonging were taken along and displaced for official inspections. Items found included sewn military uniform, boots, live ammunition, shells, locally made explosives, lethal gun powder, motorcycles filters, bottle of methanol, explosive acids, rubbers containers of sodium chemicals, an equipment for measuring chemicals, screw drivers and a guide book on bomb making.
Those who escaped went underground. They took time to heal their wounds, regroup and re-strategize. They re-emerged to revenge what Imam Shekau described as the “the injustice meted against it” and vowed to avenge the death of their leader and members. The group became highly decentralized and shifted its focus from the original objective of calling for the implementation of Sharia to that of vendettas. The group also became a franchise with various factions operating under group leaders. Shekau does not communicate with his foot soldiers but wields his power through the few select group leaders with minimal contact. Some of the leaders do not even have any contact with Shekau but they remained unified by their ideology. Factions unknown to the group are also believed to be operating with the Boko Haram name despite being unrelated to the group and its ideology.
- “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 Tilde
(To be continued in shaa Allaah)
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