Date Posted: April 7, 2013


Email: editor@uhuruspirit.org

One thing I like about Nigerians is that they have a nice way of putting up with difficult times and challenges, and in that way, they are able to sustain hopes that one day things will be better. Years of maladministration, corruption, social injustice and military dictatorship means there are millions of poor Nigerians who are forced to go the extra mile to cater for their loved ones. The situation has also forced a good number of Nigerians to take to crime, and today it has been reported that there are up to six thousand Nigerians in foreign prisons. While the members of the ruling class can afford expensive healthcare services outside the shores of the country, millions of hapless people are left to make do with sub-standard healthcare facilities inside the country. And on daily basis, many Nigerians are cut short in their primes while travelling on roads that have been rendered precarious by lack of passable maintenance. Kidnapping for ransom has become a common occurrence, and the result is that millions of law-abiding Nigerian citizens and other expatriate workers now live in perpetual fear. Despite all these, Nigerians have somehow continued to find ways to keep hope alive. The consequence of this is the mantra of many motivational phrases that are so pervasive in the Nigerian society. Meet an average Nigerian who is experiencing serious difficulties, and he will still find it in his or her heart to sing praises to God. “God dey!”—meaning, there is God and He will not abandon me—is a very popular phrase commonly uttered by Nigerians to show that they have not given up on life. There are many others. “E go better!”—Things will be better; “Insha Allah!”—By the Grace of God; “It is well!”—Everything is well; “No wahallah!”—There is no problem; “No shaking!”—I am not afraid.

But today, there is a new kind of problem that is shaking the faith of Nigerians and it is so serious that Nigerians are not just glossing it over with a fling of one of their make-me-feel-better sayings. The issue of Boko Haram and their terrorist activities are so terrifying that Nigerians are instead asking fundamental questions about the future viability of their country.

The Rise of Boko Haram

A group known as Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad" was founded in 2002 by a self-styled Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf who had built a religious complex that housed a mosque, an Islamic school and drew students from across Nigeria and other neighbouring countries.

Given the group’s outlook and activities, though peaceful at the time, the local people in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where it was based, baptized it as the Boko Haram, which translates in the Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram was not a cause for concern until 2009, when they initiated attacks against police stations and other government facilities, prompting a government crackdown. And in the brief “war” that ensued, the Nigerian security forces seized the sect's headquarters, captured many of its fighters, while over 800 people, mostly sect members, including Yusuf, lost their lives. Yusuf, his father-in-law, Alhaji Baba Fugu, and many other sect members, who were captured alive, died while in police custody. But the claim by the Nigerian police that Yusuf was killed while trying to escape from custody later proved untrue when his handcuffed body was found dumped in a street.

The remnant of the group which was driven underground soon regrouped and re-emerged, after a few months, as a more vicious, more militant, more violent, more sophisticated, and more audacious terrorist group.

On September 7, 2010, a group of about 50 gunmen attacked the Bauchi prison in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi. 759 inmates, including 150 suspected members of Boko Haram standing trial for the 2009 violence, escaped from the prison. Five people were killed during the attack, while parts of the prison were set on fire.

On December 31, 2010, a bomb exploded in a military barracks near the capital city, Abuja, killing four people, including a pregnant woman, while about 26 people were injured.

The tempo of these terrorist attacks picked up into 2011, a year when Nigeria was preparing for a general election. On March 29, the police foiled a plot to bomb an election rally in Maiduguri, Borno State. And on April 1, suspected Boko Haram members struck a police station in Bauchi. Then on April 9, a polling station was bombed in Maiduguri. This was followed by the bombing of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices in Maiduguri on April 15. On the same day, many people were shot in another attack. On April 20, a Muslim cleric was killed, while several police officers were ambushed in Maiduguri. Two days later, on April 22, Boko Haram gunmen broke into a prison in Yola, Adamawa State, and freed about 14 prisoners.

Since then, it has been a cacophony of terrorist attacks that grew to engulf more States in Northern Nigeria. A few hours after President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in on May 29, 2011, a bomb blast rocked a popular drinking spot by the Shandawanka army barracks on the edge of the northern city of Bauchi, killing about 13 people, while other 40 people were injured. This was followed by a smaller explosion at a beer parlour in Zuba, a suburb of Kubwa, on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, which killed two people and wounded about 11 others. Then, an even more audacious attack was unleashed on June 16, 2011—less than three weeks after President Jonathan took office—when a suspected suicide bomber attacked the Louis Edet House in Abuja, the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force. It was believed that up to six people perished in that attack. Ten days later, suspected members of Boko Haram threw “three sets of explosives from the back of motorbikes” at a drinking spot in the northeastern town of Maiduguri, killing about 25 people. On July 10, 2011, a bomb exploded during a Sunday worship at All Christian Fellowship Church, in Suleja, Niger State, killing an unspecified number of people, and on the following day, the fear of Boko Haram drove authorities at the University of Maiduguri to suspend studies with effect from Tuesday the 12th of July. And on August 12, a prominent Muslim Cleric Liman Bana was shot dead by Boko Haram.

The attack that really made the world to sit up and take a serious look at Boko Haram happened on August 26, 2011, when a car bomb exploded in Abuja’s United Nations building, killing 21 people and injuring about 60 others. The Nigerian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuliri, called it “An attack on the world.” Ban Ki-moon the UN Secretary-General said it was an “assault on those who devote themselves to helping others”. Surely, the UN building bombing had further emboldened the group, as the attacks that followed it clearly revealed the Boko Haram as a movement on a high—one that was growing in ambition. So on November 4, 2011, they followed up with a series of coordinated attacks in Borno and Yobe states that left about 69 people dead. In Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, a car bomb exploded outside a building used as a military office and barracks, killing many uniformed security agents. A bank, at least three police stations, and five churches were also attacked on the same day. Then on December 25, 2011, not less than 37 people were killed and about 57 others were injured, when the St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla—a satellite town of Abuja located 40 km (25 mi) from the city center—was bombed.

Nigerians entered the year 2012 under the deafening thunder of terrorist anger. And between January 5 and 6, Boko Haram carried out attacks in many states in northern Nigeria. In one incident, about 18 people were killed, by Boko Haram militants, who stormed a town hall in the city of Mubi in Adamawa State, where people had gathered to mourn 3 Christians shot on the previous evening. In another incident also in Adamawa state, at least eight people were killed when some Christians leaving a church service in the capital city of Yola were ambushed. There were other attacks in Gombe, Borno and Yobe states. More tragic attacks followed in the ancient city of Kano on January 20, 2012, where Boko Haram militants attacked various targets and at the end of it all, over 200 people were reported dead.

Since 2010, Boko Haram’s activities have led to over 2800 deaths, and that number is increasing on daily basis. On April 26, 2012, seven people died after a suicide bomber attacked the premises of Thisday Newspapers in the capital city, Abuja. In claiming responsibility for the attack through a video posted on the Youtube, Boko Haram blamed the Nigerian media for misinforming the public about their activities, while promising more attacks. On June 16, 2012, Boko Haram car bombers hit three different churches in the northern state of Kaduna, killing at least 19 people, while dozens were wounded. Over 52 people were also confirmed dead in the religious rioting that followed the attacks. On June 24, 2012, attackers stormed a prison in the northeastern city of Damaturu and freed about 40 inmates.

Boko Haram: Their Demands

It is believed that the members of Boko Haram are influenced by the Koranic phrase which says that “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”. The group promotes a version of Islam which makes it forbidden—that is “haram” in Hausa language—for Muslims to take part in political or social activity associated with the Western way of life. So they oppose Western beliefs and practices, like voting in elections, nightclubs, consumption of alcohol, wearing shirts and trousers, and secular education, among others. Likewise, Boko Haram sees the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers and therefore seeks to establish the Sharia system of government in Nigeria.

On Friday 27 January 2012, the Guardian UK published an exclusive interview with the spokesperson of the Boko Haram, Abu Qaqa, who made it clear that Nigeria must be governed under a sharia system of government. “There are no exceptions. Even if you are a Muslim and you don't abide by sharia, we will kill you. Even if you are my own father, we will kill you," he said. In addition, Boko Haram also claims to be fighting for the rights of their members. In a telephone interview following the 20 January 2012 attacks that killed over 200 people in Kano state, Abu Qaqa blamed the Nigerian government for ignoring their warning that they would attack the state if their members held in custody were not released. He stated that many of their members held in detention were innocent. Thus, Qaqa threatened that the Nigerian government would continue to pay for the continued oppression and killing of innocent Muslims in the country. “We are only scared of Allah but no one. We must regain our faith and freedom soon. No amount of propaganda against us will deter us. We are guided and strengthened by Allah as you can see,” he added.

Does the Demand of Boko Haram for an Islamic system represent the wishes of the majority of Nigerians?

There is no doubt that most Muslims want to be governed by Sharia. Thus following the push for the institution of Sharia by the then Zamfara state governor Ahmad Rufai Sani, Sharia has been established since 1999 as the main body of civil and criminal law in 9 states, where Muslims are in the majority. The Sharia system is also applicable in some parts of other three states.

Clearly, Boko Haram is not impressed and wants the entirety of Nigeria to be governed under the Sharia system. But Islam is just one of the major religions in Nigeria. Christianity is the other. And according to a Pew study conducted in 2011, Christians make up about 50.8% of the Nigerian population. Moreover, Nigeria has the largest Christian population compared to any other country in Africa, with over 70 million persons belonging to various Christian denominations.

There are also those who follow African traditional religions, while there are other Nigerians who are atheists and therefore do not fall under any religious category.

Besides, there are proofs that many Muslims in Nigeria do not feel comfortable with the brand of Islam that is being propagated by the followers of the Boko Haram sect. The Sultan of Sokoto remains, to this day, the main religious leader of the Nigerian Muslims. Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar is the current Sultan of Sokoto and his views on the activities of Boko Haram are well known. At a public meeting earlier in May 2012, he called for the cessation of violence and for a peaceful settlement between the “aggrieved” members of Boko Haram and the government. And more recently in September 2012, while on a courtesy visit to Governor Godswill Akpabio at Governor’s Lodge, Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, the Sultan called for national unity. “Whether we are Christians or Muslims, we must live in peace with one another in whatever part of the country we find ourselves. If we are united, we would contribute better to the development of the country. So, we must put aside our differences and embrace peace and unity,’’ he had preached. Apart from the Sultan of Sokoto, many other leading Muslim bodies and leading political leaders in Northern Nigeria have come out to distance themselves from the activities of Boko Haram. Therefore, when the number of Muslims who don’t support the Boko Haram is added to those of Christians and other groups, it then becomes apparent that Boko Haram is a group that does not enjoy popular support among Nigerians. And as such, it is a menace and poses a serious threat to the sanctity of the country by fueling antagonism between Muslims and Christians.

The Historical underpinnings for Boko Haram

The Boko Haram disaster is a mere manifestation of a more dangerous Nigerian malaise that germinated during the colonial era. So, an understanding of the true nature of colonialism and the anti-colonial struggle in Nigeria will throw more light and help us to understand why Nigeria is today, bedeviled by such an extreme case of religious fanaticism.

Before the advent of colonization, most of what is today known as northern Nigeria was under the Sokoto Caliphate, a powerful empire that stretched from what is today Burkina Faso to Cameroon. The caliphate was founded by Usman dan Fodio following the Fulani Jihad in 1809 against oppressive regimes in the region. With time, the empire became more Hausa in nature, and the Hausa was used as the official language. Islam and African traditions were widely practiced in the caliphate. In facts, Islam was clearly the state religion. The Sultan of Sokoto provided both spiritual and political leadership, with many influential emirs who administered other cities subordinating to his hegemony.

Eventually, the Sokoto Caliphate collapsed as a result of pressure from European colonialism, and in 1903 it was divided among the French, British and Germans. The part that is now called northern Nigeria came under the British influence as the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria with Frederick Lugard as the high commissioner. Like in many African countries, policies used during the colonial times are largely responsible for many of the challenges facing Nigeria today. One of such policies was the so-called “Indirect Rule”, under which the colonialists allowed the defeated local authorities to serve as their salaried agents responsible for tax collection and peacekeeping. But the problem is that indirect rule had worked out differently in both the northern and southern parts of Nigeria.

In the north, the emirs who accepted British control were confirmed in office as spiritual leaders and official intermediaries between the local population and the colonialists. They retained their titles but remained answerable to the British overlords. To minimize the risk of religious upheaval, the colonialists were careful to leave the religious system as they found it. So Islamic courts continued to deal with matters affecting the personal status of Muslims, and the activities of Christian missionaries were generally limited and in most places completely prohibited. This is the reason why today, the majority of the people in northern Nigeria are Muslims, and the position of the Sultan of Sokoto, which is still held by the descendants of Usman dan Fodio, remains the supreme religious authority for Nigerian Muslims.

In the then Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, the application of indirect rule policy was different. Islam was not a problem and Christian missionaries were allowed to freely promote Western values and education. To make matters worse, after the amalgamation of the North and South Protectorates by the colonialists in 1914, the status quo in the different regions were maintained.

This arrangement was to have a negative impact in Nigeria’s march to independence. So by the time political movements began to emerge, to demand for greater participation in the political governance of the day, the north and south were markedly different. The impact of Western values and Christianity meant that a greater number of people embraced Western education in the South. In the North, the dominant Islamic system was antipathetic to Western way of life and the region lagged behind the South in terms of education and pace of development. This is why Northern leaders at that time feared that independence would mean their domination by the much westernized South.

So while nationalist leaders like Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe adopted a pan-African outlook, their counterparts from the North, like Ahmadu Bello, had maintained a conservative posture that emphasized the integrity of the north, its traditions, religion, and its social order. Northern leaders were more concerned about the North than the entire Nigeria.

The only genuine nationalist movement during the struggle for independence was the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, which later became National Congress of Nigerian Citizens) formed in 1944 after Azikiwe convinced activists from the then National Youth Movement to convene a conference in Lagos of all major Nigerian organizations to "weld the heterogeneous masses of Nigeria into one solid bloc." Herbert Macaulay became the president and Azikiwe the secretary general.

The NCNC provided a genuine platform for agitation, as it brought together various religious, political, intellectual, ideological and cultural groups. The militant youth wing of the NCNC, known as the Zikist Movement was formed in 1946 by young enthusiastic Nigerian nationalists and revolutionaries, who were committed to a true emancipation from colonialism. At inception, Zikists pledged themselves to positive action to defend Nnamdi Azikiwe against attacks by his enemies, and to end colonial rule. Most of the members were admirers of Azikiwe and were inspired by his revolutionary speeches and writings. The group was quick to establish many branches across the Nigerian colony and the numerous strikes, protests and other actions they organized helped to push Nigeria closer to independence.

As the revolutionary activities of the Zikists gathered momentum, soon they came under the hammer of the colonial usurpers. In 1949, after a suspected member of the movement unsuccessfully tried to kill the Colonial Secretary, leading members were arrested and charged for sedition. The movement was banned in 1950. But as they were re-grouping in the underground, the fatal blow came when their leaders in the NCNC, led by Azikiwe, denounced them as over-zealous and irresponsible youths before they were pushed into oblivion. The truth is that Nigeria would have been a different country today if independence was achieved according to the revolutionary vision of the Zikists.

Thus the decline and death of the Zikist Movement made it easier for the ideology of tribalism and religious chauvinism to achieve primacy in the pre-independence politics.

The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) was formed in 1949, a period when the struggle for independence was gaining momentum, to champion the interests of the northern conservative elites. Around the same time, xenophobic and tribal sentiments were building up in the north against the more advanced southern migrants, especially the Igbos, who dominated clerical positions and were active in many trades.

On March 21, 1951, a pan-Yoruba ethnic group, the Egbé ?m? Odùduwà, launched the Action Group (AG). The primary objective of the party was to mobilize the Yoruba people under one political umbrella and stop the NCNC from controlling the Western region. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the founders of the Egbé ?m? Odùduwà in 1945 became the leader of the party.

It is unfortunate that the politics of the AG during that time helped to sow the seeds of discord between different ethnic groups in the South. For instance, in 1951 after the NCNC won the majority of the seats in both the Eastern and Western regions, the AG evoked tribal sentiments and convinced many NCNC Yoruba legislatures to switch allegiance to the party. This maneuver gave the Action Group the majority seats to form a government in the Western region. And when they did, their leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the premier, while the NCNC became the official opposition. As a result, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was forced to return to the Eastern Region, where his Igbo tribe was dominant, and displaced Prof. Eyo Ita, who belonged to a minority tribe, to become the premier of the region in 1954. So, from that point, the NCNC, which was once seen as the only genuine nationalist platform for independence agitation, began to be perceived increasingly as a pro-Igbo irredentist movement. However, though the AG and the NCNC were guilty of tribalism, both parties had subscribed to some forms of progressivism. Some called themselves socialists, while others described their ideology as welfarism. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had instituted free education programme in his region. So, while both parties were somewhat progressive, the NPC was staunchly conservative and its main focus remained the preservation of the interests of the northern ruling elites. They were not really interested in the anti-colonial struggle as shown in the events leading to the Kano riot of 1953. The fear of being dominated, after independence, by their more advanced and better educated southern counterparts had forced northern leaders to adopt a counter-revolutionary posture against the anti-colonialist struggle. In 1953, northern delegates from the party rejected a motion for independence by 1956 tabled by a House of Representative member of the Action Group (AG) Chief Anthony Enahoro. The leader of the Northern People's Congress (NPC) and the Saraduna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello in a counter-motion replaced the year 1956 with the phrase "as soon as practicable" after which another northern member immediately moved a motion for adjournment. Viewing the action as a delay tactic by their northern counterparts, all the AG and NCNC members staged a walk out. The ensuing accusations and counter accusations resulted in the riot in Sabon Gari against southerners, which lasted for four days and claimed the lives of many people. Also, during that crisis, some leading members of the Northern Regional Legislative House had called for the secession of the Northern region.

Therefore, it should be clear that Nigeria was already a divided house when independence came on October 1, 1960. And since that time, the same tribal and religious feud has continued to shape the country’s journey. In 1962, mayhem reigned supreme in the Western Region and in the same year, the national census exercise was marred by fraud. After a fresh census in 1963, NCNC leaders publicly charged the Northern Region's government with fraud. Violence broke out six months after the disputed 1965 legislative election in Western Region leading to the death of about 2000 people. By the end of 1965, corruption was flourishing while abuses were widespread, leading to the intensification of popular discontent. These events led to the failed military coup on 15 January 1966, the counter-coup, pogroms against the Igbos and finally the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War from 1967 to 1970. Sadly, Nigerian political leaders have failed to learn any lesson from the bitter civil war that claimed over 3 million lives, as under succeeding administrations, civilian and military, positive change has remained elusive. In fact, the cleavages and divisions that existed before independence, which led to the war, are still intact. These have continued to spawn an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and rivalry, as new tribal or regional organizations and political parties have simply replaced the ones before them. The end result is that ineptitude and corruption find a fertile ground to thrive, with the concomitant poverty meaning that sects like the Boko Haram will always find willing supporters in Nigeria.

Boko Haram and Nigerian politics President Goodluck Jonathan is an ethnic Ijaw, found in the restive oil-producing-region of the Niger Delta. A former university lecturer, Jonathan emerged on the Nigerian political scene in 1999, when he became the Deputy Governor of his native Bayelsa State. He then became the Governor of the state after former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached on allegations of corruption on 9 December 2005. Following the controversial presidential election on 21 April 2007, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, a northerner, was sworn in as the president, with Goodluck Jonathan as his deputy. Yar’Adua’s emergence was helped by a rotational arrangement within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the presidency to rotate between the North and South. On the other hand, the choice of Jonathan as the vice president was seen as a gesture of goodwill to the people of the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta, where militant action against years of abuse, neglect, injustice, exploitation and dehumanization was festering.

As things turned out, Yar’Adua’s sickness would catapult Jonathan to the helm. On 23 November 2009, President Yar'Adua left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, but Nigerians where kept in the dark about the whereabouts of their president. For many months, there was uncertainty about the state of health of President Yar’Adua, amid signs that some powerful people in the corridors of power were against the elevation of Jonathan as the acting president, contrary to the provisions of the constitution. So, under the aegis of Save Nigeria Group, millions of Nigerians took to the streets across the country and on 9 February 2010, the Nigerian Senate decided that Jonathan should become the acting president. But eventually, after the death of Yar’Adua was formally announced on 5 May 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as the substantive president the following day.

Then, in the run-up to the 2011 general elections, President Jonathan declared his interest to run in an election that would afford him a full four-year term as president. But that did not go down well with many northern politicians, who felt that—on the basis of the ruling PDP’s rotational formula—the president should come from the north. They had cited that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southerner, had served as the president for two-terms of 8 years. And as it was becoming clear that Jonathan was adamant, many northern politicians predicted of unimaginable consequences should he finally emerge as the president. A prominent northern politician, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, had made it clear that the North was determined “to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan or any other Southerner who finds his way to the seat of power on the platform of the PDP against the principle of the party’s zoning policy.” He also said that “anything short of a Northerner president would be tantamount to stealing our presidency.” Also another northern leader, who is a former Minister of Finance, Malam Adamu Ciroma, was reported to have warned at a NEC meeting of the PDP that there would be chaos in Nigeria, if the zoning formula was not implemented by the party.

Since the alleged PDP zoning arrangement was not provided for in the Nigerian constitution, Jonathan proceeded to contest in the election, and on 18 April, 2011, he was declared the winner after an election that was hailed by millions of Nigerians and the international community as credible, though sporadic violence had broken out in many states in the north over claims of vote rigging (scientific rigging they called it). According to the Human Rights Watch, over 800 people (especially southerners and members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), serving in many states in the north) were killed during the violence. Since then, violence has escalated under President Jonathan, and many Nigerians are compelled to believe that the Boko Haram saga is a mere façade in the struggle by northern political elites to recapture the presidency. Currently, Mohammed Ali Ndume, who represents the Borno South Senatorial District in the Nigerian Senate, is under trial for his alleged involvement with Boko Haram.

Tensed Political Atmosphere

Clearly, the activities of Boko Haram have succeeded in stoking up tension within the Nigerian polity, and as a result, many groups have issued threats and counter-threats that do not auger well for the sanctity of the country. There have been calls ranging from threats of secession to the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference. But this is not say that such calls are new, because since independence, many component parts of Nigeria have threatened to secede at one time or another. The North threatened to secede before and after independence. In the 1960s, the Western Region threatened to secede if the Eastern Region was allowed to go. In the 1990s after the annulment of the June 12 elections, many groups in South West actually campaigned for secession and had called for the birth of the Oduduwa Republic. Others in what is today known as the Niger Delta, like the Ijaws and the Ogonis have made similar secessionist threats. The old Eastern Region actually seceded in 1967 and established the Republic of Biafra. But that bid was short-lived because the Biafrans could not defend their new republic in the war with Nigeria and surrendered in 1970. So it is clear that Nigeria has been through some tough times.

However, one needs to be wary not to get triumphant over the fact that Nigeria has managed to survive after over 50 years of fragile existence. The reason for this is very simple. Though Nigeria has been able to maintain her integrity after very many life-threatening crises, it seems the country has failed to use the lessons of her past experiences to put her house in order. This is the point that the former member of the Zikist Movement, the late Mokwugo Okoye, made in his 1995 paper entitled, “Strategy for a Stable and Sustainable Socio-Political Economy in Nigeria” when he wrote, “One would have thought that the circle of political crises we have gone through in the last three decades—election and population census controversies, military coups and counter coups, a gruesome civil war, and religious or political-motivated urban riots—should have lifted us to a plain where we could espy a shadow of a nation wizened by experience and stabilized by self-confidence. But this has not been the case. No wonder there are today signs of much apathy, uncertainty, anomie, anxiety and alienation. From our trials we have grown in neither conscience nor competence in the search for democracy or brotherhood as envisioned in our national anthem.”

Thus the simple truth is that things have deteriorated over time instead of getting better. With the new questions being raised by the terrorist activities of Boko Haram and the government’s seeming inability to provide answers, it is not exactly easy to determine how many people are ready to accept and continue to live in a country where one can easily be blown into pieces by some faceless suicide bombers.

Reprisal attacks are also developing and the gulf between Muslims and Christians is widening by the day. Recently, after attacks by three suicide bombers against churches in Kaduna killed about 19 people, the religious rioting that erupted claimed another 52 lives.

While some Christian leaders have called for restraint, many others are clearly beginning to take their destiny into their hands. And there is no doubt that many ethnic movements are battle-ready to face the Boko Haram, should they bring the violence into their respective territories.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the main Christian body in the country, called attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram a "systematic religious cleansing”. In a media statement, the group described the bombings as “indications that the Jamaatu Ahlisunnah Lidda'awatiwal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, has declared war on Christians and Christianity in Nigeria”.

The Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Ola Makinde, recently came out to challenge the government and called them to rise to the occasion. “Boko Haram cannot be greater than the Federal Government and the Federal Government should have the political will to fight this crisis. Christians can defend themselves when attacked but they should not retaliate. We should put up a spiritual fight and God will fight for us. Nobody can fight God and win,” he said. On another occasion, the influential religious leader warned that “nobody can Christianise Nigeria and nobody can Islamise Nigeria.” There is also mounting evidence that many Christians in the North are losing faith in the ability of the government to overcome the terrorist menace. In a recent discussion with journalists, the chairperson of the Northern Christian Forum of Nigeria, Evangelist Matthew Owojaiye said, “it is extremely obvious to all that these people have infiltrated every apparatus of governance and any plan government makes to address the security challenge will necessarily be leaked to Islamic militants even before it is conceptualized”. He further revealed that they had approached their counterparts in the South to assist “financially, spiritually and otherwise” to enable them to take their “collective destiny” in their hands. “We plan to import surveillance equipment and train our youths on how to use them to monitor the movement of these Muslim fundamentalists,” Evangelist Owojaiye added.

Another group, The Gurara Forum, a Northern Nigerian Christian forum from Kaduna State has also threatened to apply all means necessary to protect its members from the “haramist” merchants of death. In a statement signed by Vincent Bodam and Jerry Adams, the Chancellor and Secretary General of the forum respectively, they lambasted some northern politicians who focused on the reprisal attacks while deliberately overlooking the activities of Boko Haram.

Moreover, the fact that many of the victims of the attacks were Southerners has strengthened the hands of the many militant movements in the South and further endangering Project Nigeria. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, is a group that is agitating for an independent state of Biafra, albeit through a non-violent means. In response to the Boko Haram attacks, MASSOB has been up and about. Apart from sending buses to help the mostly Igbo residents fleeing from terrorist attacks in the north, they had also set up five camps in three states of the South East to provide temporary shelter for the returnees. Surely, that was remarkable given that the Igbos, who are mostly Christians also make up a big chunk of southerners residing in the north, where they have built businesses since the end of the civil war. Thus, it is easy to see how the role played by MASSOB in this connection has helped to consolidate its claim as the foremost champion of the Igbos in Nigeria.

Earlier this year, MASSOB warned that it could embrace violence if enough steps were not taken to stop the activities of Boko Haram against its members. “South East is very peaceful now but the Nigeria Military personnel are trying to provoke us. We know what the Boko Haram members are doing in the North and there is supposed to be a reprisal attacks here in the South East but we have kept silent not because we don’t know what to do but simply because we don’t want to shade blood,” Uche Madu, the Director of Information of MASSOB, said in a statement. “We believe in nonviolent approach to issues but they are pushing us to the wall; they are provoking MASSOB to become violent and if we decide to resort to violence this time around, even the Nigeria military cannot contain our attacks.

“The Boko Haram issue is a child’s play compared to what we can do if we are provoked into violence. I tell you the entire Nigeria would be on fire,” he added.

While attending a two-day world summit in Seoul in late March, President Jonathan in an interview with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency promised to substantially curtail the Boko Haram in three months: “In terms of security challenges, we have some parts of the country where we have terrorist attacks, but it does not affect the whole country. We are in reasonable control. We have the belief that in the middle of this year, in terms of security of individuals, we will have full control. The danger is limited to some parts of the country. It does not extend to other parts of country,” he said.

But the Boko Haram responded on 12 April 2012 by posting a 14-minute video on YouTube, in which the sect’s spiritual leader Abubakar Shekau was very vehement. "You, Jonathan, cannot stop us, instead we will devour you in the three months like you are boasting," he said in the video entitled "message to Goodluck Jonathan", flanked by four masked men holding rifles.

"We are proud soldiers of Allah; we will never give up as we fight the infidels. We will emerge as winners ... we will finish you and end your government," Shekau said, speaking in Arabic and Hausa.

This threat against President Jonathan prompted militants in his region to come to his rescue. They issued a severe warning to Boko Haram to hands off Jonathan. On another occasion, the former President of Ijaw Council (IYC) and leader of the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujaheed Dokubo- Asari warned that Niger Delta fighters were ready to take up arms to fight Boko Haram Islamists, but regretted they were holding back only out of respect for the president. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) is a militant pan-Yoruba nationalist organization that seeks the secession of South West from Nigeria. Recently, the founder and president of the group, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, warned that his organization would view the exportation of violence into the South-West as a declaration of war.

Another pan-Yoruba body, Apapo Oodua Koya (AOKOYA), on 18 June 2012 claimed that it had reliable information that Boko Haram would attack Lagos or Ibadan before the end of July. “We have intelligence information that Boko Haram will attack the largely vulnerable Yoruba cities on or before the month of July this year. We fear the carnage that will result from violent attacks on Yoruba cities. It is naïve to assume that Boko Haram will spare Lagos, Ibadan, Warri or any of the Yoruba cities. At present, the Yoruba political leadership relies on the Nigerian Police and the State Security Service, (SSS). These groups are too polarized, corrupt, inept, politicized, and ill-motivated and hunted by low morale to be able to offer any hope for the Yoruba people,” said the group’s Secretary for Internal Affairs, Alhaji Mufatau Adedoyin in a statement. Further the statement read, “The dissolution of the country should be a natural expectation given the tear, sorrow and blood that has been Nigeria’s story since 1914.

“There cannot be any redeemer for a nation that is destined and designed to collapse.

“We urge the Yoruba people to rise up and work hard to ensure minimum casualty in our search for the inevitable Oduduwa Republic. We seek alliance with the Middle-Belt, Igbos and the South-South, for the greater future of a traumatized population that has been pushed into the cesspool of underdevelopment, hunger and starvation in the hands of a hateful social and political system that offers nothing but destruction and the spilling of human blood.

“The issue is no longer whether the country will break-up; the real issue now is when and how.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, the President of the Nigerian Senate David Mark recently opined among others, “The way Boko Haram is going, if nothing drastic is done to halt it, God forbid, it may result in the break-up of the country."

How Jonathan is responding to Boko Haram President Jonathan’s government has been struggling to clip the wings of the Boko Haram. But no matter how hard they have tried, the Boko Haram remains a reality in many parts of the country. Even at a time, Jonathan conceded that the Boko Haram had infiltrated his government. "Some of them (Boko Haram members) are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won't even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house,” said President Jonathan while addressing an inter-denominational service to mark the 2012 Armed Forces Remembrance Day at the National Christian Centre, Abuja on 8 January 2012.

However, President Jonathan’s strategy in dealing with Boko Haram has been a mixture of sticks and carrots. While deploying the military to haunt down the terrorists, he has also stressed the need for dialogue in achieving national consensus.

In what appeared as a move to appease the North, President Jonathan sacked Gen. Owoeye Azazi, his fellow Ijaw kinsman, as the National Security Adviser, and appointed Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd), a former Aide-de-Camp to former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and a cousin to the Sultan of Sokoto.

That the appointment of Dasuki represented a presidential olive branch to the north was confirmed by the first move he made after his appointment. On 29 June 2012, Dasuki undertook a crucial visit to Yobe State, one of the battlegrounds in the violence, where he engaged with various religious and traditional leaders, as well as the state government. President Jonathan had mandated him to end the bombings in the North before the last Ramadan. “The mandate is to come and commiserate with the state and put heads together, starting with an immediate ceasefire while other things (negotiations and talks) follow,” he said. “I am committed to this course and whatever the agreement is, that is what I will implement. “

Recently, in August, President Jonathan’s spokesperson Reuben Abati confirmed that the government was in talks with Boko Haram. "The form of the dialogue is that backroom channels are being used to reach across with the sole objective of understanding what exactly the grievances of these persons are, what exactly can be done to resolve the crises," he said.

On 23 August 2012, a group of Northern governors set up a committee to reach out to Boko Haram. The committee, which is chaired by the Governor of Niger State Alhaji Bagangida Aliyu, in a statement, said they aimed to "get to the root of the security challenges and... dialogue with any identified groups with a view to negotiating the way out of the menace."

Recently, Boko Haram outlined their conditions for a ceasefire and named six prominent northern politicians to mediate between them and the government if their conditions for a ceasefire were met. Among those named were the former military head of state and the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 election, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, former Yobe State governor, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari and Hajia Aisha Wakil and her husband, Alkali Wakil.

As part of their conditions for a ceasefire, the Boko Haram had insisted that the talks must take place in Saudi Arabia. They also demanded that the government must apprehend and prosecute one Senator Modu Sheriff. They called for the immediate release of all their members being held in custody; the rehabilitation of their displaced wives and children into the society; compensation for their members and the rebuilding of their places of worship destroyed during the 2009 uprising. However, General Buhari refused to mediate between Boko Haram and the government, stressing that he would have nothing to do with a faceless group. Also, the Nigerian government has made it clear that the conditions given by Boko Haram are unacceptable. “If the Boko Haram sect is genuinely ready for dialogue to end the spate of suicide bomb attacks in many parts of Northern Nigeria, the Federal Government will oblige the group but not with unjust preconditions,” said Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi.

On the other hand, the Nigerian armed forces have since taken the war to Boko Haram amid accusations of heavy-handedness and extra-judicial killings. Thus, following an attack on an army patrol in Maiduguri, Borno state, on 9 July 2011, some civilians told journalists of how the army killed innocent people and burnt their houses. Murja Muhammad, a resident of the Kalari neighbourhood, who fled her home on 10 July, told IRIN, that "soldiers began repeatedly shooting in the air after the bomb attack and the shootout that followed. They then… started breaking into homes, singling out male occupants and shooting them and driving women out of the houses which they set ablaze.” On July 12, 2011, a group of 18 local members of the respected Borno Elders Forum called for the withdrawal of troops from the city, saying the soldiers had worsened the security situation. “We initially thought the military would employ logical strategies to put an end to this cycle of violence... [but] the soldiers went from door to door killing innocent people, they broke into homes stealing property and raping young women," Bulama Mali Gubio, a member of the Borno Elders forum, told IRIN. Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces have claimed many victories against Boko Haram and a good number of suspected Boko Haram members have either been arrested or killed in battles. So, since the incident in September when Boko Haram destroyed at least 31 mobile phone towers in six northern Nigerian states, the Nigerian armed forces have recorded some important breakthroughs. In September, Abu Qaqa, the spokesperson of Boko Haram, was tracked down and killed by security agents during an operation in Kano. Also, recently, a man identified as the Boko Haram accountant was arrested while travelling from Kano to Zaria with the sum of N4.5 million that security operatives said belonged to Boko Haram.

Though it had appeared that the security forces were winning in their war against Boko Haram, in recent times, attacks by the terrorist group seem to be on the ascendancy. On 18 October 2012, suspected Boko Haram fighters launched multiples attacks on the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, killing at least 19 people. Equally, an attack against the EYN Church in the Atagara village of Gwoza council area of Borno left two people dead while the entire church building was set ablaze. On 28 October, 2012, a suicide bomber drove a car bomb into a church service in Kaduna and left at least 10 people dead and another 145 others wounded. The reprisal attack that ensued led to the death of at least three other people, who were believed to be Muslims. In addition, since October 2012, at least four Chinese engineers working for the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation were killed in separate incidents by gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram.

On 4 November 2012, suspected Boko Haram gunmen, armed with explosives, attacked a police station, a primary school and two cellphone towers, and set them ablaze in the town of Fika in Yobe State. And on 23 November 2012, twenty ladies in mini-skirts and trousers were killed in their different homes in the city of Maiduguri in Borno State by suspected Boko Haram terrorists. On 25 November 2012, at least 11 people were killed and over 30 others injured after two suicide bombers attacked a church inside a military barracks in Kaduna State. What this means is that whatever method the government has employed has failed to defeat the Boko Haram machinery.


Indeed, the question is not whether the approach used by President Jonathan is capable of stopping Boko Haram. But the real question is whether the approach being used by President Goodluck Jonathan can effectively extinguish the flames of religious fanaticism and other chauvinistic propensities that have trailed Nigeria’s journey since independence. This is very important because, though Boko Haram looks more dangerous, it is not the first Islamist terrorist group in the history of Nigeria. There were other similar groups in the past, like the one led by a man known as Maitatsine. So, the reality is that whenever a particular fundamentalist sect is suppressed, it’s only a matter of time before new ones emerge to continue terrorist struggle. Alhaji Muhammadu Marwa was given the name Maitatsine, meaning, "The one who damns" in Hausa language, because he was fond of invoking curses on Muslims of other sects, by saying, “Allah Tatsine”, that is, “May God curse so and so”. He was a native of Marwa in the northeastern part of Nigeria, which was at a time part of Cameroon.

Maitatsine moved to Kano, Nigeria in 1945 and soon became famous because of his controversial teaching of the Qur’an. He had laid claim to prophethood, while he rejected the prophethood of Prophet Mohammed and saw himself as a mujaddid in the image of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio.

Like Boko Haram, his group was opposed to Western values and condemned innovations like watches, radios, and cars among others. Maitatsine was deported to Cameroon in 1966, but returned to Kano in the 1970s to continue the propagation of his own version of Islam. He was arrested in 1975 over his continued vituperations against constituted authorities. But that did not stop Maitatsine, who armed many of his followers and attacked other Muslims who did not follow his own Islamic precepts. Like the Boko Haram, Maitatsine’s men came from far and wide. Some came from other neighbouring countries like Niger, Cameroon and Chad, in addition to other thousands of his Nigerian followers, largely drawn from the armies of the poor and the unemployed, who were disenchanted with the mainstream Muslim leaders. Again, like the Boko Haram, they staged attacks against the police as an established institution they detested. Maitatsine flouted many regulations and put up illegal structures to house his growing army. It was when he and his men increased attacks on other religious figures and police that the Nigerian military was forced to intervene. And after two days of fierce battle, Maitatsine and his fighters were brought to their knees. At the end, about 5000 people, including Maitatsine, were dead. Though Maitatsine’s remains were cremated and his headquarters converted into a police barracks and shops, it was not long before others emerged to advance his ideology. So in October 1982 riots broke out in Bulumkuttu, near Maidaguri, and in Kaduna, places where many of Maitatsine’s adherents had moved to after 1980. Over 3000 people died. The 1984 violent uprisings in Yola, led by Musa Makaniki, a close disciple of Maitatsine, left over 1000 people dead. Following this, Makaniki fled to his hometown of Gombe, where riots followed in April 1985. Hundreds of people died and Makaniki fled to Cameroon, where he was arrested in 2004.

In 2006, after the controversial cartoon of Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, some Muslims in Borno and Katsina, both in northern Nigeria, attacked Christians and their businesses. Many people lost their lives. And that was long after the death of the Maitatsine and before the birth of the Boko Haram. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the defeat of Boko Haram through war, or its neutralization through dialogue, will solve the problem of Islamic militancy in Nigeria. This is true because, as we have seen above, various kinds of chauvinistic tendencies are widespread and deeply-rooted in Nigeria.

What Nigeria must do is to defeat the culture of corruption and build a truly united nation. Despite Nigeria’s immense wealth in oil and other mineral resources, the country has failed to better the lives of its people. This is due to years of corrupt and inept leadership. But these things do not fall from heaven, as there is bound to be corruption in any country where things are deliberately structured to favour some groups more than others. And in such situations, where things are not done on merit, the consequence is that those who are not qualified and capable tend to find themselves in powerful positions, from where they ultimately run down the country. To defeat corruption, Nigeria must first defeat the insidious colonial legacies of tribalism and religious fanaticism that provide a fertile ground for corruption to thrive. Failure to do this will mean that groups like Boko Haram will continue to spread their deadly tentacles, with Nigeria remaining a keg of gun powder that will explode at any moment.

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