The issue of Boko Haram has since 2009 become a matter of great concern in Nigeria following accusation and reports that, members of the Islamic sect had been involved in violent activities bothering on unprovoked and murderous attacks on the public and clashes with the law enforcement agents. In the course of those encounters casualties were reported to have been recorded on the part of the sect, the security agents and the innocent citizens.
Unfortunately, not much has been heard or known before now about the Islamic sect.
Also, there has been no accurate statistical information or fact about the innocent victims and the circumstance of the killings. The identity and the causes of the activities of the so-called ‘Boko Haram’ have neither been properly disclosed by the government nor the news media. Furthermore, only little has been revealed about the proprietary of the official handling of the suspects. A lot of criticism has however, been made by various writers on the poor handling and the lukewarm approach of the government to the whole crisis.
Due to lack of access to relevant information on the genuine causes of the crisis, majority of people, most especially those in the media circle, have resorted to uninformed criticism and misinformation based largely on personal prejudice and wrong assumptions. Consequently, this has resulted in name-calling in which Muslims are being equated with the ‘Boko Haram’ sect as was the case in the past during which Muslims were unjustifiably referred to as Metasini, Ayatollah, Mulars, Fanatics, Fundamentalists, Islamists, Extremists, Alqaida, Talibans, Terrorists, etc.
Now the pertinent questions are: what is Boko Haram? Who are those behind it? What is their mission or ideology? And what are the circumstances that led to the emergence of this religious sect? These questions must be appropriately answered in order to understand the true picture of the Boko Haram phenomenon.
It is a well known fact that some few decades back, Nigeria had been engulfed in a series of religious crises involving Muslims and Muslims, Muslims and Christians and Muslims and the government. This scenario has negatively changed the socio-religious landscape of Nigeria which otherwise used to be a peaceful and a harmonious one. It is therefore obvious that something has gone wrong along the line. Both Islam and Christianity preach love, tolerance and mutual respect but today, one of the serious problems bedeviling the nation is religious crisis which has continued to assume disturbing dimension by the day. We need to sincerely ask ourselves what has gone wrong. We also need to appraise our attitude and efforts at seeking solution to this social phenomenon.
Of all the write-ups and analyses on the issue of ‘Boko Haram’ so far, that of Professor Isaac Olawale Albert of the Peace and Conflict Studies Programme, Institute of African studies, University of Ibadan, which is available on his website firstname.lastname@example.org, titled “An Alternative Explanation of Religious Fundamentalism in Northern Nigeria”, stands out as a commendable, scholarly and balanced view. The piece is a product of a painstaking practical research that objectively traced the genesis of the phenomenon that is Boko Haram, its evolution, ideology, mode of operation and the context in which the sect operates.
According to Prof. Albert, the sect is one of the grass root responses to bad governance in Nigeria. He is also of the view that the sect was produced by the abandoned Shariah project of some northern Nigerian governors. The members of the sect became frustrated when the Shariah project was abandoned after its political dividend had been reaped by the governors. It is also understood that on the strength of assurance given by the governors when canvassing for support for their governorship bid, they were given spiritual support by the members of the sect. They were therefore disappointed when the governors reneged and abandoned the Shariah project.
Prof. Albert also found out that leaders of the Boko Haram sect were hated by the government officials not for campaigning against western education as was widely reported but for directing their daily sermons to correcting the ills of the society and reminding government officials of their failure to provide good governance to the people in accordance with their promise. Furthermore, the Boko Haram sect was said to have targeted the police force for attack because of the maltreatment metted by the latter to their members some of who were either detained for a long period without trial and subjected to torture or killed in an extra-judicial manner.
Prof. Albert deserves commendation for his well researched and objective publication which has provided useful insight into the phenomenon of Boko Haram and its activities in the northern region of Nigeria.
It is very unfortunate that the media, which has the sacred duty to inform and educate the public, have not done enough in terms of investigative journalism which would have put the issue of the sectarian crisis as presented by Boko Haram and other fundamentalist groups, in proper perspective. The result of this failure is that the preponderance of the Nigerian masses remain largely uninformed or are misinformed about the true picture of Boko Haram sect and what they stand for.
These issues should be of concern to all and should be handled in a responsible and dispassionately manner by those entrusted with such duties with a view to ensuring social justice and peace in the society. Due to deliberate mischief, coupled with prejudiced views about the Muslims, the peaceful religion, Islam and its adherents have remained the most vilified and misunderstood. The message of Islam which if well understood can certainly reduce or prevent ignorant opinions being held about the Muslims is both clear and readily available to sincere seekers of truth and knowledge.
In other words, the false statements and unjust actions against the Muslims and Islam could be prevented by trying to understand the message of Islam.
In a civilized society where human life, peace and social justice are valued, crises and matters of this nature are sincerely investigated with a view to come up with appropriate solution and to guarantee the much needed national integration and peace for all. Unfortunately, the government’s wrong approach and the failure of the news media to play its expected natural and objective reportage of the happenings have robbed us of appropriate solutions to the crises. Most of the individual commentators who are also supposed to be objective in their views have allowed sentiment and bias to dominate their views and this did not also help matters.
A classical example of prejudiced and bias views and opinions was an article titled; ‘Boko Haram: Any end in sight?’ in the Feature column of National Pilot, Monday 27th – Wednesday 29th June, 2011. The paper condemned the readiness of the present Governor of Borno State, Kassim Shettima for his determination to embrace dialogue in resolving the crisis while it subscribed to President Jonathan’s “carrots and sticks” approach to tackle the sectarian crisis. In the Blueprint newspaper of Sunday-Sunday, June 26-July 3, 2011, three Lawyers; Ahamba, Ozekhome and Keyamo also urged Federal government not to dialogue with ‘Boko Haram’ because they claimed the group is faceless though Governor Kassim Shettima was quoted to have said about the group:
“They are our sons and daughters and it is my candid belief that the mainstream members are willing to talk to us”. Lawyer Ozekhome further stated that: “Maximum force should be used to get rid of them. I don’t believe that the government should dialogue with them. You don’t dialogue with terrorists”. The Borno State citizens who addressed an open letter to the President were however of the opinion that “a continued brutal military approach can not bring a lasting solution. Furthermore, the three lawyers claimed without stating the basis for their comparison that ‘Boko Haram’ is unlike Niger Delta militants.
Boko Haram is a national issue which should be approached in a manner devoid of sentiment and personal bias. Unfortunately, people who should join in the efforts to finding a lasting solution have only expressed opinions and suggestions heavily coloured by personal bias.
On the truth of the crisis, information gathered from residents of Maiduguri in an open letter to Mr. President written by some citizens of Borno State origin and published in the Daily Trust newspaper of Thursday, June 30, 2011, made it known that the Late Muhammad Yusuf led religious group held peaceful public sermons like other religious groups.
Their sermon was described as “liberation theology highlighting the ills, injustice and iniquities prevalent in their immediate environment”. This was said to have created hatred between the group and the officials of the government. It was also reported that consequent upon this, there were regular contacts between the leader of the group and the state security service in Maiduguri and Abuja.
There were evidences of poor handling of the crisis by the state and the use of disproportionate force against members of the sect. For example, in the document referred to above and some editions of some news print in Nigeria particularly the Guardian (Friday June 12 2009), the Punch (Monday, August 31, 2009), Nigerian Compass (Friday, September 18, 2009), etc, it was reported that the combined force of the Army and the police called ‘operation flush’ under the directive of the then State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, shot followers of Late Muhammad Yusuf on their motorbikes while on a funeral procession for not putting on head helmet. This led to about 19 casualties.
Failure of the government to address this excessive use of force by the ‘Operation Flush’ contingent against the group led to the group’s decision to defend themselves and revenge by attacking security personnel and burning police station.
In a bid to deal with the situation, the Federal Government, under the Late President Umar Yar’adua indiscriminately used state force against the entire Muslim community, massacring countless innocent lives and destroying their properties. The extra-judicial execution of the ‘Boko Haram’ members and their innocent relatives, some of who were cripples on clutches received world-wide condemnation. Initial evidence of this inhuman act was revealed in the footage of Al-Jazeera television network and subsequently in the internet and various video clips now in circulation.
The then Governor of Borno State must have misled the federal government in the course of dealing with the situation. The Federal Government did not carry out proper investigations, before she ill-advisedly resorted to extra-judicial killing. Some of the tactics of the Islamic sect in the pursuit of their cause are however also condemnable for not applying finesse and maturity in their approach.
Further facts contained in Prof. Albert’s research-based publication earlier referred to in this write-up show that contrary to the official claim that Boko Haram do insanely kidnap, and forcibly convert people into their movement, attack, kill and terrorize people indiscriminately, the militant group’s insurgent activities are based on social and political reasons. The group is reported to be reacting to bad governance in Nigeria like the human right groups, anti-democracy agents and other various pressure groups do.
In our previous letter to the Sultan of Sokoto on this crisis in 2009, we mentioned some of the innocent Muslim individuals and organizations that the Nigeria security personnel illegally and unjustly harassed, attacked, dislodged, detained, maimed, and killed. These acts of brutality against Muslims only show the extent of hatred and strong aversion nursed against them in a heterogeneous society where our diversity should be our source of mutual benefits.
This hatred is manifested in among other areas, the intolerance displayed and strong but needless criticism and opposition against the proposed non-interest or Islamic banking system. On the socio-cultural aspect, the issue of Islamic dress code in schools, other formal organizations and in uniformed organizations has also needlessly generated a lot of controversy.
In furtherance of the avowed hatred for Muslims, various measures and strategies have been devised by the enemies both locally and internationally to discredit Muslims and Islam and to portray Islam as an evil religion. Some of those evil strategies include attempts to equate Islam with terrorism, trumped-up charges, false accusations against Muslim clerics and renowned personalities and state terrorism against Muslim countries as witnessed in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.
A classical case of frame-up was that of AbdulMutallab Umar Farouk who was accused of an attempt to hijack/carry out suicide bombing in an American plane on 25th December, 2009. In spite of the lack of credible and convincing evidence to support this, America has persistently pursued this case against the innocent, young man. Two of the passengers in that plane, Kurt Haskell and his wife, Lori testified that AbdulMutallab was framed up but the evil planners and the gullible international community have ignored that testimony. (Ref: Kurt Nimmo Prison Planet.com, Tuesday, December 29, 2009 and Daily Trust Thursday, January 7, 2010).
Islam as a religion ordained by God abhors evils and does not encourage destruction of lives and properties. Not a single soul does God permit any other person to take unjustly. While we affirm our commitment to this divine position, we however wish to observe that:
1. Since people of different faiths, traditions and cultures co-exist in the society, there should be mutual/reciprocal respect for one another’s ideals and passions. This will definitely promote peace and harmony.
2. The investigation of the fact(s) of any situation or crisis in our society should be pursued with a high sense of objectivity and responsibility.
3. ‘Boko Haram’ is not the name of any organization but a concept. Therefore the proponent of this concept should be properly identified and engaged by the government.
4. The crime of any person(s) or group(s) should be investigated and established while the accused should be given a fair hearing. As a matter of fact the trial should conform to civilized norms and international standard at least. Extra-judicial method should be abandoned because it is not supported by conscience and civilized practice.
5. Islam is one of the world’s foremost religions with a clear message of peace and brotherhood. Islam forbids all that is evil and it enjoins good deeds and love fo
Muslims should have the right to practise their religion any where in the world without molestation. This right is inalienable and should therefore be respected.
6. Those who engage in unjustified aggression against the Muslims should realize that they can never extinguish the light of Islam. All efforts to frustrate Muslims will surely come to naught.
7. Nigeria as a country has the duty to guarantee the safety and freedom of all her citizens. Muslims are not excluded from these rights. The government should therefore try to find solutions to whatever challenges that may confront the Muslims instead of yielding to calculated attempt by the enemies of Islam within and outside the government to demoralize or frustrate the Muslims.
8. We are in a free world. The universal guarantee of right to life and safety has given legitimacy to the constitutional guarantee of such right in the constitutions of most countries of the world, of which Nigeria is one. It is therefore an affront on natural justice to try to deny Muslims their right or prevent them in any part of the world, particularly in Nigeria, from practising their religion.
Let it be known that the international and local gang-up against Islam and Muslims is an effort in futility, because Islam is not a product of any human brain or executive decision of any secular government. The right of Muslims any where to practise their religion, assemble or propagate their religion is sacrosanct and can not be compromised. We therefore urge the whole world to embrace a sincere quest for knowledge, understanding and mutual respect in dealing with Muslims.
Finally in order to guarantee peace, security and stability in Nigeria we hereby urge the President of this country to urgently employ useful advice of well meaning citizens as well as dialogue to achieve the much needed national integration.