It is impossible for me to fathom why and how successive governments in Nigeria, both at the Federal and State levels, have allowed the Boko Haram (BH) sect to grow into such a religious (and some might even say, political) behemoth that has now constituted itself onto law. This is an organization whose very name – “Boko” in Hausa means “Western Education” and “Haram” in Arabic means “Sin” – should send cold shivers down the spine of any Nigerian who has an idea of what Al Qaeda has done to the rest of the world, and what the International Community has done to countries that provided sanctuaries to its members and sympathizers. In essence, this is an organization whose conflicting ideology is the bedrock of its commitment to the destruction of Nigeria through the removal of all symbols of Westernization. In one breath, it hates Western science, to include Western medicine and Western education system. In another breath, it treasures the television, the radio, the car, the Internet, and oh, the motorcycle – an important vehicle for conveniently transporting suicide bombs across the land and escaping capture. This organization threatens to go beyond Al Qaeda in its quest to return our civilized society to the pre-1903 Sokoto Caliphate. This contradicting and confused nature poses the biggest existential threat to Nigeria as a secular Federation. This is the organization that the Federal government reportedly invited to a meeting where both could negotiate an end to the menace that it has become. This is the same organization that, in recent past, rejected an offer of amnesty from both Federal and State governments. I am at a loss as to how a criminal organization that should face the full wrath of the law became a respected group with which we must negotiate.
We started down this ignoble, cowardly course by negotiating with the criminals that hijacked the legitimate cause of the Niger-Delta people by blowing up oil infrastructure, blackmailing, kidnapping, raping, maiming, and killing. After our security apparatuses became overwhelmed, we caved in as a nation and negotiated with them. We rewarded known murderers with scores of Ghana-Must-Go-Bags filled with money in the name of buying back their illegal weapons. They sat across the table from our Police Inspector-General, Military Task Force Commander, Governors and Vice President, sipping tea and Fanta; smoking cigars and chewing Colanuts, and then telling Nigeria what they would or would not accept. This, after waging war against the country! This, after killing people! We dressed up those pigs with garlands and allowed them to get away with their crimes, without solving the problems on which they hinged their fight in the first place – problems of subjugation by the Shell oil conglomerate, oil spillages, contamination of fishing holes, destruction of farmlands, lack of good roads, lack of good schools and lack of social amenities for the area that produces most of Nigeria’s wealth. We paid the fat cats that sponsored the young and poor Niger-Delta militants, “settled” their monarchs and other community leaders, and left the generality of the populace to continue facing the demons that have consigned them to a life of abject penury. Today, those fat cat sponsors are riding around in their posh cars, living in their plush homes and collecting a monthly “peace dividend” of millions of Naira from the Federal, State and Local governments, without penitence, without remorse, without apology and without accountability for their criminal acts. The country capitulated and surrendered to them. But as I recall, all that Odumegwu Ojukwu did was to declare his intent to secede and we waged a three-year war with him! Ojukwu had not even begun the blowing up of bridges or the sabotaging of Nigeria’s oil pipelines like the Niger-Delta militants did before bombs started raining on Biafra.
Today, we are about to capitulate and surrender to the BH too. We are about to adorn the necks of these criminals with multi-colored garlands. We have invited them to sit with government officials at tables decorated with bouquets of some of the finest (imported) flowers and negotiate our terms of surrender to them as a nation. We have invited to sit with our senior military, police and civilian officials, people who have illegally constructed, placed and detonated explosive devices within the territory of Nigeria. We are offering amnesty to members of an organization that laid ambushes for police and military patrol teams, opened fire on them and killed many. We are surrendering our sovereignty to a criminal organization that has made whole States (Borno, Yobe and Bauchi) almost ungovernable. What then would we do if we were invaded by Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Chad, or Cameroon? Would we scamper into the Atlantic Ocean and leave Nigeria for them without fighting back?
The rise to prominence of the BH sect is nothing but a function of the illiteracy that festered in the darkest crevices of some of our Northern States, through the mass brainwashing of the Almajiris by the extremist imams. These people have overrun prisons and freed prisoners after killing prison guards. They have brazenly called for the resignation of a state governor. They have attacked the offices of the INEC because “Islam is opposed to democracy”! They have invaded the premises of the University of Maiduguri and caused the campus to shut down. They have espoused the most regressive, sadistic and anachronistic ideas that even the caveman would find repugnantly uncivilized. Yet, our democratically-elected government wants to negotiate with them. Democracy should not be synonymous with spinelessness. Our Intelligence and Law Enforcement agencies should wake up from their slumber and rise to the challenge. These people live amongst us, within the territorial integrity of Nigeria. We should infiltrate their ranks and rout them mercilessly from within. Even if they live beyond our borders in Cameroon, Chad or Niger, we should go after them and cut them down there. If we are able to bring them to trial, we should do so; arrest them in Bauchi State, for example, but try them in Delta of Lagos, far-far away from their comfort zones. And if we are unable to bring them to trial, we should finish them off on the streets when we catch them in the act. Their remaining brethren must know that we mean business and we will not allow their ilk to blackmail Nigeria and turn it into a Pariah nation – another Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. We have enough problems, as it were, with being labeled globally as a corrupt country. We cannot afford the stigma of “Terrorist Nation.” We will not allow them to use Nigeria as sanctuary for their nefarious activities.
Am I alone in my thinking that a responsible government should take the BH challenge head-on by treating its members as what they are – criminals – regardless of their numerical strength? And you annihilate a criminal group by first using good intelligence to penetrate/infiltrate it, find out who the key leaders are, find out their sources of support (financial, logistical and moral), find out who the middle-managers are and decimate them all in a coordinated, deliberate, fearless, mass attack that will send a clear message to copycat groups that the government means business. Are you thinking about the Odi “massacre” that happened during Obasanjo’s government? I am. If a BH operative is found in a house, mosque, church, car or whatever, that entity should be forfeited to the government until its owner proves that he is unaware of a BH operative’s presence in it. Yes, the people of Maiduguri, Yola, Gombe and their environs will cry “government massacre” or government high-handedness. They may even find a few voices in the human rights community that will condemn such “attack on innocent” people. Innocent my foot!
Founded as far back as the 19
60s under the official Arabic name of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), the organization remained largely dormant in Nigeria until 2001/2002 when Ustaz Muhammad Yusuf revived it in Maiduguri, Borno State. Yusuf, who was killed in 2009 during a shootout with Nigerian security forces, had been suspected of having received funding and guidance from wealthy Jihadists in and outside Nigeria. Out of nowhere, he had built a “Madrassa”-like complex, complete with a mosque, classroom and other training facilities, inside Nigeria! He created a whole community in Kanamma, Yobe State and boldly named it “Afghanistan”, from where he continued to preach venomous sermons against Christians (and even non-radical Muslims) that do not share his extremist ideology. He and his cohorts then basically arrogated to themselves the title of the Infallible Interpreter of the Qur’an and Custodian of the ethos espoused in the Hadith. And the rest of the reasonable, moderate, Nigerian Muslims sheepishly acquiesced! Have we forgotten that these are the resurgent Maitatsine miscreants of 1979/1980 who shocked us with brutal attacks? Do we not know that these people swore an oath to the enthronement of Sharia law in all of Nigeria and have successfully cowered 13 Northern State governments into governing their people by Sharia law? Can’t we see that just about half of Nigeria’s land mass is already under Sharia law? Don’t we know that in due course, Lagos, Rivers, Calabar and all the States north of them will be under Sharia law too? Isn’t this the basic definition of Jihad?
The good thing, however, is that the BH sect does not have the monopoly of interpreting the tenets of the Qur’an. Many of us have read the Qur’an too, to include the Hadith! And where the BH’s interpretations of the Qur’an contrast with provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, the Constitution takes precedence. Nigeria will not come under a BH government that considers anything Western – from education to science, to the wearing of shirts, suits and ties – as an aberration that is antithetical to the teachings of Islam. Nigeria will not surrender to the same people who vociferously prohibit the cohabitation of Muslims with their “Kafiri” Christians, and consider Christians as persons of lesser value than dogs. Nigeria must not give an inch of space to the same people who believe that the country (when governed by Christian Gowon, Christian Obasanjo and now by Christian Jonathan), is destined for the brimstone of hell. These are the same people whose main contribution to the economy of Nigeria is the “Almajiri” (beggar) industry. Haba, Aboki Na!
I am convinced that these people aren’t Nigerians. These people are Chadians, NigeriEns (from Niger Republic), and Cameroonians. These people are different from those with whom I grew up in Zaria. They are different from the Hausa/Fulani people with whom I attended elementary school in Zaria. They are different from the Birom with whom I attended another elementary school in Bukuru, near Jos. They are different from the Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba people with whom I attended secondary school in Babanloma, Kwara State. They are of a different stock from my Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, Tiv, Ebira, Edo, Enwan, Irorafe, and Gwari friends. They are certainly different from the Yoruba people that I know. Their loyalty is not to Nigeria. Their allegiance is to their warped understanding of Islam.
The true Nigerians I know, in 2011, treasure education – Western education, that is – and will sell the clothes on their back to see their children through school. The Nigerians I know do not confuse their worship of God (either through Jesus Christ, or the Prophet Muhammad (PBOH), or even the Ifa oracle, or the Sango deity), with the education of their children. The Nigerians I know do not live in a cocoon of illiteracy that will make them subservient to some long-distant mullahs in the name of religion. The Nigerians I know will never raise a child who will become a suicide bomber. Oh yes, My typical Nigerian could defraud you through the Internet, rob you at gun-point and in broad daylight, burglarize your home with or without you in it, demand bribes before performing his duties and may not even perform his duties after collecting the bribe – all crimes that abound even in Western countries. But no, he will not kill himself for anybody or any religion. He is likely a graduate of some university somewhere; it could be a glorified secondary school called “university” these days, but a university nonetheless. He loves life and can hold his own in most environments. He is that generator mechanic I knew in Serbia-Montenegro; that UN Task Force police officer I met in Kosovo; the civil engineer I met in Albania; the owner of a shipping company I knew in South Korea; the medical doctor I met in Germany; the professional football player in Italy; the lawyer in The Netherlands; the IT technician in Austria; the Bio-Technician in Switzerland; the oil company executive I knew in Saudi Arabia; the hotelier I met in Qatar; the airport clerk I saw in Kuwait; the myriad professional and menial workers I know in the U.S. and a host of other countries around the world. My typical Nigerian is a work horse, in spite of all the hours he spends in church, or at the mosque. The Nigerian I know may attend church seven days a week – present at the regular Sunday service, the Monday Old People meeting, the Tuesday Young People meeting, the Wednesday Singles meeting, the Thursday Choir practice, the Friday Pastor Appreciation meeting, and the Saturday Special Revival. He may even be a religious bigot. But he is not a religious zealot. He is not going to pack explosives in his underpants and board an airplane. He is not going to load explosives on a motorcycle and run it into a police station. He is not going to hurl a grenade at an Army or Police patrol. He is not that crazy.
There are only three options from which the BH members can choose only one if I were in charge: they can eschew violence, accept the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution and live freely; they can disagree with our Constitution and go to jail; or they can disagree with our Constitution and meet their Maker sooner than they wish. We should not negotiate with them. My fear is that these poor BH urchins are fronts for some rich and entrenched Islamists who want Nigeria to be a full-fledged member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) – that organization (remember?) into which Babangida dragged Nigeria and from which he was forced to pull out by the strident voices of progressives. My fear is that the Almajiri BH operative is paid a paltry N5000 to commit suicide by that feudal warlord, the same one that considers the Igbo people as “Yanmirin” and would “never serve under a Southerner.” My fear is that this may be the beginning of the long disintegration of Nigeria as a country. What if, for the sake of argument, we have other equally demented groups like the BH flexing their muscles in the Southern parts of the country? Would we not have several conflagrations of unmitigated proportions on our hands? We must tame the BH sect now.
An alumnus of the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and Towson University and University of Maryland (both in the State of Maryland, USA), Ladepo is a former journalist with The Guardian. An extensively traveled employee of a US agency, he contributes from Los Angeles.