Boko Haram; A strange sect as a festering sore

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Adelani Adepegba

When Mohammed Yusuf led his rag-tag radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, to attack Maiduguri residents in July 2009, few people gave the group a chance of surviving this long. The group, whose only binding cord was its fanatical religious view, was dismissed by many as a nuisance that would soon fizzle out.

Two years down the road, the group has not only survived the odds, but has successfully spread its violent campaigns beyond Borno State to Bauchi, Niger, Yobe, Gombe and other parts of northern Nigeria. In spite of the death of its leader, Yusuf, the sect had stepped up murderous attacks against security agents and government officials, through killings, bombings, jail-breaking and other anti-social activities.

The once serene university town of Maiduguri has been turned to a slaughter slab by the Islamic militants who claim to reject western civilisation, though the tools of their warfare were produced by the western education they spurn. To show that they mean business, the group has scaled up its mode of attacks to include bombings and guerilla attacks on every state apparatus.

Victims of BH’s brutality already include former Borno Governor Sheriff’s in-law and former national vice chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, Awana Ngala, as well as his younger brother Goni Modu, a former chairman of Ngala Local Government who were killed. Others are Abba Garbai, a younger brother of the Shehu of Borno, many police officers and men, prison warders, clerics and other citizens.

The fundamentalists, who comprise young men, who are seemingly illiterate have managed to survive the onslaught of security agents and have even launched suicidal attacks on police patrol teams. No fewer than 13 policemen were reportedly killed in the run up to the April governorship election in Borno State when the militants staged a surprise attack on policemen who were on a ‘show of force’ parade.

Two days to the election, two blasts had gone off at a hotel and one at a transport hub on a Sunday night and there was a fourth blast at a cattle market the next morning. Police said three people died, including a police officer, in the explosions at the Tudu Palace hotel’s bar and 14 people were wounded.

The religious fanatics eventually issued a statement in which they said they only wanted to see Islamic law imposed across Nigeria, while warning of further attacks. “We will never accept any system of governance apart from the one described by Islam because that is the only way Muslims can be liberated. We do not respect the Nigerian government because it is illegal. We will continue to fight its military and police because they are not protecting Islam,” BH vowed.

Worried by the manner in which the group was undermining national security, Vice- President Namadi Sambo had met with Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima and discussed how the group could be contained. The duo had agreed on a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, which would involve granting of amnesty to those willing to surrender while the hardliners would be dealt with.

President Goodluck Jonathan also echoed the same sentiment in Washington at a meeting with President Barrack Obama where he said the Federal Government was considering granting the group amnesty as it was done for Niger Delta militants.

However, the announcement had hardly left the President’s lips when BH issued its terms of surrender. It demanded for Shettima’s resignation and the prosecution of his predecessor, Sherriff, top security officials who served in the state in 2009 and the Shehu of Borno.

The group does not limit its murderous campaign to Borno State. It claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts at Mogadishu Barracks in Abuja and several attacks recorded in Jos, Plateau State.

The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Hafis Ringim, vowed to end the incessant attacks by Boko Haram. Barely 24 hours after he made the vow, there was an explosion at the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in Abuja. Although no group has claimed responsibity for the explosions, there are concerns that it might have been the handiwork of the group.

A letter signed by one Usman Al-Zawahiri written in Hausa and distributed to newsmen said peace would continue to elude the country unless the conditions are met. However, the letter could not be verified from other sources as originating from Boko Haram.

Titled, “Conditions for dialogue with President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Kashim Shettima”, Alzawahiri said they had reduced their demand for the strict enforcement of the Sharia legal system to the Muslim-dominated states of the North and immediate release of all members of the sect detained in Borno and other northern states.

Other conditions listed in the letter include the prosecution of some politicians, traditional rulers and security chiefs.

“The following people must be prosecuted according to Islamic law for conspiracy which resulted in the killing of late Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf after he was arrested alive by soldiers who handed him over to the police at the 21 Armoured Brigade, popularly known as Giwa Military Barrack in Maiduguri.

“They include the immediate past Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff; the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai El-Kanemi; former Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Lame; former Borno State Commissioner of Police and Director of the State Security Service, who were in charge of security during the sectarian mayhem in 2009.”

It further said, “Others that must be prosecuted according to Sharia Islamic law include the security operatives particularly those attached to the Operation Flush Joint Task Force for causing the first crisis along the custom area in Maiduguri metropolis when they shot and wounded 20 of our brothers and killed two others. They also shot dead seven of our brothers and wounded 10 others during the inauguration of a mosque in Monguno Local Government.

“We also demand for the immediate arrest and prosecution of those behind the killings of Baa Fugu Mohammed, the father in-law of our late leader and Alhaji Buju Foi. The All Nigeria Peoples Party-led government in Borno State must resign because its leaders were responsible for the attack on the Ibn Thaimiyya Islamic center (Markas) and the house of our leader in Maiduguri.

“We also request for an immediate investigation into the killing of our brothers through food poisoning which was perpetrated by prison warders with connivance of former Governor Ali Sheriff.

“We want the Federal Government to release the report of the committee of inquiry set up by late President Umaru Yar’adua which was led by former National Security Adviser, Abdullahi Mukhtar, on the extra-judicial killings of our brothers during the 2009 unrest.” The group added that it would not participate in any dialogue with the Federal Government if the conditions were not met.

Whilst the government may be desirous of seeing an end to the violence and aggression, yielding to the demands is a difficult thing to do. Apart from the fact that the Federal Government has no power to impose Islamic law or sharia on any state, (Nigeria being a secular country), acquiescing to the conditions is not feasible as it would encourage other anti-social elements to hold government to ransom with unreasonable demands. The government is thus caught between a rock and a hard place and it has to tread carefully to draw out the group and make them see reason, while not yielding control.

Aside this, it is practically impossible to remove a democratically -elected governor from office by a presidential fiat because some religious fanatics want him out of power so they can impose their will on the populace by implementing a Taleban agenda. The Talebans, an Islamic group that ruled parts of Afghanistan in 1996 were notorious for their strict interpretation of Sharia laws ever seen in the Muslim world and were widely criticised for the way they treated women.

Unconfirmed reports however said Shettima may have concluded plans to introduce the Sharia legal system in his state to placate the BH members. This has drawn flaks from the Nigerian Bar Association which condemned the move, saying the action “will encourage and validate the use of violence, force and other illegal means to achieve illegitimate goals.”

A communiqué signed by the NBA President, Joseph Daudu, at the end of its National Executive Committee meeting in Abuja charged the sect to disavow violence and terrorism in the overall interest of the state and Nigeria.

The NBA’s NEC noted that only the people of Borno State could determine the type of system they wish to be governed with. “The choice of any legal system approved by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is within the exclusive preserve of the people of the state acting through their elected representatives in the state House of Assembly.”

Also the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties described BH’s demands as unreasonable, untenable and impractical. The CNPP noted that only the election petitions tribunal could sack the governor.

CNPP Secretary-General, Osita Okechukwu, noted that the resurgence of the sect was a vote of no confidence on the immediate past governor of Borno State, who he said privatised power. He added that BH was symptomatic of the larger problems in Nigeria.


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