Monday, September 7, 2015


Last week I read a report about some Boko Haram masterminds who had been arrested in certain Nigerian states outside the northern region. It sent some shivers down my spine because like so many others, I’m accustomed to reading about the escapades of this terrorist organization, or hearing about it on the news. The possibility though that their heinous activities could take place in my immediate vicinity was not a palatable piece of information. I know that those of us who have been fortunate enough to be far away from the parts of Nigeria affected by the scourge of Boko Haram would come across as being so grossly selfish by the victims of these cold-blooded murderers, and I sympathize with them. We all watch the news…we all see the pictures of great suffering being endured by the internally displaced persons…we are all outraged. But there is no doubt that we who are far removed from the horrors of Boko Haram, bear a load of gratefulness that we would rather not part with.
Even though terrorism has existed in one form or the other within the confines of this massive piece of real estate known as Nigeria, I dare say that it has never been so vicious, so menacing, so ridiculously evil, as the form and shape it has taken in the rag-tag insurgent band known as Boko Haram. Maybe the escapades of terrorism feel so real to us because we are alive and present in this generation. Maybe it is because we are all witnesses to the senseless murders and carnage left in the wake of a Boko Haram assault. Maybe it is because we still cry out to the government to “Bring Back our Girls”! Even though our senses have been rudely awakened by this terrorist group, the truth is that the northern region has had its fair share of fanatics, as history itself has shown. The scenario though, is not peculiar only to Nigeria. This is because the ubiquitous nature of religion (whether it be Christianity or Islam, etc.) has allowed for the rise of individuals desperate to perpetuate ideologies much more different from that of the parent religion. True to human nature, in the quest to assume messianic roles, charismatic individuals look for “loopholes” in religious texts, and translate it into whatever suits their purposes. And as history continuously shows, where there is a leader, there will undoubtedly be followers. But not to digress further, back to terrorism in Northern Nigeria before Boko Haram.
As far back as 1893, a certain Rabih Fadi Allah invaded the Gwoza region of northern Nigeria from Darfur, forcibly converting to Islam, taking slaves, beheading people and inflicting mayhem on the terrified population, all in the name of holy jihad. 1913 also saw the rise of another such figure known as Hamman Yaji. Most people credit the formation of the Boko Haram sect to Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. But in reality, the creation of Boko Haram goes much further…back to the late 1970s…back to a certain Mohammed Marwa AKA Maitasane. He was a firebrand Islamic preacher vehemently opposed to western culture (I guess now we can understand how that the term Boko Haram loosely translates to mean “western education is a sin”). A fanatic, Maitasane declared the reading of any other book outside the Koran as sinful against Allah. He was such a terrifying figure by various accounts and the government took notice; cracking down on his sect, and leading to his death in 1982. Mohammed Yusuf did revive the group in 2002, and was ‘mysteriously’ killed supposedly by the Nigerian Police in 2009. Now, even though he had begun to feature in internal intelligence reports and also register his presence in the news media through the dastardly activities of his sect, the name Abubakar Shekau definitely featured most prominently in the national consciousness in April 2014, when the present self-proclaimed leader of the insurgent group masterminded the abduction of 276 school girls from a secondary school in Borno, and from then till now, the nation has been on high alert.
The question most people ask is this- is Boko Haram really a religious sect truly seeking the establishment of sharia law in northern Nigeria, or is it actually a proxy organization of certain wealthy elite seeking the disruption of normalcy in the country in order to achieve their own selfish agenda? That is a question which many of us have been unable to answer. I am a Christian. I am not privy to the ways of Islam, but I do have Muslim friends; and without an iota of doubt, I can boldly say that any ideology that calls for the maiming, killing, displacing, and infliction of the worst suffering on people for whatever reason(s), is certainly not the way of Allah. As I said before, the ubiquitous nature of religion- which is by no means a bad thing- has allowed for the rise of fanatics. And without being biased, I can say that as it was with the crusades of Christianity in far gone centuries, so it is today with jihadist fundamentalist movements in present times. But I am Nigerian, and for today, Boko Haram is my immediate concern. I can also certainly see how the ‘do-or-die’ nature of Nigerian politics would also lead to the rise of a few nameless cabal members who would do the utmost to maintain their hold over this geographical entity. But if certain reports are true, these individuals are shrouded in utmost secrecy, and certainly seem to be very well protected.
Another question- what is it about Boko Haram that is so appealing to its supporters and foot soldiers? I guess that may not be so difficult to answer. It boils down to ‘economics’. A study of the various regions of Nigeria would reveal that the north is a most impoverished region. High levels of illiteracy and poverty can be said to be a contributory factor to the rise of terrorism. We have heard stories of people given as little as 500naira to plant bombs that kill hundreds of people! Suicide bombers would decide to go into so-called martyrdom for the promise of economic sustenance of their families- and an additional 70 virgins in paradise! This is a tragedy.
As a nation, we are collectively saddened by the rise of Boko Haram…we are also terrified by their presence. And we have registered our grievances time and time again, calling on the government to act fast, and eliminate these terrorists from our midst. The inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari saw the relocation of the military’s command and control center from Abuja, down to Maiduguri in Borno state, the heart of the insurgency. In the past, Nigerian soldiers had largely been timid when they faced the Boko Haram insurgents. This was due to the fact that they were poorly provided for, poorly trained, and grossly underequipped. Some soldiers would run away from the battlefield, choosing to be court-marshaled rather than obey the orders of their commanders to engage an enemy clearly more superior than they were. But I think the tide has turned…somewhat. Joint multilateral efforts by the Nigerian Army together with the militaries of other neighboring states affected by the crises, initiated by President Buhari, a former military man himself, has led to more victories been recorded by the Army. And the new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Buratai, has certainly brought in life, and boosted the morale of the Nigerian soldiers.
So what is the future for Boko Haram? I know that with our girls still missing, a great number of Nigerians still feel that the insurgency is winning. But I do believe the tide has turned. Recently the military recaptured the economic and strategic town of Gamboru Ngala in Borno state. Thousands of people especially women and children have also been freed from Boko Haram strongholds. Also in recent times, Abubakar Shekau has been much less vocal than he used to be. I certainly feel like the "last moment" assaults been carried out by Boko Haram in recent times is not a show of strength, but of utter desperation. They may win a few battles, but they are losing the war!
I know that the battle to eliminate Boko Haram would require more than a military campaign. If enduring positive peace is to be achieved, the government must take the necessary steps to get to the heart of the problem and address the root causes of the rise of terrorism such as poverty and illiteracy. But I think we are headed in the right direction. And with sustained effort from the military, we can at least put an end to the senseless campaign of bloodshed. To be realistic though, terrorism cannot be completely eradicated in today’s world. There will always be fanatic ideologies that are at variance with collective civil sensibilities, and there will always be fanatics standing ready to champion these ideologies. But in defense of the larger peace-loving and tolerant humanity, as long as there are a majority of people who refuse to be blinded by evil ways of thinking and refuse to be subjected to the horrendous and merciless rule of these fanatics, truth will always triumph over evil. And this is the reality, and the certain future for the group known as Boko Haram.

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