If the recent ‘war declaration’ comment attributed to Ango Abdullahi, the Northern Elders’ Forum spokesperson, is true, then President Goodluck Jonathan needs no smoke signal to decode that the rules of engagement of the Brahmin North is to escalate the ante in the mindless war of self-immolation that has been ravaging the country. It boggles the mind that any right-thinking person would fault the belated state of emergency proclamation issued by the president to attenuate the security challenges that have almost rendered parts of the north ungovernable.
Poser is: who are those profiting from the anarchy in Arewaland? All the twiddle twaddle about Boko Haram being the product of poverty and economic deprivation is hogwash, because the facts don’t add up. There has always been a culture of virulent political activism embedded in Islamic proselytism and jihadist militancy in the far north which predates the creation of Nigeria. These Islamist puritanical activists – from Othman Dan Fodio to the present day – have not improved the economic wellbeing of the talakawas or almajiris.
In 1804, Othman Dan Fodio sought, on one hand, to revive and purify Islam, to eliminate syncretistic beliefs, rituals, and innovations contrary to the Koran and Sharia, and on the other hand, incorporated a political element concerning state formation and conflict which united the Hausa states under his Caliphate of Sokoto in 1812.
Taking a cue from his grandfather, Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and premier of Northern Nigeria, stepped up Islamisation from the social to the political realm. Under his watch, Islamist principles constituted the mantra of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) established in 1949 with a motive force towards the restoration of the Sokoto Caliphate and the application of Sharia law to Northern Nigeria. He went beyond the call of duty to canvass for political Islam and in the process developed very close linkages with Abubakar Gumi, a leading Muslim intellectual who activated a critical link between the party and the Al Saud family in Saudi Arabia.
The events of January 1966 temporarily hunkered down the drive to create an Islamic state. By the early 70s, a militant group led by Mohammed Marwa, a.k.a. Maitatsine, emerged. He even rejected the prophethood of Mohammed and spoke against the use of radios, watches, bicycles, cars and the possession of more money than necessary. In 1979 he had recruited enough foot soldiers known as Yan Tatsine that acquired enough firepower to cause unrest in Bulumkuttu, Maiduguri, Yola, Kaduna and Gombe that claimed over 10,000 innocent souls. Then President Shehu Shagari ordered the security agencies to quell the insurgency and that put paid to the preacher whose body was incinerated and ashes stored in the police laboratory in Kano.
Just as Nigerians were about having a breather, we became afflicted again with this fellow called Sheik El Ibrahim Zak Zaky who debuted with Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) patterned along the HIZBOLLAH terrorist group in Lebanon. It is on record that Zak Zaky had served several prison terms on charges of sedition by successive Nigerian regimes in the 1980s and 1990s. Unassailable intelligence from external and diplomatic sources indicated he had funding from Iran including logistical support in guerrilla warfare, bomb-making, use of arms such as handguns, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the manufacturing of bombs and hand grenades. In 2009 the streets of Zaria literally flowed with blood in the aftermath of the riots between Zak Zaky followers and the police.
In the intervening years between Maitatsine and Zak Zaky were other shadowy crazed groups like the Kano Yussufiya sect, the Sunni and Shia squads, Derika, Izala, Kaulu, Muslim Brothers, Tijjaniya Quaddiriya, and several loony derivatives crawling all over the north. In 1996 the Islamic Brothers beheaded Gideon Akaluka, the Igbo trader who was alleged to have desecrated the Koran in Kano. Fast forward to 2009, a 25-year old youth corps member, Grace Ushang from Cross River State, was gang-raped and slaughtered in Maiduguri by a group of youths who accused her of dressing improperly in a Muslim domain. Her attire consisted of a pair of khaki trousers issued by the NYSC which had deployed her to Maiduguri on the compulsory national service.
These fundamentalists derived and still derive their support from fringe members of the political, aristocratic and blue-blooded caliphate who themselves are linked to the Islamic Maghreb. Government incapacity and lack of political will serve to encourage recurrence of these serial uprisings. The era of the military president, between 1985 and 1993, witnessed a descent to corporate Islamic evangelism, culminating in the surreptitious admission of Nigeria into the OIC. That brazen act not only emboldened the mullahs, but provided a backdrop for the offshoot of new revivalist goons like the Boko Haram.
The genesis and motivation of Boko Haram is intertwined with the gory culture of violence, bombings and suicides being promoted by its founder Mohammed Yusuf. His vision was rooted in mindless bloodletting. Boko Haram postulates the ideology that “western education is evil and forbidden”. But the sophistication and timeline of its destructive operations, weaponry and strategies is like a page lifted from the manual of SWAT.
Torti is a management consultant and public policy analyst.
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