The Moment (London)

27 July 2011

Nigeria: What is Boko Haram Fighting For?

analysis

THE response of the Borno leadership under Sheihk Muhammad Al-Kanemi to the attack on Borno and allegations of un-Islamic practices at the beginning of the 19th century was clear, simple and straightforward. In his efforts to ensure peace, he carried on series of theological, legal and political debates through letters with Sheihk Usman Dan Fodio and later with his son, Muhammad Bello. Their message was clear:

"We are Muslims and do not harm innocent souls, much less fellow Muslims. Any interpretation or understanding of Islam, which justifies killing of innocent people is condemnable and should be rebuked totally."

Perhaps, the present generation Borno leadership did not give a serious consideration, when in 2002, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf gathered a handful of like-minded fanatics in Maiduguri and brain-washed them into believing that a replica of a volatile Far East state could be made out of Nigeria. No one gave a serious thought, when in 2004, Yusuf moved his newly-birthed outfit to Kanamma, Yobe State, where he set up a base and called it Afghanistan, from where he began to actualise the group agenda, unleashing ferocious attacks on nearby police posts, killing police officers and innocent citizens alike.

Today, the menace of Jama'atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda'wati wal jihad, also known as Boko Haram, that seeks the imposition of Sharia law in the northern states of Nigeria, is on the verge of plunging the entire nation into anarchy through series of indiscriminate bombings. Consequently, Borno State, an acclaimed "Home of Peace", has suddenly degenerated to signify violence, with evoking fears to outsiders, forcing mass exodus and evacuations of non-indigenes from the volatile state.

What exactly Boko Haram is fighting for and whose interest they are representing are yet to be clearly defined. Etymologically, the term Boko Haram comes from the Hausa word boko, meaning "animist" western or otherwise non-Islamic education, and the Arabic word haram, figuratively meaning "sin", literally "forbid- den". Figuratively, therefore, Boko Haram is translated as "Western education is sin."

Ideologically, Boko Haram opposes not only western education, but western culture and modern science as well. For instance, in a 2009 interview, granted the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the leader of the sect, Yusuf, stated that the belief that the world is sphere is contrary to Islam and should be rejected, along with Darwinism and the theory that rain comes from water evaporation by the sun.

From the above, it could be established that the current state of insecurity and deplorable state of affairs are not unconnected with the attempt to impose the opinion of a small group on a larger society, a situation which clearly abridge the freedom to hold and express one's opinion that is fundamental and inalienable in any given society. Whereas, the virtues of tolerance, being a brother's keeper, good neighbourliness, social justice, accountability and honest leadership still remain the hallmark and enduring legacies of Islam, one could not but agree with the generality of peace-loving Muslims, who have widely condemned the position of Boko Haram as un-Islam.

Going down the memory lane, Borno State, as a society, has had her fair share on instability and even wars in her chequered history; the sacking of Birnin Ngazargamu by the jihadists in 1808, Rabih's invasion and occupation in 1893, and the Maitasine riots in the 1980s. In all these crises, destructive and vicious as they were, the wars did not degenerate into killing of innocent souls, targeting of public recreational centres, places of worship and killing of unarmed civilians, as the Boko Haram sect is perpetuating it today. Presently, the cumulative effects of Boko Haram are telling heavily on the image of Nigeria as a country and her sovereignty is seriously under threat.

However, President Goodluck Jonathan should be commended for the Joint Task Force (JTF) put in place to monitor the security situation in Borno State. The President should ignore those agitating for its withdrawal without a tangible and sustainable alternative to fill the security vacuum.

Meanwhile, government should not reject the offer made by French Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Jean-Michel Dumond, to cooperate with Nigeria to fight this scourge. Also, the accusation of ex-Borno State governor, Modu Sheriff, by the chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, Gen. Jerry Useni, as being the godfather of Boko Haram, should not be taken lightly.

Above all, government should constitute a fact-finding commission, involving major stakeholders, to sit down and listen to those who are directly or remotely connected to Boko Haram so that the spate of violence can stop.

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