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Solving the puzzle that is Boko Haram

04 June 2014, 11:11Henry Ifeanyi

Lagos - In 2002, a couple of years after the turn of the millennium, the Arabic name, “Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad” (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad) sounded just like that of any other religious group.

In the eyes of many, there was nothing sinister with the group.

For the average Nigerian, the group was just another Muslim congregation propagating the gospel of the Prophet Mohammed, the spiritual leader of Islam.

Twelve years down the line, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad has not only transformed to what is now infamously known as Boko Haram but into a blood thirsty monster with records of mindless, thousands of, killings and destruction of property.

The groups new identity Boko Haram means, “Western education is forbidden,” in the local Hausa Language.

Findings reveal that the group emanated from an orthodox teaching slightly resembling that of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The school of thought considers anything western as an aberration or completely “unIslamic.”

The group viewed the Western influence on Islamic society as the basis of the religion’s weakness. Hence their declaration that western education and indeed all western institution is infidel and as such must be avoided by Muslims.

The Koran phrase, “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors,” influences its followers.

The group promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.

At its initial formative stage, the group found much patronage among the predominantly northern youths who were plagued by poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.

The group's founding leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was an admiration to its members.

Aside preaching the “evil” of Western influence, he provided shelter and food for many who were willing to die to protect their beliefs.

Like ants rushing to the attraction of sugar, many deserted their families and occupation to join the new “faith.”

Sensing the danger posed by such teaching and the increasing membership commanded by the sect, the Nigeria government under the then leadership of late president Musa Yar Adua in 2009, ordered the mass arrest of members of the sect.

Hundreds of the sect members and its leaders were killed in the several raids carried out by the Nigeria military.

The sect leader, Yusuf was eventually arrested but later shot dead in a controversial circumstance. The police claimed he was shot while trying to escape from custody.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding his death, his demise has propelled Abubakar Shekau into the leadership, sparked a senseless insurgency that has left thousands dead and since become a tough nightmare for the country.

Shekau reign as the new face of Boko Haram has proved even more deadlier that his predecessor. From its initial style of using gunmen on motorbikes to kill perceived enemies and security forces, the group have successfully targeted more audacious location  in northern and central Nigeria, including bombing churches, bus station, bars, military barracks and even the police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja. Over 8000 persons including policemen and soldier are believed to have been killed by the sect members since 2009.

Amid growing concern about the groups escalating violence, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May 2013 in the three northern states where Boko Haram is the strongest - Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Thousands of reinforcements have since been sent to Maiduguri but the attacks continue.

Recently, the group stepped up its campaign against Western education, which it believes corrupts the moral values of Muslims, especially girls, by attacking two boarding schools - in Yobe in March and in Chibok in April.

The abduction of over 200 schoolgirls during the Chibok raid has sparked worldwide condemnation but the group says it would treat the girls as slaves and marry them off - a reference to an ancient Islamic belief that women captured in conflict are part of the "war booty".

While the search for the girls, with several international assistance, has intensified, so has been the attempt to solve the puzzle that is Boko Haram.

As Muslim organisations and clerics have distanced true Islam from the Boko Haram ideology, some believe the group is a creation of the political class to distabilize the country.

The Chief Imam of Agege mosque, Shuab Abdulwahab, told our correspondent in Lagos that the actions of Boko Haram are in clear contradiction of the tenets of Islam.
Abdulwahab listed things which Islam forbids to include the killing of innocent victims, Muslims to engage in individual war, unless with edict from the state, attack and destruction of religious houses of worship, synagogues, Churches or Mosques, war by burning and  attack of women and children.

The cleric also says that Islam forbids suicide, one of the greatest sins.

"Those who call themselves Boko Haram members cannot claim to be true Muslims. Nowhere in the Koran are we told to kill innocent people in the name of Allah. Those who are doing so are possessed by evil and are only denigrating the name of Allah. My position and that of all true followers of Prophet Mohammed's teaching is that Boko Haram can never by a true Islamic religion," he said.

The Imam called the Boko Haram leaders “blasphemous” for claiming the Koran sanctions their violence against innocent people.

“It’s only contrary to everything Islam stands for. It’s a crime against God and humanity.”

Several Islamic clerics have also in the past disassociated Islam with the activities of the Boko Haram.

A pastor in Christ Believers Assembly, John Okojie, believes Boko Haram is a “gang by evil forces to destroy the unity of the country.”

The pastor said he did not believe that the sect activities are a reflection of true Islam.

“We all have Muslim neighbours around us. What the Boko Haram sect is doing cannot truly be a reflection of islamic teaching. Boko Haram is a creation of evil force against this country. From the statistic of victims of the attacks by the sect, you could see that muslims, mosques, churches and christians are equal targets. Not one is left out. So you can see that those fanatics are only been used by the evil forces and enemies of our country. It may take long, but we would certainly defeat them," he said.

The economic impoverishment of people mostly in the northern part of the country has also been seen as a factor that has boosted the activity of the Boko Haram sect.
For peanuts, hungry youths who are recruited by the sect, are willing to take up arms and kill anyone.

Analyst, Matthew Oshoigwe, said the absence of basic amenities such a water, food, electricity, road and employment would continue be one of the driving forces.

“What more do you expect from a society that is so rich but cannot provide for the basic need of the people? The youths are obviously disillusioned.
As long as there are no genuine jobs to engage them, they will always readily be tools in the hand of the evil one," he said.

Analysts have also pointed out a possible political angle to the insurgency problem.

Some are quick to point to some inflammatory statements issued by some top politician during the 2011 presidential election that they would make the country ungovernable if the election were rigged.

Others believe that the Boko Haram insurgency, which escalated after the election, was a fulfilment of the threat issued by those politicians.

Human right activist, Debo Adesina, agreed that there is a possibility of such notion but adds that the President had not shown enough courage and commitment in tackling the problem head on.

“Some people may have issued threats but they cannot hold a nation as big as Nigeria hostage. I believe this problem has remain with us because our president has not showed enough courage to tackle the sect. I believe there is more to the issue of Boko Haram than our leaders are telling us.
I known Boko Haram will be history, the moment our leaders decided to take prompt action. The truth is that there is more to the problem than meets the eye," he said.

The possible political nature of the Boko Haram campaigns appears also justified by the containment posture the Presidency seems to have adopted.

Spokespersons of security agencies long ago disclosed that they knew those behind the bombings, though conclusive evidence was still being gathered for a watertight case.

Still on the political angle, some believe that a frontal engagement with those behind the attacks could backfire politically for the President who would be seeking re-election next year.

Whether things will pan out that way remains to be seen but there no denying the fact that Jonathan’s  handling of the terror crisis, particularly the schoolgirls’ abduction, has dented such re-election hopes.

– CAJ News

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