Boko Haram that has killed up to 10,000 people is an eventual outcome of a progressive malaise in Northern Nigeria. Only that the world wasn’t paying attention then. In February 2000, Governor Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna, the most multicultural state in the North imposed sharia. Not only was the imposition contrary to the provisions of the country’s secular constitution, it was an act of religious extremism. The apex Islamic bodies, Jama' tul Nasril Islam (JNI) and Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) did not condemn that extremism. The second bloodiest religious riot in Nigeria’s history then ensued in the state and the body count ran well over 2000. But it was Zamfara State governor Ahmed Yerima Sani who a month earlier launched the sharia spree that has now engulfed 12 northern states. To confirm his seriousness, in March 2000, he ratified the cold-blooded cut of Buba Bello Jangebe’s hand for an allegedly stealing a cow. He too allegedly stole billions from the public purse- one of the worst according to the federal anti-corruption czar, yet his own limbs are still with him. His deputy then, Mamudu Aliyu Shinkafi was the one in November 2002 who pronounced the fatwa that scurried ThisDay newspaper’s fashion correspondent, Ms Isioma Daniel into exile in Norway during the Miss World pageantry officially hosted by Nigeria. Despite the fact that the pageantry’s organisers conceded that the girls would not wear bikinis on stage, the fanatics street and their political leaders still went to work. They seized on the 18 words of Isioma Daniel that speculated on what Prophet Mohammed would think of the beauties. Sponsored riots that led to the death of 217 broke out in Abuja and Kaduna. The extremists didn’t want the pageantry because it would violate the holy month but they didn’t think their killing spree would.
Instead of Islamic leaders condemning the mass murder, they blamed the organisers. Dr Lateef Adegbite, secretary general of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) argued that with the murderous riots the government and the organisers will learn to take them seriously. If they don’t want a programme, they don’t want it. To which Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate called him “a fool” i.e. how can you stake your need for respect on the lives of others. Then Zamfara state deputy governor pronounced: “It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer [Isioma Daniel] as a religious duty. …. Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed.” Two years later, he rose to become the governor of the state while his boss the governor became a federal senator that married a 13 year old girl. The Zamfara Information Commissioner, Tukur Umar Dangaladima added a week later: “Anyone who kills her [Ms Danie]is a martyr who will go to Heaven…it is a reality based on the teachings of the Quran.”
All these were not said or done by an outcast terrorist organization but highly placed people in power. June 2009, in the town of Sara in Jigawa State, a mob descended on a police station and burnt it down for failure of the Police to hand over a fleeing man that sought refuge there. They claimed he had blasphemed against the holy prophet. October 2007, Shehu Sani’s book The Phantom Crescent satirising sharia leaders, lawyers, judges, and Hisbah (their police officers) was banned in Kaduna by the Upper Sharia Court. In February 2006, the extremists took to the streets of Maiduguri over the Danish cartoons; 16 people were killed including Rev Fr Mathew Gajere who was helping his altar boys escape when the siege began. They didn’t know why they were rioting; they were just told to go into the streets by their sponsors. And so they choose their usual targets: non-indigenes, non-Muslims but no Danish nor European.
This is from The Nigerian Punch newspaper of March 22, 2007: "Muslim pupils at a secondary school in Gandu, Gombe state, beat a teacher to death after accusing her of desecrating the Koran... The teacher, Oluwatoyin Olusesan, a Christian, was invigilating an Islamic Religious Knowledge exam at the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu when the incident occurred....the teacher suspected that a foul play was about to take place when one of the students wanted to come in with his books to the exam hall. The teacher collected the books and threw them outside, unknown to her, there was a copy of the Holy Koran among the books. The principal said before they knew what was happening, the students had started chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great). All efforts to control the rampaging students proved abortive even when the school principal, Mohammed Sadiq, tried to protect the teacher in his office. The principal was also terribly beaten and injured while they set the teacher's car, three classes, the school's clinic, administrative block and library on fire." Note: these happened during their Islamic Religious Knowledge examination. Maybe they did not know at their young age, that like the Islamic leaders reaffirmed, Islam is a religion of peace. There were no arrest and conviction as usual.
In the state that eventually became the headquarters of Boko Haram, during the January 2001 lunar eclipse in Borno, Muslims youth began a rampage destroying hotels, bars and brothels blaming them for the cause of the eclipse. In September 2001, Governor Yerima Sani forbade women to come out and cheer President Obasanjo on his official visit to his state because according to sharia, women and men should not mix freely in public. The women refused. In October 2001 in Sokoto, Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to stoning to death for adultery by Judge Mohammed Bello Sanyinlawal while acquitting the 60-year-old Yahaya Abubakar who impregnated her. After sustained international pressure, Safiya was acquitted a year later and made honorary citizen of Rome. Sokoto Governor Attahiru Bafarawa and Zamfara’s Ahmad Sani condemned the honour with the latter adding, it was act of proselytization. It was the turn of Amina Lawal in March 2002. She was sentenced to public stoning for getting pregnant outside wedlock in Katsina. In 1998, Muslims youth like the Taliban that can’t get use to the compromises of tolerance and diversity, invaded the Olofa’s palace and razed down the shrine of Moremi, a traditional goddess in Offa. December 1994 in Kano city, Gideon Akaluka, a trader, was beheaded and paraded danse macabre because his wife desecrated the Koran. In February 1989, death to Wole Soyinka posters were carried around during Zaria riots because he defended Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, urged artists to launch their own creative jihad against the Iranian Ayatollahs, and called on civilised nations to expel Iranian diplomats from their territories. And then the Maitatsine massacre in December 1980 in Kano -the bloodiest single massacre in the nation’s history. 4,177 lives were lost, 8,712 received various degrees of injuries. As usual, there were no convictions. Religious violence is always considered a sensitive issue to warrant prosecution.
Then came Boko Haram. To continue with the tradition of no conviction, less than 2 weeks after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja, the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso ordered 20 members of Boko Haram released as part of celebrations of the end of the holy month of fasting. Even if Boko Haram was crushed today, if the North does not line up completely with modernity, another terrorist organisation will roar its ugly head.
Damola Awoyokun is a writer and Editor