Two things happened when on Christmas day 2009 the world's attention focused on Nigeria and the young-faced Nigerian bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (UFA). One, it offered another potent tool of operation to the domestic extremists which Nigeria has been battling while the West was busy fighting the Iron Curtain. Granted power uses terror to confess its own powerlessness to achieve omnipotence; it now drags in media shrewdness and love of spectacle to compensate. Hence from being merely murderous at the street level, Nigeria's violent extremists are now becoming terrorists with solid PR machines. Two, the botched Christmas day bombing spot-lighted the country to global terror financiers as a fertile place to invest and expect high yields. The body count from Al-Qaeda related rampage worldwide is little compared to the figures from unceasing Islamic violence in northern Nigeria. Surprisingly however, after the UFA incident, Islamic and tribal leaders and organisations that had either being supportive of or indifferent to or had rationalised or incited the unceasing theatre of blood then united to "condemn and distant" themselves from the boy's violence and extreme views. They even dismissed him as London and Yemen-trained. They also reaffirmed Islam as a religion of peace.
Less than 48 hours after the Abdumutallab incident, Bauchi State again for the third time in 2009 erupted. 38 were confirmed dead. The event didn't accrue international cameras and so there were no swift and united condemnation from the Islamic and tribal leaders. Boko Haram (Education is verboten) in its early stages received logistic and financial support from these leaders including top government officials and political elites in Borno State among them Buji Fai a two-time local government chairman and former commissioner for Water Resources and later Religious Affairs in the state government.
During the colonial era, due to fierce agitation for independence mainly from the south of Nigeria, the British knew their time was up but still they wanted to maintain control over the nation and her vast resources from London so they skewed political power towards the predominantly Muslim north because they were proudly illiterate and more feudal in social organisation. And religion was the most powerful tool they used to control their people and assert influence. What most usually regarded as extreme views were considered normal, necessary and pious simply because it was traceable to the Quran or Hadith. This still continues till date.
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 fashion correspondent, Ms Isioma Daniel into exile in Norway during the Miss World pageantry officially hosted by Nigeria. The fanatics were virulently opposed claiming the event was not supposed to hold during their holy month of fasting.
Despite the organisers conceding that the girls would not wear bikinis on stage, the fanatics 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. â€¦. 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 became a federal senator and married a 13 year old girl. The Zamfara Information Commissioner, Tukur Umar Dangaladima added a week later: "Anyone who kills her is a martyr who will go to Heavenâ€¦it is a reality based on the teachings of the Quran."
So when these leaders distant themselves from the extreme views of Umar Farouk Abdumutallab and that of Boko Haram what exactly are they distancing themselves from? The country has always been awash with acts from different domestic extremists both peaceful and violent. Terrorism only entered the picture has a means to proclaim their influence on a vaster scale and outdo each other.
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. In September 2009, Ms Grace Ushang Adie a national service youth corp member was raped and murdered in Borno for wearing trousers that has been part and parcel of the NYSC uniform since its origin in 1973. In February 2009, several houses, churches and mosques were burned down, 11 people were killed and 38 wounded in Bauchi the first for the New Year. In November 2008, around 400 lives were lost in Jos. In October 2007, Comrade Shehu Sani's book The Phantom Crescent satirising sharia leaders, lawyers, judges, and Hisbah (their police officers) was banned in Kaduna. 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 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.
January 2001 during the 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 in the nation's history. 4,177 lives were lost, 8,712 received various degrees of injuries. That alone covers September 11, London, Madrid and Bali bombings not forgetting the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombings. As usual, there were no convictions. Religious violence is always considered a sensitive issue to warrant prosecution.
Boko Haram has upped the ante with bombs and selection of targets that has nothing to do with their prior engagements but can effectively garner global attention and spread fear and respect for their organisation. Yet the Islamic and tribal leaders are afraid to condemn members of Boko Haram or call them to order for fear of assassination. Instead they are calling on "both sides" to embrace dialogue and peace. Less than a week after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja, the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso released 20 members of Boko Haram as part of celebrations of the end of the holy month of fasting. Some months later, when Christians were having their Christmas, Boko Haram exploded bombs in churches in the outskirts of Abuja and Jos killing over 25 people.
Boko Haram so far has nothing to do with US Foreign policy or Israel. What they trucelessly want is an alternative social contract where sharia and the hadith are the sole basis of jurisprudence, trade and banking, sports and tourism, education, social security, gender relations and foreign affairs. The momentum of their membership drive fed on mass poverty amidst massive but exclusive wealth. When their leader, the late Muhammad Yusuf promised sharia as the missing ingredient of social equality and the anti-dote to state corruption, the momentum surged. The sharia which their equally extremist state governors packaged and launched as an antidote to corruption and social vices had not worked. It only enhanced terrible calamities for eleven years. And that is what happens when close-mindedness and bigotry through sinister contraptions seek to substitute their own narrow and medieval answers to complex questions of modern life in all its contradictions. Boko Haram is simply more of the same thing backed as usual by the Northern elites.