All Have Erred on Boko Haram By Simon Kolawole
I’ll raise up my hand and say I erred. When I first heard of Boko Haram in 2009 after the Bauchi uprising, followed by a three-day insurrection in Maiduguri â”€ I simply equated the group with the Maitatsine sect which held Kano hostage in 1980. And as soon as the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed, I cheaply concluded that the fire had been finally extinguished. This is just like the Yan Izala sect founded by Alhaji Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine, I told myself. It took the President Shehu Shagari administration a few days to send Maitatsine packing as things boiled over. After that, the sect could not raise its head again. Boko Haram would go that way, I theorised.
Let’s refresh our memory. The Maitatsine sect had launched a campaign of terror in the Yan Awaki quarters of Kano city on December 18, 1980. They killed Christians and fellow Muslims. They burnt people’s houses and cars, and overwhelmed the police. President Shagari had to call in the military to quell the upheaval. Thousands of the fanatics were killed in the operation. My cousins, who lived in Kano then, used to regale me with stories of how trailers were used to pack dead bodies. Maitatsine himself was arrested but died mysteriously in government custody, reportedly from gunshot wounds. That, in effect, sent Maitatsine into extinction.
And so here I was, thinking Boko Haram and Maitatsine were twin brothers. A similar, naive assumption might have been made by our security agencies when they cracked down on Boko Haram in 2009. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adau, on the eve of a foreign trip, had ordered the security forces to root out the group whose members were on the rampage over the destruction of their houses and mosques and the mass arrest of their “brethren” by the police. They were out for revenge. A spokesperson for the group, identified as Abdullah, told Reuters: “The police have been arresting our leaders, that is why we decided to retaliate.”
The Nigerian state erred. As the revolt spread to Maiduguri, with thousands killed and Yusuf captured (he died in custody, like Maitatsine), the security agencies hastily concluded that Boko Haram had become history, like Maitatsine. But the “dead” Boko Haram would go on to launch the country into an unprecedented reign of terror. Regrettably, long before the insurrection, top members of Boko Haram, notably Mamman Nur, had been arrested but released following “orders from above”. Another error. Nur later masterminded the bombing of the UN House, Abuja, in 2011, killing 16 persons. He is now at large. He is probably next in hierarchy to Abubakar Shekau.
And then President Goodluck Jonathan erred. From the very beginning, he had a “North” problem because of the circumstances under which he came to power in 2010/11. He believed they did not like him and would do anything to get him out of power. For a very long time, his committee of conspiracy theorists kept telling him Boko Haram was designed to fight him. It is because you’re a Christian; it is because you’re a Southerner; it is because you are a minority; it is because of zoning (“power rotation”); and all that. As his theorists worked hard on him, Boko Haram was getting bolder and stronger and destroying Nigeria.
And then Northerners erred. Rather than see Boko Haram for what it is and begin to mobilise their community against it, they chose to propound their own theories: Jonathan was the one sponsoring Boko Haram in order to destroy the North; he was out discredit his political opponents with a bombing campaign, just like Gen. Sani Abacha did to NADECO in those days; and so on and so forth. Borno elders once demanded that soldiers be withdrawn from their state! (Can you imagine where Borno would be if Jonathan had listened to them?) Meanwhile, as the Northern conspiracy theorists were propounding more theses and hypotheses, Boko Haram continued to destroy the North.
And Southerners erred. Oh, break up the country! Let the North go! Let them have their Islamic republic! Their politicians are behind Boko Haram! Now, with the Chibok kidnappings and the realisation that most of the girls are Christians, some Southerners are asking: “So they have Christians in Borno?” And I tell them, Yes, they have Christians in Zamfara! They have Christians in Kano! They have in Jigawa! Yobe! Bauchi! Gombe! Kebbi! If you’ve been propagating your balkanisation agenda in the hope that you are fighting only Northern Muslims, there are millions of Christians who would suffer under a Boko Haram government! Or you want to relocate them to the South and then tag them “settlers” and begin to drive them away in another 50 years?
And, by the way, who said Northern Muslims want to be ruled by Boko Haram? Who wants to live under a group that treats you as only “fit for the grave” if you do not accept their theology? To these terrorists, any Muslim who does not believe that “Boko” is “Haram” is as bad as a Christian and should be packaged for the grave. Any Muslim who says Islam means peace is a renegade that should be butchered. Evidently, Boko Haram has killed more Muslims than Christians. Most of the towns and villages they are destroying in Borno are predominantly Muslim. I know that they naturally hate and target Christians, but should we conveniently deny the fact that they have also killed Islamic clerics, attacked Muslim traditional rulers and burnt mosques?
Let’s admit it: all of us have erred over Boko Haram. We made the wrong assumptions and came to the wrong conclusions. It is now getting clearer by the day that though they might have started as religious partners to politicians, they are now a Frankenstein monster, mad men on the loose. The Boko Haram of 2002 or 2009 is completely different from the Boko Haram of today. They are a threat to all of us. Your religion is of no significance to them. Your tongue means nothing to them. Your political party is immaterial to them. Your age has no meaning to them. We are dealing with fanatics and lunatics. The earlier we woke up to the new reality, the better.
With that at the back of our minds, let us all come out of our error. PDP, APC, Jonathan, media, elders, everybody – let’s admit we erred all along. Let us now reason together on the best way to quench this fire. A common enemy requires a common response from us. We are all endangered. Let’s not deny it. Politics cannot be everything and everything cannot be politics.
“We made the wrong assumptions and came to the wrong conclusions. It is now getting clearer by the day that though they might have started as religious partners to politicians, Boko Haram are now a monster out of control”
It’s a shame that it took the abductions of hundreds of schoolgirls before Nigeria and its neighbours finally reached an agreement to tackle Boko Haram as a common enemy. President Goodluck Jonathan had, in the past, sought the intervention of French President Francois Hollande to talk to our francophone neighbours, especially Niger, Chad and Cameroon where themilitants gain access to Nigeria. Better late than never, and I think the Paris summit has redefined the war against Boko Haram. It is now left for the countries to draw up their strategies and show sincerity and commitment to the war. Heart-warming.
I’m patiently waiting for the return of our girls from Boko Haram captivity. I think after BringBackOurGirls, we need to launch BringBackOurLight. Like a joke, the power situation is not showing any improvement. I was not expecting immediate results after the privatisation of the electricity companies, and I am told things normally get worse before they get better, but I am running out of patience. What I have spent on diesel in the last three months is unprecedented. If I had sent the money to my village, they will be praying for me day and night for decades. Chai!!!
I stayed at the Sheraton Hotels, Abuja, during the World Economic Forum. I was appalled at its rottenness. The furniture is tired. The bathroom? An apology. Some walls needed repainting like yesterday. I overheard many participants from other countries complain about seeing cockroaches in their rooms. I was so embarrassed that I literally blocked my ears. I lodged at the hotel in November 2002 and actually saw a cockroach in my room. Nearly 12 years ago! How did anyone ever approve that kind of hotel to host the world? How did Sheraton allow its brand to be so degraded? Chai!!!
Narendra Modi is set to become India’s Prime Minister after leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in last week’s elections. Two things stood out for me: one, he did well as governor (Chief Minister) of the state of Gujarat and this naturally recommended him for a higher office; two, the ruling party, the Indian National Congress, honourably accepted the decision of Indians to end their hold on power. It was their worst electoral performance in 128 years. “We’re accepting the people’s verdict in all humility,” said its spokesman Shakil Ahmed. Can you imagine that in Nigeria? Chai!!!
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