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Boko Haram: Islamist separatism in Northern Nigeria, by Majeed Dahiru

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In what can be described as one of the most horrific massacres of the highest number of unarmed civilians in a single attack in the last ten years of the unending Boko Haram insurgency, the mass killings of over 43 people of their kind in the rural farming community of Zabarmari in Borno state, north east Nigeria by one the world’s most deadly terror groups, has left the human world utterly horrified with bewildering dismay.

Slaughtered like beasts of feasts with their hands tied tightly behind, Boko Haram insurgents slit open the throats of 43 people, all of them farmers working in their rice farms leaving their lifeless bodies lying limp beside their decapitated heads. And by the time they were done with their murderous carnage, unchallenged by Nigeria’s security forces, the green rice fields of Zabarmari was turned red by the freely flowing blood of unarmed and defenceless Nigerian farmers that were left to die in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents unprotected by the Nigerian state.


Whilst the rest of the world is horrified by one of the most horrific and bestial mass slaughter of human beings in modern history, Nigerians are not as exasperated by the Zabarmari massacre because they have somewhat adjusted to the sad reality of living in the third most terrorized country on earth where the abnormality of bloodshed has become a new normal in the last five years.

Nigeria’s complex web of complicated security challenges, which has seen its northwest corner ravaged by trans-border bandits, farming communities in its north central parts pillaged by killer herdsmen and its north east axis over-run by Boko Haram insurgents has reduced Africa’s most populous country to the continent’s largest human slaughter slab.


Ten years after the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2010; the Nigerian state has not been able to contain this deadly terror group but instead its security forces have been drawn into a prolonged war that has clearly become intractable. It is conservatively estimated that the Boko Haram insurgency has claimed over 47,000 lives and displaced over 2 million others in the North East alone in the last ten years. After nearly a decade since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency, a lot of questions about the motive, aims, strategic objectives, recruitment, mode of operation and funding remains unanswered.


That the epic centre of the multifaceted security challenges confronting Nigeria, the biggest of which is the Boko Haram insurgency is undoubtedly in its northern half and specifically, the Muslim North, provides a credible lead towards resolving the unresolved questions about one of the world’s most deadly terror groups. Boko Haram insurgency is a violent manifestation of the radical ideology of Islamist separatism upon which the mainstream theological frame work of northern Nigerian Muslim religion is firmly built upon. Straddling the southern parts of the ancient region of western Sudan, which was characterized by the 19th century militant Islamist reformist movements, the Muslim north of Nigeria, is an area encompassing the legacy theocratic city states of the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire and the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.


Following the British colonial experiment of amalgamation in 1914, which brought the region and the rest of non-Muslim Nigeria under one administrative control to be governed by a secular, constitutional and democratic system of government, fearing the loss of their Muslim heritage hegemony and power, the leadership of the Muslims made haste slowly in accepting the new modern reality especially, the concept modern education.

Considering its a Judeo-Christian heritage that was being used as a tool to neutralise their traditional Muslim ways of life by Western colonial powers, the Muslim north would be slow in embracing ‘’western’’ education and any other way of life it considers western.


Over half a century after the British colonial interregnum, which stirred Nigeria, a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country they created on the path of a modern, secular and constitutional democracy, which guarantees every Nigerian the right of religious freedom came to an end in 1960, the Muslim north slowly began to recoil and started a return backwards to its pre-colonial Muslim theocratic state of traditional administration.

And when Salafism filtered into the region from Saudi Arabia through Sudan in the early 1970s, the robust Muslim heritage of its militant Islamist reformism of the 19th century made the Muslim north of Nigeria a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of radical Islamist revivalism that was sweeping across the wider Muslim world.


The rapid spread in the Muslim north of Salafi version of the Islamic religion, whose cardinal doctrine is a return of Muslims to its own interpretation of what its self-appointed theological potentates consider being in conformity with puritanical prophetic tradition within a legal framework of a Sharia ruled global Muslim state, resulted into the mainstreaming of the radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the region. They come under the theological influence of Salafi clerics who continuously water the seeds of radicalization for several decades by passionately preaching the virtues of a Sharia ruled Muslim state and virulently denouncing the vices of a secular, multi-religious, constitutionally governed democratic society and in the process creating a cognitive conflict between the Islamic faith of millions of northern Nigeria Muslims and the citizenship of Nigeria, their country.

These influential clerics go the extra mile to exhort Muslims to consider the struggle [Jihad] for the realization of the ideal Sharia ruled Islamic state a religious duty that attracts great reward in the hereafter.

In this process, hate and intolerance against people of other sects or religion are virulently preached and are variously denounced by these clerics as apostates and unbelieving infidels.


Islamic separatism in the Muslim north has found expression in the mass hysteric agitation for the full implementation of the Muslim Sharia law in a region that is an incorporated part of a secular, multi-religious and constitutional democratic Nigerian country.

Notwithstanding the fact that the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees every Nigerian freedom of religion, which allows Muslim unhindered observance of Sharia faith [upholding virtue and abstaining from vices by personal conviction], the Muslim north considers Nigeria’s governing legal framework incompatible with their Islamic faith until it is repealed and replaced with Sharia law [upholding of virtue and abstaining from vice by compulsion].


Unfortunately, the political leadership of the Muslim north has devised an ingeniously means of weaponising religion as a potent arsenal of political mobilization for their selfish end by preying on the religious emotions of their people. Pretending to be in solidarity with the people in their aspiration for a Sharia ruled Islamic state, political leaders in the Muslim north pledged to impose Sharia rule in the states of the region if supported to power.

However, governors like Ahmed Yarima of Zamfara, Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger state and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano failed woefully to realize the ideal Islamic state through the instrumentality of Political Islam, which they promised their people because they didn’t imbibe Sharia faith by personal conviction and fear of God in the discharge of their responsibilities and instead merely imposed a symbolic sharia law in their states out of the fear of the powerful class of self-appointed theological potentates that wield enormous influence over the religiously charged masses of the Muslim north.


Boko Haram insurgency may have started ten years ago in 2010, but the seeds of radical Islamist separatist ideology, which is its driving force, was sown several decades before and it is still being watered to blossom by Salafi clerics that are the dominant authoritative voices in the mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim community.

Whereas, the Boko Haram insurgency is centred on the north east region of Nigeria, the Boko Haram ideology permeates the entire Muslim north with millions of latently radicalized Muslim‘’Boko Haram’’ at heart. It is the prevalence of Boko Haram radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the mainstream northern Nigerian Muslim theology that is providing the oxygen in form of funding, logistics and recruitments that enrich the rank and file of ‘’holy warriors’’ willing to fight for the realization of their ideal Sharia ruled Islamic state.

Boko Haram insurgents are just putting to practice the Boko Haram ideology that has been preached for several decades, which political Islam has failed to achieve in the region.


The most sustainable solution to the Boko Haram insurgency is to begin a systemic reversal of the radical Islamist separatist ideology and the removal of its embellishments on the main stream northern Nigeria Muslim theology with the ultimate aim of reconciling the faith of latently radicalised Muslims with their Nigerian citizenship and restoring secularity to the Muslim north where religion and the state are clearly separated.

The continuous existence of Hisbah, the Sharia law enforcement police in some northern Muslim states like Kano, which has descended from arresting individuals on charges of blasphemy and destroying bottles of alcoholic beverages of tax paying Nigerian businesses to banning the use of the term ‘’black Friday’’ on radio stations is a cannon fodder for the continuous violent struggle of Boko Haram insurgents in a bid to achieve their ideal Islamic state.

The emergence in recent times of Kano, the most populous state in the Muslim north as the bastion of political Islam in Nigeria continuously reinforces the belief in the psyche of many a Muslim that one cannot be ‘’Nigerian’’ and ‘’Muslim’’ hence approximating the intention behind the activities of Governor Ganduje of Kano and his Hisbah to those of Abu Shekau and his Boko Haram insurgents.


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