- by Tunji Ajibade -
A court says President Goodluck Jonathan owes a debt. The Attorney General of the Federation shares in his debt. The Inspector General of Police is not left out. And so is the Borno State Governor and his Commissioner of Justice. One hundred million naira is what they jointly owe. The nation’s security force incurred the debt. A family in Borno State is the recipient. Now all debtors have paid up, almost two years after the court pronounced its verdict. The court in Maiduguri was convinced that the Nigerian police carried out extra judicial killing. The man they arrested and then killed was Baba Fugu Mohammed. He was the father in-law of the late Boko Haram chieftain, Mohammed Yusuf. Baba Fugu was killed in July, 2009; he had raised Yusuf as a child because Yusuf was his late friend’s son. Baba Fugu’s family had charged all the defendants to court, but now the outcome and what transpired in the entire compensation saga had thrown light on some other issues that could lead to the resolution of the crisis.
The sect now known popularly as Boko Haram, western education is evil, has repeatedly rejected the name, insisting its name is Jama’atu Ahlisunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad. Knowledgeable persons have since said Boko Haram is the name of the sect to people who hear the sermons of some of the clerics of the group, and summarize their message in those two words. But at the onset in 1995, Boko Haram was known as Sahaba group. Abubakar Lawan, the leader at the time left for the University of Medina to study, and young Yusuf took over from among other older clerics. For long, Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe and Kano States, were where the sect had its major bases, but it has now spread to almost all the states in the northern part of the country. Yusuf, an indigene of Yobe State resigned from the service of the Yobe State government in 2006, and under him, the sect’s doctrine changed as he left the elderly clerics behind, and what he began to preach was summed up as “everything western is evil.”
The sect’s young leader stated on many occasions that his group was not militant, and that they were only interested in upholding the words of Allah. He had said he and his group would die, instead of giving in to any corrupt system of government in the country. And they promptly began to build a state within a state. He and his leadership established laginas (department); the Shura which is a cabinet; the brigade of guilds, Hisbah; a military wing; while they had an extensive farm, a microfinance scheme, and Yusuf settled disputes among his members like a judge. Each of the states that Yusuf created within the Nigerian state had a leader of the faithful, Amir, and there were Amirs in Chad and Niger who were accountable to him. It needs to be pointed out that at this point, that is in the pre-2009 period before some of its members took to violent activities, the group had both members and sympathizers that were made up of the high and the mighty in each of the northern states, including high profile politicians.
The kind of followership he had – university students that dropped out, youth who left secondary school, as well as the unemployed that trooped to his umbrella – showed that Yusuf made the most of the nation’s poor quality of the educational system, the strike actions, irresponsible leadership at all level of government, unemployment, poverty, corruption and insecurity.
There is no doubt that with his own state in the Nigerian state, Yusuf and his group would have to run into trouble with the government. Anyone who knows Maiduguri well would like the town’s unhurried atmosphere. From the middle 1990s to late 2008, this writer was intermittently in that town. Everything about Maiduguri is large, even its dirt streets in some neigbourhoods could pass for expressway. How the religious sect began to be linked with violence has been treated at length by some other writers, but one thing is clear, regular confrontation between its members and the security operatives increasingly drove the more militant segment of the sect underground. The zenith was reached after security forces arrested Yusuf and killed him in 2009. His followers responded by attacking security forces. But there was a time a large number of people in town were either a member of the sect, had sympathy for it, consulted the clerics for spiritual reasons, or liked to listen to Yusuf’s sermon. As a matter of fact, tapes of his sermons were sought for across the North, and this was a source of revenue for the sect. Yusuf lived the life of similar to that of any religious sect leader across the nation who had large followership. He was revered and there is one segment of the society that would have been eager to align itself with any leader with such followership – the politicians.
Some Borno political leaders and other prominent individuals have been linked to the sect. It needs to be stated that belonging to a sect, funding it, is not a crime; if it happened before violence crept in, that is. Every government sponsors religious sects or denominations, they send them on pilgrimage – both in state dominated by Christians or those where there are majority of Muslims. This is why until the nation’s security forces establishes a link between any high profile individual as a financier of the violent arm of Boko Haram, they are not saying anything new. This point is relevant so that naming names of members or sympathizers of Boko Haram doesn’t continue to take attention away from the real issue. The real issue is that there have been excesses on either side – security forces and the violent segment of Boko Haram - and there is need to resolve this so that the nation can have peace.
Does it make sense that the Minister of Justice under the Umaru Yardua regime, Michael Aondoakaa, went to the United Nation’s Geneva office with some prominent government officials to tender official side of the extra judicial killings in the Boko Haram saga? That was in the hope that the body would not call Nigerian authorities to question. The government takes care of the UN, and it succeeds to the extent that the international body now declares its readiness to help persuade nations to see Boko Haram members, the arm that is closely linked with al-Qaeda network as a threat, not only to Nigeria, but to all countries. Surely, the government does not mean that to be the sole solution to the spate of violence. But there is a homegrown solution to the on-going violence that demonizing politicians who have ever had contact with the sect will stall. As it is, President Goodluck Jonathan says he is open to dialogue. His only concern is that with the militant arm of the group being faceless, he has no one to speak with. “If they clearly identify themselves now…then there will be a basis for dialogue,” the president said lately. The amazing thing is that the government want militant members to show up while the high profile politicians whose backing could give them confidence to do so, are being forced to deny ever knowing these men. Now, this is a democracy; it is a game of numbers. Could the state governors and other politicians have successfully ignored Yusuf with his large following during the elections? Politician know that what clerics tell their follower matter during elections, more especially in the North. So they seek the support of religious leaders. Politicians in each of the states in the North where Yusuf had followers had aligned themselves with him at one time or the other. That’s no crime. But the manner the government demonizes any association with Boko Haram at a saner stage in the life of the sect has driven underground those who could help it drag the militant members to the negotiation table.
This is one reason naming names of who belongs and who does not amounts to a distraction. Every Nigerian has the right to associate freely. If an arm of the sect they once associated with takes up arms, it is another matter, in as much as they themselves condemn violence. And the shout of Boko Haram members being in government circle need not scare anyone. If government brings the violent segment of the group to the table and they disarm, their sympathizers in government are disarmed. That is the implication. News of security forces wiping off scores of people in a neighbourhood on the allegation that they are Boko Haram members as it is currently the case will not take the nation anywhere. Sympathy for a religious a sect does not mean collaboration, so it should be stopped. Many of those being killed in such operations have their sympathy for Baba Fugu as well as his son-in-law, Yusuf, because those men are their father, husband, in-law, or cousins. Everyone is everyone’s relation in any northern town if anyone. Whoever has an understanding of North’s marital and social structure will know this. In any case, hardly do Africans hate their kin even when he commits a crime. In that case, the government may have many more people hating its security forces then than they hate Boko Haram militants. And now what must the president do?
It is good that the president and the Borno state government obey court order and pay compensation to the Baba Fugu family. The state government is also compensating victims of the killings that have take place in the state over the Boko Haram saga. The president should encourage other state governments to do the same. And rather having notable politicians who had once consulted with Boko Haram leadership remain in a state of denial, he should call them to a meeting, and tell them to help him assure, as well as bring every known brain box in Boko Haram militancy to the dialogue table. That is a solution informed by native intelligence instead of seeking international solution to a homegrown problem; it is the entire debt the president owes every Nigerian that has been made to go through this harrowing experience, north and south of the country.
Ajibade is a Communications Consultant. email@example.comNo. of Views:204