Boko Haram, Myths and Realities, By Adeolu Ademoyo
As those who officially claim to be members of Boko Haram and those who do not make such claim but are loosely and informally working under the Boko Haram doctrine continue their beastly slaughtering of people in the country, I expound the multiple views on Boko Haram held by some Nigerians.
I ask two simple questions: Do we want a modern Nigerian state? Or do we want to continue to desire Nigeria that is pre-modern and illiberal? Answers to these questions boil down to multiple but conflicting moralities among we Nigerians.
Nigerians hold some of these Boko Haram narratives. Boko Haram is an Islamic organization and has an Islamic agenda. Boko Haram is an Islamic organization whose revolt is caused by poverty and destitution. Because these narratives fail to properly locate the issue of responsibility, they beg the question and therefore may not allow for an enduring solution.
Let us go back to memory. Here I am talking about religious riots in Nigeria, Maitatsine and allied riots including the beheading of Gideon Akaluka in December 1994.
Maitatsine or Yan Tatsine predates Boko Haram. This was a Muslim fringe group, which organized around a so-called “mystical” leader from Cameroun. In late 70s and 80s, Maitatsine freely mobilized in Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri and some other parts of the Northern states even when this “mystical” leader of Maitatsine was not a Nigerian, and we were not aware of his legal status in the country.
So with a pre-modern enabling social environment (a country which is a mere geographical expression, where people are not properly documented), Maitatsine –led by a “non-Nigerian” caused major riots in 1980 in Kano and in 1982 in Maiduguri and Kaduna. The Kano Maitatsine riots caused 4,177 deaths between December 18 and 29, 1980.
The Maitatsine messianic cult had its own mosques. Its doctrine was antagonistic to established social, political and Islamic leaderships. It recruited its members from urban poor and dispossessed (both “Nigerian” and “non-Nigerian”) in the communities where it operated. The Maitatsine recruits-were indoctrinated to be up in arms against society, established Islamic mosques and congregations. The result was the massive outbreak of violence in the North from the late 70s to the 80s.
There are other documented religious flashpoints in Nigeria; one of the most reported given its barbarity and medieval doctrine was the beheading of fellow Nigerian Gideon Akaluka in December 1994 by ordinary Nigerians who professed the Islamic faith. Akaluka’s wife was accused by some Muslims in Kaduna of using the pages of Koran to wrap her baby. To the Kaduna Muslims, this was haram, i.e. sin.
And the punishment was Gideon Akaluka’s head. In daylight his fellow countrymen axed his head from his body. In a modern society, you can never be the accuser, the judge and the executor of judgment. But that happened in Nigeria.
Now the questions are: What are the differences and similarities between Boko Haram, Maitatsine, and the Akaluka be-headers? How do these fit into the conventional narratives that absolve some members of Nigerian political class from their immediate and contiguous moral, social, and political responsibility?
Please note the universal moral principle about contiguity, which relies on basic common sense to assert that each person is morally responsible to his/her neighbors and immediate constituents. This is the moral principle that makes local and regional players in any Nigerian crisis responsible. It is not a white man or black man principle. It is not an ethnic moral principle. It is a basic universal principle drawn from human nature and nature of society.
Let me quickly show with an aside how this worked in a limited sense in the recent past. This relevant aside is the relationship between the Akaluka be-headers and those Christians who were wrongly against Mr. Nasir El Rufai, former Nigerian minister, when he re-tweeted a Mary and Jesus message some Christians considered offensive to the Christian faith. Like the be-headers of Gideon Akaluka, these Christians were up against Mr. Nasir El Rufai, but these Christians were wrong.
However, the slight difference between Mr. Gideon Akaluka and Mr. Nasir El Rufai was that some Nigerians who were morally contiguous to the issue took it upon themselves as a moral duty to quickly rally in defense of Mr. Nasir El Rufai’s right as a human being. These Nigerians set aside religion and defended Mr. Nasir El Rufai’s right as a person, a human because they were morally contiguous to the issue.
Sadly such immediate morally contiguous response never happened in Gideon Akaluka’s case and his body and head are right there in the grave axed, separated, decaying. Akaluka’s case is part of the sibling history that connects Maitatsine, Boko Haram etc.
Hence, there is no fundamental difference between Maitatsine, Boko Haram, and the be-headers of Akaluka. They claim to be religious. They are viable because they are rooted in the massive material poverty of their constituencies, a state of poverty which co-exists side by side with the obscene and filthy wealth and affluence of members of the political class and feudal elites-both young and old in the same constituencies.
However, the fundamental similarity is that they operate in a Nigerian state that is pre-modern. A ridiculous indication of our pre-modern existence is the failure of numbers and numbering in our lives. We do not know our population and therefore it is difficult to know who is legally a Nigerian and who is not a Nigerian, and some of us Nigerians are invested in this for such woolliness and lack of specificity just work perfect for other agenda.
Also, because Maitatsine and Boko Haram operate in a Nigeria, which is pre-modern where numbering and quantification are alien, it is therefore very easy to recruit from the poor and “non-Nigerians” from neighboring countries. And these recruits across the border are bonded together by the religious, the social and the economic.
A scary example of our failure as a modern state- that counts, quantifies and documents-that breached trust and our security was the report that some Ghadaffi clan melted into Nigeria after his downfall in Libya. Our “security” and “military” are aware of this. True or false, mum has been the word.
In view of this, the questions are: where is the Nigerian sovereignty when through the complicit of some of us, we Nigerians pass “non-Nigerians”- who are ready labor material for terrorism- as “Nigerians”? Where were we when people from Mali, Niger Republic, and Chad, Cameroun, Libya etc would stroll in through the borders and melt into Nigeria? So, where exactly is the Nigerian border? And who is the “Nigerian citizen”? The answer is there is none for a valid distinction exists between just being people and being a citizen.
These are hard, blunt and bitter questions for our country. I understand if some of us are not interested in these kinds of questions. But Boko Haram is a bold illustration of the failure of Nigeria to rise and become a modern state which is liberal, citizen based, democratic, anti-feudal and where there are openly specified and equitable ethical criteria for the allocation of values, not a country which is a mere geographical expression wide open, raped and violated every second by its political class and the residue of feudal elites-both young and old.
In a modern state, part of the modern is how you are valued. You are valued based on merit, your talent, your cultivation, nurturing and investment in that talent and not some pre-modern and primordial ties. That failure of the modern in our lives and its consequence in Boko Haram is fully invested in by local and regional players.
In view of this, here is a simple test for those who want to muddle the issue and absolve local and regional players of at least a vicarious moral responsibility in this evil, called Boko Haram.
If Boko Haram is just a religious problem (this is a disguised way to absolve local and regional players of responsibility), then what should we do? Be converted because of Boko Haram? We know that is a silly proposition. But more importantly the Organization of Islamic Conference and other Muslim states have openly said Boko Haram is not an Islamic organization. The OIC says it is a criminal group.
And here is a Boko Haram which reports say rape the Chibok girls and other abductees. Will a religious group rape? The answer is Boko Haram is NOT an Islamic group. Like all criminal and terrorist groups in Nigeria, Boko Haram is or has been hijacked and turned into a criminal syndicate, a terrorist business consortium in the hands of members of Nigerian political class at local, regional, national and perhaps international levels.
Therefore, those who still defend Boko Haram as primarily and only a religious organization (in order to create the impression of an organization that is merely crazy because it attacks both Christian, Muslims, atheists and other religionists) in order to absolve local and regional accomplices with their agenda and muddle the issue must respond to this global and unanimous rejection of Boko Haram as an Islamic group
Second, if the cause of Boko Haram is mass poverty and destitution, the question is what did members of Nigerian political class at local and regional levels do with their resources and allocations. The minister of finance Dr. Ngozi Iweala has just released some figures about federal revenue allocation to some states in comparison to budgets of some African states (Premiumtimes June 3, 2014).
We know that the federal government under President Jonathan and his ministers is a thieving government that rely on dubious and pseudo-“intellectual” policies to steal and privatize public wealth. That looting of public treasury at the federal government level is replicated at state levels.
The figures the minister released in this case show that while Liberia’s budget is $433m, Gambia’s budget is $210m, Republic of Benin’s budget is $1.47b, federal revenue allocation (minus internally generated revenue) for some states in the North are Kano $900m, Katsina $700m, Kaduna $600m, Borno $600m.
In other words the annual budget of some African states are less than the federally allocated revenue of some Nigerian states. This is a food for thought that allows us see how mass poverty and destitution may be linked to the irresponsibility of local and regional players of crisis states, members of the political class and the feudal elites-both young and old.
Finally, my point is that having failed to judiciously deploy resources and invest in human talents to focus the energies of the youths productively like modern societies do, it is reasonable to see how local and regional players, members of Nigerian political class and feudal elites at local levels, both military and civilian, ex-generals, ex-colonels, current generals, ex and current police officers etc will refuse to take responsibility, pass the buck and therefore be catalysts for Boko Haram. This is the nature of Boko Haram as a historical continuity and mutation of Maitatsine and the be-headers of Gideon Akaluka.
Taking moral responsibility is an ethical issue. For mom and I as I have insistently argued analogically, -good and bad-the responsibility for our children STOP on our tables. We take the hit, heat and shot, and move on. It is part of being modern. As it is with a family, so it ought to be with a country.
Taking responsibility is not an ethnic issue. It is ethical. It ought not be difficult. Let us do this with the country and the evil called Boko Haram. That is the ethical minimum and a foundation for an enduring solution.
The undesired alternative may be a civil strife that may provoke another civil war, a forced resolution and balkanization.
Nigeria has to be re-thought in a civil, cultured and civilized manner with a couth language and discourse. Nigeria cannot remain the same again after this. The ominous signs are on the Nigerian Wall.
Adeolu Ademoyo firstname.lastname@example.org is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.