Politics Taken Too Far: Ali Modu Sheriff and the Boko Haram Insurgency, By Majeed Dahiru
The attempt to trivialise the Boko Haram insurgency and narrow the problem, which is deeply rooted in religious theology to one man called Ali Modu Sheriff, is politics taken too far at the expense our collective national security and peaceful co-existence… Deliberate steps should be taken by constituted Muslim authorities to rid the beautiful and peaceful Islamic faith of subversive interpretations and practices.
The Boko Haram insurgency is a continuation of the prevalent Islamic revival and reform movements of preceding centuries throughout the western Sudan; a historic region traversing the Sahel and Lake Chad basin just below the Sahara Desert, to which Hausa land and the Kanem-Borno empire, areas corresponding to the northern part of modern Nigeria were part of. From the Mahdist movements in the greater Sudan, to the jihadists Bambara and Massina states of El Hajj Umar Tall and the Uthman Danfodio jihad in Hausa land and the counter jihad of Mohammed El-Kanemi in Borno, there has been a quest to return the religion of Islam to its original form. In each of these instances, the leaders of the movement claimed divine inspiration and justified their actions with theological authorities, in their effort to rid Islam of impurities and innovations that had been incorporated by corrupt and misguided local rulers. Modern day Islamic revivalist and reform movements draw inspiration from earlier movements because of the similarity of their aims and objectives.
Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State, the major theatre of war between the Nigerian state and the Boko Haram terror group, has been linked by many to the Boko Haram sect. Some have accused him of breaching some agreements entered into between him and the late Mohammed Yusuf, the founder and leader of the sect, which triggered the uprisings and has led to the death of over 20,000 people, with 2,000,000 displaced internally. Most of the allegations linking Sherriff to the deadly Boko Haram sect remains in the realm of speculation without hard facts and concrete evidence. However, hopes were raised recently on the possibility finally establishing the missing link between the former governor of Borno State and the Boko Haram sect, following the revelations of the attorney general of the State, Kaka Shehu Lawan, in a written opinion pieces, “How Ali Modu Sherriff Aided Abetted Boko Haram: 40 Unknown Facts”.
I carefully read through the piece in anticipation of discovering some “unknown facts” which I intended to add to my limited knowledge on the Boko Haram insurgency. After reading and comprehending to the best of my ability, my hopes were dashed. The “40 unknown facts” were neither facts nor unknown. They were mostly a rehash of the same old conspiracy theories that have been orchestrated against the former governor by his political opponents, thereby obscuring the real reasons for Boko Haram, which remains extremely violent and intolerant teachings found in both deviant and mainstream Muslim doctrines. It is sad that a Borno indigene, whose land and people are worse affected by the Boko Haram insurgency can still seek to politicise a matter of national and international security, rather than seeking practical solutions to combating radical Islamic ideology, which is at the root of the Boko Haram terror grouping.
In the process of waging a war on the republic, if Mohammed Yusuf, the sect leader was killed, it cannot and should not be regarded as extra-judicial killing. The same way the killing of Abubakar Shekau, the successor to Mohammed Yusuf in the leadership of the Boko Haram insurgent group cannot be regarded as extra-judicial killing.
A summary of the “40 unknown facts” reveals no direct link between the Boko Haram sect or its founder, Mohammed Yusuf and Ali Modu Sheriff before or during his tenure as governor. Contrary to the intention of the writer, Ali Modu Sheriff appears to be very intolerant of their antics and actions, and in collaboration with the Federal Government cracked down on them heavily. The claim that Ali Modu Sheriff contested the 2003 gubernatorial election from a position of weakness is disputable. Sheriff was a very powerful politician, with an enormous financial war chest with which he prosecuted his bid for election as governor in 2003. So powerful was he that the sitting governor Mala Kachala was denied the second term ticket of the ANPP, the platform on which he got elected in 1999, which was instead offered to Sheriff. He will also make history as the first governor in the history of Borno State to be elected for two consecutive terms. Sheriff was succeeded as governor by Kashim Shettima, his preferred and anointed candidate in 2011.
Recall that the group operated as outlaw, because it was heavily armed, refused to obey constituted authority and when compelled to, declared war on the federal republic. In the process of waging a war on the republic, if Mohammed Yusuf, the sect leader was killed, it cannot and should not be regarded as extra-judicial killing. The same way the killing of Abubakar Shekau, the successor to Mohammed Yusuf in the leadership of the Boko Haram insurgent group cannot be regarded as extra-judicial killing. It appears also that the group enjoyed some legitimacy because of its puritan religious outlook among the predominantly Muslim population of Borno State and sympathy from political opponents of Sheriff because of its (the sect’s) avowed hatred for him. This is understandable because the initial targets of the Boko Haram sects were security agents, government establishments, members of the immediate family and political associates of Ali Modu Sherriff and members of the Christian faith and their places of worship. When the sect turned its killing machine against fellow Muslims, who don’t subscribe to its ideology, the people of Borno and the North-East in general suddenly realised that this was monster that knows no friend.
Religious tolerance, love for fellow mankind and peace should be deepened in the mainstream Muslim doctrines and Islamic educational curriculum to reflect the true essence of the Islamic religion, which is supposed to be a guiding light and mercy to mankind.
There is no clear separation of religion and state in Muslim theology, therefore Islamic revivalist groups are usually radically violent because they seek to supplant constituted authority by use of force and establish their own authority based on laws derived from their own interpretation of sharia. Radical Islam is motivated by certain doctrines in mainstream Muslim theology, one of which promotes the quest for a unified Muslim community globally under a caliphate system, a concept which is un-Islamic and has been a source of bloodshed and eventual schism into the Sunni/Shia divide within the Muslim Ummah. They also draw inspiration from both ancient and modern Muslim states that came into existence by violent jihadist means, like the caliphates of the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Mamelukes, Ottoman, later Sokoto and most recently the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The successes of these empires, with similar beginnings with groups like Boko Haram, motivates and inspires radical Islamic movements.
The attempt to trivialise the Boko Haram insurgency and narrow the problem, which is deeply rooted in religious theology to one man called Ali Modu Sheriff, is politics taken too far at the expense our collective national security and peaceful co-existence. Boko Haram is a Muslim problem which can only be solved by Muslims in the long term. For a long time, hate, intolerant and violent doctrines have been preached and propagated unchecked. Mohammed Yusuf was one of such preachers. This unfortunate scenario has produced successive generations of radical Muslims who are only putting to practice what they have imbibed over time. Deliberate steps should be taken by constituted Muslim authorities to rid the beautiful and peaceful Islamic faith of subversive interpretations and practices. Religious tolerance, love for fellow mankind and peace should be deepened in the mainstream Muslim doctrines and Islamic educational curriculum to reflect the true essence of the Islamic religion, which is supposed to be a guiding light and mercy to mankind.