There is acute need for regulation in religious affairs in Nigeria, especially in the North. I am a proponent of El-Rufai’s law to regulate religious preaching. We need to go back to the drawing board and map out ways of killing fanaticism in Nigeria, and not ways of killing fanatics.


At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 18, 1980, the district Police officer (DPO) of Kwalli Division, then Kano’s bravest and most popular cop, SP Muhammadu Maikifa led a detachment of conventional policemen and two Police Mobile Force (PMF) units to Shahuchi playing ground in Kano metropolis to stop Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine from holding his illegal preaching. Several failed attempts had been made in the past but the police went “fully-prepared” for the December 18, 1980 raid.

What started as a simple crackdown on an illegal activity turned out to be a major crisis that rattled not only Kano but the whole country. On that day alone, four policemen and a journalist, Tunde Amao of Daily Times were killed by fanatics. Dozens of vehicles, including SP Maikifa’s car (with registration no. KN 3833 KE), and numerous houses were torched. The fanatics, who were in their thousands, availed themselves of the opportunity to seize five Mark 4 rifles, six different types of submachine guns, five riot guns, two pistols, etc. from the policemen. With that accidental rearmament, the Maitatsine terrorists became more daring. The death toll on the sides of the police, civilians and the fanatics rose astronomically through the week of bloodletting. It was after the mortifying defeats of December 18 and 20 that the nation woke up to take decisive action. Shagari then ordered the Nigerian Army under the command of Colonel Yohanna Kure to take charge of the operation.

Like El-Zakzaky and the rise of Boko Haram, which the State Security Service (SSS) warned the federal government could possibly transmute into monsters long before they picked up a cudgel, the defunct National Security Organisation (now SSS), had on several occasions written to the Lagos and Kano State governments about the activities of Maitatsine. The then acting Kano State commissioner of Police, Jonathan Pogoson, had also written to the acting inspector general of Police, Sunday Adewusi, seeking permission to demolish the Maitatsine enclave but Mr. Adewusi had called for caution and a court order to do so.

The assistant director of NSO in Kano, in a letter referenced IS.S 49/594 and dated August 9, 1979, warned the country about Maitatsine and other radical Islamic preachers in the State. “It is reported that some Koranic Mallams in Kano City have been preaching in various places without permission which is likely to spark off religious trouble,” the letter, which mentioned Maitatsine and six other radical clerics, read in part.

No doubt, the greatest cause of religious conflict is fanaticism, which successive administrations allowed to flourish in Nigeria. The rise of Maitatsine and Boko Haram bear some similarities with the rise of Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who was a university student when Maitatsine was in his prime. While Maitatsine and Boko Haram’s Mohammmed Yusuf did not take up arms against the state and the people in their gestation periods, the laxity and levity of the state gave them chances to acquire arms. Now the disturbing reports that the Shi’ites bear firearms give cause for worry to anyone who witnessed or read about the rise or philosophy of violent extremism. It’s a warning signal that the country is in for a showdown with another monster.

Had Nigeria taken heed to the recommendations of Justice Anthony Aniagolu report, the country may not have experienced Boko Haram nor the Shi’a crises, both of which have now become intractable.


39 years ago, the Justice Aniogulu-led tribunal on the Maitatsine crisis had made an instructive mention of Izala, MSS, Tijjaniyya, Kadiriyya, among other groups with latent or clear traits of violent extremism in its April 14, 1981 report submitted to President Shehu Shagari. To the best of my recollection, it is the most comprehensive and thorough report I have ever read.

Warning the country about the possibility of having in El-Zakzaky a Maitatsine incarnate, Justice Aniagolu’s report particularly warned Nigeria about the deputy leader of the Muslim Students Society (MSS) in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, named Ibrahim El-Zakzaky:

“On 20th August, 1980,” the report said, “El-Zakzaky was reported to be circulating in the Northern States, pamphlets captioned, ‘Fadakarwa ga Musulmin Nigeria’ (A call on Nigerian Muslims) in which he condemned the Nigerian Constitution for being anti-Islamic, called for Islamic revolution, and urged Islamic students to rise against the Federal Government. He also demanded the recognition of Shariah Law. El-Zakzaky is reported to have visited on several occasions, and he recently returned from Iran where he was said to have received training in planning and executing students’ unrest.”

Had Nigeria taken heed to the recommendations of Justice Anthony Aniagolu report, the country may not have experienced Boko Haram nor the Shi’a crises, both of which have now become intractable.

The leadership styles of Maitatsine and El-Zakzaky bear a similar pattern: nassicism, the arrogation of powers to themselves such that they block roads leading to their spiritual enclaves, harassing passers-by and brutalising neighbours.


Like Boko Haram, all the teachings of Maitatsine were against Western education, the use of technology (such as even riding a bicycle!) and respect for constituted authority. The leadership styles of Maitatsine and El-Zakzaky bear a similar pattern: nassicism, the arrogation of powers to themselves such that they block roads leading to their spiritual enclaves, harassing passers-by and brutalising neighbours. These were the hallmarks of Maitatsine’s Yan Awaki enclave and El-Zakzaky’s Gellesu shrine.

While the Shi’ites appear largely non-violent in their struggle and the propagation of their ideology, their habits, such as defying constituted authority, harassing and brutalising neighbours, obstructing highway and feeder road vehicular movements during Muzahara, etc. should have long been nipped in the bud if we had serious governments in place. As I have once noted, in fairness to the Shii’tes, they were not alone in this obstruction affair, as other religious groups like the Izala (during Wa’azin Kasa), the Tijjaniya (during Maulud), the Kadiriyya (during Maukibi), and churches (during crusades) are also guilty of this.

It is sad that the El-Zakzaky affair is being poorly managed by the Buhari administration, forgetting that the scars of the Zaria massacre is still etched in the hearts of many of them who either lost family members or friends. And with the renewed clashes between the police and Shi’ites, it is apparent that the Zaria experience did not deter but has emboldened the Shi’ites.

There is acute need for regulation in religious affairs in Nigeria, especially in the North. I am a proponent of El-Rufai’s law to regulate religious preaching. We need to go back to the drawing board and map out ways of killing fanaticism in Nigeria, and not ways of killing fanatics.

Jaafar Jaafar is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Nigerian.