The unwillingness of Nigeria’s political leadership to reconcile the faith and citizenship of millions of radical Muslims…by evolving a purposeful regulatory framework that aims to rid the mainstream Islamic theology of the doctrinal embellishments of empire builders has ensured a steady flow of willing recruits into the ranks of the Boko Haram insurgents.


As one the longest running conflicts in contemporary Nigeria, the Boko Haram insurgency has become intractable. Defying military solution, the Boko Haram terror group has mutated significantly from a ragtag gang of rural marauders to a well-organised army of professional fighters that are brazenly attacking hard targets of Nigeria’s security forces and inflicting heavy losses on them in term of officers, men and equipment, on a scale never experienced since the end of the civil war in 1970.

To underscore the military cul de sac that has become the war on terror, Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno State, North-East Nigeria, where it all started and has remained ten years on, had this to say recently: “the capacity of the military has to be re-examined in terms of technological warfare. Otherwise this thing (insurgency) will never end. Boko Haram now uses drone to monitor the operations of the military. Without providing proper and up-to-date technological capacity to the military, this thing will never end.” While it is a truism that Nigeria’s security agencies, much like other aspects of governance, are faced with enormous challenges of maladministration-induced incapacitation, which undermines its constitutional responsibility to protect lives, properties and defend the country’s territorial integrity, the time is nigh to look beyond symptoms as expressed by Governor Zulum to see the root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency.

This insurgency, which began ten years ago, actually has its root in an ideology that predates modern Nigeria, spanning several centuries to the Seventh century. Upon the death of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH), in 632 AD, his companions developed and incorporated certain doctrines into mainstream Islamic theology in order to maintain the unity and cohesion of the early Muslim community. To legitimise centralised rule over the fledging community, which had developed in the city of Medina under the divinely guided leadership of the prophet of Islam and command absolute loyalty from the ummah, the doctrine of the Caliphacy was introduced into the mainstream Islamic theology. The concept of Caliphacy essentially entails a unitarian Islamic state governed as a theocracy, with the Quran, as exemplified [Sunnah] by the prophet of Islam, as the legal framework (Sharia), under the leadership of his acclaimed successor, designated as the Caliph.

Having achieved a semblance of unity of the early Muslim community under the Caliphacy, Muslim rulers subsequently went from being religious leaders and guardians of the faith to empire builders. To advance their worldly course of dynastic empire-building, a religious justification had to be sought. To expand the boundaries of the Muslim state outside the precincts of Medina to the Judeo-Christian lands of Egypt, Damascus, Jerusalem and Constantinople, a doctrine that reclassified the believing people of the book (Christian and Jews) as unbelieving enemies of Muslims had to be evolved. Hence, the later reclassification of the people of the book as outright unbelievers legitimised wars of expansion and other forms of aggression against people of other faiths by the empire builders, which was then passed across as a noble struggle in the cause of the spread of God’s religion (Jihad).

In a religiously plural country like Nigeria, the proliferation of such doctrines as the concept of the Caliphacy, reclassification of people of the book as unbelieving enemies of Muslims, as well as the Taqfiri doctrine, which equates disobedience to disbelief by mainstream Muslim authorities, can only inevitably led to the current Boko Haram insurgency.


Vested in the Caliph are temporal and spiritual powers, as acclaimed successors of the Prophet of Islam, in a clear case of the fusion of religion and the state. As religion is a subjective interpretation of faith, the Muslim religion essentially became a subjective interpretation of the Islamic faith by the ruling authorities. Under the pretext of abiding with their own version of the prophetic traditions, any dissenting opinion from the mainstream was regarded as an innovation in religious practice by the ruling authorities. With the expansion of the Muslim state beyond Medina into an empire straddling much of Arabia, the Levant, Persia, Palestine, Anatolia, North Africa, India and Spanish Andalusia, the power as well the fortune of the Caliph increased significantly, signalling an intense struggle for the leadership of the Muslim world. The struggles for leadership was to late become bloody but not before obtaining a religious sanction.

The introduction of the Taqfiri doctrine, which equates disobedience and innovative religious practices to outright disbelief, was exploited by rival claimants to the Caliphacy when they often mutually excommunicated each other, making the killing of fellow Muslims lawful. Thereafter, the Taqfiri doctrine proved to be a very potent weapon of mobilisation of religious warriors in the numerous intra-religious wars that characterised epic dynastic struggles for control of the global Muslim community throughout the over one thousand years of the Caliphacy.

Whereas, the twin doctrines of Caliphacy and Taqfiri, as well as the reclassification of the believing, one-God worshiping people of the book as outright unbelievers, are not Islamic but only a Muslim invention for the purpose of empire-building, they nevertheless are the most entrenched doctrines of mainstream Islamic theology in contemporary times. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, signalling the end of the over twelve century old Muslim Caliphacy, a wave of nationalism swept through its successor nation states of modern day Turkey, as well those of the Middle East and North Africa. Emergent nation states from the rubble of the collapsed Ottoman Empire fiercely protected their territorial integrity by elevating citizenship of the state over cross-border pan-Muslim solidarity. To achieve this, these governments took proactive steps to rid their mainstream Islamic theology of any strand of doctrinal imprints of the ancient empire builders, especially in terms of the concept of the Caliphacy, through a purposeful regulatory framework. This is precisely what Nigeria has failed to do so far.

In a religiously plural country like Nigeria, the proliferation of such doctrines as the concept of the Caliphacy, reclassification of people of the book as unbelieving enemies of Muslims, as well as the Taqfiri doctrine, which equates disobedience to disbelief by mainstream Muslim authorities, can only inevitably led to the current Boko Haram insurgency. By wholly absorbing the subjective interpretation of the Islamic faith by empire-builders by mainstream, as done by Muslim authorities in Nigeria, this has led to the incubation of a whole generation of radical Muslims, who consider fellow citizens of other faiths as enemies, as well as the burning aspiration to revive the Caliphacy by first establishing an Islamic state out of plural Nigeria. Arising from an innate conflict of their faith and citizenship is the ideal Islamic state that Boko Haram seeks to forcefully install by dismantling the current constitutional, democratic and plural Nigeria.

The insurgency was a long way coming, with the Sharia movement of the 1980s and 90s that swept through northern Nigeria like a whirlwind as the immediate precursor. Mohammed Yusuf was just one of many mainstream Muslim authorities who preached and still preach the ideals upon which the Boko Haram sect was founded.


Therefore, it is rather simplistic to ascribe the insurgency to the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram sect in 2009. The insurgency was a long way coming, with the Sharia movement of the 1980s and 90s that swept through northern Nigeria like a whirlwind as the immediate precursor. Mohammed Yusuf was just one of many mainstream Muslim authorities who preached and still preach the ideals upon which the Boko Haram sect was founded. The Boko Haram insurgency is just putting to practice what has been preached over time.

Religion as a subjective interpretation of faith is an opium, whose formulation, dissemination and consumption, much like every other psychotropic substance, must be regulated to prevent abuse, resulting in the present sort of Boko Haram devastation. Unfortunately, this has not been done because modern day empire-builders (politicians) have found radical Islamic ideology useful in their quest for power. In a plural country like Nigeria, this radical ideology is a useful election protectionist tool in the hands of the predominantly Muslim political elite of Northern Nigeria.

The unwillingness of Nigeria’s political leadership to reconcile the faith and citizenship of millions of radical Muslims, who are imbedded in every strata of society, by evolving a purposeful regulatory framework that aims to rid the mainstream Islamic theology of the doctrinal embellishments of empire builders has ensured a steady flow of willing recruits into the ranks of the Boko Haram insurgents. The continuous watering of the seeds of radicalisation by mainstream Muslim authorities has contributed the most in making the Boko Haram insurgency intractable ten years on, because for every single insurgent felled by bullets in the theatre of war, there are tens of replacement.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.