Buhari’s Tragic Invocation of Numbers, By Majeed Dahiru
This latest intervention from President Buhari follows a disturbingly familiar pattern of reminding members of a grieving ethno-geographic or religious demography to take solace in the fact that the demography of their perceived adversaries has recorded higher numbers of deaths than they have, on the human slaughter slab that Nigeria has become under his watch.
In response to both local and international reactions, expressing concern about the recent killings of Christians in Nigeria by the Boko Haram insurgent group, President Muhammadu Buhari has once again resorted to the comparison of casualty figures suffered by “both sides” in Nigeria’s never ending internal wars. Featured as a guest writer on the “Speaking Out” column of the Christianity Today magazine, one of America’s most influential evangelical periodicals, President Buhari wrote, “indeed, it is the reality that some 90 per cent of all Boko Haram’s victims have been Muslims: they include a copycat abduction of over 100 Muslim school girls along with their single Christian class mates; shootings inside mosques; and the murder of two prominent imams.”
This latest intervention from President Buhari follows a disturbingly familiar pattern of reminding members of a grieving ethno-geographic or religious demography to take solace in the fact that the demography of their perceived adversaries has recorded higher numbers of deaths than they have, on the human slaughter slab that Nigeria has become under his watch. President Buhari had made a similar comparison when he paid a condolence visit to Taraba State in May 2018, in the wake of the so-called farmers/herders clashes that claimed the lives of many. On that occasion, Buhari told his grieving hosts that the predominantly Hausa/Fulani ethnic Zamfara State has recorded more deaths from the murderous activities of cross border bandits than they and the people of Benue State have recorded from marauding killer herdsmen.
In each of these instances, President Buhari’s habitual comparison of the scale of human tragedy has been an effort at living in denial of the gradual unravelling of the Nigerian state along its ethno-geographic and religious fault lines. And by consistently living in denial of the obvious ethnic and religious underpinnings of Nigeria’s complex web of complicated security challenges, President Buhari conveniently abdicates his responsibility as a commander-in-chief who does not fully appreciate his special part in this plot of an unfolding tragedy. President Buhari, an ethnic Fulani Muslim who is leading a multi-ethnic and religious country such as Nigeria at a time of heightened insecurity arising mainly from the twin scourges of marauding killer herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgency, owes it as a national duty to the rest of Nigeria to decisively deal with these two security challenges that are closely linked to his ethnicity and religion. His failure to do this thus far, especially with a security architecture dominated by his Muslim northern section of the country, impresses upon the rest of Nigeria a perception that President Buhari is uncaring, if not complacent, in the face of worsening insecurity. Therefore, his claim that 90 per cent of the Boko Haram insurgency victims are Muslims is an insensitive misrepresentation of the situation, which deflects from the reality emerging since 2015.
In the face of this unfolding reality, it will no longer serve the collective interests of Nigerians for President Buhari and the leadership of the Muslim community in Nigeria to continue to live in denial of ISWAP’s targeted killing of Christians. To avert this impending catastrophe is for President Buhari to quit his unhelpful platitudes and urgently initiate a process of national reconciliation towards absolute national unity.
President Buhari’s unsolicited devil’s advocacy for the Boko Haram insurgents is a lethargic response, with the potential of underestimating the mid-term strategic destabilisation objective of the terror group, through a sectarian crisis-induced implosion of the Nigerian state. The pledge of allegiance by the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram insurgent group to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) marked a turning point in the course of the insurgency. This allegiance to ISIL required of Boko Haram to henceforth abide strictly by the Islamic rules of war engagement, which forbids the spilling of Muslim blood. To this end, the indiscriminate bombing of Mosques, markets, city centres, the sacking of towns and villages wherein a single Muslim casualty could be recorded is prohibited. The exceptions to this rule are Muslim members of Nigeria’s security forces, C-JTF volunteers, and local and international aid workers. It was the refusal of Abubakar Shekau to abide by this directive, as he won’t recognise anyone as a Muslim except members of his sect, that resulted in a split in the ranks of Boko Haram insurgents.
Under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a splinter group of fighters who are willing to strictly abide by the Islamic rules of war engagement, emerged under the banner of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). The emergence of ISWAP has since altered the equation on ground in the theatre of war in favour this well trained and funded group of professional fighters, as seen in their daredevil attacks on hard targets of Nigeria’s security forces. Whereas, the Abu Shekau faction of Boko Haram continuously attacks very soft targets, irrespective of ethnicity or creed, however it’s heavily diminished ranks of fighters has substantially reduced its lethal capabilities.
With its full incorporation into the international network of global Jihadi terror groups, ISWAP has emerged as a formidable fighting force, with a military strategy that aims to decimate Nigeria’s security forces in the North-East’s theatre of war. Its strict adherence to the Islamic rules of war engagement, which has seen it avoid the killing of unarmed fellow Muslims, has greatly enhanced its legitimacy among some sections of the predominantly Muslim native population of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States in North-East Nigeria. President Buhari’s recounting of the abduction of over 100 Dapchi Muslim school girls and their “one” Christian counterpart to justify his “90 per cent” hypothesis is only one half of the story. The other half of the story is that, whereas all the other Muslim girls were returned in line with their strict adherence to the Islamic rules of war engagement, Leah Sharibu, the lone Christian school girl, remains in the captivity of ISWAP. As it has turned out, the Dapchi school girls’ abduction was a freak show staged by ISWAP to demonstrate their reformed modus operandi.
The resurgence of the Boko Haram insurgency in recent times has been as a result of ISWAP’s operational strategy, which focuses on the hard targets of Nigeria’s security forces, while avoiding soft targets. This is has enriched its ranks with men and material resources, with a corresponding dwindling cooperation from communities no longer feeling threatened by ISWAP to government forces.
A nation at war with itself cannot defeat a common enemy such as ISWAP. This is the time for the Muslim community in Nigeria to demonstrate love, empathy, solidarity, understanding and support to their Christian brethren and fellow compatriots who have come under targeted killings by ISWAP.
Boko Haram is not Islamic but it is Muslim and its ultimate goal is to pull down Nigeria’s current secular constitutional democratic order and replace it with an Islamic theocracy. Boko Haram is not Islamic because Islam is a divinely guided empire of faith and not a religion that can be confined to a physical geographic state under the guidance of self-appointed potentates. And Boko Haram is said to be Muslim because the armed struggle for the establishment of an Islamic theocracy is an aspiration that is shared by the mainstream Muslim community in Nigeria, having falling under the doctrinal influence of radical Islamic theology, as espoused by ancient empire builders, to give religious sanction to their self-seeking worldly agenda. Having successfully distinguished itself as a non-aggressive to Muslims Jihadi group, ISWAP is set to plunge Nigeria into a full scale sectarian war by now carrying out the targeted killing of Muslim’s favourite foe – Christians.
The now consistent pattern of abducting and publicly executing Christians by ISWAP is part of a midterm strategy to lure the mainstream Muslim community in Nigeria into conflagrated sectarian crisis with its Christian brethren. A full blown sectarian war between the Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria will weaken the Nigerian state to the advantage of ISWAP and enhance its chances of meeting its goal of ethroning an Islamic theocracy over its spheres of influence. It is no coincidence that both the laity and clergy of the Christian community in Nigeria have come under serious attack by ISWAP. Already the on-going but needless sparring between the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Buhari administration on one hand and between them and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) on the other hand over the recent protest of the killing of Christians by church leaders, which has unfortunately degenerated into a headcount of death per denomination, reads like a plot from the play book of ISWAP.
In the face of this unfolding reality, it will no longer serve the collective interests of Nigerians for President Buhari and the leadership of the Muslim community in Nigeria to continue to live in denial of ISWAP’s targeted killing of Christians. To avert this impending catastrophe is for President Buhari to quit his unhelpful platitudes and urgently initiate a process of national reconciliation towards absolute national unity. A nation at war with itself cannot defeat a common enemy such as ISWAP. This is the time for the Muslim community in Nigeria to demonstrate love, empathy, solidarity, understanding and support to their Christian brethren and fellow compatriots who have come under targeted killings by ISWAP.