Boko haram has been one of the deadly terrorist groups, not only in Nigeria but in the world over. In 2014, the group was ranked as the top among the international terrorist organizations after series of beheadings, bombings, kidnappings, and other terrorist activities. Before the end of 2015, Boko Haram conquered and captured more than 1/3 of the Borno and Yobe states local governments and instituted its own violent interpretation of sharia law. Some of the footages and the propaganda videos uploaded to YouTube by the army of terror show how they stoned women to death, beheaded men, and trained little children as soldiers in the local governments they captured, after they massacred the inhabitants, bombed buildings and set many houses ablaze in the villages and the towns. The insurgency dislocated social and economic activities in the North-Eastern and some parts of the North-Western Nigeria and resulted to over 20,000 deaths and displacing close to three million people. In 2012, World Investment Report reported that more than one trillion naira was lost in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) due to the insurgency. This resulted to mass unemployment and forced mass emigration to neighboring countries like Niger, Cameroon, and Ghana.
The strict and violent interpretation of the sharia law that Boko Haram adopted from “the most influential scholar that shaped the thinking of Muhammad Yusuf [the founding father of the group]… Taqiyuddeen Ahmad Ibn Taimiyya (1268-1328) after whom the Boko Haram named its center and mosque”, which still flourishes in many parts of Northern Nigeria, is one of the root causes of the insurgency. The extremism of Ibn Taimiyya, the takfirism of Ibn Abdul Wahhab, and using the licensed history of Usman bn Fodio to legitimize war on political rulers, associated with the salafi-jihadi interpretation of Islam, played a major role in the making of the ideology vibrant when it first emerged; especially when the attacks were only on security forces and some government officials. Though emotions play an important role in the countering the insurgency within quetist-salafists, but the political theologies of salafism that are preached in many mosques in the North and taught in madrasas remain stumbling blocks to the countering the extremists’ ideology. Sani Umar perfectly described it: “[T]he Islamic saturation of social and political institutions, cultural norms, aesthetic and artistic imagination has created a climate of opinion in which the ulema [read salafis] contribute to radicalization by articulating discourses that could justify the radical tendencies of individuals and groups.” Religious conflicts in the North are deliberately designed by articulating discourses that incite violence and would later turn into fierce sectarian battle.
This very short essay will examine and analyze the situations of the dominant voice and the role they played in radicalizing Northern youth in the past, and the possible future of the Boko Haram in the region that is clouded with the rising trend in politico-religious and sectarian combustion. Though it may re-emerge in a different cloth with another style, extremists, in what the Abdulbasit wrote, use “the sacred texts and Islamic scriptures that have been adroitly exploited to support the jihad-salafis’ idealization, theological legitimization and meta-justification for divinely sanctioned Jihad” to provide enabling environment for radicalization and improving extremism in the North and, as a result, there is probability of the re-emergence of Boko Haram in one form or the other. Nigerian government is only attacking the armed terrorists but not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Brief History of Boko Haram
The history of Boko Haram (literally: Western Education is Sin), officially “Jama’at Ahlussnnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad” (Ahlussunnah Group for Preaching and Combat), can be traced back to 2001, when some unknown militants appeared in some Northern states, Yobe and Kano included, who were then called Yan Taliban. The group called Nigerian government “thaghut” (an Arabic term that means ungodly or satanic). The people that would later be called Boko Haram, started becoming popular after they attacked a local government secretariat and police station in Kanamma in 2003. The group then moved to Gwoza where they took the town as their training underground camp.
Muhammad Yusuf, Boko Haram leader, who before his death was a student of another popular salafi cleric, who would later engaged with him in discourses on political Islam and western education, Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam, started preaching violence in the mosque he named after the 13th century controversial scholar, Ibn Taimiyya. He embarked upon aggressive preaching mission between 2004 and 2009 and started to won the heart of the Maiduguri youth and attracting them to the Markaz Ibn Taimiyya. Scholars like Abdulbasit Kassim traced the genealogy of the group to one Nigerian disciple of Osama bn Laden in Sudan, Muhammad Ali, in 1990s. The jihadi kingpin, according to the scholar, received a sum of three million dollars to institute a jihadi movement in Nigeria. He failed after government figured out that he had a link with foreign terrorist group and, as a result, the government tried to arrest him. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he met with Muhammad Yusuf in 2002 and handed him a cash of two million which the later would use to lead the movement until his death in the hands of Nigerian security forces in 2009.
In 2009, the terror squad started to launch attacks in various cities and villages in Northern Nigeria. The primary motive of the Boko Haram is to institute a caliphate in the region and to continue conquering lands as it is in the slogan of its terror mother ISIS, “Baqiyatun Wa Tatamaddad” (eternal and maximizing).
A history of human social interactions and his political philosophies is so complex that a student, or even a scholar, cannot perfectly collect the bits and pieces of the past to predict what would happen in the future. However, in everything some group of men do, one can see a reflection of their past. This is the reason one can perfectly use the concept of historical determinism, operate time-machine and go back to the history, but will find it very difficult to launch a rocket for prediction of the future. In this short essay, what I may say might not give a perfect picture of what will happen in the near or distant future, because men are not like mechanical machines under scientific experiment in a well-controlled laboratory. They cannot be observed under microscope with perfection. However, it can give a short glimpse of the future that may stand on the discrete mathematical probabilities, not between zero and one.
We all experience the menace of Boko Haram, in one way or the other, and watch the horror movie the death squad brought to our cinemas. But why Boko Haram chose Northern Nigeria as its operational theatre? How did they get easy recruits in these lands? What makes them survive close to three decades operating in this land, from silent hate speech mongers to the rocket-carrying warlords? What will likely be the future of Boko Haram if proper action is not taken?
To start with the first question, Northern Nigeria is a region with deeply religious people but with little knowledge on how laws of the universe operate vis-à-vis political evolutions, religious pluralism and globalization. To be religious here means to be fanatic in most instances. Many among us have spiritual conviction that if they die “defending God and His Scriptures” they will directly ascend to Heaven to enjoy feast with seventy two virgins in Paradise.
As person who spent his first 15 to 20 years roaming various Mosques’ lecture sessions, Islamiyya and Zaure schools, I can vividly remember how these schools help in radicalizing children at an early age. In the Islamiyya schools I attended, a teacher could hardly give you biographies of Sahabbai (companions of the prophet) who were not army generals in the battles of Uhud, Khandaq or Badr. Role models among the pious predecessors are known not as tolerant religious men but as persons who could kill for a slight mistake in front of the Prophet! You could hardly find an Islamiyya pupil who doesn’t know perfectly about the battle of badr but who, at the same time, will not be so amazed when you tell him about the philosophy behind Treaty of Hudaybia or the history of the Medinan Constitution.
An average Northerner who attended Islamiyya School would not know what really Jihad means beyond wars, Arab colonialism and religious conquests. Most of the Northern youth don’t know the other side of the jihad coin: as spiritual struggle and defending Islamic borders. This applies not only to youth but many clerics and preach men who use Friday pulpits to spread the version of Islam they understand. Recently, one quietist-salafi cleric and a university professor, Prof. Umar Labdo, used his Facebook account and posted that Benue (a Christian majority state in Northern Nigeria) belongs to Muslims by right of conquest! The relationship between northern quietist-salafi clerics to the jihadi-salafi Boko Haram is tantamount to the relationship between salafi-jihadi scholar Almaqdisi and the well-known in the jihadisphere Abu Mus’ab Alzarqawy. The former spread the carpet while the later lied on it. Don’t forget, Almaqdisi would later come and criticize the foundation he raised with his violent jihadi fatwas.
This created an atmosphere for easy radicalization from early years of childhood. Pupils would grow up trying to emulate the other side of the history of pious predecessors and to be the force that would bring the nations of kafirai (infidels) down, of wars and conquests. When the name of Osama bn Laden became popular after 9/11, only few scholars, you can count them with fingers, condemned his atrocities. Majority of them showed Osama bn Laden as a religious figure who set to destroy America and its allies that were (or still “are”) stumbling block to instituting Sharia law globally. One influential cleric and now commander of Islamic Moral Police in Kano (Hisbah), Sheikh Aminu Daurawa, voiced out that those who condemned 9/11 (like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi[?] and Sheikh Musal Qasiyuni Kabara), and considered suicide bombing as Islamicaly impermissible, are hypocrites. To legitimize suicide bombing and to show how gallant Osama bn Laden was, he added that even “Allah is suicide bomber”. These types of clerics are the ones a Northerner listen to in a radio after he left Islamiyya and started gluing his ears to the speakers of his radio in markets, or join their mosque classes and lecture sessions in the evening. Boko Haram exploited these loopholes and chose the North as its operational theater where it can find vulnerable youth to be easy recruits.
The bad economic conditions and the rising rate of unemployment among the northern youth contributed to the easy recruitment of insurgents in the North, though not a major factor. Boko Haram, under Muhammad Yusuf, would later use this backdoor for easy radicalization which lead to religious conviction that would later turn to jihadi activities. YZ et al summarized it: “The initial success of the BH movement was also linked to the fact that it was organized in a way that had direct bearing on the question of livelihoods”. Markaz Ibn Taimiyya served as a focal point for wealth distribution and used to give economic support for the teeming unemployed youth working in the fields of agriculture, transport and trade.
The Future of Boko Haram
Religious extremism is the background upon which religious terrorism is built. The other loopholes that are exploited by insurgents are poor economy (the wider gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria) and poor governance associated with corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government officials. Religious conviction and the extremists’ interpretation of Islam are two among the most important triggers of terrorism in Nigeria.
However, government is not serious in addressing these problems. Though it puts huge amount of money in fighting terrorism and it is now showing as if the government is winning the war, but in reality what actually is causing the steady downfall of Boko Haram is the internal crisis between Mamman Nur and the Abubakar Shekau factions of the group. This lead to the leakages of secrets and the rise and falls of the two terrorist factions.
Nigeria will see re-emergence of another Boko Haram if it turn blind and allow extremists continue propagating their own interpretation of religion, of war and bloodsheds. Preaching should be regulated and religious hate speech should be curbed and countered before it reach to the point of becoming religious terrorism. The moderate voice should be promoted. I know Nigeria is a secular country but it can copy some of the counter extremism tactics being used by other secular countries like Britain.
The future of Boko Haram is in the hand of the government, the society and the people in general. For effective resilience the three should work side by side in preventing another emergence of terrorist groups. We are still battling this war. We should not allow another to break.