Friday, 30 May 2014

Boko Haram Part 1: An Overlooked Aspect Or Just Another Conspiracy Theory?

Boko Haram in black and white: What we know about them

One man's Terrorist is another man's Freedom fighter, so they say. Someone who isn't well informed about the Boko Haram insurgency may believe that Nigeria's Muslim community, especially those in the Northern part of the country, stand to benefit from the quests of this terrorist group. Truth be told, this feeling is more widespread than many would readily own up to; it becomes obvious when you consider the fact that many Nigerians from the Southern region believe that it is best to let the Northerners go for the sake of peace. However, this - like many assertions and decisions by Nigerians and the Nigerian government - is false. Boko Haram as a terrorist group does not represent the interest of any significant group of Nigerians. By "significant" I mean in terms of ethnicity and religion which unfortunately are the two major divides that exist in Nigeria. Yes, it stems from Islam, but it is just a sect with penchant for may want to think of it as an Islamic form of one of the very many Pentecostal churches that stem from Christendom and whose General Overseer is the god the congregation see.

So who are they? In the mid-1990s, Mohammed Lawal formed a group of young radical Muslims at the Alhaji Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque, Maiduguri. Led by Mohammed Ali, a set of this group had adopted a Salafist ideology with the belief that their city and Islamic community was adulterated and corrupt. This new group believed it can bring back what it saw as the fundamental, earliest or purest form of Islam; and as a result they decided to withdraw from society in what is called hijra. This group moved to remote Kanama in Yobe State where they set up a fissiparous community and practiced their idea of pure Islamism. They were mainly a non-violent Salafist-Takfiri group as their focus was on rejecting the "secular" or "adulterated" form of Islam; propagating their own belief and trying to persuade other Muslims to practice their idea of the purest form of Islam. In 2003, this group had a disagreement with the aboriginal Kanama community over fishing rights. This disagreement eventually got the Nigerian Police Force and Army involved and earned the group a reputation as "Nigerian Taliban". After a full-blown confrontation that lasted about a month, their settlement was raided; Mohammed Ali and most of the group members were also killed. Those that survived were said to have gone back to the Ndimi mosque in Maiduguri and re-integrated with their mother group which was then led by Mohammed Yusuf after Mohammed Lawal left for further education.

In 2004 and following this re-integration, Mohammed Yusuf moved his group to the Ibn Taimiyyah Masjid Mosque on a land donated by Baba Fugu Mohammed, his Father in-law. From this mosque the group grew as they propagated their Salafist ideology and Yusuf's disdain against western education. They spread from Maiduguri to Bauchi, Niger and Yobe states. Like Mohammed Ali's Kanama group, Yusuf run his group as a fissiparous state with a ruling cabinet, its own religious police and a large farm. The group attracted the poor and jobless Muslim youths in the Northern part of Nigeria and from neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon whom they fed, sheltered and offered stipends. Yusuf's group was funded by international Salafist contacts in Saudi Arabia and by donations from wealthy Muslims who claimed they were under obligation to donate charitably in what is known as zakat. Perhaps with the knowledge of what this kind of sect could amount to and the challenge it may pose to the State, top Muslim Leaders and Clerics from other sects had warned the government about them and nothing was done. Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam, a popular Muslim cleric started criticising them and was killed, allegedly on the orders of Yusuf-this act was to seal the fate of the group as an outcast in the Nigerian Muslim community and as a full blown Salafist-Takfiri group.

Again, like Mohammed Ali's group, Yusuf's group had a confrontation with the Nigerian Police Force in July of 2009. This confrontation began when some Police officers insisted that they put on their helmets as they were travelling for a member's burial and it eventually led to several attacks by the group against Police station and to the killing of numerous Police officers. With their incessant attacks on the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) in Maiduguri, Boko Haram gained notoriety. Nigerians are known to dread the NPF due to their corrupt and wicked ways, and it was of little surprise that Boko Haram took that place of the "commander of dread and power" when they kept on challenging, killing and sacking members of the NPF even from their barracks...after all, if a group of people can gain an upper hand over the same Police force that is meant to protect the public, who then are the public to challenge this group? It was this newly found "Power" that further emboldened Boko Haram and got Yusuf to fearlessly threaten and challenge the State and security forces in his widely spread sermons. He painted a religious camouflage for this new battle and thus Boko Haram morphed from a Salafist-Takfiris movement to a Salafist-Jihadist movement which supports violence not just against the Muslim community who do not practice their idea of the perfect Islam but against people of other faiths who do not believe in Islam or who try to suppress Islam. And this justified - religiously and “Islamically” - their attack on the Nigerian Security forces whom they believed was trying to suppress Islam by attacking them. Yusuf's sermons brought about a response from the Bauchi and Borno governments who tried to roundup the members of his group. This was less successful in Maiduguri, Borno's capital and Boko Haram's base and therefore resulted to the group going on a 3-day killing spree: police officers, Muslim and Christian civilians were not spared in what was to be their first Salafist-jihadist act.

In a reprisal attack, and on the orders of the Late Umar Musa Yar'adua, the Nigerian Security forces pounced on the members of this sect and their sympathisers whom they executed outrightly and without trial; Yusuf was killed amongst hundreds of others. Village heads and Clerics played their part in pointing out Boko Haram members to the Nigerian Security Forces. A number of them escaped death and were said to have sought refuge with other insurgent groups in Mali, Algeria and Niger where they also received trainings...Abubakar Shekau-their present leader - was one of those.

These extremists were to regroup and return barely a year later in what seemed like a revenge and arms gathering mission against the NPF whom they would usually attack, kill and steal their weapons. They also attacked Clerics, Village heads and civilians who cooperated with the NPF in the 2009 raid against them.

Under Shekau, Boko Haram has no apparent base or membership unlike it was under Yusuf who had a defined camp and identifiable membership. It has taken the shape and structure of other internationally known Terrorist groups who tend to remain invisible until they strike. They have struck churches, mosques, villages, schools, relaxation spots, motor parks, police stations, prisons, army barracks, government buildings etc. and are said to have claimed thousands of lives. Boko Haram are also said to have kidnapped foreigners and young girls, the latest being the likely kidnap of over 200 young school girls from Chibok, Borno State. There are also rumours that with the promise of peace, they had extorted funds from some Northern state governors.

Boko Haram had constantly attacked the Northern states and killed many until Nigerians, especially those outside the conflict zones, became desensitised to their activities and to the hundreds of lives they regularly waste. The largely incompetent and unfortunate Nigeria Federal Government was at one point trying to dialogue with them as they had proven too hard a nut to crack; and this move boosted their ego and morale. Even before the declaration of the State of Emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, it ceased to be newsworthy announcing that hundreds of Nigerians have been killed by Boko Haram in a Northern state. At one point Nigerians reacted more easily to news of mass killings or death in other countries than they did to such in Nigeria. However, this was to change with the twin bomb attacks at Nyanya which claimed close to 90 lives and injured many and the kidnap of over 200 Nigerian school girls from Chibok in Borno State all within a month. These launched Boko Haram back into the consciousness of the average Nigerian as that invisible and invincible terrorist organisation.

Boko Haram in grey: What are they actually about?

The late Yusuf was known to be an adherent of Ibn Taymiyyah- a 13th century scholar, whose views are held widely by Salafist-Takfiris and Salafist-Jihadist. Taymiyyah held that Allah supports the withdrawal from and violent attacks against a system in which the Muslim leadership/leaders were oppressive, corrupt and malevolent. However, under Shekau, Boko Haram has become more violent and ever morphing and unpredictable and their grievances largely unknown, the group appears to be maniacal in intent but clinical in approach. One stable or predictable characteristic of this group is their wanton use of violence which is limited to the Northern part of Nigeria. When one considers the lax security in Nigeria as a country, it becomes obvious that Boko Haram not having struck the Southern part of Nigeria and some Northern states is a matter of choice and not of chance or inability. But why have they not done so? Could what we know and can predict about them help us ascertain what may be hidden? Let’s go back to history once more.

Looking back to history, one is forced to wonder if Boko Haram is on a sick mission trying to emulate Usman Dan Fodio, who carried out a jihad between 1802 and 1812 - a jihad that is widely seen as normative by Northern Nigerian Muslims. Usman, a Fulani, had established a religious community in Degel which he hoped would be a model town in years to come...this was also what Yusuf had in mind when he formed the community that has become Boko Haram. Usman fled to Gudu after Yunfa -the ruler of Gobir and a former student of his- revoked Degel's autonomy and turned against him. It was from Gudu and in what was called the Fulani war that Usman waged a jihad against the then high Muslim civilisation which was made up of a number of Sultanates/Emirates around the Hausa land and the then Borno Empire which was made up of Kanuris and other tribes in the Northern part of present day Cameroon and Chad. With the exception of the Kebbi Emirate, Usman conquered all of Hausa land; he merged the conquered dynasties into what was called the Sokoto Caliphate and which became a Hausa-Fulani land. He was also unable to conquer the ill-fated Bornu Empire, as he was repelled by Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi; this failure resulted in three Northern fiefs: Yakubu Nabame’s Kebbi Emirate with a predominantly Hausa population; Usman's Sokoto Caliphate with a predominantly Hausa-Fulani population and Al-Kanemi's Borno Sultanate with a predominantly Kanuri population. I should add that through mutual understanding between the Kebbi Emirate and Sokoto Caliphate, the Kebbi Emirate was granted its right to exist as a dynasty; however, Al-Kanemi's Borno Sultanate remained at loggerheads with Sokoto Caliphate even after the failed takeover attempt.  

The Kebbi Emirate, the Sokoto Caliphate and the Borno Sultanate came under the control of the British in what became the Northern Protectorate and which lasted between 1900 till 1914 when it was again merged with the Southern Protectorate and Lagos colony in what is now called Nigeria. In present day Nigeria, two of these historic Northern dynasties are still in existence as ruled by a Sultan of Sokoto and a Shehu of Borno.

Back to the present times, Boko Haram is seemingly focused on the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno Empire in present day Nigeria as virtually all the States under these dynasties have had attacks attributed to them except Kwara and Benue States as at the time of this divination. Kwara is predominantly Yoruba and Benue is predominantly Idoma and Tiv. Strangely, Kebbi State of the Kebbi Emirate – a purely Hausa land, which is bordered by Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger States of the Sokoto Caliphate, has not suffered a single attack. Looking at this, we can see that there seems to be a pattern to Boko Haram’s attacks and we can boldly say that their focus is mainly on the Hausa-Fulani region of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kanuri region of the Borno Empire. Between these two regions, the Kanuri land has suffered the most. But this seems strange.

When one considers the fact that the late Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram was Kanuri from Borno; that Shekau, the present leader is Kanuri from Yobe state; that Senators Ali Ndume and Ahmed Khalifa Zanna- both Kanuris from Borno State- have been embroiled in controversies as it concerns their affiliation with Boko Haram; that Former Governor of Bornu State- Ali Sherrif- and the present Governor-Kashim Shettima- have also had links with members of Boko is left to wonder why a Terrorist group which is headed by a Kanuri and with links to prominent Kanuris still kills and maims in Kanuri land and why they have attacked their own domain more than any other region.

Again, considering that Boko Haram has been suggested to be against the government and yet till date has not claimed a single victim from Federal and State governments nor have they destroyed any of their properties; one wonders why helpless civilians are the targets. The closest they have come to attacking the government are their confrontations with the Nigerian Security forces which are purely defensive or retaliatory. So, what really is going on?

Though they may sound silly, but let’s ask ourselves the following questions:
  • Why the unprovoked attacks in poor and defenseless Kanuri hamlets and villages by a largely Kanuri-controlled Boko Haram?
  • Is it not likely that some elements from the Sokoto Caliphate has seen Boko Haram as a Borno Sultanate group trying to settle historic scores? 
  • What if this Boko Haram insurgency has morphed into a battle between a yet unknown Hausa-Fulani group targeting Kanuri land and Boko Haram, a Kanuri-led group targeting Hausa-Fulani land? 
  • Is it not possible that whilst Boko Haram is responsible for the attacks outside Kanuri land, the unknown group is responsible for those against villages in Kanuri land?
  • What if this has become a battle of supremacy between two groups from these neighbouring tribes - the Hausa-Fulani and the Kanuri tribes?
  • Why does it seem that the Boko Haram members who were apprehended and linked to Kanuri politicians are in one way or the other responsible for attacks in Hausa-Fulani land?
  • Considering the vengeful nature of our brothers in the north (please don't take this wrongly), what if Borno and Yobe attacks have become reprisal attacks by the unknown sect as a result of attacks in Hausa-Fulani land? This is very logical because it has almost become the norm that after an attack in an Hausa-Fulani state, there is one in Borno or Yobe. Recently, after the Nyanya bombings; a village was reportedly attacked in Borno and about 300 people were killed; again, following the bombing in Jos; another village was attacked in Borno.
  • Does it not look out of place that Boko Haram keeps claiming attacks outside Kanuri land but has never claimed any of the numerous attacks in Kanuri hamlets and villages? I should point out that though Boko Haram has not made it a habit to claim or refute attacks attributed to them, they have indeed claimed some. Surprisingly, they have only claimed an attack in Borno State: a Military Barracks. In Yobe state and after the killing of about 46 students in a school dormitory, Shekau  released a video supporting the attack; however, stating that his group does not attack women and children, he never claimed responsibility.
Armed robberies, political killings, ethnic/tribal killings, grudge attacks, them, have all been termed Boko Haram attacks by the deceived public and by a lazy and incompetent Nigerian Police Force that lacks that investigative ability or the common sense to treat every new criminal act as unconnected to the previous until proven otherwise. For instance, in 2012, a church in Bauchi had reportedly planted a botched bomb at a rival's premises. If they weren't caught in the act and the bomb detonated, Boko Haram would have been to blame. 

If what I suspect is really what is going on, it is now left for us to figure out when these reprisal attacks started and not necessarily why because there are several valid answers both historical and otherwise.  If it is true, it does not necessarily mean that Boko Haram as a group has lost sight of their initial goals, it only uncovers a new dimension to their operations. If this is true, it also makes stronger the case that prominent Nigerians from both sides are financing and supporting these attacks and counter-attacks and they should be hunted down.

I do not want this to be treated as some sort of conspiracy theory or fact without extensive investigation, but it should serve as an angle that should be considered in the bid to understand these killings and to stop them. If this is investigated and it turns out that I am wrong, at least an extra angle to solving this problem would have been considered and proven invalid...this would decrease by one, the number of several possible options yet to be considered, and hopefully one of them would be the answer we all seek. Please share.

The Oracle has spoken!!


  1. Nice point of view, this is rilli an eye opener to those of us that hardly know a thing abt boko haram. I wish the govt could read this as investigate properly instead of creating committees that are jt there to eat money. Well spoken d oracle

  2. Nice point of view, this is rilli an eye opener to those of us that hardly know a thing abt boko haram. I wish the govt could read this and investigate properly instead of creating committees that are jt there to eat money. Well spoken d oracle