Boko Haram: Some reflections on causes and effects

For two weeks in July, members of the Nigeria police force battled members of a sect within Islam known asBoko Haram. The violence first started after the members of the so called sect allegedly attacked a police station in Bauchi metropolis. Suddenly, similar violence was unleashed on the public by members of the sect in the state capitals of Maiduguri and Kano, all in Northern Nigeria. In the course of the violence between the members and the police force thousands of innocent citizens were killed or maimed while properties including churches, mosques, private homes and businesses worth hundreds of millions of  Naira were destroyed.

In summary, the issues that Boko Haram has thrown up are closely related to the issues of identity politics, the struggle to claim and assert both individual and community identity in a shifting world. It is also a symptom of the crisis of modernization. But, over and above this it is a clarion call for Nigeria and Nigerians to begin to assert clearly the supremacy of citizenship over other sectional claims. This is the challenge for our young and struggling democracy. We may stumble and fall, but we must renew our commitment to the fine principles and challenges of building a democratic society on the foundations of a secular, free and just society.

For two weeks in July, members of the Nigeria police force battled members of a sect within Islam known as Boko Haram. The violence first started after the members of the so called sect allegedly attacked a police station in Bauchi metropolis. Suddenly, similar violence was unleashed on the public by members of the sect in the state capitals of Maiduguri and Kano, all in Northern Nigeria. In the course of the violence between the members and the police force thousands of innocent citizens were killed or maimed while properties including churches, mosques, private homes and businesses worth hundreds of millions of naira were destroyed.

Although the group has come to be popularly known as Boko Haram, it is not clear whether the group actually called itself by this name. This is because the words, Boko and Haram are two different nouns which merely describe rather than define what you might call a system of beliefs. What is more, the words have no theological meaning and could not in themselves become a set of beliefs as such. Applying the words to the members of the sect merely adds to the confusion in understanding the group itself. But first I think it is very important to attempt to unravel the conceptual confusion. In the mind of the Muslim every act is either Halal, permissible orHaram, impermissible. So, from within this context, while Ilimin Islamiyya was considered Halal, permissible,Ilimin Boko was Haram, impermissible. Against this backdrop anyone getting Western education was therefore a sinner, carrying out an impermissible act. We shall return to this later but first let us further place the issues within a historical context. It is interesting that even within the Muslim community there are conflicting notions as to what the word Boko itself really means. It crept into the vocabulary right from the beginning of the incursions of the colonial state and its Western educational system. Boko was often used in relation to a second noun, Ilimi, meaning education. Thus, the full expression, Ilimin Boko, was used to derogatorily refer to Western education as distinct from what the Muslim community understood as the only form of education, namely, Ilimin Islamiyya, that is Islamic education. While Ilimin Islamiyya was a form of catechesis focusing on teachings of the Holy Quran, its recitation and memory, it was the entry point for children into the faith of Islam. Its language of instruction was Arabic. Ilimin Boko on the other hand was considered inferior and suspect because it did not teach about the Quran or Islam. Its teacher, alphabets and language of instruction (English) were all very strange (white people) and their language seemingly incomprehensible. In any case, the white man and his incomprehensible ways were often associated with witchcraft, boka.

Then as now the etymology of the word Boko still remains suspect. For example, some people say that Boko is a corruption of Boka, which means sorcery or witchcraft. According to this school of thought the word was used to convey the notion that western education was as derogatory as sorcery or witchcraft and was therefore to be avoided. Since its harbinger was the enemy, it was naturally considered with suspicion as a means of destroying Islam in the way the colonial state had destroyed the Islamic polity. Another school of thought says that Boko had always been used to refer to a counterfeit or fake. In traditional Islamic society there was the concept of what was known during marriage ceremonies as Amaryar Boko. Amarya itself means a new bride. As the story goes, during a traditional wedding hiding the bride from public view was an important part of the ceremonies. During a wedding, therefore, it was often common for a procession to be led by an Amaryan boko (a fake bride) who would be dressed as the real bride but merely to serve as a decoy. Thus the excitement arose from getting the crowd to follow the fake bride while the surprise appearance of the real bride would be the climax of the ceremony! (It can be argued that just as white Christian missionaries used the words pagan and witchcraft interchangeably to refer to African beliefs and culture, the coinage of the word Boko was meant to convey the same contempt for the new but strange and suspicious education by the white man within the Muslim community).

Thus, when both the missionaries and the colonial state started a programme of education, the Muslim ruling classes still remained restrained and suspicious of the intentions. They decided to experiment by sending the children of the slaves and lower classes within their communities. It took a while before the ruling classes sensed the value of education as a tool of  odernization and subsequently but gradually began to send their own children to school. When the first generation of Muslim elites decided to send their children to school, these children were often the subject of derision among their own mates and friends. Thus those children who believed they had remained faithful to Islam by holding on to Ilimin Islamiyya, derided their friends who sought Ilimin Bokoby singing derogatory songs against them whenever the latter set out to school. One of those verses went something like this:

Yan makarantan boko,
Ba karatu, ba sallah
Ba’a biyar hanya Allah
Sai yawan zagin Mallam

The translation of song is:
Children of western schools,
You don’t study, you don’t pray,
You don’t follow God’s path,
You only abuse your teachers

This prejudice has persisted and this is why Western education was categorized as Haram. To date the suspicion of Western education is shown by the miserably low and embarrassing statistics of school enrolment all over the Northern states. Today well over 80% of Muslim parents in the rural and even urban Northern states still refuse to send their children to school to acquire Western education. The situation of the girls is worse perhaps, registering less than 10% of children of school age. Hordes of Muslim children who today roam the streets are graduates of the Islamiyya schools who often graduate after four to five years under the tutelage of an itinerant teacher, Mallam. The Mallam instructs them, earns no salary and has to rely solely on the proceeds of his students’ daily rounds of begging on the streets or in private homes. In the course of their training both they and their teacher have no other forms of support except the proceeds of their begging. These hordes of young children are unleashed on the streets of almost all the Northern cities and towns with no means of self-support. Their population runs into millions across all the major cities and towns in the Northernstates.

They are the cannon fodder that feed sects like Boko Haram and other similar millenarian movements that sprout occasionally in the North. A study by Paul Lubeck, a Professor of Sociology from the University College of Los Angeles, UCLA, entitled Islamic Protest Under Semi-Industrial Capitalism after the Kano riots in 1983 and published in 1985, gives a profound insight into the problems of these youths who are known in the study asGardawa. His findings, though focused on Kano, can be applied to the entire Northern states. They reveal that these Gardawa are the victims and products of the contradictions of a semi-industrial economy which had not fully developed or expanded to absorb these youths. The training they were receiving in their Koranic education was for a world that was fast vanishing, while the new one could not accommodate them.

This is the environment that produced Boko Haram. The sect came to be known by this name precisely because of what they taught. Unfortunately we must concede that we are limited in how much we can describe their teaching. Most of what we have as information about the group is tainted and not reliable evidence of who they said they were. The principal witnesses in this case, whose evidence would have been most reliable, are the thousands of corpses that littered the landscape including that of the leaders of the movement who, in the eyes of the public, were victims of judicial murder by the security agents. There are many tapes in circulation purported to be recordings of their leader’s sermons. But how and why were these people allowed to continue to propagate their hate messages for such a long time?

It is doubtful that they were merely against Western education per se, since their leader himself was quite articulate. It is more useful to suggest that they were really against the corrosive effect of all that has persisted in the name of modernization in our country. We can only properly understand their teachings when we see them within the context of when a society experiences change that is leaving too many people behind or is threatening their values and their sense of who they are. Reactions to these contradictions are almost the same everywhere in the world.

The general frustration of citizens with the Nigerian state is pervasive. Anyone who stands up against the state today in Nigeria, whether by way of a sermon, an editorial opinion or street protest, will not be doing anything new or considered subversive. The evil effects of bad governance, corruption, total lack of security and welfare have all become part of our daily lives. Clearly, in the eyes the sect members the persistence of corruption, collapse of public morality, injustice and so on could only be attributed to those who govern. In their reasoning, those who govern us do so because they have acquired their tools by gaining Western education. These same people, in their eyes, call themselves Muslims, but they persist in things that are Haram, impermissible in Islam. Therefore, as their arguments go, it is their acquisition of Western education that has polluted public morality. This may have sounded superficial, but this line of thinking had resonance among the poor and the victims of society. Logically, they argue, Western education is considered to be fake, a source and cause of corruption. They are angry over the fact that own religious leaders have come under the control of the state and are unable to give voice to their pain and suffering. Thus their revolt was internal to their community and not against their non-Muslim brethren. As such their rebellion is both against the state and leaders of their own faiths.

Today ordinary Muslims feel overwhelmed by the tornado of changes around them. Unable to access the tools of modernization, they have remained largely outside the loop of power. Even in the inner recesses of their own major cities in the entire region almost all forms of businesses are conducted by people they consider foreigners. These are almost all Southern traders and they are almost all Christians too. Their habits of alcohol intake, partying and the adoption of a lifestyle that they have come to consider as being dysfunctional has made ordinary Muslims nervous about the future of their families and faith. Sensing that they have become too weak to fight, people like Mallam Mohammed Yusuf 1, the leader of Boko Haram, took advantage of this situation by arguing that turning inwards, away from contamination, was a greater source of strength than looking outwards by means of acquiring Western education and other tools of modernization. Naturally, for over 90% of his followers with no Western education and graduates of the Islamic education system, this would have made a lot of sense. In an environment where even the few educated Muslims have no jobs, this message exposing the underbelly of the state had great appeal. Their new communities became their new family, offering security and welfare. Their community becomes an alternative state and their leader an alternative to the failed political class. This transfer of allegiance and search for succour is not new. Leaders of such strange sects, for example as thePeoples’ Temple ( Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana, 1978), David Koresh (Branch Davidians, Waco, Texas, 1993) and Heaven’s Gate (Marshal Applewhite, San Diego, California, 1980) claimed the same mass following and led their followers to their tragic and untimely deaths.

Perhaps more than what they believed in the question to ask is how and why did this group loom large on the horizon without any one taking notice of them? It is well known that they preached openly in places like Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Maiduguri and other places. They were obviously contemptuous of the state and its agents and agencies and they openly said so in their sermons. They abused other Muslims whom they considered to have abandoned the paths of Islam. They rejected the corrupting influence of the secular world, they railed against the corruption within the so called Islamic community. They abused the political class openly. Like all millenarian groups, they spoke and looked forward to a future of living in an Islamic state. They believed that a truly Islamic state was possible even though they were ignorant of the real world beyond them. The news of the heroic exploits of Al-Qaeda and the Talibans would naturally have been a sign that progress was being made in the quest towards an Islamic world.

In parts of the Northern states settlements have been renamed New Jerusalem, new Mecca or new Afghanistan!

Most of these rantings of Boko Haram discontentment sounded every familiar. The government and the security agencies knew what was happening. But like all previous crises no preemptive measures were taken. It will be recalled that before the outbreak of what came to be known as the Maitatsine riots, which started in Kano metropolis and later spread to other parts of the Northern States in 1983, the leader’s provocative sermons were known by the security agencies and the state. Unfortunately, then as now, these preachers always managed to secure access to men of influence. Sometimes they became an attractive platform for a political opposition where the opposition feared arrest, harassment or intimidation.

In the case of Kano state, at the time of Maitatsine for example in 1983, relations between the Peoples’ Redemption Party, PRP government and the federal government, under the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, were bitter and acrimonious. Maitatsine fed into this by his vitriolic attacks against the ruling classes.

Indeed, it was later realized that Maitatsine himself had been a lunch guest in the State House with the governor of the day. Similarly, the deputy leader of the Boko Haram, Alhaji Mamman Foi, was an influential man who had served as a commissioner in the present government of Adamawa State. He was said to have had direct access to the State House and governor. He obviously had access to resources because he was said to be the financier of the movement. He and the Governor are said to have originally hailed from neighbouring Niger. All these point to one thing: the occasional complicity of politicians who, in search of spiritual legitimacy, often befriend men such as the leaders of the sect in question. In exchange for the patronage a politician or a follower of these holy mensecure what is called in Islam Al Barka, that is blessing. In the popular mind of the politicians this Al Barka can be a source of protection in many forms. It can ward off political enemies, ensure success, ensure physical or political longevity, ward off demons, etc.

It may sound strange but the truth is that key persons in charge of national and state security in the state and federal governments are traditionally known to rely more heavily on medicine men, marabous, sorcerers than on the conventional security reports which come to them from professionals. These are notorious facts across the country, but they are more so in the Northern States where leadership goes hand in hand with having a Mallam, a religious leader who sees into the future and can ward off danger on behalf of his client. These seers become so powerful that you have to rely on them for any form of access to the president, governor, minister, or the political lord for patronage, ranging from securing contracts, remaining in office or political favours. How to deal with this bizarre phase of our national life is fundamental to governance under an Islamic leader. These facts are well known in the country since every Muslim leader relies heavily on these marabous.

It is interesting that, in the case of both Maitatsine in 1983 and Boko Haram, the government has often given meaningless names that merely describe the allegations against these sect leaders. For example, the leader of the Maitatsine group (whose real name was Muhammadu Marwa) got his name from the coinage of the words,Mai- ta- stine, that is the one-who-always-curses. This is because in his sermons the said sect leader was fond of raining curses on fellow Muslims, politicians, the rich and so on. Similarly, Boko Haram has become associated with a sect that the state merely suggests that it is against Western education. As with Maitatsine, whose corpse was burnt completely, the government has similarly found it convenient to not only kill the leaders of Boko Haram, but also to destroy the evidence. We are left with many questions. For example, have we seen the end of these crises? When and how will they surface? Has the state learnt any lessons? Indeed, why have the Northern states become so combustible? It will be impossible to pretend to answer these questions. However, I will merely highlight some of the key issues that our policy makers need to pay close attention to if we are to secure ourselves against future re-occurrence of these sad events. My intention is to identify some issues that we need to think about more seriously.

First, the sad thing is that anyone familiar with Nigeria will concede that is evident that another version of Boko Haram will rear its head in future and in one of the Northern states again. About this there is absolutely no doubt. This is because the federal and state governments, who are the culprits, and the accused have used their power to turn themselves into the prosecutions in all cases. For, contrary to what has become popular, to the government and outside observers Christians and Muslims are not at war with one another over their faiths. There is a high level of intra and inter-religious intolerance among all religious sects. Within the Christian community some Pentecostal Christians openly accuse their fellow-Christians (Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, etc) of being dead churches and unbelievers. But none of these have led to open violence. How and why is it that Islam remains such a highly volatile and combustible religion, at least in the experiences of Nigerians? How and why is it that some members of the Muslim community (who claim a religion of peace) have not learnt how to channel their disagreements through the proper quarters?

There are many reasons for this. Some are the limited level of interaction between a majority of the Muslim community and the rest of our citizens. The breakdown and collapse of the railway system has meant that over 80% of our citizens have never traveled out of their immediate environment for more than thirty years since the last train broke down. This has turned most parts of the North into incubators of hate where ill informed and un-policed fanatics have a field day preaching in a language (Hausa or Arabic) that the security agents themselves do not understand. The weakness of our laws makes it possible for individuals to spew vitriol and hate messages against any group, be they Muslims, politicians or non-Muslims. Indeed, anyone who disagrees with these charlatans is as much an enemy as anyone else. They do not respect faith, and this is what we all seem to misunderstand when we say that these people hate Christians or Christianity. In reality they hate anyone who is against them. After all, the members of Al Qaeda, the heroes of some of these fanatics, have shown no discrimination in killing their victims!

Therefore, the burning of churches or mosques by all sides is not evidence that these conflicts are about religion. In the same way the destruction of the twin towers on September 11 was not evidence that the perpetrators merely hated world trade, nor did the British people think that the bombing of the Underground was a sign that the terrorists detested the railway or transport system.

These miscreants do not respect law. They thrive in lawlessness of a weak state, and this is why anything can serve as a trigger for their frustration. Most of the violence that has led to the burning of churches has often had nothing to do with religion. The violence over the Miss World contest, the Danish cartoons or the disagreements over elections results in Jos, and now Boko Haram, all had nothing to do with religion. Yet the newspaper reports and the general reactions labeled these as religious riots.

It is my view that these crises have persisted because neither the state nor the public really seem to have properly understood the issues. It is important to think a bit differently regarding the issues. Here I think the challenge is the distinction between allegations of heresy, sin and crime. In every religion there will always be crisis and concerns around the allegations of heresy and sin. The challenge is who has the authority or power to punish a heretic or a sinner and in what way? The story of the Inquisition is still part of human history. We must accept that, while sinners will be punished by God, heretics can only be converted by proper teaching, not by violence. When the state loses its authority to enforce laws, it leaves society vulnerable. It is this vacuum that some religious leaders within Islam have continued to exploit by encouraging their followers to take the law into their hands. They take this false teaching further by encouraging their followers to believe that killing others who do not think like them is jihad, a noble act to be rewarded. I believe however that we can change the dynamics if the Nigerian state and its agencies stepped forward to enforce the law. The state has a duty to punish criminals for murder (whether they kill a disabled person or an archbishop), looting, or arson (whether a private building, church or mosque) or whoever takes the law into their hands. The protection of the life and property of citizens is its primary duty. This distinction in my view remains crucial and critical to resolving the problems of outrightlawlessness and criminality, which are daily mistakenly but popularly referred to as religious conflicts.

Two, at the heart of all the crises in our country is the failure of governance. Nowhere is this felt more than in the Northern states. In 2000, many ordinary Muslims were excited by the announcement first from the then Governor of Zamfara that the state would adopt Sharia law. The euphoria that followed this announcement spread as other states similarly made the same promises. There is no need for us to go into the details of the rise and fall of Sharia in the Northern states. Sadly, ordinary Muslims have come to realize that their own governors and public officers, the so called holy men of yesterday and apostles of Sharia, have been caught in the same web of corruption like all their other contemporaries. They realized that these apostles of Sharia shared in the same looting of their state treasury and were hypocritical in their claims. Thus, abandoning Sharia, as the elites are now being accused by ordinary Muslims, has added to the feeling of shame, embarrassment and powerlessness among Muslims. Sharia, as it has turned out in the hands of these elites, has not proved to be the solution to national and community problems, contrary to their hopes.

Three, there is the problem of the failure and fracture of politics in Nigeria in general and the Northern States in particular. In 1999, when the country returned to democracy, the nature of political affiliations and party formations showed the persistence of regional, ethnic and religious sentiments. For example, while the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, won a majority of the states and could claim the highest national spread, the other two main parties remained regional. The South West (Yoruba) was dominated by the Alliance for Democracy, AD,which won all the six states, while the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party, ANPP claimed seven states in the North. By 2007 some changes had taken place on the political scene across the country. (For example, the Alliance for Democracy is now dead. It has been subsumed into a new party called, Action Congress, AC. But that party governs only two States now (Edo and Lagos).

It is interesting that Bauchi state, where the riots started, has witnessed some political convulsions with implications for intra and inter-party relations. The state was ruled by the PDP for 8 years. However, the present governor changed to another party, the ANPP, seen as representing the Muslim North, contested and won the elections. After marrying the president’s daughter, he decamped to the PDP, leaving a trail of anger, bitterness and a feeling of betrayal among the populace. Insignificant as these developments may appear, it is my submission that they made Bauchi state vulnerable to fractions and violence. It is also, therefore, curious that the other two states where Boko Haram wrecked havoc were also the remaining ANPP states in the North, namely, Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and parts of Kano, areas which are within the belt of violence and border states. Four, it is important to note that Islam has remained prone to violence in the Northern states. Muslims in the area still think in terms of the wars of the caliphate and other wars of resistance in the last one hundred years. The Mahdist movement in the nineteenth century provided a rallying point for the resistance to British oppression. While in close collaboration with the colonial state, ordinary Muslims watched as the state used its monopoly and control of violence to destroy entire communities. Mahdism went beyond the borders of the colonial state in Nigeria. In the face of injustice and the perception that the state has abandoned them, some of these Muslims have often decided to take the law into their hands. Justice is such an integral part of Islam that the words of the founder of the Caliphate and the first Sultan, Othman dan Fodio, are often recalled. He said: A nation can live with unbelief, but it cannot live with injustice.With a justice system that commands very little respect and is suspected to be subject to manipulation by the power, ordinary Muslims find no outlet for their frustration except secondary targets such as innocent civilians, their properties, churches or police stations.

Recent developments since September 11 have had their own impact on the situation in Nigeria. It is true that developments in the Middle East, the Palestinian cause, deepening poverty, a collective feeling of insecurity and inferiority complex have combined to make terrorism an attractive option for those Muslims in their fight against the West. Stories of the rise and of Al Qaeda and the Talibans in recent times have added to both a feeling of urgency and frustration. By calling themselves the Talibans or naming their hideouts and strongholds Afghanistan, these fanatics try to create an international image for themselves.

Five, there is the issue of the annual Hajj and the external sponsorships of Da’wah groups in Nigeria by such countries as Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and so on. At a time when the European Union and the traditional allies of the Christian community are saying they are living in a post-Christian era, the annual Hajj continues to offer an opportunity for ordinary Muslims to seek business and sponsors for the propagation of Islam in Nigeria. A lot of funds are readily available for the building of mosques, madrasa and Islamiyya schools, propagation of the faith and so on. But perhaps more significant is the fact that through these pilgrimages Nigerian Muslims are coming into contact with other Muslims from elsewhere. Many wealthy Arab states and individuals continue to sponsor men and women with different ideological convictions. This is why at times Nigeria tends to become a battleground for proxy inter and intra-sect wars within Islam. This is why these preachers have come to pose a serious threat to internal harmony even within Islam. These sponsoring countries, especially Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia, therefore import their ideological bitterness through their countries into Nigeria. This is the basis for a lot of the inter and intra-sect or disagreements within the Muslim community which finally spill into the public space.

Six, there is the problem over what to do with the inability of the Northern elite to help take their people out of the backwaters of poverty as a result of lack of education. The North has over two thirds of the population of Nigeria, produces almost nothing and contributes little to a mono economy that relies only on oil. Its elites have held on the reigns of power more than any other segment of the Nigerian state and have had more access to resources. Yet, they remain a retarded class incapable of redeeming itself. All the commentaries about Boko Haram by Muslim writers have indicted the region’s economic and political elite where industrial life has collapsed and joblessness and frustration stare citizens in the face. Sadly, the region remains unable and unwilling to rescue its children from the darkness posed by illiteracy and ignorance. The proponents of Boko Haram saw in this chasm a hunting ground for recruits for their devious beliefs. A commentator, himself a Muslim, has noted that: We have in the North today an elite that takes pride in seeing fellow citizens live in abject poverty and squalor, an elite that is happy to be the only educated and enlightened ones in their villages and neighbourhoods, elites that pride itself with being the richest in their communities while the majority cannot afford to feed their families … Our governors have turned their states into fiefdoms. They steal with impunity. They arrogantly convert state resources to their own. They have deliberately destroyed the public school system which most of those who have found themselves in the Boko Haram sect are supposed to attend. They denied them access to education. They deprived them from living a decent life. 2

Seven, there is the issue of the frustration with and dwindling value of Western education. Many youths have opted for petty jobs and petty trading to earn a living. Therefore, Boko Haram was not really merely about the rejection of Western education. Rather, it was more about the interrogation of the state and its welfarist agenda regarding the worth of Western education as a mechanism for addressing the problems of individual or community morality. For example, the Igbo youth, initially well known for their love of Western education, have since turned their back on formal education Today the average Igbo youth prefers to trade and make money rather than acquire Western education. Indeed, the ratio of boys to girls in tertiary institutions has tumbled to 1:5. A combination of a seeming lack of federal and state government support, growing unemployment, low morale among university staff has increasingly made young people less enthusiastic about acquiring Western education. In the last years most Nigerians have come to agree that the quality of certificates within Nigerian universities has dropped, too many students are cheating in examinations and the teachers are merely dishing out certificates at a price. Thus a popular joke has it that the Igbo and other youth (who prefer to trade), the federal and state governments (through their poor funding of education) and the university staff (with endless strikes) are the real proponents of Boko Haram!! The solution to this disillusionment lies in the restoration of the primacy of scientific enquiry as a means of giving the educated youth a prominent place in national life. Federal and state governments have not given education the quality of attention it deserves.

Eight, closely related to this issue is the question of the need to re-evaluate the problems of the influence of modernization on local cultures and family values in our society. Clearly, there is a general belief that over the years contact with Western culture has diminished the average African culturally. Parents have become rather apprehensive over the fate of their children entering the cities or going into tertiary institutions. Daily these parents witness the erosion of such traditional values among their children as respect for elders, the value of hard work, telling the truth, obedience to authority, modesty, respect for family honour, hierarchy etc. Almost all tertiary institutions are inundated with bill boards, warning students to Zip up, and obey Dress codes as a means of arresting moral decline. These are part and parcel of the culture wars that the so-called Boko Haram would claim to have been wrestling with too.

Nine, it is clear that the North will remain combustible for a long time to come unless we turn our attention to some serious issues of concern. First, the Northern elite must encourage their citizens to embrace tolerance and accommodation in the same way that national politicians have demonstrated. For this to happen, beyond the programme of the National Youth Service Corps which has done so much to integrate our youth, excursion programmes, inter-marriages, a comprehensive human rights education programme must be put in place and pursued aggressively. Secondly, the governors must do much more to ensure that churches are not located in parts of the state that create the impression that Christians, despite at times being the most qualified, are seen as outsiders. Despite being indigenes of their states they are often discriminated against in areas of employment and promotion. In most of these states, despite their presence, there are hardly any Christians holding key or strategic positions in government or the bureaucracy. In almost all the Northern states, churches are located on either one single street or one area. This is why the miscreants find them easy targets. Deliberate steps must be taken to ensure that churches, just as mosques, have decent environments. Thirdly and finally, the idea of the role and place of government in politics remains problematic in the Northern states. Ministries of Religious Affairs are a problematic development. The temptation here is that religion tends to come under the control of the government. This is dangerous for religion itself.

Ten, Nigerians must remind themselves of the fact that there is no alternative to democracy, secularity of the state and the rule of law. However, for these ideals to become meaningful in the lives of our people, both rule of law and secularity of the state must be anchored on democratic foundations. Democracy must become the conveyor belt to enable the state to provide its citizens with a platform for equality and dignity. Thus the provision of food, infrastructure, security, welfare, health, functional education and employment must become the focus of the federal and state government. Democracy must become a tool for integration not alienation. Such major indices of democracy as freedom must help citizens develop a sense of self-worth. Elections must gradually become a formality for expressing the wishes of the people and their role and place in choosing their leaders. Once chosen, these leaders must see their roles as servants of the people and the custodians of the commonwealth rather than those presiding over a distribution agency. Clearly, democracy for now has not met the expectations of our citizens. Yet we must push on. The alternative is impossible to contemplate.

To be sure, the Nigerian Inter-religious Council, NIREC, exists as a platform for mediation between Christians, Muslims and the state there are many limitations. First, attention has tended to focus only on the leaders of both faiths, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, and Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. The body is far too large, and its support and sponsorship by the federal government tends to reduce its independence and capacity to speak truth to power in a prophetic manner. The body however does present an opportunity for believers to air their concerns. With some more commitment it is hoped that the forum can become a platform for the articulation of the genuine concerns among faith communities and that it can help to ventilate the concerns of their members over issues of perceived discrimination.

In summary, the issues that Boko Haram has thrown up are closely related to the issues of identity politics, the struggle to claim and assert both individual and community identity in a shifting world. It is also a symptom of the crisis of modernization. But, over and above this it is a clarion call for Nigeria and Nigerians to begin to assert clearly the supremacy of citizenship over other sectional claims. This is the challenge for our young and struggling democracy. We may stumble and fall, but we must renew our commitment to the fine principles and challenges of building a democratic society on the foundations of a secular, free and just society.

1 Executed by the security forces after his capture on 30 July 2009 (NDT).

2 Kabiru Lawanti: Boko Haram and the Culpability of the Northern Elite, Daily Trust, August 3, p.12

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