Renewed terrorism attacks on security agencies and other individuals by terrorist groups may have increased doubts over government's ability to check the menace, writes Muhammed Bello
With changes in the top hierarchy of the military some months ago, the confidence that terrorism occasioned by incessant attacks on persons, public facilities and security agencies by Boko Haram and lately, the Ansaru group, would be over soon was high. Although, there were doubts over government's readiness to embrace dialogue as part of measures geared towards solving the crisis, there were indications that efforts were in top gear to containing the rising casualty figure that the terrorists’ mindlessness had brought about in the last few years.
Unfortunately, the renewed onslaught in the last few days has eroded that confidence. The recent attacks, including the one on the otherwise dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) headquarters in Abuja, have instead heightened fears in the society about safety of lives and property. The erosion of confidence, coming close to the Yuletide when crime is naturally high, has underlined the reason why the Federal Government would need to work harder to reassure the people that it can protect their lives and property from the rampaging insurgents.
A Flash Back
For Muslim clerics, the Maiduguri crisis that erupted on July 27, 2009, was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Months prior to that time, they had been battling with Mohammed Yusuf, the progenitor of the cancerous idea that Western education is forbidden (Boko Haram). They had engaged him in intellectual debates as they battled to make him see the weakness of his belief. They lampooned him in mosques during congregational prayers. They tried to persuade him privately. All of these failed.
Subsequently, he was severally invited by the State Security Service (SSS). The service also took him into protective custody and released him many times. All these further hardened him and enhanced his persona among his underlings. His popularity among the youths in Maiduguri grew. Many of them from the home of the rich and the poor swarmed around him like mothballs cluster around flames of fire.
As Yusuf, who was later killed under controversial circumstances by the police, garnered more followers, the clerics became worried; and the government became confused. However, both parties did not give up in finding a solution to the insecurity crisis. The clerics met behind closed doors with top government officials at the Presidential Villa during the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, now deceased, to brainstorm on how to check the insurgency unleashed by Boko Haram.
They deliberated for hours. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that the military should be deployed to quash the insurgency. The late president surreptitiously passed on the directive. It was under this circumstance that Yusuf was killed by the police after his capture by the military.
His death was, however, to set off a chain of reactions that will cost the government and the people, especially those in the North dearly.
Seventeen days before the conflagration which has now engulfed the North , men of the Operation Flush in Maiduguri descended on his adherents, who were at a funeral procession to Gwange cemetery to bury one of their own. Infuriated, Yusuf, who rushed back to the city from Kaduna, read an open letter to the Federal Government before his congregation at the Markaz Ibn Taimiyyah.
The letter and two other treatises, Hazihi Aqidati (This is My Ideology or This is My Stand) and Hayya Alal Jihad (Clarion Call to Holy War), became battle cries that continue to spur many his followers to unleash a reign of terror on their perceived opponents. In the letter, Yusuf repeatedly told President Yar’Adua and security operatives that his group would not condone or forgive the killing of its brethren- Shaman and Berserker
Yusuf’s exegeses, that are today the backbone of his battle against the Nigerian state are rooted in the twelfth century philosophy of Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328). At one time a controversial intellectual and equally a notorious man of action, Ibn Taymiyyah, like sociologists of Max Weber’s conviction would say, built an ‘iron cage’ around the religion of Islam. To him, Islam does not recognise any worldly authority, symbolised during his time by the Yassa Code, or man-made laws, fostered on Muslims by the Mongols during their invasion of the Muslim world around 1300.
Ibn Taymiyyah was also critical of Christians. To him, their belief is a corruption of the true faith that Isa (Jesus) professed. So, they are not to be trusted, for the goal of their ‘false’ religion is to lead mankind to eternal damnation. He did not also spare Muslim protagonists and antagonists of Western-Hellenic philosophy because of its inclination towards materialism, which in his view is antithetical to the divine order of spiritualism. Muslims too, especially salaf (followers of the true tradition of Prophet Muhammad SAW), were seen as heretics by Ibn Taymiyyah. This view drew the ire of his contemporaries. Till date, it is still generating debates and clashes between Muslim sects that oppose him and the salafists who share his perspective.
This perspective subsisted even after the movement was crushed. A good number of the adherents went underground but like a phoenix, they rose from the ashes of their annihilation. Their resurrection overwhelmed the government and security personnel. It also caused panic among the people.
The activities of the sect led to mayhem which reached a climax on January 20, 2012. That day, many people in Kano had started taking stock of their activities for the day when numerous bomb blasts began to shake the city.
Like many of the mayhem said to have been orchestrated and executed by the Boko Haram, the intelligence community was caught unaware. By the time the booming sounds of guns and bombs subsided, the death toll had hit the 150 mark as officially declared by the state government. Since then, progression of the belligerence is yet to abate.
From Maiduguri to Potiskum; Gombe, Mubi, Yola and Kaduna, many more murderous attacks went on, including those on public facilities and security agencies as well as their personnel. There were, among others, attacks on the United Nations and police headquarters building in Abuja. Journalists were also not spared as the sect launched a deadly attack on THISDAY head office in Abuja and Kaduna, simultaneously. And lately, the attacks were visited on the military cantonment in Jaji and the fortress-like headquarters of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Guzape area of Abuja.
In view of the attacks, prominent individuals who had served the nation in various capacity had lost their lives in the hands of the religious zealots. Many journalists too were either sent death threats or their families were harassed. One of such prominent persons killed by the sect was Gen. Muhammadu Shuwa, a veteran of the Nigerian civil war, who was shot in his house in Maiduguri.
All these incidents, many of which have remained mysterious to ordinary Nigerians and even the security agents, have prompted questions from citizens. They wondered what the government has done to curb the menace; they asked questions on why it has been difficult for government to stem the tide. Indeed, they want to know what government has been doing about it.
The Adherents Keep Coming
Typically, the Federal Government’s response to these questions and many more has always been that it is committed to securing lives and property of the people. Technocrats and top government functionaries are quick to point to efforts by government to hold a dialogue with the sect. This started with the setting up of the Ambassador Usman Galtimari Committee.
The committee worked assiduously and came out with far-reaching recommendations.
In its 22-page report, the Galtimari committee advised the Federal Government to engage renowned Islamic scholars and jurists that could constructively debunk the doctrines of Boko Haram and convince them to renounce their beliefs. It appealed to states to take fruitful steps to declare as unlawful, any provocative and inciting preaching by Islamic clerics.
The Federal Government, however, adopted the report of the committee and set up a white paper committee. Nothing tangible has since been done. About the time the Galtimari committee was working, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, secretly went to Maiduguri where he met the in-laws of the late Yusuf. The move was to find ways of stopping what was happening. But it hit the rocks. Hours after Obasanjo left Maiduguri, a representative of the family, Alhaji Baba Fugu, who had met with the former president, was killed.
Then, Dr. Datti Ahmed, President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN), came into the picture. He offered to spearhead talks with the sect but his intervention bid was frustrated following the leakage of the proposal to the press. Ahmed quickly backed out.
After a prolonged hiatus, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a leader of the Tijjaniyya sect, came out to say that he had been mandated by both the Bauchi State and the Federal Governments to negotiate with the Boko Haram group. Less than a day after his pronouncement, the group dissociated itself from his proposal.
A couple of weeks later, during the Ramadan, a chieftain of the group, Habu Mohammed was on the Hausa Service of the Voice of America (VOA) where he said the group was interested in dialogue with the government. According to Mohammed who was claimed to be the second-in-command of Boko Haram, the group’s leader had said in a statement issued in Mecca, Saudi Arabia that it was ready to talk with government.
Minister of information, Labaran Maku, also told State House correspondents then that the government was always ready to discuss with Boko Haram and that it would not shy away from doing so now, especially with the dangerous turn the activities of the group had taken.
He said government was worried about the spate of killings and bombings across the northern part of the country, a situation he said had caused monumental loss of lives and property.
Maku said the Federal Government had an open door policy and would not hesitate to constructively engage the sect in a fruitful dialogue in order to bring an end to the problems of terrorism in the country.
Later, the mainstream body of the group debunked Mohammed’s claim. Not long after, another offer of dialogue was made by a representative of the group. This time around the group wanted General Muhammadu Buhari to lead the talks on their behalf. This generated heated debate until Buhari personally laid the issue to rest when in a statement, he decline to be a part of it. Undeterred, towards the end of last month, the group again waved an olive branch.
But this time, it was belated as President Goodluck Jonathan had foreclosed any chance of dialogue. Jonathan denied that there were moves by his administration to negotiate with the radical sect, reiterating that there could be no dialogue with a faceless entity. The president told a panel of editors during a live radio and television presidential media chat that the group whose bombing activities in parts of the North have led to the death of many and destruction of property, was a faceless group and therefore government could not have any discussion with any of its so-called leaders.
Refuting reports that there were discussions with the terrorist organisation, he said: "Presently, government is not holding any dialogue with Boko Haram. They are still under cover, they wear mask. There is no face to discuss with. There is no dialogue going on anywhere."
Human Rights Watch on Extra-Judicial Killings
In its recent report on the crisis titled: Spiralling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Forces Abuses in Nigeria, Human Rights Watch blamed the security forces for extra-judicial killings in Maiduguri and many parts of Northern Nigeria. In equal measure, the HRW pointed accusing fingers at both the Boko Haram and the security operatives said to be after them.
Particularly, the report indicted the police and the military for killing innocent people during their raids. The report also gave details of what it termed ‘detention related abuses’, noting that Nigeria’s government has responded with a heavy hand to the Boko Haram violence.
“Government security forces, comprising military, police, and intelligence personnel, known
as the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), have been implicated in serious human rights violations.
The authorities have also brushed aside due process rights of detainees in the name of ending the group’s threat to Nigerian citizens,” HRW observed. On the Nigerian military, the report specifically noted that it “has been implicated in numerous abuses during its operations in response to the Boko Haram violence in Northern Nigeria, including extra-judicial killings of men during neighborhood raids and detainees in military custody.”
Regarding the proliferation of checkpoints, the report indicated that “in both Kano and Maiduguri, the JTF has set up numerous checkpoints to aid the search for arms, explosives, and Boko Haram suspects. But residents allege that the security personnel also harass, extort money from, and abuse residents.”
What Nigerians Say
Against this backdrop, Nigerians from different walks of life have continued to express divergent opinions on the matter at hand. Aminu Liman, a civil servant, believes government is not sincere on the way it is handling the problem. “I also suspect that government maybe behind some of these things. For instance, the said attack on SARS; how can anyone believe that any sane person can invade that place and escape? Have you ever been there? The place is impenetrable. Yet, we were told that some people stormed it, killed policemen and set free some detainees. And, later the police re-captured some of the escapees. It is all hoax; it is unbelievable,” Liman added.
For Sameerah Alkali, an administrator: “there is nothing like Boko Haram. There may be some adherents of the group roaming the streets, but they are not that sophisticated to perpetrate some of the dastardly acts attributed to them. The government is Boko Haram. They are the ones planning and executing destructions all over the place.”
Chinonso Anyawelechi only advised that Nigerians should be security conscious as it appears that there is no institution that is ready to give the citizens adequate protection. “People should be careful wherever they go to, especially crowded places.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the situation appears to be overwhelming, observers believe that the president and those close to him have a mindset and it is that some Northern politicians who are bent on frustrating his administration are masterminds of the growing insecurity. They believe this is why government has not been able to find tangible solutions to the situation. But if this is true, a follow-up argument is: why has government failed to prosecute these people?
Those who share this belief also wonder if the administration's political opponents are also responsible for the rising wave of armed robberies and other crimes across the country.
Perhaps, it will be more practical for the government to heed the counsel of the likes of former US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and her successor, Hillary Clinton, who both told Jonathan to jettison use of force in containing the Boko Haram menace?
But whatever strategy the government chose to employ, what is apparent is that many Nigerians have reached the end of their tether on this matter. They crave peace. They want a sane society, not a lawless one.