Vincent Obia looks at the growing allure of terrorism among some Nigerians
For the second time in four years, Nigeria came to international attention Wednesday when the two suspects in the brutal killing of a British soldier, Lee Right, of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of fusiliers, in the United Kingdom, were identified as British citizens of Nigerian descent. The two attackers, Muhajeed Adebolaja, 28, and his unnamed co-assailant, said to be aged 22, were said to have hacked the 25-year-old British soldier to death with meat cleavers and knives after knocking him down with a car.
A clip filmed by a witness just after the murder showed one of the assailants brandishing his blood-spattered weapons, shouting Islamic slogans and appearing to be declaring his motive. “We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day…This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” he shouted in the footage. Both suspects were shot and injured by the British police. They are being treated at the hospital at present, and awaiting prosecution.
On Christmas Day, December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, also a Nigerian who was then 23, was arrested in the United States for attempting to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 going to Detroit, Michigan en route Amsterdam. Abdulmutallab was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on February 16 last year.
The trio are Muslim hardliners believed to have links with extremist Islamic organisations. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed to have organised the 2009 attack with Abdulmutallab, who was also found to have connections to Anwar al-Awlaki and had received terrorist trainings. And Adebolaja is alleged to have taken part in the activities of a banned extremist group, al-Muhajiroun.
Nigeria is at present witnessing dangerous terrorist tendencies that seem to have been slowly developing since 2009, when an uprising by the Boko Haram Islamic sect led to clashes with the security forces.
The sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody under controversial circumstances during the uprising. The terrorist tendencies based on religious ideology, which appear to be establishing Nigeria as an emerging breeding ground for terrorism, are hardly a surprise. From the 1980s, the signs have been palpable. Nigeria has witnessed uprisings based on radical religious ideology. There was the Maitatsine uprising, stirred by Mohammed Marwa, a controversial Islamic preacher, who tried to wage a religious war against the Nigerian state with his increasingly militaristic adherents.
Marwa died in 1980 but his followers continued to cause riots in several places, including Kaduna, Bulumkuttu near Maiduguri, Yola, and Gombe.
Analysts, however, say gradually, with growing youth unemployment, poverty, widespread corruption, weak institutions and executive impunity – the perfect incentives for terrorist incubation – Nigeria is gaining a dubious reputation as an emerging breeding ground for terrorists and suicide bombers. But it is religious fundamentalism of the Boko Haram type-which name means Western education is a taboo-that has bred terrorism the most. When people are indoctrinated into believing that there is salvation for them in killing those that do not share their religious inclination, then the society where such people live is in trouble. Aside the religion-based terrorism in the north, Nigeria is also acquiring a terrible image in its southern parts as an emerging haven for kidnappers.
However, the people indulging in all these terrorist activities are a tiny minority. Most Nigerians are not terrorists, and the tiny minority and their nefarious activities should not be allowed to define us. The two suspects in the Woolwich killing are British citizens of Nigerian descent who have never visited Nigeria before. Also, Abdulmutallab was educated largely in the West and got his religious indoctrination from there also.
Today, the country is in the middle of a potentially protracted anti-terror war. In Nasarawa State in the North-central, a cult group called the Ombatse is on the prowl. The group recently killed over 56 security operatives deployed in Alakkio community to maintain peace. That criminal act and others like the Boko Haram insurgency may not be unconnected to politics. Also, the political class continues to expand the dimensions of the crisis by engaging in acts that increase distrust for the state and its institutions. This further exacerbates the crisis in the land and the terrorist pressures.