By Adewale Adeoye
Recently, tear-soaked Mrs. Deborah Shetima from Borno State gave a gory account of how her husband was killed, her two children seized and her only remaining child shot dead barely one year after the anniversary of the murder of the leader of Boko Haram, Yusuf Mohammed. The military authorities announced the other day the death of 20 insurgents after a failed attempt to seize a military outpost in Borno State.
The 20 people have relations, they probably have children and wives and maybe some of them are innocent. Nigeria is drifting into a state of blood. The situation may get even worse as the Nigerian neighbours in the Maghreb region grapple with faith-driven armed uprisings.
Unfortunately, Nigeria may suddenly become hotbeds of deep ethnic divisions and religious upheavals. For months unending, the country has been characterised by bombings and mass killings, the last being the bombing of a popular luxury bus motor park in Kano State last week, leading to thousands of internally displaced persons, including women and children.
In our very eyes, the Afghanistanisation of Nigeria is spreading like a wildfire in the dry season. Predictably, this carnage will spread into the Southern part of the country if certain measures are not taken by the government. The bombings of Kogi State, less than 10 minutes drive from some villages in Ekiti and Edo states, are clear indications that the Islamic movement may soon hit major cities in Southern Nigeria.
I have had cause to visit many Northern states from my days as an active member of the National Association of Nigerian Students. I was also a facilitator and part of the technical committee set up after the first ethnic summit held in Jos in 1999 at the instance of the late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti. Over 1,500 people attended the summit with representatives from all the ethnic groups in the North.
The bitter truth, however, is that the crisis will continue for certain reasons: One, the current Nigerian leadership lacks a deep historical understanding of the nature and form of the crisis that is stealthily engulfing the country and, therefore, cannot provide an enduring solution. Two, contrary to the propaganda of State Security operatives and the sometimes deceitful and ignorant categorisation of the crisis as ad hoc, what we see is a well-planned campaign of terror woven around primordial values.
Unknowingly to many people in authority, the insurgents in the North appear to relish the support of a huge population of adherents who are happy that at last a group is giving it back to a state that for decades had treated her citizens like cockroaches on the sidewalk. Millions of poor people in the North are frustrated by a corrupt, inept and almost moribund political leadership. There was the belief that the introduction of Sharia, even if illusory, would curb the recklessness and spinelessness of the Northern political leader.
It means that with what clearly appears as the support of Boko Haram by a section of the local population, overall defeat of the Islamic movement is farfetched. Third, President Goodluck Jonathan had admitted that security operatives are involved in the execution of Boko Haram campaigns. This only confirms how difficult it will be to defeat the sect. By now, we should fear for the personal safety of Mr. President and the violent ethnic backlash any harm on him foretells.
We must, however, admit: This country is standing on the edge of a cesspool. It is important to note that the war of attrition being waged by Boko Haram is oiled by the most inflammable ingredients of human existentialism: ethnicity and religion. The most brutal and malicious wars in history have either been fought along ethnic or religious lines. Here lay the peril that faces Africa’s biggest and most homogenous Black country.
The most dangerous trend is that though the Federal Government appears to have recorded “victories” through its superior armed confrontation with the sect, there are unforeseeable, daring consequences one of which is the fear that security operatives who are natives of communities under state sponsored siege, will naturally be displeased by the often innocent casualties that usually accompany military operations in their dominion.
One thing is now certain, these bombings have become one of the major threats to stability in Nigeria and West Africa coupled with the persistent armed uprisings which have become a dominant trend across the sub-region. The emerging scenario is not only a peril to Nigeria, but given the country’s huge population, there is a visible threat to global security.
What should be done? There cannot be a solution to the crisis without understanding its history, nature and form. For one thing, it is completely naïve to cite the Islamic insurgency as mainly the product of the temporary loss of power by the Hausa-Fulani North. This only explains an aspect of the problem. It appears a section in the Presidency thinks this way when it linked the uprising to the assumption that “some people just don’t like” the President’s face.
This is simplistic and will definitely lead to wrong solutions to a persistent problem. In understanding the current trend, we should know the history of the people waging this campaign. Let us reflect a bit on where we are coming from: for over 300 centuries, the North-East has been home to Islamic re-insurgence, partly due to the region’s unique political and cultural history.
We cannot do this without understanding the Borno Empire and its historic fangs and timeless struggle for self-determination which has been continuously stymied. The Borno dynasty had existed for over 1,000 years, covering some parts of Ghana, Nguru, Kano and Adamawa. Its collapse was only saved by Sheikh Muhammed al-Amin el-Kanemi who was born in 1772.
Borno had over the years resisted any external culture, influence or the creation of “national cultural identity” which the modern Nigerian nation continues to fan. The Hausa, Fulani and the Borno pedigree are not the same and sometimes view one another with suspicion. For instance, the Fulani first entered the then Borno capital, Gazargumo, on Saturday March 12, 1804 (the 13th Muharram, 1223 A.H).
Old Borno Empire (now Yobe, parts of Adamawa, and Borno states — the hotbeds of the insurgency) had always resented intruders and had meted out harsh venom on such. As the Fulanis came, the fleeing Mai appealed to el-Kanemi who summoned his Kanumbu tribesmen and the Shuwa Arabs, who rallied because they considered the liberation of the Saefawa Dynasty a noble cause. They considered the Fulani as mere aggressors and usurpers. After routing the Fulani, el-Kanemi returned Mai Dunoma to his domain. The siege continued until after the death of Uthman Dan Fodio in 1817.
By 1830, some terms of truce was declared when Sokoto and Kukawa reached a truce. In the 13th Century. The prowess of Borno extended to the port of Kabara near Timbuktu, where currently, Islamic groups were recently expunged by the French and allied forces. Borno had made efforts to expand its purist Islamic norms to the other parts of Nigeria or the Northern hemisphere. For instance, in the autumn of 1825, Bornu army’s attempt to take over Kano was repelled by 124,000 Fulani soldiers, half of the number of soldiers deployed by Alaafin of Oyo to safeguard Yoruba territory almost a century earlier.
The Borno army captured the Bauchi flag, while the Fulani soldiers also captured silver timbre. Realising the balance of forces, a peace accord was signed long before the Nigerian nation began to emerge. In all the ancient battles, the Shuwa Arabs supported the el-Kanemi who is known to be the direct descendant of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (SAS), through his mother.
There are historical reasons to suggest that the uprising may continue to receive unprecedented support from unlikely quarters in the middle-east. The break-up of Boko Haram into factions appear to reflect the old rivalry between the North-West and the North-East.
To be continued.
•Adeoye, a journalist, is cnn African journalist of the Year 2000. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org