By Adewale Adeoye
We should recollect that in 1981, the Maitasine sect re-launched its own mode of Islam which was crushed by the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. With this kind of history, there has not been any known time in history that the North-East fully submitted itself to the overall influence of the modern Nigerian state.
During my last visit in 1995 to Maiduguri, a prominent Kanuri politician told me that there would be peace in the region as long as their son the late Gen. Sani Abacha, was in power.
Abacha himself tried to re-enact the rivalry between the North-East and the North-West. No doubt, apart from wearing down the psychology of the Nigerian armed forces, which is one major goal guerrilla movements all over the world wish to achieve, the Islamic movement does not seem to draw harsh, visible resentment from locals in territories where it has been most active.
Viewed critically, Boko Haram is a radical, revolutionary Islamic movement that is questioning orthodox political and economic traditions in Nigeria but which is most proclaimed in the North where political leaders literarily feed on the misery of the people.
Today, Boko Haram appears to be exploring the deep-seated poverty in the North, the public distrust of the authorities and the ethnic cleavages in Nigeria to strengthen its recruitment base.
Ab initio, the group may have started as a front for politicians seeking political power, the reality now is that it has assumed the status of a cultural and religious movement capable of drawing sympathy from an angry and disenchanted Northern Muslim population, and of course, with great potential for drumming huge support from millions of angry and hungry people spread across the Maghreb region where the exclusion from economic and political contest has been their lot.
There have been harsh criticisms of the group for its campaign of violence and blood, with some describing it as a bunch of anarchists. These criticisms sometimes come with blind rage that it often makes constructive engagement difficult to conceive and suggesting that a solution would only come when the group has been exterminated. To me, the group appears to be genuinely driven by the philosophy of an Islamic theocratic state, if that was not its initial intension; it has nevertheless assumed this status.
Though the group wants the Islamisation of the entire country, this should not appear strange. This in itself was the kernel principles of Uthman Dan Fadio and his successor, the Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello.
However, it appears Boko Haram is making this call as a tactical demand, with the hope of negotiating from a higher stake with the Nigerian state. It also hopes to use this slogan to draw support from pockets of fundamentalists in Southern Nigeria.
One of the misconceptions is the puerile argument that Boko Haram came as a result of protest over the temporary shift of power from the North. Self-seeking politicians, for their parochial interests would want to promote this point. However, this is not totally correct.
The rise in Islamic fundamentalism in the North-East predated President Jonathan’s rise to power. The fact is that Boko Haram is a repository of elements that genuinely want Sharia introduced in Nigeria, or at least a territory carved out for them to practise Sharia within or outside Nigeria.
It is not unlikely, however, that the group enjoys the support of some Northern elements who see the group as a viable weapon for political harassment of the Presidency.
But, in a broad sense, the Hausa-Fulani ruling elite see Boko Haram as a serious threat, first as a challenge to the Sokoto Caliphate, a rendezvous for disenchanted poor, a bold spit in the face of its own parochial, oppressive and undignified style of leadership which continues to impoverish its own population.
Added to all this is the fact that the years of military rule led to the collapse of law enforcement institutions and the lack of trust for them. This was evident in the disdain for the people by armed personnel, reckless killings of innocent people without authority sanction of the law enforcement agents responsible and the rise of state-sponsored armed cult groups in academic institutions.
Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha should be held responsible for this. People started believing that justice is quicker when a victim resorts to self–help. What then should be done? The current arrogant posture of state and power will not resolve this crisis.
We need honest and meaningful approach to stopping the senseless killings and the thickening air of uncertainty that makes us to dangerously hold our breath, not knowing when the next stream of blood will flow. To save the unending human carnage, this is the time to enter into genuine, constructive dialogue with Boko Haram.
Are we not astonished that the elite from the core-North have been calling on the Federal Government to go into dialogue with the group? This must involve giving concession for the right of the group to participate in democratic elections. This may sound awkward, but an Islamic Party controlling a part of the country should not be seen as antithetical to democracy, once the party enjoys the full support of the majority of the population.
This must not be limited to Boko Haram alone, the siege mentality that defines national party politics and the electoral process in a plural society must vanish. Locals, ethnic groups, environmental, social movements and other groups that seek political power driven by particular interests, either ethnic or religious, must be allowed to register their political parties and contest in their own area of cultural jurisdiction. We should learn from other states.
After several years of bloody confrontations, Egypt had no option but to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to seek political power through the electoral contest. The government should conduct an honest referendum in the North-East: do the people want Sharia or North?
The second solution is to decentralise the security structure and unburden the Presidency. Let President Goodluck Jonathan have less to trouble his valued head with: state and community police, regional military commands, regional democratic and social institutions.
Third, the troubled states should announce amnesty, but this must be backed with meeting the contending powers at least half-way. There should also be a policy to retrieve all weapons in the hands of non-state actors across the country. State and local governments should run a database of all residents.
A lot of Northern leaders criticise the government for inactivity but they are scared stiff of applying the effective stop-break to the state of blood. They do not want the country to be restructured but are rather contended with keeping the rot to their own short-sighted advantage.
I ask, why should these demands offend others when our experience in the past 100 years has seen us squelching through blood, war and endless strife? The country is floundering. We must act fast.
Adeoye, a journalist, is CNN African Journalist of the Year 2000. He can be reached at waleadeoye90@yahoo