By Com Jasper Azuatalam
The origin of Boko Harram
In 1995, the group was said to be operating under the name Shabaab, Muslim Youth Organization with Mallam Lawal as the leader. Members were taught and encouraged to deepen their knowledge in Islam and become devout Muslims. When Lawal left to continue his education, Mohammed Yusuf took over leadership of the group. Yusuf’s leadership allegedly opened the group to political influence and popularity. The group was originally established at Ibn Taymiyyah mosque, which was named after Boko Haram’s spiritual head.
Yusuf officially founded the group in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri with the aim of establishing a Shari’a government in Borno State under then-Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. He established a religious complex that included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria and from neighboring countries enrolled their children. He started wooing the poor and feeble with his philanthropy and began to teach inciting sermons.
The group began to have ulterior political goals and soon it was also working as a recruiting ground for future jihadists to fight the state. The group then included members who come from neighbouring Chad and Niger and speak only Arabic. In 2004 the complex was relocated to Yusuf’s home state of Yobe in the village Kanamma near the Niger Republic border. Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss told IRIN News that Yusuf successfully attracted followers from unemployed youth “by speaking out against police and political corruption”.
When Muhammed Yusuf was arrested and extra judicially executed, the members of the sect who where now scattered became aggrieved and started to see the government as antagonistic and anti-Islam. That was the beginning of the face-off with government and as at that particular time the nascent insurgence was entirely a local affair.
After the effort made by the government to appease the members of the sect on the execution of Muhammed Yusuf failed, the group began to multiply, have splinter groups and began to advance extreme ideas. It started to wage war against the local and state government with local weapons, until international terrorist and terror organization noticed the sect, began to develop interest in their activities and started facilitating the sect.
Today, the sect has fully become and international terrorists organization with all the supports, mobilization and facilitation from world terrorists and their organizations. Today, the membership, activities and attacks of the sect have gone beyond the shores of Nigeria and the solution to the insurgence has also gone beyond the shores of Nigeria.
The line between religion and extremism
Christianity and Islam preach peace as religion is meant to guide our morals. However, as the different religions expand, different interest groups with various convictions began to preach and teach varying messages based on their understanding. In Christianity, the orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Methodist, etc began to emerge with slightly different teachings in most cases.
In the message of Jesus Christ whom Christians follow, He taught that men should love their enemies, do good to those that do evil to them and showed the example when he was taken to the cross by those he did well to, yet he prayed for their forgiveness. A splinter Christian group has emerged today. They believe that those who do evil to them should be cut down like the tree and those they consider as enemies must be cursed to death.
If they were Jesus Christ, they would have killed the soldiers that took Him to the cross before His crucifixion. Others believe that those who are caught in sin should be punished and killed. The likes of the convicted Rev King who burn members of his church that were said to have committed sin is a typical example of Christians who have crossed the religious line to become extremists.
Similarly, Muhammad preached and practiced peace. Islam is a religion of peace and it is a religion that accepts the right to existence of both Jews and Christians. In the Quran they are referred to as Ahlul Kitaab or the People of the Scriptures. In fact Muslims are allowed to eat their food and interact with them. “This day, good things have been made lawful for you. The food of the people of the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them” (Al Maidah 5:5).
“Islam forbids compulsion in religion, “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from error; whoever rejects evil and has faith in God has grasped the most trustworthy, unfailing handhold. And God hears and knows all things. God is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light”2:256-257.
In another chapter the Quran says; to you is your religion and to me is my religion (al Kafirun 109:6)
Islam forbids murder and the killing of the innocent. “Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom” (Al-An`am 6: 151). In another chapter Allah says “Nor take life, which Allah has made sacred, except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law))” (Al-Israa’ 17: 33).
However, those who have crossed the line between the Islamic religion and extremism believe that people of other religion must be forced to accept Islam and become Muslims. They believe they can kill those who do not believe in their teachings. They do not tolerate people of other religion and they do not believe in sharing and eating with people of other religion. They are extremists. They do not represent the true religion as they do not represent peace.
Whether they claim to be Christians like Rev King, but have crossed the line to extremism, they are called extremist. Whether they are Muslims like Boko Haram and have crossed the line to extremism, they are called extremists. They are against peace and they should be regarded as a common enemy, enemies to the human race and not Christians or Muslims.
The challenges in the Nigerian Army and how it is hindering the fight against Boko Haram
a. Welfare of the Nigerian Army; the poor welfare of the men of the Nigerian Army is one of the challenges that has hindered the fight against insurgence in Nigeria. Many Soldiers posted to the North East zones to combat terrorism have severally complained of lack of food. They have accused the authorities of not providing food and water for them during operations. They are also complaining that their allowances are either not paid at all or drastically reduced/cut. Many have also complained that their families are not being taken care of and the families of those who lost their lives in service are left to their fate;
b. Lack of sophisticated weapons and ammunitions; the fact that Boko Haram is using superior weapons and ammunitions compared to that of the Nigerian army is no longer news. The Nigerian soldiers have severally complained that the guns and other weapons they use against Boko Haram are inferior to the ones Boko Haram fighters are using. The worst is that the arms and ammunition of the Nigerians soldiers have often times malfunctioned or even refused to work at all;
c. Lack of internationally accepted practices in operations; many Soldiers deployed to the troubled states of the North East have complained of fatigue as they have stayed over six months, eight months and even 1year in some cases. This is against the internationally accepted practice for soldiers deployed to crises/war zones;
d. Mutiny: this has been reported lately in a military camp in one of the troubled states. Soldiers have complained of deceit, betrayal and have accused their authorities of complicity in the fight against Boko Haram. This has brought a crisis of trust among the hierarchy of the military and has resulted to the rank and files of the Nigerian Army protesting against their authorities.
These conditions have prevailed irrespective of the huge amount of money budgeted for security in Nigeria. The act that established the Military forbids them to protest, but this is assuming a dangerous dimension as the inability of the soldiers to publicly complain amidst the various complicities and ill treatment by the authorities is hindering the fight against the insurgents.
The only way out is for us to speak on behalf of these soldiers who are directly taking the hit by these insurgents. It is important to remember that while we sleep in our homes, party at night and go about our normal duties, our soldiers are right before the insurgents, confronting them with their lives at stake.
I hereby call on President Goodluck Jonathan to declare an emergency in the Nigerian Army, assume responsibility as the minister of defense and directly supervise all military operations till the situation is improved. This will help to cover all the noticeable lapses in the operation of the military. I believe that there are leakages in the provision of welfare for the soldiers in the field and that the money disbursed for the provision of arms and ammunition are either not properly utilized or stolen.
The declaration of an emergency in the Nigerian Army will enable Mr. President to do a total overhaul of the security apparatus and track down all those in authority who are involved in complicity and bring to an end the issue of betrayal, deceit and lack of trust. This will increase the moral of the soldiers, equip them properly and enable them to fight the insurgents effectively.
Mr. President on his part should show utmost sincerity, discipline and the boldness to expose and bring to book all those found to be accomplice and involved in complicity in the fight against Boko Haram. We can win this war against Boko Haram sooner than expected if our military men on the field are well motivated and equipped and the government shuns corruption.
This speech was delivered at the Citizens Forum on the future actions against terrorism on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, at Aquatic Hall, Beside Waterparks, Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.