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Boko Haram and the sin of the fathers

By Obi Nwakanma
MY friend, Dr. Abdul Rashid   N’Allah, a humane     scholar and critic, and professor of literature at the Western Illinois University, Macomb is a devout Moslem. Occasionally I needle him a bit and invite him, and it is all in good humour, to join some of my wilder friends and I to some harmless “Haram.”

I would naturally remind him that Omar Khayyam, that poet of pleasure and the senses, one of my favourites in the world, was not averse to some decent “haram,” and see what it did to his poetry! Of course, Abdul Rashid, being a decent Moslem would laugh and take a rain check, and wave us reprobates away.

The word “haram” had become for me a different kind of signifier, but in the last week, with the Boko Haram story breaking, it has assumed a new lexical and semantic power. It has become a signifier of the failures of this country, Nigeria, to contain antinomy and to move in a different direction in the twenty-first century.

I have not called Dr. N’Allah since the Boko Haram story broke to ask him if indeed, included in the list of “haram” is “boko” -  what I have come to understand to mean “book knowledge” in the western sense of it. This matter is serious, and it ought to drive us to moments of deeper reflection regarding the trajectory of values in certain parts of Nigeria, namely, northern Nigeria.

The revelations, tentative and suggestive as they may be, point to frightening security lapses in the Nigerian system which should concern and alarm us. Indeed, the new inspector general of the Nigeria Police, Onovoh has his work clearly cut early for him in the emergent scenario. There is a school of thought that sees the Boko Haram as in fact the first front in the organized terrorist sleeper cells that have been established in this country with cross border affiliations.

We may not know for sure the broad nature of these affiliations, or even the truth about them, until a full-scale investigation is conducted by the Nigerian security services and reported to Nigerians. But the signs are quite ominous.

For instance it is a long known fact within the Nigerian national intelligence and security services that there are many illegal cross border activities involving Islamic groups which have bases in parts of the north of Nigeria. The United States government has repeatedly warned that Al-Qaeda has been recruiting and training some Nigerian Moslems in camps in Mauritania and infiltrating various levels of government and social institutions in the north and increasingly in the south of Nigeria. One of the key elements in that narrative has always been Osama bin Laden’s alleged citing of Nigeria as one of the key fronts of Al-Qaeda activity in the global power struggle between what is often known as “radical Islam” and global capitalism as often emblematized by the west.

There are a few scary situations that we must reflect on. For instance, about five years ago, newspapers severally, even if they did not accord it the kind of prominence it required, reported the loss of radioactive material used for oil services in Port-Harcourt.

The police alert was quite significant given that the theft of that material marked two possible scenarios: the vulnerability of Nigeria with the increase of insecurity in that region, and secondly, the fact that the loss of this material which could in fact be weaponized happened without a trace.

The Nigerian police and the other branches of the security services has not reported recovery, nor traced the route of disappearance of the radioactive material that is used only in the oil industry for drilling and exploration activity. It means any weapon can fall into the hands of non-state actors and be used with devastating consequence on Nigeria. But let us return to the Boko Haram incident.

Following his capture by the joint operation of the police and military last week, the leader of the Boko Haram group made scant statements before he was summarily executed by the police in controversial circumstances.

The extra-judicial killing of Yusuf Mohammed is criminal, and has rightly inspired the outrage of many Nigerians. Not even the leader of an organization like the Boko Haram must be killed without facing the judgment of the law.

His rights to be heard were not only summarily abridged, but the right of Nigerians to hear his side of the story was squelched, and some now say, with the connivance of certain key functionaries of the state who may be complicit in the activities of the movement.

Boko Haram is without doubt a devious organization that has preached violence, forbidding acquiring “western knowledge” and is dedicated to the imposition of Islamic laws in the whole of Nigeria if necessary by force.

Boko Haram has been described as Nigeria’s Taliban. But there have been only a few pointed analyses about the background to the emergence of this antinomic group: one clear and true factor has been poverty and ignorance.

This is the sin of leaders of the    north: the indefensible   neglect of the citizenry to deliberate and utter poverty and ignorance, mostly in defence of their own narrow privileges and power. A huge gap of well-being therefore exists in the population of people in the north, thoroughly disenchanted and now in rebellion against the perfidy of their political leaders and against the social order that have produced them.

They are finding warmer embrace in the fold of marginal organization like Boko Haram who give them outlets to their rage. There is also a second factor: the politicization of the Sharia Laws in many states in Northern Nigeria empowered a moral police recruited from the disenchanted on the streets who have been armed by many of these governments in the north.

Among the early proponents and implementers of the Sharia Laws in Northern Nigeria, ironically is Umar Yar’Adua, the current president, when he was governor of Kastina State. He needs to answer some questions himself.


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