By Rotimi Fasan
SECTARIAN strife is nothing new in diverse parts of Northern Nigeria. Each dispensation seems to spawn its own type of religious zealots, people with one form of score or another to settle with others in their communities if not the state at large.
There is a pattern to the activities of such groups: After what may seem like a long cooling-off on the religious angle, then would follow a sudden outburst of violence which would have been preceded by smaller if no less bloody skirmishes along the line. Attacks would be launched on persons suspected of disrespect to the tenets of a sect’s credo or not following the dictates of such credo to the letter.
In due course, the target of attack would be widened to include members of the law enforcement agencies who are usually the first set of people called in to respond to the breaching of the peace. Where the paramilitary forces are unable to put down the apparent revolt of these fundamentalists, the military are then called in.
The affected parts of the country would experience some relief until somebody within the pacified group or another takes up arm again. This has been the pattern down the years, more so since the early 1980s when the Maitatsine sect ran amok in parts of the North.
While there are occasional rumbles from older sects like the Maitatsine or latter-day incarnations of such groups, the Boko Haram sect has been at the forefront of religious violence in the last two or three years. Following the crackdown on the sect some two years ago and the controversial death of its leader, things settled to an uneasy calm for a while. But in the last few months the group seems to be mustering more strength and has left much destruction on its trail.
The death of many Nigerians, mostly security personnel, in the hands of members of this sect in the last three weeks should and has been the cause of much worry for the government. Nigerians in Borno State now go about in trepidation for fear of attacks from members of Boko Haram. Even more frightening is the possibility of copycat attacks in other parts of the North as we witnessed two years ago when members of the sect overran at least five states in this part of the country.
Yet, one cannot but wonder why the Boko Haram attacks get more virulent at these times with issuance of demands and ultimatums that must be met for peace to reign. Curiously, the attacks too get more sophisticated with bombs and other lethal devices being called into service.
Is there nothing contradictory about the use of these lethal devices, products of Western science, which the Boko Haram swears not to have any truck with? In other words, how can members of this sect whose tenets, we are told, forbid any contact with Western-style education- justify its resort to killer devices made by the satanic knowledge of the West?
And why should such attacks get more widespread at this very period of political tension between politicians from certain parts of the North and South of the country? Is there any connection between the present activities of the Boko Haram and the detonation of bombs during the last independence celebrations and in other parts of the country prior to that?
What I’m driving at is the need for us to start checking if there are no connections between the resurgent violence of the Boko Haram and the threat and actual use of violence in connection to the 2011 elections. Are there some Nigerians sponsoring terrorist attacks in parts of the country in order to settle political scores while hiding behind the veneer of religion?
There seems to be more to the violence in Borno State than can merely be attributed to religious zealotry. Somebody or a group appears to be egging on Boko Haram in its terrorist enterprise. What needs to be unravelled is the identity of such persons.
As far as my reading allows me, it appears that Boko Haram is being propped up as the North’s answer to MEND and such other militias in parts of Southern Nigeria. Not only does a Nigerian of Niger-Delta extraction now serve as president, there is the possibility of he remaining in office post-2011 should the position being canvassed for power to return to the North fails.
And this same person feels so easy as to absolve MEND, a group that had made Nigeria ungovernable until the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan- that the President felt so confident that this group has so mended (no pun intended) its ways that it could be adjudged innocent, despite its claim of culpability, in the Independence Day attack in Abuja, thereby earning the ire of some politicians in the North- that the President could talk so complacently about MEND in this regard might be too much for some to bear.
What better way to deal with such presidential impertinence, the thinking probably goes, than to give the President something to really worry about? Let those who may find this curious reading not forget that it was not until the leaders of this same sect were arrested and ultimately liquidated, two years ago, was the involvement of top persons in the Borno State government in connection with the activities of the sect revealed.
The present terrorist activities of the Boko Haram sect look too sophisticated as to be without extraneous support. There is support for Boko Haram outside the immediate membership of the sect. And such support may not be as incidental as it may seem.
It is deliberate and highly organised. The sect may have become a tool in the hands of politicians and every step must now be taken to get to the root of its activities and its sponsors before further damage is done.
Whatever step has to be taken should be taken in the spirit of serving the country, and with the full knowledge and support of religious and political leaders from the affected parts of the country. They should recognise that whatever happens by way of peace or otherwise will impact on everyone, including the innocent and those guilty as sin.
Should the precarious state of national politics give way, those who hope to benefit from the ensuing chaos may not live to tell their story. And should they win the present battle, they can neither win the impending war nor the peace that should naturally follow.