THE only new thing about the religious crisis that spread from Bauchi through Borno to Yobe, Kano and Katsina, was that it was by a sect hitherto unknown – Boko Haram.

Loss of indeterminate number of lives, the attacks on police stations, churches and innocent individuals was typical. The assistance the rioters got across Nigerian borders is another usual trait of these uprisings.

The sect that caused the latest in Nigeria’s long list of religious riots is said to be opposed to Western ways of living, including education. Its members shun those ways and attack those who do not.

Nigerians are tired of riots. The fact they are rooted in religion should give the authorities some concerns about the liberties that are permitted under the guise of religion.

Granted that our Constitution permits freedom of worship, this provision does not allow the abbreviation of others’ rights to worship whatever they believe in. In the same way, religious belief is not a reason to take the lives of those who hold contrary views.

The role of governments in these riots worries ordinary Nigerians. It is no longer enough to condemn them. Governments must monitor and maintain security in their domains. It is a constitutional and primary responsibility of governments to the people.

Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram was well known. The position of his sect was not a secret. The threats to attack institutions and individuals with different views of life were made publicly, yet there was no official response to them.

If security agencies acted proactively, they would have been able to forestall the riots and the losses they caused.
Nigerians would soon be bored with a post-mortem verdict of security lapse. Was that not the verdict given on last year’s riots in Jos? When would the security agencies start living up to their responsibilities?

It is important that the roots of these riots are noted beyond the usual explanations that youth unemployment and religious fanaticism propel them. It is obvious that there must be some people sponsoring the riots. What are their motives?

Money would be required to mobilise the rioters and procure the arms they used. Their ability to secure those arms hints at compromises of security. The attacks on police stations and prisons to release their held members exposed the poor security of those places.

The authorities exhibit too much leniency in dealing with religious riots. This attitude is a dangerous precedent that can only encourage more riots. There should not be a different law for religious rioters and other criminals.

What would the security agencies learn from Boko Haram? What would be the attitude of the authorities towards improving security? Would they wait for the next riot before acting?

Religion has its place in society. It does not include taking others’ lives if they do not believe differently. This standard must be impressed on all sects, in addition to stiff punishments for those who choose to disturb the peace.


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