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Boko Haram, Buhari and northern elite

THE principal demand of Boko Haram is religious supremacy and inter-faith intolerance, this demand started in the current democratic era when a Sharia movement started declaring some states as sharia states in clear volation of the secularity of the federation contained in section 10 of the constitution of Nigeria .In declaring such states as Sharia states, they were effectively shutting out anyone who did not subscribe to their religious beliefs from becoming anything of substance in such societies, an act that went against the United Nations charter on economic, social and political rights, an aggressive form of social exclusion.

Many so-called political elite in the north such as Buhari, Sanusi and others were direct advocates of the sharia movement that culminated in 12 states being declared as sharia states. When this movement was sweeping across the north it was used for political mobilisation, many common people were fed on a diet of religious dominance and supremacy. When Gen.Olusegun Obasanjo a Christian was president, although he was advised to raise legal challenges to stem the religious intolerance being promoted by some state governments, he failed to do so, perhaps afraid of religious backlash in elections.

This use of religion for social and political mobilisation emboldened small groups who now saw it as an easy pathway to power, and their rise and popularity attracted the patronage of political leaders.This was how Yussuf became an important player in the politics of the North East, such that by the time Umaru Yar’adua became president, he commanded sufficient patronage to have government officials influencing his bail, upon been arraigned for trial for causing civil disorder.

While the social disorder being generated by the Boko Haram group was on the rise, the same leadership elements in the north, ignored the ideological origins of the disorder they were fomenting and instead erroneously projected the issue as one that was based on socio economic disparity. For example, General Buhari compared the Boko Haram insurgents with Niger-Delta militancy and advocated that the Boko Haram exponents should be given same treated as the Niger-Delta militants with an amnesty programme. His contention was debunked by many who pointed out that economic rehabilitation has never been a demand of Boko Haram but rather, the yearning for religious supremacy

But Buhari’s position was supported by other northern elite such as Emir Lamido Sanusi then governor of the Central Bank. According to Sanusi,the North was economically disadvantaged in comparison with the South, hence the Boko Haram problem.

However, as the northern elite tried in vain to explain the Boko Haram phenomenon on economic terms, the group became even bolder, killing both Southern and Northern Christians, and sometimes even moderate Muslims who opposed their use of Islam to justify their inhuman and bestial crimes.

To give a wider perspective to solutions to the problem, the government embraced the stick and carrot strategy proposed by General Obasanjo, who had earlier in his tenure failed to give any concrete challenges to the widening Sharia ideology. Even when states like Lagos, mindful of the consequences of such intolerance in a cosmopolitan city used very robust methods to suppress the rise of Sharia advocacy in the state. The carrot and stick approach of General Obasanjo failed to impress the Sharia fundamentalists of Boko Haram and some of their elite sympathizers who saw it as an effective way of resisting the rule of Goodluck Jonathan a Christian who was ideologically unacceptable to Boko Haram.

As Obasanjo approached the group they sent very strong signals of non-cooperation by killing those who tried to negotiate with Obasanjo, stepped up the violent killing of non-Muslims and non-northerners in the North with several murderous attacks in several northern cities, including an attack in Kano that killed over 200 people including scores of police officers and a journalist

Presently, the Boko Haram group has killed, over 4,000 people and displaced almost a million from their homes just to create a religious state or a caliphate. But the creation of a caliphate in the North has been a terrible proposal for every freedom loving Nigerian, but especially it has been most devastating to Southern Christians who have been driven from making any meaningful livelihood in the north of Nigeria and even worse for northern minorities who are more often than not Christians or animists. The declaration of sharia and a fundamentalist caliph in their indigenous homelands have not only made life meaningless for them but also driven them out of their homes.

To illustrate the devastating effect of religious intolerance which started with the declaration of Sharia in the north by some northern political elite, and the adoption of the virulent fundamentalist variant by Boko Haram, some Northern Christian groups particularly the ECWA Church and many others, estimate that they have lost over 400 churches to Boko Haram fundamentalism.

Such acts it must be repeated is based on the supremacy of religions which General Buhari in a seminar in Kaduna once described as “a legal responsibility which God has given us, within the context of one Nigeria to continue to uphold the practice of Sharia wholeheartedly and to educate non-Muslims”. In other to carry out this task, Buhari also declared in Kaduna in 2001 that, “God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country”.

Such declarations and the support of other politicians like Senator Yerima who insisted that according to Sharia a girl is a woman as long as she was married irrespective of whether she was 11 or 13 years are the origins of Boko Haram ideology, the only difference between these politicians and the suicide bombers is that the suicide bombers are more eager to die for the ideology by wearing a bomb rigged vest. What then would become of Christains particularly those in the northern part of Nigeria if Buhari who has demonstrated his commitment to this ideology become president of Nigeria is a nagging socio-political question which over one million displaced northern Christians must ponder daily?

Babatunde Oyewole, a cmmentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.


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