Boko Haram and the deadly crises in North Nigeria- 400+ dead
July 28th 2009
NewsRescue- The deadly crises in Northern Nigeria has been all over all media channels. CNN reported today that as many as 400 lives had been lost in the Northern States, including Bauchi, Borno and Kano.
Latest reports have the Police laying siege on the compound of ‘Boko Haram’, a group in Bauchi State, Nigeria that lies at the center of this sectarian violence.
A senior leader of this group, Abdulmuni Ibrahim Mohammed, was purportedly arrested by law enforcement in Nigeria on Monday, leading to members of the group staging an attack on the police station holding him prisoner in attempt to release him.
5 policemen were reportedly killed in this attack that was successfully thwarted by the police. Thereafter the police raided the Boko Haram school and murdered up to 30 occupants as reports related. The violence then spread to other states as Northerners called for a Jihad, ‘holy war’ against the authorities, supporting the cause of the Boko Haram school which is against western culture and education.
To understand the crises we must examine the group known as ‘Boko Haram’.
‘Boko’ means- ‘Romanized Hausa’, and ‘Haram’ means- ‘faithfully bad’. Boko writing began in the 19th century with the influx of the western colonialism machine and was enforced on the Northern region of Nigeria to replace the indigenous ‘Ajami’ or Arabic orthography that was in use and popular in the region since the 17th century.
Lord Lugard who annexed Nigeria and was known to be a ruthless military dunce, officially decided to institute Boko Hausa as Nigeria’s official language of administration. On August 2nd, 1902, Lugard asked the missionary Dr. W. R. S. Miller to translate proclamations into Hausa. At about the same time came the first intimation that Lugard intended to replace Ajami with Boko/Romanized Hausa.
According to John Edward Phillips- “…Lord Luggard stated his real objective forthrightly: “I hope that, in course of time, this [policy] may result in the formation of a class of people who can read and write Hausa in the Roman character, though unable to speak English.” Of course this meant that a new educational system would have to be created to teach Romanized Hausa to Africans.
By Lugard’s own admission there were at this time about 25,000 Qur’anic schools with about 250,000 pupils, but from this time on the education they offered would be useless for those seeking employment with the administration. Lugard’s struggle against the Arabic script went to absurd lengths. At one point he actually wrote a letter to Khartoum, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, asking whether anyone had yet succeeded in publishing Arabic books in Roman script! There is no record of any response in the files.
It would be easy, but unfair, to portray Lugard as an idiot who had no understanding of the issues and who could not even tell the difference between a language and the script it was written in. Brigadier F. J. D. Lugard was not a linguist sent out with recording devices and a knowledge of comparative phonetics to determine the best method of writing African languages. Neither was he an educator sent out with slates and textbooks on a civilizing mission to bring western education and its benefits to the benighted inhabitants of the Dark Continent. He was a military man sent out with maxim guns and seven pound cannons to bring the people of a territory under British rule.
Perhaps he was not a military genius on the order of Napoleon, Hannibal, Robert E. Lee or Chaka Zulu, but he did his job effectively. He had a military understanding of the importance of languages in intelligence work, and thus wanted to ensure that his men could understand what Africans said, while he opposed educating Africans to understand what the British were saying in English.
Lugard erred by ignoring his own weaknesses and by refusing to listen to better advice. His success in ordering the Romanization of Hausa seems to be an illustration of the American saying “There are three ways to do anything: the right way, the wrong way, and the army way.”
Robinson and Burdon were obviously right. They used facts and logical arguments. Not only would the expense and trouble of setting up a new educational system have been obviated, but printing of government documents in Arabic script would have been almost as easy as in Roman script. Macintyre was obviously wrong. While there are arguments in favor of Romanized Hausa, he did not come up with them.
Lugard was little influenced by any advice. Lugard’s mind had already been made up, and it was not about to be confused by mere facts. Lugard’s way was the army way: bureaucratic, not necessarily efficient, and totally unaffected by reasoned argument. High Commissioner Lugard had given an order and it would be obeyed. …”
The obvious errors of Lord Lugards choices created an atmosphere of confusion in the North that had already fully assimilated Arabic literature and culture that made it impossible for Northerners to ever integrate with the South of Nigeria to date. It would have been wiser for him, had he been more intelligent to rather incorporate the already well established literacy and culture into the Nigerian colony and create a fully bi-literacy Nation.
Arabic or ‘Ajami’ as it is called by the Arabs. ‘Ajami’ meaning ‘foreigners speaking Arabic’, is still the foremost literacy of Northern Nigeria and for this reason was written on the Nigerian legal tender to allow recognition of the denominations by this major literacy group.
With Nigeria’s independence in 1960, self determination was expected and with true Federalism, Nigerian States hoped to now be independent to choose their preferred courses. However this did not happen and soon after the eastern part of Nigeria, seeing that they could not work with the rest of Nigeria engaged Nigeria in an unsuccessful secession war. The North gradually tried to reestablish its cultural identity and with the return of democracy to Nigeria after post independence years of military rule, they demanded and instituted Shariah jurisprudence in their states (12 states so far) as part of an effort to return to their preferred pre-colonial culture.
It was in light of this that in the year 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state Mohammed Yusuf, a religious teacher founded ‘Boko Haram’, a socio-political fundamentalist group, which also goes under the name- al-Sunnah wal Jamma, or Followers of Muhammad’s Teachings in Arabic.
In 2004,the group moved to Kanamma in Yobe state, close to the border with neighboring Niger. The group has had several skirmishes and attacks with the police since then as it recruited more and more members from the socially oppressed and frustrated, unemployed youth of the region and from neighboring Chad republic.
According to Aljazeera, Abdulmuni Ibrahim Mohammed, a senior member of the group arrested on Monday, told the Reuters news agency that “we do not believe in Western education. It corrupts our ideas and beliefs”. “That is why we are standing up to defend our religion”.
The group founder, Yusuf has reportedly said that the war will “continue for long”.
Meanwhile the purpose of the battle has systematically transformed from the initial cause, to free the detained leader, to the ultimate school agenda of discarding with western education, and associated system and perhaps other nonspecific mob causes.
Nigeria currently is torn between fundamentalist violence in the North and Militant violence in the oil rich Southern Delta region, and its security forces are doing a ‘good’ job of smashing the perpetrators with un sympathetic blows.
According to analysts, the problems will persist and potentially worsen in Nigeria, with more such groups popping up and taking advantage of the frustration and discontentment to gain widespread support and recruitment as long as poverty remains chronic and the issues of self determination remain unchecked with the foreign, colonialist-based, multiparty democratic establishment remaining in place in Nigeria. Unless a full reevaluation and overhaul of Nigeria’s governing principles and constitution is made, a division of Nigeria into autonomous territories appears to be one of only permanent solution to the crises.
Abubakar Siddiq Mohammed, a lecturer with the ABU university, Zaria, said in an interview with BBC, that the group, ‘Boco Haram’, actually are crusaders for better living conditions of the overwhelming poor in the Northern region. According to him, their messages have been against western education due to the product of this system, which since its introduction in Nigeria is the factor that has led to the wicked Government corruption and terrible judicial system.
From a scientific point of view, assuming Nigerians were not corrupt before the westerner came and introduced western education, all other factors have remained constant and the only variable is the introduction of western education, hence this can scientifically be checked for causation and correlation in lieu the epic levels of corruption that now abound in the Federation, and the de facto poverty crises.
ForeignPolicy.com on Boko Haram and the crises:
The Real Tragedy in Nigeria’s Violence
Nigeria’s problem isn’t Islamist fundamentalism — it’s the country’s corrupt and self-serving government.
BY JEAN HERSKOVITS | AUGUST 3, 2009
Jean Heskovits [US Council on foreign Relations, CFR.org]
Nigeria’s latest spate of violence — which began with attacks on police stations in four northern states — is not what it seems. Superficially, the story looks similar to (though it was not connected with) outbreaks of Islamist fanaticism elsewhere in the world: An Islamist sect run amok, threatening a town’s security, demanding an end to Western institutions, and seeking to impose a strict religious code. But instead, the clashes are a northern Nigerian version of what is happening in another (mostly Christian) region of the country, the Niger Delta. Both are violent reactions to the flagrant lack of concern on the part of those who govern for the welfare of the governed.
Ten years of supposed democracy have yielded mounting poverty and deprivation of every kind in Nigeria. Young people, undereducated by a collapsed educational system, may “graduate,” but only into joblessness. Lives decline, frustration grows, and angry young men are too easily persuaded to pick up readily accessible guns in protest when something sparks their rage. Meanwhile, those in power at all levels ignore the business of governing and instead enrich themselves. Law and order deteriorate. The Nigerian police, which are federal, are called on, but they have grievances of their own. Ill-trained, ill-paid, and housed in squalid barracks, they are feared for their indiscriminate use of force. The military, though more professional, is not prepared for dealing with unrest — and unrest has proliferated more and more.
Of course, this most recent eruption — which left 700 dead, more wounded, and thousands displaced — had its own peculiarities. Not all uprisings in diverse Nigeria are the same, though usually they are predictable. This time, the principal player was an Islamist sect based in Maiduguri in Borno state and led by 39-year old Mohammed Yusuf. Its name, Boko Haram, translates more or less as “Opposition to Western Education.”
Even established leaders of Islam in the north, who condemn Yusuf’s preaching, are aware of how government has failed Nigeria’s young. What has Western education done for them lately? For that matter, what have other Nigerian institutions, all easily seen as Western-inspired, done for them? Boko Haram was demanding something its members believed would be better.
The attacks on police stations last week were triggered by different events in different states. In Maiduguri, just weeks before the first attack, the police had opened fire on a funeral procession of Yusuf’s apparently unarmed young followers. People in Maiduguri were expecting retaliation, and Yusuf himself had declared that if he were arrested, his followers would fight back.
The outbreak of violence, then, should not have surprised the security services; certainly it did not surprise the people of Maiduguri or anyone else in Nigeria. After clashes in nearby Bauchi state a week earlier, Yusuf was widely reported as vowing to avenge police killings of his followers there. Nonetheless, those in charge of security were clearly unprepared. The police were overwhelmed, and the Army, once deployed, called in 1,000 more troops as reinforcements. The intelligence system was aware of Boko Haram and since 2007 had been advocating measures to stop its growth. The government simply ignored the advice.
Last Thursday, after a ferocious battle at Yusuf’s heavily fortified Maiduguri compound, from which he had fled, police caught up with him at the home of his father-in-law. They took him into custody and then shot him dead. Yusuf’s body has been displayed on state television. The first official story was that he was killed in a shootout and not at police headquarters. When the military produced photographs showing that they had handed him over alive to the police, officials offered a new story: that he was shot while trying to escape. Either way, his death is unlikely to bring a lasting end to this crisis. Meanwhile, the excessive force of the military response has compounded the misery of people in Maiduguri. As one bitter resident said, “They used a sledgehammer to kill an ant.” There is now growing anger at the indiscriminate killing of guilty and innocent alike.
And so it goes. Nigeria’s far north has a history of charismatic leaders who preach unorthodox Muslim beliefs and rally large numbers of young men in clashes with traditional Islamic and political authorities. In the early 1980s, a major wave of violence spread from Kano to Maiduguri. A smaller outbreak in 2004 in Yobe and Borno states was a forerunner to the present clashes. Then, a rebellious group of young men who called themselves “Taleban,” having no doubt heard the name (but not the spelling) on the Hausa service of the BBC or Voice of America, demanded the imposition of full sharia law. That same plea was sweeping all the far northern states, thanks in part to strong popular feeling that Nigeria’s secular institutions were not delivering justice. Sharia, it was hoped, would do a better job.
Boko Haram, which by some accounts evolved from the “Taleban,” judged that sharia did not help: Ironically, the four states where last week’s death and destruction occurred are all states that did adopt sharia criminal law. It is said loudly and frequently by those who live there that not only has sharia law been quietly set aside, but that now these are among the worst governed states in the country.
Meanwhile, Nigerians note that as the violence last week was escalating, their president — who is himself from the far northern state of Katsina — chose to leave the country on a visit to Brazil. (An attack on a police station in Katsina followed.) Newspaper columnists contrasted this unfavorably with the Chinese president’s decision to skip the G-8 meetings in Italy last month when unrest enveloped Xinjiang province.
And in the Niger Delta, as in the north, the goverment’s indifference to life on the ground has had growing consequences. Protests there have escalated over the years to kidnappings, explosions, and armed combat. Successive governments, especially at the lavishly funded state level, have done little to develop the area and improve people’s lives. What is different, of course, is that the delta’s oil, which despoils the mangrove creeks but funds Nigeria’s government at all levels, has also produced criminal networks whose activities, with political and even military complicity, have made the tragedy there all the more intractable. And the massive importation of weapons into the delta has made guns of all kinds — particularly AK-47s — available cheaply throughout the country, notably now in the north.
The problems are not new. Nigerians and others who cared to look closely have seen the political venality, lack of concern, and flamboyant lifestyle of the corrupt rich and powerful who have made daily life for the vast majority of the population worse and worse, year after year. A decade ago, with the return of democracy, Nigerians had high hopes. But now, after rigged elections at all levels in 2003 and 2007, and the prospect of nothing different in 2011; with unclean drinking water, a failed electrical grid, unsafe roads, ever rising crime, and a host of other grievances, they have little hope left.
The world will misunderstand if it looks at the latest Nigerian tragedy through the lens of global radical Islam. If Nigeria’s leaders do not urgently start to address their country’s most basic, obvious needs, the only question is what will trigger the next spate of armed mayhem, and where. It could be anywhere. And its causes, with deep roots in corruption in high places, will be no mystery.