How the sect evolved, how the name ‘Boko Haram’ came about, why the sect thrives, the four ways out
- All leaders are to blame for this; no one is an exception, including me.
As we are gather here, more than three million innocent Nigerians from Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and some parts of Nigeria, live in deep agony having lost sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relations and neigbours after they were brutally attacked by members of the Boko haram insurgents on different days and at various times, sacking these innocent citizens from their communities, making many of them not only orphans, widows, widowers and childless parents but also turning them into refugees in neighbouring countries or internally displaced persons living in government established camps or with relations in their respective states and in other parts of Nigeria.
In Maiduguri alone, we have about 1.5 million citizens, amongst them infants delivered in camps, nursing mothers, weak old men and women, all of them internally displaced. We have more than five hundred thousand citizens scattered in neighbouring countries and other parts of Nigeria, despite our frantic efforts in relocating majority back to government controlled camps.
We have 27 local government areas in Borno State. Ladies and gentlemen, none of these local government areas wasn’t attacked by Boko Haram, with innocent lives lost. At a point, 20 local government areas were seized by Boko Haram with thousands of houses including those earlier destroyed and reconstructed by government, hundreds of communities, schools, hospitals, markets, farms, water and electrical facilities, government establishments, palaces of traditional rulers, community buildings and every other thing you can imagine, mostly destroyed with high scale improvised explosive devices and RPGs.
In most cases, Boko Haram launched serial attacks in the dead of the night or in the dark early hours of the day, sending communities into monumental fear and confusion with citizens, among them children of as little as four years or less, very old women and men in their 80s and 90s, running for as long as 100 kilometres, traversing forests, deserts and criss-crossing rivers at night, some dying in the process as they flee from thunderous sounds of murder and arson.
These, ladies and gentlemen, constitute a tip of the iceberg if we are to recount the sad story of the Northeast in the last six years since Boko Haram insurgents ravaged our hitherto peaceful region.
One of the most important elements of democracy is individual, group and communal freedom. Democracy provides all kinds of freedom but for the purpose of today’s discussion, I will like to cite freedom of association, freedom of worship, and freedom of expression.
The birth of Boko Haram
Murderous insurgents that have chosen to become threats to the existence of civilized human creatures in Nigeria, actually began as a group which claimed to be innocently exercising the freedom of its members to associate with each other, to freely worship as an Islamic body that sought to commit members to spiritual devotion to Allah. Sometime in 2002, the group, then known as Taliban, surfaced in a border village called Kanamma in Yobe State and they codenamed a territory they occupied as Kandahar. As we know, they borrowed that name from Afghanistan. Along the line, the Taliban, as they were called, had a violent battle with policemen in Kanamma. There were diverse accounts as to the cause of the battle. Soldiers had to be deployed during that battle and the Taliban went underground with some members killed while others fled.
Nothing was heard until the year 2004 when another group of a resurgent Taliban attacked divisional police headquarters in Bama and Gwoza local government areas of Borno State, killing police officers, including an area commander, setting the police stations ablaze and carting away riffles. Again soldiers had to be deployed to fight them around the Gwoza hills. Some were killed, others fled into Cameroon with some arrested by the Cameroonian Jendams.
The Taliban went quiet until in the year 2007, when they appeared in Kano around Panshekara, attacking police stations. Again soldiers were deployed and they fled with some killed. After the 2007 elections, the late Mohammed Yusuf, whose strange preaching caused some uproar in earlier years, resurfaced with far more intense war waged against western education and democratic system. Here again, Mohammed Yusuf was dangerously exercising his democratic freedom of expression and freedom of worship by way of preaching and he was having followers who were exercising their democratic rights to freely associate as a group.
Meanwhile, before the 2007 elections, key political actors including serving and aspiring governors, serving and aspiring national and state assembly lawmakers as well as other top government officials under Nigeria’s democracy, particularly in most parts of the poorer Northern Nigeria, had introduced the distribution of free motorcycles to youths in the name of job creation and empowerment. The motive was also to court votes. The millions of motorcycles everywhere across the country led to a national policy introduced by the Federal Road Safety Commission under Chidoka making it mandatory for all riders to acquire and wear crash helmets.
Followers of Mohammed Yusuf in Borno State were called ‘Yan Yusufiyya’ and not Boko Haram. These followers mostly rode on motorcycles and because the members didn’t recognize constitutional democracy, they defied the policy on crash helmet. In the second week of July, 2009, the Yusufiyya members were moving on funeral procession along the customs area in Maiduguri and they were intercepted by members of a Joint Military and Police Anti robbery team called Operation Flush, set up by then Government of Borno State. Hot arguments over the crash helmet ensured, leading to a member of operation flush opening fire and injuring about 17 members of the sect.
According to the commander of the flush team, the shot was in self-defense, on the basis that members of the Yusufiyya tried to disarm the operation flush man. A week after that incident, the late Mohammed Yusuf issued a sermon, directing all his members to arm themselves. He cited instances that there was neither a commission of enquiry nor any punishment meted out on the man that opened fire on his members. He even alleged that his members were denied access to offering blood donations to their wounded colleagues.
Beginning of arms bearing, rebirth of Boko Haram
Few days after Yusuf’s sermon to his followers asking them to arm themselves in preparation for Jihad, about seven of his members were arrested in Biu with frightening materials like empty shells, gun powder, fertilizer and chemicals used in making improvised explosive devices. Two days after these men were paraded, we had the first bomb explosion in Borno State, which detonated while a member of the Yusufiyya was making bomb with his friend in Maiduguri. Within that week, Mohammed Yusuf again issued fresh threats to declare a Jihad but democratic authorities didn’t take him seriously. However, that very week, there was attack in Bauchi around July 26, 2009 with followers of Mohammed Yusuf attacking police formations. Less than 48 hours after attacking Bauchi, the sect launched more coordinated and deadlier attacks, on different police formations in Maiduguri in the early hours of July 27, 2009. That was the first major crisis and it lasted till July 30th when Yusuf was killed.
The name Boko Haram actually emanated from Bauchi as a product of media reports. While we called the insurgents ‘Yan Yusufiyya’ in Maiduguri, the people of Bauchi called them ‘Yan Boko Haram’. So, when journalists in Bauchi were reporting the July 26, 2009 attacks in Bauchi the following day, they called them Yan Boko Haram and within a matter of days, the Nigerian media adopted the name Boko Haram and today it is all over. This explains the power of the media.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Yusuf was arrested by security agencies and arraigned in court on different occasions before the July 2009 crisis but on all occasions, he was released on bail by courts in line with principles of law enshrined in democracy where accused persons are presumed innocent until proved guilty by the court. Whenever Yusuf was granted bail, he was received by motorcades in a political rally-like manner by his followers at the Maiduguri International Airport. Yusuf always got more inspired. Here again, his followers exercised their democratic freedom of procession.
Why Northeast became Boko Haram’s heartland
Your excellencies, distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentlemen, I went down memory lane to bring some chronicles of the Boko Haram based on some respected accounts, so that we can understand how democracy and the freedom it provides has impacted on the security problems in the northeast, so that we can all learn from the past as we go forward.
There were other factors that worked in favour of the insurgents as they made the northeast their enclave. These factors were first, the fact that Mohammed Yusuf had in the lifestyles of political actors, good examples to cite to his followers. He kept on citing instances of corrupt practices and poor leadership to discredit democracy in favour of his own doctrine. Secondly, Borno being the centre of Islamic scholarship since the 11th century made it a meeting point of seekers of Quranic knowledge and memorization giving rise to thousands of traditional Islamic schools, over one million almajiris from all parts of Nigeria and neighbouring countries, many of whom became easy targets for recruitment. Thirdly, the vast, desert land in the northeast region made it conducive for insurgents to have camps in isolated places for training and coordination. Then, the porosity of our land borders in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and to some extent, Taraba, provided free access through countless unofficial routes to connect neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic down to the Central African Republic and Libya, providing fertile grounds for smuggling of weapons, drugs and foreign mercenaries and international terrorism training and alliances.
Democratic Governments at all levels failed to take the issue of our land borders seriously over the years. Key element also, was that of poverty. Insurgents attracted followers with financial inducements, offering little amount of ten to twenty thousand naira as start-up capital to young men interested in trading and those looking for tools as artisans. Insurgents also realized how expensive marriages were for desiring youths and kept on attracting youths by arranging marriages for them with young girls drawn from families of fellow insurgents. In most cases, these marriages were organized by leaders of Boko Haram for their followers at no cost except the offer of dates or dabino as Hausas call it, to serve as bride prices paid by prospective grooms. As these went on, functionaries in many democratic governments were allegedly either engaged in senseless looting of public funds or were more interested in corpse dressing by way of making ambitious claims to attract publicity or focusing more on city centres leaving villagers exposed to financial manipulation by insurgents.
Another element was zero or very low level of education. In many cases, democratic governments were more interested in awarding contracts to build educational infrastructures rather than making the schools functional with quality teachers and pupils to attend classes. There were many newly built classrooms without pupils or with pupils without true learning. Across most communities in the northeast, very few children who obtained five credits to make them eligible for admissions into tertiary schools were usually children of democratic leaders and elites close to them. Majority of the children of the poor got what they nicknamed ‘F-9 Parallel’.
The situation completely exposed the children of the poor to becoming the major tools of commanders of insurgency such that till date, hardly does one hear about any popular leader in the northeast whose children are part of the Boko Haram insurgents. Members of the sect are generally those from poor background who were denied access to economic and educational opportunities and left at the mercy of manipulations by those with misguided ideologies. All leaders are to blame for this; no one is an exception, including me.
Forceful recruitment, violence against critics as Boko Haram’s survival principles
The most dangerous of all at the moment, is the fact that Boko Haram’s major tool of recruitment is the manner in which the insurgents attack communities and force youths to join them or get slaughtered. This is one area that calls for us as leaders to make deep reflection and take painful decisions. It is important for us to ask ourselves. Do we create a room for those forcefully conscripted members who might want out, to escape from the sect or do we allow Boko Haram to continue to grow its members by attacking communities and forcing people to join and remain their fighters?
Earlier in this month, specifically on July 4th 2015, some 16 members of the Boko Haram declared to leave the sect and returned to Miringa in Biu local government area. These 16 were possibly few out of many others that might be nursing ambition to leave the sect. The 16 members that left were traced and killed by commanders of the sect. We may celebrate that after all, the 16 persons might have killed innocent persons. But then, the Boko Haram members have only succeeded in keeping their group intact by instilling fears into others that may want to leave. They also know that whoever leaves their fold would find it necessary to offer information about their activities knowing well that, those still in the sect would come after the lives of those who leave. We lost the 16 repentant members and the information they would have offered. Let us imagine the psychological effect it would have had on Boko Haram leadership if some of its fighters had repented and were on the side of government undergoing disarmament, de-radicalization, debriefing, reorientation etc.
From my understanding, Boko Haram’s major source of recruiting fighters is forceful recruitment and what they do to keep those they force, is that after attacking communities and forcing unwilling youths to join them, they mostly launch more attacks on the same communities, putting members of respective communities in the forefront for their kinsmen to identify them and then classify them as killers such that they will be unable to go back to reintegrate with their kinsmen, meaning that conscripted youths would be left with no option but to remain Boko Haram fighters.
We as democratic leaders must recognize the role of democracy in all this and come up with multiple approaches, including making, like I said, painful compromises, to end the problem. I have always advocated for three to four approaches in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency. These are aggressive and comprehensive military assaults with huge investment on intelligence gathering to confront nihilists that will never subscribe to negotiations as they fully subscribe to murder; economic stimulation of the northeast by all levels of government to make it impossible for insurgents to attract recruits through financial rewards to teenagers paid to work as spies or informants, arsonists who are sent to burn down schools for as little as five thousand naira, women paid to smuggle weapons from point to point, and then deploying a political solution that should aim at creating exit windows for moderate elements like the 16 repentant members, so that by letting out those who want to leave, we can create sharp division in the sect and stop their so far, successful strategy of conscripting fighters by force.
Changing the ideology of the Boko Haram will require intellectual roles by leading Islamic scholars. It is most disturbing to note that today in Nigeria, there is no single Islamic scholar that preaches against the Boko Haram ideology and the reason is because everyone is afraid. Leading scholars like Sheiikh Jaafar Mahmud and Sheikh Albani of Zaria who vehemently preached against the ideology have been killed. In Maiduguri, scholars like Sheikh Ibrahim Gomari, Malam Bashir Gomari and over 30 scholars who were opposed to the Boko Haram ideology have all been killed. Today, the only group in the north that can speak against the sect are holders of public offices who have security men surrounding them. It is hugely important for us to identify Islamic scholars with the intellectual depth to change the Boko Haram narrative so that we can save souls from listening to them. We must support these scholars and provide them with maximum security for not only them but their families as much as public office holders are adequately protected. These scholars will be performing very important national security assignments that are as important as any public office, no matter how high.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we all have roles to play in addressing the insurgency because we all contributed in the making whether by indifference; by directly fuelling it; by failing to address it or by standing in the ways of those who make efforts to address the problems. No active group is free from blame, from those of us who are political actors to even journalists.
Helped by the media
In exercising its freedom of expression and sharing of information, the media has had running battles with those in position of authority; security agencies in particular. Often times, security agencies devise strategies aimed at fighting insurgents but these strategies end up being disclosed by the media and as a result, these steps are killed by these media reports despite enormous human and material resources that might have been put in by security agencies over time. In some cases, deployments made to haunt insurgents get reported, thus giving insurgents clues about number of boots coming after them, sometimes including telling the world the routes being taken by troops. Insurgents in turn prepare to ambush troops.
Apart from these instances, certain avoidable reports give undue superiority to Boko Haram, which boost their confidence. In fact, disorganized commanders of Boko Haram rely on the media to reach their fighters. I remember with serious concerns how a particular media house reported in April 2015 that leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau was calling on his followers to continue fighting and not to relent in their struggles. A national and otherwise respected media house reported this. I also remember how another media house reported someone calling himself a soldier, alleging that Nigerian troops were behind Boko Haram attacks and I was wondering how unreasonable it was for someone to declare that his only eyes with which he sees are rotten, when the alternative to those eyes, is simply blindness. What do we do if we are made to believe that those who are our only hope are those killing us? That would be a hopeless situation.
These instances however, are not to say that the media hasn’t helped in the fight against Boko Haram. The media has done far more positive things than posing some challenges. Journalists even sacrificed their lives in an attempt to expose activities of insurgents. The media remains a hero in the fight against insurgency.
Perhaps, even on the challenges posed by the media in exposing security strategies, I think the problem has largely been refusal to take the media into confidence. The worst mistake one in authority can make is to disregard or underrate the capacity of a journalist to know what the man in authority tries to hide. So long as you want to hide, the journalist wants to expose. For me, the best approach is to take a journalist into confidence by treating him or her as a partner rather than an opponent.
I therefore respectfully suggest that the incoming President and National Executives of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, consider the need to establish a National Standing Committee on Strategic Media and Security Cooperation under the co-chairmanship of the NUJ President and may be the National Security Adviser or any appropriate official with President of the editors guild to serve as Secretary. The committee should have as members, serving editors of all major newspapers and key online media houses, directors of news across television and radio stations as well as spokesmen of the Defense Headquarters, Army, Air Force, Navy, Police, DSS and other paramilitary organizations so that on quarterly basis or where there is an emergency need, the committee can meet to share ideas on how best to manage security related issues in the best interest of promoting national security without compromising the freedom of the press and the reasonable rights of the public to be informed.
Ending Boko Haram
The task of ending the Boko Haram insurgency and freeing the northeast from shackles of destructions is one that we must all key into and one that must be won. Crisis is mobile. If we don’t stop it where it is, it can spread fast to other areas we assume to be beyond the reach of trouble-makers. Closely connected to ending the insurgency is rebuilding communities in the northeast. Luckily and graciously, we have in our midst, the Right Honourbale Speaker of the House of Representatives (Yakubu Dogara), a brand new face and hope of the northeast geo-political zone. Mr Speaker, Sir, I kindly enjoin you to consider setting up a special committee to assess insurgency inspired damages in the northeast in order for the parliament to have first hand information on what is required in reconstruction process, so that you may even drive calls for corporate and International support. Mr Speaker, Sir, should you choose to lead the assessment team, even for a few hours visit, you would be making history as the first leader in the two branches of the National Assembly to visit the Borno, Yobe or Adamawa specifically on the insurgency, since the advent of the Boko Haram crisis in the last six years. The immediate past Speaker did so much in helping us when the previous government made blind attempts to replace democratic institutions or seize constitutionally allocated funds to states under the name of emergency proclamation. However, neither the speaker nor the senate president had the opportunity of making history in visit to affected states, but their important contributions in defending us are very worthy of eternal appreciation.
In conclusion, Right Honourable Speaker, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let me apologize for taking your time even though I have tried to cut down what ought to have been said in doing justice to this timely topic. I deliberately avoided talking about all we have been doing as a government in Borno State despite our challenges, since the basis of the award is after all, what we were able to achieve. We have ceaselessly managed the affairs of Borno State, spending huge sums on supporting security agencies and volunteers; supporting our traumatized citizens, rebuilding communities without losing focus on other needs of the generality of our citizens in the areas of infrastructure, functional health and education, agriculture, housing, foreign and local capacity building, economic empowerment, industries, water supply, etcetera and we have been doing all of these without borrowing and without ever failing to pay salaries of workers running into over N2.5 billion naira every month.
The Nigerian Labour Congress in Borno State is still surprised as to how we have never failed to pay salaries by 26th of every successive month. We have never failed, not even once since we took over in May 2011 to date. As recent instances, workers in Borno State got their June and July 2015 salaries before 17th of June and 17th of July, in order to enable them prepare for the Ramadan and for last week’s Sallah celebrations. We make conscious efforts to cater for the welfare of our citizens.
God has been very generous in guiding us and we glorify Him with gratitude, praises and increased devotion in our different faiths of worship.
I once again thank the NUJ for finding me worthy of its honour. To whom much is given, much is expected. This honour no doubt comes with a heavy burden on me to surpass public expectations. I know that many governors have done marvellously well but in the wisdom of the NUJ, I was chosen. I remain humbled by this choice and I solemnly pledge that insha Allah, whatever we might have recorded in the last four years, is mere appetizer to many great things that will benefit the good people of Borno State and humanity in general.
Shettima, Governor of Borno State and former University lecturer, delivered this on Thursday night, at a fellowship and award dinner organized by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), to confer on him, Governor of the Year 2014 Award, held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja. The prepared text was read by the Borno Deputy Governor, Zannah Umar Mustapha who represented Shettima.