By Tope Templer Olaiya
ON July 30, 2009, the Nigerian Police Force summarily executed Mohammed Yusuf, founder of the dreaded militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, then aged 39. Nine years after, it has turned out to be an ‘unforced error’ in one of the unending incidences of extrajudicial killings that is hurting the nation dearly.
Security forces had hunted door-to-door for the Islamic militants after killing more than 100 of them by storming the sect’s compound in Borno State. The military captured Yusuf at his parents-in-law’s house. They transferred him to the custody of the Nigerian Police. The police summarily executed Yusuf in public view outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri.
Police officials claimed Yusuf was shot while trying to escape. Abubakar Shekau took over Boko Haram following Yusuf’s death. At thew time of his death, Yusuf had four wives and 12 children, one of them being Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who has claimed since 2016 to be the rightful leader of Boko Haram, opposing Shekau.
Today, the home of Yusuf is to be turned into a museum, in the hope it will boost tourism in the area by the Borno State government. The state is also considering plans to transform the Sambisa forest – the group’s base – into a tourist centre. But critics say the plans risk immortalising the Boko Haram founder. About 20,000 people have been killed in the group’s eight-year insurgency, with dozens still dying in deadly attacks on a regular basis.
Mohammed Bulama, Borno Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture, told reporters in November 2017 that the house in Maiduguri would become a museum “where all the things that had happened relating to the insurgency will be archived. We want to document and archive all that had happened so that our future generation will be able to have first hand information,” he said.
At the moment, save for the capital in Maiduguri, many parts of Borno is still an active theatre of war with security forces repelling attacks from the insurgents.
Yusuf began the group in 2002, focusing on opposing Western education. It was not for another seven years that it launched its military operations in an attempt to create an Islamic state. Since then, the group, which officially is called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”, has spread into neighbouring countries.
Boko Haram, literally ‘Western Education is Sin’, has been one of the deadly terrorist groups, not only in Nigeria but in the world. In 2014, the group overtook ISIS as the world’s most deadly terrorist organisation, after series of beheadings, bombings, kidnappings, and other terrorist activities. Shortly after, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. This led to the breakout of the group into two factions, the Shekau group and the al-Barnawi gang.
Before the end of 2015, Boko Haram had conquered and captured more than one-third of the Borno and Yobe states local government areas and instituted its own violent interpretation of sharia law. The insurgency dislocated social and economic activities in the North-Eastern and some parts of the North-Western Nigeria that resulted in over 20,000 deaths while displacing more than three million people.
Born in Girgir village, in Jakusko, present-day Yobe State, Yusuf received a local education. Later he studied more of Islam and became a Salafi. As a young man, Yusuf was strongly influenced by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and studied theology at the University of Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Upon his return, he violently criticised the Federal Government and believed in the strict application of Islamic law, which represented his ideal of justice according to the teachings of the Prophet. In a 2009 BBC interview, Yusuf stated his belief that the concept of a spherical Earth is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected. He also rejected Darwinian evolution theory and the concept of the condensation cycle that produces rain.
In the interview he said: “There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam, like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain; or like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.”
What then led to the uprising in 2009 that marked the turning point of the deadly sect? Boko Haram members were en route to bury a comrade at the cemetery in Maiduguri. The police officers, part of a special operation to suppress violence and rampant crime in Borno, demanded that the young men comply with a law requiring motorcycle passengers to wear helmets.
They refused and, in the confrontation that followed, police shot and wounded several of the men. On July 28, Nigerian troops surrounded the home of Yusuf in Maiduguri, after his followers had barricaded themselves inside. On July 30, the military captured Yusuf and transferred him to the custody of the police.
According to a young scholar, Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu, Boko Haram, officially ‘Jama’at Ahlussnnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad’ (Ahlussunnah Group for Preaching and Combat), can be traced back to 2001, when some unknown militants appeared in some Northern states, especially Yobe and Kano, who were then called Yan Taliban.
“The group called Nigerian government ‘thaghut’ (an Arabic term that means ungodly or satanic). The people that would later be called Boko Haram, started becoming popular after they attacked a local government secretariat and police station in Kanamma, Borno in 2003. The group then moved to Gwoza, where they took the town as their training underground camp.
“Yusuf, Boko Haram leader, who before his death was a student of another popular salafi cleric, Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam, started preaching violence in the mosque he named after the 13th century controversial scholar, Ibn Taimiyya. He embarked upon aggressive preaching mission between 2004 and 2009 and started to win the heart of the Maiduguri youth and attracting them to the Markaz Ibn Taimiyya.
“In 2009, the terror squad started to launch attacks in various cities and villages in Northern Nigeria. The primary motive of Boko Haram is to institute a caliphate in the region and to continue conquering lands as it is in the slogan of its terror mother ISIS.”
Recent developments have however shown that the Federal Government has learned little lessons from the growth and expansion of religious sects in the country. Barely two weeks ago, a new religious sect known as Hakika emerged in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. The group, with members claiming to be Islamist saints, is currently occupying a large expanse of the forest in the area.
At a meeting in Lafia, Alhaji Isah Agwai, the Emir of Lafia, who is also the chairman of the State Traditional Council of Chiefs, expressed dismay over the activities of the group and cautioned residents to be wary. Speaking also, the Secretary General of the state Ja’martu Nasil Islam, Ahmed Ali, said the doctrines of the group were not Islamic.
“They have the kind of religious belief which I think is not Islam; they don’t believe in Quran, they don’t believe in any of the doctrines that Allah talked about in the Quran,” Ali said.
On his part, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security Matters, Brigadier General Muhammad Adika(retd), said: “It is believed that some of them are those running away from Zamfara State as a result of the pressure and have concentrated themselves in an expanse of land, which is highly forested.”
Also, there is tension in Kaduna State ahead of Thursday’s August 2 resumption of the trial of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky at the state High Court. At his last day in court on July 11, messages of possible violence by Zakzaky’s followers were being circulated on WhatsApp, advising residents to avoid some areas in the city, as the IMN members, also known as Shiites, were allegedly planning “a big attack” during the trial.
But the spokesman of the IMN, Ibrahim Musa, dismissed the message, saying it was false. Musa maintained that the message was being peddled by the detractors of the IMN, including the security agencies.
At Zakzaky’s court appearance on June 21, his followers allegedly killed a policeman during a clash. Zakzaky has been in detention, alongside his wife, for over two years following a clash between his followers and the Nigerian Army in Zaria, in December 2015. He was charged with unlawful gathering, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, punishable with death.
At the root of the crisis is religious extremism upon which religious terrorism is built. The other loopholes that are exploited are poor economy (the wider gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria) and poor governance associated with corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government officials. Religious conviction and the extremists’ interpretation of Islam are two among the most important triggers of terrorism in Nigeria.
Nigeria may see the emergence of another Boko Haram if it turns a blind eye and allow extremists continue propagating their own interpretation of religion, of war and bloodshed. Preaching should be regulated and religious hate speech should be curbed and countered before it reaches the point of becoming religious terrorism.
Also, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, recently noted that no unjustly treated man would be interested in embracing peace if nothing is done to ensure that every segment of the society is given a sense of belonging. Ekweremadu, advocated justice, dialogue, and tolerance as key instruments for building peace at all levels of the society.
According to the Deputy Senate President, mankind was “besieged by a groundswell of intolerance, injustice, racial discrimination, and ethnic hatred, leading to violence, conflicts, extremism, terrorism, insurgency, and all forms of restiveness.”
Ekweremadu spoke at the first procedural session of the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace (IPTP), which was launched in Valetta, Malta, early this month. The lawmaker, appointed by the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace (GCTP) as a founding member of the IPTP and Nigeria’s representative at the parliament, urged governments to always toe the path of dialogue, rather than force in resolving issues.