Ten years after the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2010, the Nigerian state has not been able to contain this deadly terror group, instead, its security forces have been drawn into a prolonged war that has clearly become intractable. It is conservatively estimated that the Boko Haram insurgency has claimed over 47,000 lives and displaced over two million others in the North-East alone in the last 10 years. A decade after the start of the Boko Haram insurgency, a lot of questions about the motive, aims, strategic objectives, recruitment, mode of operation and funding remain unanswered.
That the epicentre of the multifaceted security challenges confronting Nigeria, the biggest of which is the Boko Haram insurgency, is undoubtedly in its northern half and, specifically, the Muslim North, provides a credible lead towards resolving the unresolved questions about one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. Boko Haram insurgency is a violent manifestation of the radical ideology of Islamist separatism upon which the mainstream theological framework of northern Nigeria’s Muslim religion if firmly built. Straddling the southern parts of the ancient region of western Sudan, which was characterized by the 19th century militant Islamist reformist movements, the Muslim North of Nigeria is an area encompassing the legacy theocratic city states of the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire and the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.
Following the British colonial experiment of amalgamation in 1914, which brought the region and the rest of non-Muslim Nigeria under one administrative control to be government by a secular, constitutional and democratic system of government, fearing the loss of their Muslim heritage hegemony and power, the leadership of the North made haste slowly in accepting the new modern reality, especially the concept modern education. Considering it a Judeo-Christian heritage being used as a tool to neutralise their traditional Muslim ways of life by Western colonial powers, the Muslim North was slow in embracing “western” education and any other way of life it considered western.
Over half a century after the British colonial interregnum, which sired Nigeria, a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country they created on the path of a modern, secular and constitutional democracy, which guarantees every Nigerian the right of religious freedom, came to an end in 1960, the Muslim North slowly began to recoil and started a return to its pre-colonial Muslim theocratic state of traditional administration. And when Salafism filtered into the region from Saudi Arabia through Sudan in the early 1970s, the robust Muslim heritage of its militant Islamist reformism of the 19th century made the Muslim North of Nigeria a fertile ground for the seeds of radical Islamist revivalism that was sweeping across the wider Muslim world.
The rapid spread of Salafi version of the Islamic religion, whose cardinal doctrine is a return of Muslims to its own interpretation of what its self-appointed theological potentates considered being in conformity with puritanical prophetic tradition within a legal framework of a Sharia-ruled global Muslim state, resulted in the mainstreaming of radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the region. Coming under the theological influence of Salafi clerics who continuously watered the seeds of radicalization for several decades by passionately preaching the virtues of a Sharia Muslim state and virulently denouncing the vices of a secular, multi-religious, constitutionally governed democratic society and in the process creating a cognitive conflict between the Islamic faith of millions of northern Nigerian Muslims and the citizenship of Nigeria their country. These influential clerics went the extra mile to exhort Muslims to consider the struggle [Jihad] for the realization of the ideal Sharia-ruled Islamic state a religious duty that attracts great reward in the hereafter. In this process, hate and intolerance against people of other sects or religions are virulently preached and they are variously denounced by these clerics as apostates and unbelieving infidels.
Islamic separatism in the Muslim North has found expression in the mass hysteric agitation for the full implementation of Sharia law in a region that is an incorporated part of a secular, multi-religious and constitutional democratic Nigerian country. Notwithstanding the fact the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees every Nigerian freedom of religion, which allows Muslim unhindered observance of Sharia faith [upholding virtue and abstaining from vice by personal conviction], the Muslim North considers Nigeria’s governing legal framework incompatible with their Islamic faith, until it is repealed and replaced with Sharia law [upholding of virtue and abstaining from vice by compulsion].
Unfortunately, the political leadership of the Muslim North have devised an ingeniously means of weaponising religion as a potent arsenal of political mobilization for their selfish end by preying on the religious emotions of their people. Pretending to be in solidarity with the people in their aspiration for a Sharia-ruled Islamic state, political leaders in the Muslim North pledged to impose Sharia rule in the states of the region, if supported to power. However, governors like Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara, Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano failed woefully to realize the ideal Islamic state through the instrumentality of political Islam, which they promised their people because they didn’t imbibe Sharia faith by personal conviction and fear of God in the discharge of their responsibilities and, instead, merely imposed a symbolic Sharia law in their states out of the fear of the powerful class of self-appointed theological potentates that wielded enormous influence over the deeply religious masses of the North. Whereas Islam is a divinely guided empire of faith, which cannot be superintended over by ordinary mortals, the powerful Salafi clerics of the Muslim North have arrogated to themselves the duty of guarding the religious life of the people.
Boko Haram insurgency may have started 10 years ago in 2010, the seeds of radical Islamist separatist ideology, which is its driving force, were sown several decades before and are still being watered to blossom by Salafi clerics that are the dominant authoritative voices in the mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim community. While the Boko Haram insurgency is centred in the North-East region of Nigeria, the Boko Haram ideology permeates the entire Muslim North, with millions of latently radicalized Muslims ‘’Boko Haram’’ at heart. It is the prevalence of Boko Haram’s radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim theology that is providing the oxygen in the form of funding, logistics and recruitments that enrich the rank and file of “holy warriors” willing to fight for the realization of their ideal Sharia-ruled Islamic state. Boko Haram insurgents are just putting to practice the Boko Haram ideology that has been preached for several decades, which political Islam has failed to achieve in the region.
The most sustainable solution to the Boko Haram insurgency is to begin a systemic reversal of the radical Islamist separatist ideology and the removal of its embellishments on mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim theological framework, with the ultimate aim of reconciling the faith of latently radicalised Muslims with their Nigerian citizenship and restoring secularity to the Muslim North, where religion and the state are clearly separated. The continuous existence of Hisbah, the Sharia law enforcement police in some northern states like Kano, which has descended from arresting individuals on charges of blasphemy and destroying bottles of alcoholic beverages of tax-paying Nigerian businesses to banning the use of the term “black Friday” on radio stations, is fodder for the continuous violent struggle of Boko Haram insurgents in a bid to achieve their ideal Islamic state. The emergence in recent times of Kano, the most populous state in the Muslim North, as the bastion of political Islam in Nigeria, continuously reinforces the belief in the psyche of many a Muslim that one cannot be “Nigerian” and “Muslim,” hence, approximating the motive behind the activities of Hisbah in the state to those of Abu Shekau and his Boko Haram insurgents.