Several reasons have been advanced by analysts, pundits and critical interest groups as to causes of the deadly insurgency by the terror group, Boko Haram, against the Nigerian state. Some believe it was politically-motivated, while some others argue it was caused by illiteracy, poverty and general economic underdevelopment of the NorthEast region, which is the home base of the Boko Haram terror group. In the midst of these conflicting positions held by the different interest groups concerned, there evolved frightening conspiracy theories, each largely believed by people according to their ethnicity, religious leanings, region of origin and political affiliations. As far as the members of the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, their supporters [ethnic, regional and partisan] were concerned, the Boko Haram insurgency was as a result of the bitter struggle within the then ruling party, PDP, over the issue of zoning of the office of the President between the North and South, which Jonathan violated. Therefore, the insurgency was nothing but the North’s response to loss of power and a ploy to discredit the administration. On the other hand were people, mostly Muslims from the North, who, by living in denial, promoted the narrative that Boko Haram was not only un-Islamic but their members were not Muslims. Therefore, as far these groups of people were concerned, the Jonathan administration was not only negligent of its duties to protect life and property of all Nigerians but was actually the sponsor of the insurgency for the purposes of reducing the population of the North to give the South demographic advantage over the North.
The continuous Boko Haram insurgency under a northern Muslim President, Muhammadu Buhari, has clearly shattered all myths shrouding the real motive and purpose of the terror group and exposed all conspiracy theories to be mere fallacies. Unfortunately, these fallacies have almost completely driven the narrative about the insurgency, thereby relegating the real motive of the terror group improperly diagnosed, inadvertently leading to an intractability of the crisis.
Such factors as illiteracy, poverty, underdevelopment and other social factors may have contributed to the escalation of the deadly insurgency but they were not the root cause because a close analysis of some leading members of global jihadi movements are not only highly educated but are from upper middle class families, some of them born and raised in the West. The fundamental cause of the Boko Haram insurgency is an overflow of radical Islamic ideology from mainstream Islam, wherein the seeds of radicalisation were sown, watered and nurtured to monstrous maturity. The motive of the Boko Haram terror group is to impose Islamic reign in Nigeria as part of the on-going revival of the Caliphacy globally. The aspiration for Islamic rule in Nigeria is one which is equally shared by mainstream Islamic authorities and sects. Nigerian Muslims have been indoctrinated at every level of Islamic theology on the primacy and superiority of the Sharia law over all laws, thereby giving an average Muslim a sense of unfulfilled spiritual satisfaction under a legal frame work that is not in conformity with Islamic law. Mainstream Muslim leaders have also advocated openly for the full implementation of Sharia law in matters concerning Muslims. The inability of mainstream Muslim authorities to achieve this aspiration through advocacy and political influence is what has led to violent insurgency to achieve the same objective.
The quest for Islamic rule in a country that is multi-religious and multi-cultural is the most fundamental factor driving radical Islamic ideology. The complicity of mainstream Muslim authorities in the radicalisation of Muslims in Nigeria is clearly demonstrated in this public declaration by the Sultan of Sokoto. “Our religion is our total way of life; therefore, we will not accept any move to change what Allah permitted us to do. Islam is a peaceful religion; we have been living peacefully with Christians and followers of other religions in this country. Therefore, we should be allowed to perform our religion effectively.’
In making this statement, the Sultan may have presumed he was specific about the gender equality bill. However, what the most influential Muslim leader in Africa may not have realised is the effect of such a statement on the minds of several latently radicalised Muslims who may carry this message beyond the issue of gender equality into other aspects of life. The Sultan, as the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, failed to take into cognizance the fact that radical Islam, which has an entrenched doctrine of hate, intolerance and violence, may have become the predominant form of Islam preached and practiced in Nigeria over several decades. For radical Muslims, the concept of a modern, democratic, constitutional entity known as Nigeria is not only un-Islamic but anti-Islam.
In resolving the conflict of faith and citizenship brought about by the non-separation of state and religion, it is pertinent for mainstream Islamic authorities to commence a genuine re-appraisal of certain doctrines that are embedded in mainstream Islamic theology that are driving radical Islam. Muslims in Nigeria should be encouraged by Muslim authorities to begin to accept the supremacy of Nigeria’s democratic constitutional order above all other laws, Sharia inclusive. Nigeria’s Constitution is a delicate compromise of the various diverse religious and cultural groupings that occupy this geographic space but which, fortunately, guarantees the individual freedom of citizens to freely hold beliefs and practice their faith in peace and harmony with one another. Muslim authorities must emphasize Sharia faith over Sharia law because the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion extensively. If a Muslim is Sharia-faithful, which is most spiritually important than Sharia law that is only symbolically significant, there will be no need for a compulsion in matters of faith, which may be viewed as an imposition of a particular theology on others.
As a result of a widely shared aspiration for a unified Islamic state globally, Muslims in Nigeria have developed a sense of solidarity with Muslims of other nations, particularly in the Middle-East. A typical Nigerian Muslim feels more obligations to a fellow Muslim of foreign nationality in an imaginary Islamic state over and above a fellow citizen of different faith. Muslims in Nigeria must begin to accept the fact that their loyalty and obligation are to the Nigerian state and fellow citizens whether Muslim or not. A Nigerian Muslim is closer in ties with a Nigerian Christian and animist than a Saudi Muslim, because that Muslim is a citizen of Saudi Arabia but the Christian and animist are citizens of Nigeria.