It is no news that Northern Nigeria is in the choke hold of a brand of religion that could ruin it for generations to come.
The overwhelming reports of the tragic death of Nigerian citizens, especially the most recent, where 43 farmers in Borno were beheaded is only an addition to a long list of terrorist attacks which have persisted for over 10 years in the region. The same brand of Islam has ruined Sudan and Somalia, among other Muslim stronghold countries around the globe.
And, speaking on Arise News’ The Morning Show, a former Executive Secretary of Nigeria’s Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf echoed this fear.
Struggling to hold back tears, Usman revealed that his Somali friends who are currently resident in the United States (US) have been calling him to say, “We are worried about Nigeria, this is how Somalia started.”
Somalia has been at war after war since around 1991 when resistance to the military dictator, Mohammad Siad Barre devolved into a civil war. Millions of Somalis have since dispersed across the globe as refugees of the ongoing crisis. Neighbouring Ethiopia is currently home to some 4.6 million Somalis displaced by the crisis, while Kenya accommodates over 2 million.
Meanwhile, as it stands, Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) crisis has already swelled to over 2 million.
The interview is, however, replete with problematic conclusions by the professor, top of mind being the call to train Nigerian youth and arm them for community policing because “the national security outfits are overstretched.” While the latter may be true, the former is a recipe for disaster, specifically because in the over 10 years of Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram next to nothing has been done to address the ideological root cause of the problem.
For years, the conversation about terrorism in Nigeria has centered on its inarguable economic origins. Nigeria being the poverty capital of the world has a real-life consequence that is more deeply felt in the region worse hit by poverty – Northern Nigeria. But terrorism is a global problem that in addition to economic inequality several studies have shown is also rooted in religious extremism.
Yet, what is extremism to observers is merely the manifestation of everyday Islamic teachings that come to bloom on fertile grounds, usually laid by a failure of governance.
Somalia’s fall can be traced on the surface to frustration with Siad Barre’s government across clan lines. Looked at more deeply, it is a result of a failure of governance that made different clans feel alienated by a dictatorial president who more and more leaned into his own clan.
Sudan’s decline and subsequent separation can be traced to yet another failure of governance that treated one region as an outsider while pampering another, resulting in increasing mistrust that eventually came to a head in a call for secession.
The pattern is simple, but the undertone is deeper and skirted around by many. Both nations have been predominantly Muslim, but where Somalia leans more on its clan system and Sudan on its Arab and Islamic heritage. What is at the root of the alienations in both instances is an ideology of the supremacy of one people over another. In Sudan, the Arab Muslim over the black infidels to the south. In Somalia, one clan against another.
Nigeria’s case is not entirely unique once we begin to see and connect the dots. The Boko Haram insurgency began after an attempt to crush what was seen then as a small outcrop of zealots chasing extremist ideology and trying to disrupt the progress of the Nigerian state.
A simplistic analysis that saw hundreds of sympathetic everyday people joining the insurgency. The ideology of ‘othering’ that birthed Boko Haram, which saw western education as a threat to the future of Islam is still ingrained in mainstream Islamic teaching.
While the everyday Muslim may not take up arms against the ‘other’, it is difficult for same to prevent an extremist Muslim from drawing strength in the knowledge that this shared ideology means they have the silent support of everyday Muslims.
Professor Usman lamented the silence of Northern leaders while their people are kidnapped for ransom, killed for sport, and their cows rustled daily.
It is high time the Nigerian Government stopped pampering religious ideologies that morph into anarchy at the slightest opportunity and do the needful task of carefully nipping it at the bud.
A deradicalisation program for everyday people is a good first step before Nigeria can even remotely consider community policing in the North. But considering the state of the nation, who can be expected to do it?