The very disturbing phenomenon of Islamist fundamentalism and the ready use of deadly force and violence is a perennial staple of northern Nigerian culture, particularly among the large community of Hausa states. In the past, there have also occurred deadly clashes between the Islamist fundamentalists and Christian minority groups. In the latter instance, there also appears to have been what may be aptly described as a sub-text of inter-ethnic animosity fractured along religious lines. Thus, for instance, whereas most of the Muslims involved in these clashes have largely been of Hausa-Fulani descent, the Christians have also tended to be of southern ethnic descent.
Well, that seems to have been the general pattern until a couple of years ago an Islamist fundamentalist group calling itself “Boka Haram,” meaning: “Western Education Is Evil,” emerged with a Jihadist agenda of attempting to impose Islamic rule and culture on all Nigerians. The leader of Boka Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, and several of his disciples would be hotly engaged and killed by Nigerian security forces in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, in Borno state. And until a series of deadly attacks launched by the group in the north-central Nigerian capital of Abuja a couple of weeks ago, most of Boka Haram’s battles had been fought in the vicinity of Borno state (See “Nigeria Imposes Curfew on Abuja Nightclubs and Pubs” BBC-News: Africa 6/29/11).
In the Abuja incident, Boka Haram operatives attacked the headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force, killing eight people and setting several official vehicles alight. Some observers described the incident as a scandalous embarrassment; but what it really points to is the increasingly volatile general security climate in West Africa’s and, indeed, continental Africa’s most populous nation. In May of this year, for example, while then-accidental president Goodluck Jonathan was being sworn in as substantive premier of the nation, elements of Boka Haram staged another violent attack. Fortunately, the criminals missed their alleged prime target.
In the wake of the recent attacks, the Jonathan government was forced to impose a curfew ban on Abuja, which also doubles as the regional capital of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Now most places of public entertainment and refreshment have been ordered shuttered by 10pm local time, with places of special access to minors, or children, expected to be closed down by sundown. What the preceding means is that the metropolitan nerve center of ECOWAS has come under serious threat and a lot of stress. And unless a comprehensive strategy can be promptly devised by ECOWAS governments, working hand-and-glove with the Jonathan administration, the headquarters of this august regional body may well have to be reconsidered or moved out of the proverbial harm’s way.
What is also quite fascinating, and as many observers have had occasion to aptly remark, is that while its key figures and rank-and-file
Boka Haram members claim to be dead-set against Western education and, in fact, all things Western, nevertheless, these Islamist fundamentalists do not seem to be averse towards riding in Western-made automobiles, air-planes and timepieces. And one may readily imagine, perhaps, these “Yusufites” even have their newly-born and toddlers hooked on Western-made baby formulas and textile materials. In sum, there seems to be a risible method to the madness of these Boka Haramites which can only be explained in terms of the virtually clinical lunacy that is the essence of all shades of fanaticism
Perhaps, what needs to be frontally pointed out to these Al-Qaeda-like terror-mongers is the fact that fundamentally speaking – and there is no pun intended here, of course – there is nothing more peculiarly African about the kind of Islamic culture transmitted through the Islamic faith, any more than there is anything fundamentally Western about the African practice of Christian modernism.
What is clear, by way of public policy formulation, is the incontrovertible fact that the sprouting and proliferation of sects and faux-religious groups like Boka Haram is the direct result of the abject failure of political leadership throughout much of Africa in the critical areas of modern education, health delivery and economic development. As a quite perceptive commentator on the BBC website remarked recently, these “Yusufites” are engrossed in such desperate and deadly atrocities because they are not, for the most part, gainfully employed. Life as we know it, therefore, does not seem to contain much that is meaningful and worthwhile to them.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and author of twenty-two books, including “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011).