As the world watched Abuba-kar Shekau’s video declaration of Allah’s instruction to him to sell the nearly 300 girls he kidnapped at midnight from their boarding school beds in Chibok, Borno State, something happened at last that had been long awaited: action, rather than platitudinous words of outrage.
As is often the case nowadays, this turn was galvanised by social media, chiefly Twitter and Facebook, with the hashtag “#Bring Back Our Girls” as the battle-cry.
Perhaps this awakening had something to do with the shocking levity, the manic joviality, with which Shekau turned the clock backwards several centuries to evoke memories of the trans-Saharan slave trade which predated and later co-existed with the trans-Atlantic version. “I abducted your girls,” he announced gleefully, shaking the right pocket of his military fatigue jacket in anticipation of his profit from slave-trading in 2014.
Then laughing, growling, and taunting, he informed us that he would be selling Allah’s children under the direct instruction of Allah: “I will sell them in the market, by Allah. . . .There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
Did Allah speak to Shekau or not? Is Shekau God’s anointed prophet sent to establish his holy kingdom in Nigeria or not? I have no doubt that if Shekau has indeed received instructions from any entity other than his demented self, it is the devil.
But, then, Shekau is not the only one who claims to have direct conversations with the almighty. His counterpart in Uganda, Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army, also claims God’s authority for countless acts of murder, mutilation, sexual slavery and use of child soldiers in his decades-long campaign against Yoweri Museveni. Shekau may have borrowed a leaf from his brother Kony’s book of horrors: in 1995, Kony killed or abducted hundreds of villagers.
A year later, he set the example of kidnapping girls when he took 139 in the town of Aboke. Both holy warriors have in turn borrowed from the fat tome of religion-induced horrors compiled by the two dominant religions — from Papal bulls sanctifying slavery to the medieval terrors of dipping heretics in boiling cauldrons or burning them at the stake, witch-hunts, the Crusades, forced conversion jihads replicated today in the terrorism of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda affiliates worldwide, etc.
Nor does God only give his commands of “Go and utterly destroy, bomb, capture or torture the Amalekites” (non-believers, the unchosen) to rebel warriors. Every week, in churches and madrasas, the anointed, mostly men, relay to us the commands God gave them in private: to wipe out the unbelievers; build a cathedrome or a revival camp the size of a town; buy a private jet for the Daddy General Overseer; make five to 20 faithful worshippers instant billionaires; bind all witches and wizards, principalities and powers (though that task was presumably “finished” two thousand years ago, it must be performed anew every Sunday or revival service), etc. And here is where the trouble lies: if we accept the claims of these many men and women of God to have received direct instructions from the almighty in private, what grounds can we have for disbelieving the Taliban’s Sheikh Omar, Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, LRA’s Kony and now Boko Haram’s Shekau? If on the ground of unspeakable atrocities, what then about the long list of unconscionable acts in the holy books of the Abrahamic religions? At any rate, how tell God’s disciples from the devil’s?
I have said that our willingness to believe the claims of direct communication with God by self-appointed apostles is the source of all religious troubles old and new, and there is reason beyond Shekau’s madness. In the report, “Police nab ‘prophetess’ for setting 9-year-old daughter ablaze” (Vanguard, 15 May 2014), the evil-doer claimed to have merely been obeying God’s instruction. Hear her: “I was only obeying God’s instruction. I had a vision while praying that my daughter is from the witchcraft world.
When I prayed to God over it, I received an instruction through the Holy Spirit to burn my daughter’s body in order to deliver her from the evil society.” Another alleged witch was luckier, so to speak, as the world can testify through a video that went viral. Brought to Bishop David Oyedepo’s church for exorcism, the man of God would not simply say, Thou spirit of witchcraft, come out!, but gave the poor girl what we call “a dirty slap” for daring to say that she is not a witch but only “a witch for Jesus.”
And just to give one more example, as I write a Sudanese woman, MeriamYehya Ibrahim Ishaq who is eight months pregnant, is awaiting the execution of a sentence of 100 lashes and then hanging imposed by God’s cleric for the crime of converting and marrying a Christian man. The severity of the sentence appears to have been partly influenced by the refusal of Ishaq to recant. Said the judge: “We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam.
I sentence you to be hanged to death.” Officially her crime is apostasy and adultery, the latter because Shari’a law does not recognise her marriage to a non-believer. As for the prosecutor, he is all for “upholding our traditions and customs as Sudanese.”
The new hashtag ought to be, Secularism or death!