Sulaimon Olanrewaju writes that the original intention of members of Al-Sunnah wal Jamma (popularly known as Boko Haram group) was to pattern their lives after the teaching of Prophet Muhammed by avoiding the corruptive influence of the larger society but this ideal has since given way to bloodthirstiness.
B OKO Haram is dreaded. It is so feared that its mention will cause severe palpitation in some and probably cardiac seizure in others. At the mention of the name in Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Taraba and some other states in the North, people, including rulers, will run from pillar to post, ducking as they go. Even at the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja, the name gives respected police officers the jitters and causes them to scamper for safety, leaving their guns and other weapons behind. Boko Haram generates a trepidation of unimaginable proportion in many people, and it is not for nothing. It is widely believed that the group attacks without provocation and at any time of the day. Boko Haram has been credited with bombing, explosion, killing, maiming and massive destruction. The group has been responsible for the killing of thousands in various parts of the North. The Islamic sect has become a horror not just to ordinary citizens, especially Christians and non-Muslims, who have no weapon to shield themselves from its onslaught, but even also to officers of the state who are provided all round protection because when Boko Haram decides to hit, it hardly misses its targets.
On Thursday, 16 June, 2011, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim, escaped death by the whiskers when a suicide bomber on a mission of the sect decided to hit the police headquarters. But 15 others were not as lucky as the IGP as they were consumed by the explosion that erupted as a result of the attack.
Earlier, on Friday, 28, January, 2011, Mallam Modu Fannami Gubio, then gubernatorial candidate on the platform of All Nigeria Peopleâ€™s Party (ANPP), and six other persons, including the brother of the immediate past governor of Borno State, Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, were killed by Boko Haram members. The deceased had just finished performing their Friday Jumaâ€™at prayer when the killers struck. The list of Boko Haramâ€™s attacks is as long as the distance between Lagos and Maiduguri but the result is the same, anywhere the sect strikes, it leaves blood and tears in its wake.
But the current operation of the group defers greatly from what it started out with in 2002 when it was established by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, as Al-Sunnah wal Jamma, meaning followers of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. According to Professor Abdulmumin Sa’ad, a Muslim scholar who teaches Sociology at the University of Maiduguri, at the outset, the aim of the group was to separate itself from the rot in the society. Members of the group, many of who were from wealthy families, believed that the Nigerian society was excessively corrupt with unpardonable immoral practices at every facet of life and for them not to be contaminated by the corruption in the country, they had to quarantine themselves and live apart from the rest of the society.
Saâ€™ad, who claimed he taught some of the members of the sect, said, “The idea was that there is a lot of sin in the larger society and their parents had amassed a lot of ill-gotten wealth. They believed there was widespread immorality, and so they thought the best thing for them was to remove themselves from the larger society and camp elsewhere, where they could concentrate on their religion, meditate, reach out and begin to form a fellowship.â€
Their focus was to be acceptable to Allah such that they would remain candidates of Aljanah, the paradise.
The group believed that it would be difficult for the rest of the society to wrongly influence it if it would strictly abide by Sharia, the Islamic law, so the members swore to live by the dictates of the Islamic jurispudence.
So, Ustaz Yusuf embarked on an aggressive conversion programme. He was going about sharing his belief about the endemic corruption in the society and the need for genuine Muslims to shun corrupt lifestyle so that they would not incur the wrath of Allah. His targets were young people and he tried his utmost to win converts to his group. The message soon began to make sense to a number of young people and the group swelled daily and grew to a point that in 2004, it decided to move to Kanamma in Yobe State, where it set up a base known as â€˜Afghanistanâ€™. There, the group shielded itself from the corruptive influence of the larger society. It had ample time for spiritual exercises without any interference from the larger society, with all the members believing that their actions were pleasing and acceptable to Allah.
It was also at this point that the change that is now evident in the group began to manifest. While in its â€˜Afghanistanâ€™, the group traced the rot in the larger society to the influence of Western education and culture and thought that the best way to save the society from the corruption was to stop Western education and its influence by ensuring the implementation of Sharia. This is where the name by which the group is popularly known came into being. Boko is a Hausa word that means Western or non-Islamic education and Haram is an Arabic word that means sin or abomination. So, the war that the group is waging against the society is based on the societyâ€™s romance with Western education and culture.
Yususf, in an interview with the BBC in 2009, claimed that his groupâ€™s vehement opposition to Western education was premised on the fact that the education could lead Muslims to disbelieve the oneness of God.
He said, â€œThere are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam.
“Like rain, we believe it is a creation of God, rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain as Western education would want us to believe.
“Like saying the world is a sphere; it runs contrary to the teaching of Allah. If anything runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.”
Based on this belief, the group resolved not just to remain in its enclave and hold on to its convinction. It decided that it had a duty to share the light it had received with the rest of the society. So, it moved back to Maiduguri, where it was able to build a mosque, Ibn Thaimiyya Islamic Center, which became its operational headquarters and from where it began its agitation for the adoption of Sharia law in all the states of the North as a strategy for reducing the influence of Western education and culture.
The group was miffed that though some northern states had already embraced the Sharia law, they were just paying lip service to it, observing it perfunctorily, essentially to win elections. However, the group was interested in the full implementation of the law and not just its use as a weapon to whip up religious sentiments. It was gathered that Boko Haramâ€™s failure to persuade the leadership of the North to adopt Sharia as it would want led to its decision to start amassing weapons with the view to forcefully entrench Sharia in the northern part of the country because it saw the promulgation of the Islamic jurispudence in all states of the North as a jihad.
The government got wind of the group amassing ammunition in 2004 and the police moved in, attacking members of the sect.
It was a long fought battle, which the police claimed they won at the end. But from all indications the police awarded themselves an unjust mark because Boko Haram might have been over-powered at the time but it was not wiped out. The sect soon regrouped. Since the onslaught of the police on the group in 2004, it has ceaselessly attacked policemen and police stations leaving deaths on its trail. It was the attack that forced the police and the military to again launch a massive onslaught on the group in 2009 in Maiduguri, killing about 700 of the members and destroying its mosque. The leader of the group, Mohammed Yusuf, who had earlier escaped with about 300 of his members, was arrested by soldiers and handed over to the police. However, according to the police, Yusuf was killed while trying to escape from custody.
Just as a retreat is impossible for a maiden who has lost her innocence and a young lion who just tastes blood craves for more, the success recorded in its attack on the police and the citizenry has driven the sect to do more to the extent that when the Federal Government indicated an interest in a dialogue with the group, it gave a seemingly impossible conditions for dialogue.
According to a statement by the group, before it would engage the FG in any dialogue, Sharia should be implemented in the North, where Muslims form the majority. Then, all its members kept in detention in Borno and some other parts of the North should be immediately released.
Boko Haram also asked that former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff , Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanemi be prosecuted according to Sharia for allowing security operatives to kill Yusuf.
Members of the group also called for the prosecution of the former commissioner of police Mr. Christopher Dega and the Director of State Security Service (SSS), who served during that period of the crisis for killing some of their members before the outbreak of the crisis.
The recalcitrant posture of the group forced the police to declare a war on the group with the IGP announcing that Boko Haram would soon become history although the group had retorted that it was not afraid of the police or the combination of Nigeria Police with security agencies of the Western world. It made good its boast by beating the security network of the police headquarters to cause a bomb explosion in the place last week.
How the riddle of Boko Haram will be solved is still in the belly of the future but Nigerians, who now sleep with one eye open because of the fear of the group, cannot wait to see the IGP make good his own promise that the Boko Haram nightmare will soon be history.