The Boko Haram crisis currently plaguing Nigeria is symbolic of the failure of the country’s political and religious leadership.
Karl Marx, the German philosopher, economist and historian, famously said in his 1843’s Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions; it is the opium of the people”. What Marx inadvertently asserted with this statement is that, just like the opiate drug, which could either prove helpful in medical emergencies or prove destructive as a hallucinogenic, recreational drug, religion can serve as a healing elixir for those deserving of it, or as a potent, destructive physical or psychological force. In whatever scenario, religion thrives with commensurate leadership.
Any successful religious endeavour flourishes with adequate, functional and positive leadership; the absence of which brews trouble. Furthermore, the overlapping of religion and politics inevitably confers political status and influence upon religious leaders. This has been the case since early accounts of established religions and even until this day; indeed, the Republican primaries currently under way in the United States of America are being largely influenced by the religious opinions of the party faithful. It is therefore pertinent to mention that a society, in which religious fanaticism reigns supreme, is largely representative of the quality of its religious leadership. Even more poignant, is when the political leadership of the said society is traditionally effete when it needs to be otherwise.
The Boko Haram crisis currently plaguing Nigeria is symbolic of the failure of the country’s political and religious leadership. The political establishment in the country has, over the years, paid lip service to cases of religious intolerance and extremism. The need to preserve Nigeria’s secular existence, threatened by increasingly rapid and rabid religious fervour, was largely ignored by previous military juntas, whose sole objectives were consolidating their rule and enriching their principal officers. The civilian administrations that have led the country, during brief democratic spells in the 1960’s and 80’s, and from the country’s return to democracy in 1999 till date, have not fared better either.
The 1980 Maitatsine riots of Kano, instigated by an Islamic sect leader, Mallam Muhamadu Marwa alias Allah Ta-Tsine (or Maitatsine), and which claimed over 4,000 lives, is generally believed to be the harbinger of the troubles we face today. The various extremist incidences that have largely troubled the north since then, have been largely tolerated, encouraged even, by the silence of the northern religious elite. As aforementioned, there is an inevitable overlap of religion and politics; a mix that sometimes proves to be combustible, particularly in areas where there is a prevalence of poverty and illiteracy, much like some parts of northern Nigeria.
A one-time serving deputy governor of a northern state infamously issued a fatwa on a journalist, during the Miss World riots in 2002, calling on “all Muslims, wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty”. This statement was made by a serving political office holder during a heated religious crisis and it has, in no small way, cemented the previously theorized relationship between religious extremism and political grandstanding in Nigeria. In recent times, a faction of the Boko Haram sect has claimed previous sponsorship from northern politicians, including sitting state governors. Not much has been heard about that.
However, the cobra has deafened itself to the tune of the snake-charmer. The politicians who allegedly fed off the irrational religious fervour, and the religious leaders who gave their tacit approval to religious upheavals by maintaining undignified silences, have lost whatever control or power they previously had. Boko Haram is the result of these failures; a hydra headed monster that cannot be killed by conventional warfare. It is a sore which, allowed to fester, has grown into a fast spreading cancer.
The government cannot stop Boko Haram. The extremists thrive in communities which continue to harbour them. The inhabitants of these communities will not divulge information to government authorities and forces, either out of fear of reprisals, or a complete distrust of the government. Either way, it is imperative for northern religious leaders to begin to accept responsibility for the Boko Haram crisis, and act in earnest to win back the hearts and minds of the northern Muslim faithful; as long as the militants believe they will always have safe havens, they will remain, mildly put, a problem. The idle rhetoric of the crisis “not being of a religious nature” fools no one.