Opinion: The anatomy of Boko Haram

by Ayantunji Benjamin Gbenro


If at the inception of this crisis, the President had met with the Major Emirs in the affected region with a sincere request for assistance, Boko Haram would have been quashed long ago.

As a scientist, I was trained to know that the first step to solving any problem is not in knowing the answer but understanding the problem. The imperativeness of this is that you may be giving a correct answer to a wrong problem if the problem is not well understood. Another reason is that for every problem, there is always a set of hypothesis that will be formulated and the solution to the problem is nothing but the testing for of the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is formulated based on wrong premises the solution provided at the end of the day will be wrong. The lack of understanding of this simple problem solving skill is the major albatross to finding solution to the Boko Haram’s menace.

Born in the north to Yoruba parents and also been privilege to work in the southeast/southsouth for over nine years, I have come to understand that the crisis we have in Nigeria is usually fuelled by lack understanding of the psychological makeup of each other. We usually judge each other based on stereotyped and prejudiced information which is often wrong. An average southerner does not really comprehend the psychological makeup of a northerner. I am not talking of the elites you meet in offices in various metropolis everyday but the real northerner in various villages who are often used as canon folder during crisis. I have watch event developed over the northern Nigeria over the past years, starting with the first major religious crisis at Kafanchan in 1987 to the current Boko Haram issue. One major issue that is recurrent in all is that you see people been maimed and killed at a wanton scale by people who genuinely believe they are rendering service to God. To this people, the life of any human does not value much as long as that individual does not serve God in a right way as define by them. This will sound absurd to an average person from the southern part of the country. But come to think of it, what does every religion teaches? The lesson underlining every religious believe is that “we are right and every other person outside us is wrong”. Recall also that Islamic religion in northern Nigeria, especially, the northernmost part has been in existence for over 300yrs due to the early interaction of this region with Arab through the Trans-Saharan trade. These believe has become engraved in the culture that you can hardly separate the two. Therefore, when you see an average person from this region being so passionate about his/her religion, he/she is just living in accordance to the dictate of a culture that is over 300yrs old. If we understand it in this perspective, then the solution to this problem will not be to seek a means annihilating the manifestation of the entrenched culture but rather to seek ways of collaborating with such belief to develop a sustainable society where peace and tranquility will be the hallmark.

Another major cause of various crisis in the north is politics. The reason for this can also be found in the history of the region. As enunciated earlier, the northernmost part of the north was the first to be exposed to Arab civilization. This exposure and the attendant economic power that come with it produce an elite society. The communities southward in the northern part of the country were not exposed to these opportunities and therefore were conquered by their northern neighbor both politically, economically and socially. That’s why it is uncommon to discover a society of predominantly minority tribe but whose Emir is Hausa/Fulani. The coming of European brought a disorder to this society of the servant and the served. Majority of this minority tribes who were hitherto animalist embraced Christianity and with the attendant western education. Overtime, the hitherto servant begin to gain economic power and social enlightenment through western education. As they become civilized, they started demanding for political power which has been resident in the hand of their masters with Arab civilization. This desire for change in status quo by the minority tribe is always at the root of various crisis that manifest itself as religious crisis. The casualties from south are always caught in between because of the religious affiliation with the northern minority tribes and not because they were the initial target.

The problem as described above was inherited at independence by the nation. However, this was not evident during the first republic because of the regional autonomy and the fact that the minority tribes have not fully evolve to assume the life of their own during this period, with more individuals attaining economic independent, the more the problem comes to fore.

I took time to give the above explanation to build a background for the present problem (Boko Haram). Boko Haram is an offshoot of the economic and political power tussle described above. This is where the understanding of the problem comes in.

The clergies are held in high esteem among the ethnic minority in the north. To get a solution to any conflagration among this group of people, the best and the most effective mediation is to go through the Reverends, Pastors, Bishops etc. of the traditional churches and not the modern day churches. This is because in every village, this people are considered as God’s mouthpiece and symbol of modernity. They command respect among there congregation and their words is considered divine.

To get a solution among the Hausa/Fulani in the north, the best bet is to go through the Emirs and the Imams. The Emirs are the political leaders in this region while the Imams serve as the religious leaders and judges.

At the inception of Boko Haram problem, more especially when it assumed a more violent structure after the dead of Mohamed Yusuf, the government of the day missed an opportunity to quell it due to lack of understanding of the problem and the society. First, it was treated as if it is a problem of the north without taking into cognizance it potential to set the country ablaze. Secondly, the erroneous believe that everybody has to come to the commander in chief was a big mistake in my opinion.

An average northerner respects their Emir like the next thing to God. The Emirs also love power like life. However, no Emir will condescend low to offer the President an assistant the President did not solicit for. This cockiness flows in the blood of the royals. Political leadership is an anomaly they cannot do without but they will also not miss any opportunity to show who the boss is. If at the inception of this crisis, the President had met with the Major Emirs in the affected region with a sincere request for assistance, Boko Haram would have been quashed long ago. The north has an organized traditional system of government, with the Emir at the top of the hierarchy, the Hakimis, The Sarkis, Mai-Unguwa’s etc. This functional and effective system would have been employed to quash Boko Haram using local vigilante (Yan Banga) before it assumed the current sophisticated and dangerous dimension. All the President needed to do was to threaten the Emirs with deposition if there is bomb blast or Boko Haram attack in his domain. No Emir want to be deposed. He will send the message down the rulership hierarchy and there will be absolute compliance. The President would also need to have boldness to make an Emir a scapegoat. The Boko Haram insurgents are not living in outer space; they live within the jurisdiction of an Emir at any point in time. The Imams also would have been handy in de-radicalizing young men by giving proper interpretation of Sharia law. We missed that opportunity because those saddle with the responsibility lack the understanding.

All hope is not lost however, because I believe that proper collaboration between the Emirs, Imams with national security apparatus with the use of local vigilante (Yan Banga) will help in locating the exact location of the abducted Chibok girls and provide enormous intelligence for the fight against the insurgents. For this to occur however largely depend on the President. The President should provide leadership by visiting the most affected places to identify with the victims. Inhabitants of these places may not be cooperating with security agents because they don’t trust them. Trust needs to be built and there is nobody better positioned to do that than the Commander-in-chief.

This post was published with permission from Omojuwa.com


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. Huh, interesting and innovative. Co-opting traditional structures is worth a try. Definitely.

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