Opinion: The political strategy that is Boko Haram

by Adetayo Adesola

Giles Fraser wrote an article in the Guardian in 2015 tagged ‘It’s not the religion that creates terrorists; it’s the politics’. The language of violent jihad may borrow its vocabulary from Islamic theology, but the root motivation is always politics.

The terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria is a glaring example where politics and political consequences have caused a deadly insurgency. For those who don’t know, Boko Haram has plagued the North East, Nigeria in a bloody campaign since its 2009 uprising in Maiduguri. The group has killed about 20,000 and displaced 2.3m from their homes and it’s the deadliest terror group according to the GTI, Global Terrorism Index.

Islamic Radicalisation is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, the ‘jihad’ of religious cleansing was the rhetoric used by Othman dan Fodiyo against the corrupt and oppressive have rulers in the North in 1804 to establish the Sokoto Sultanate, a Pre-Colonial political structure in Northern Nigeria that still exist today. Decades after the death of Sheikh Dan Fodiyo the Satiru Revolt of 1906 in Sokoto emerged. The propagators contempt for the ruling class and colonialists’ corruption, extortion and injustice to the talakawa (peasants) in the area fuelled another insurrection. The insurrection was also supported by the Emir of Gwandu in rebellion to the British Rule under Fredrick Lugard.

Many of the Satiru were runaway slaves and outcast who were led by a mallam named dan Mafako. He preached religious messages with the aid of magic to sway his followers for a political cause. Lugard feared an anti-colonial uprising, and he ordered the West African Frontier Force to annihilate the Satiru from the face of the earth. ‘Reports indicated that fields were running with blood, men were impaled on stakes and an estimated 2,000 men were slaughtered’ according to Andrew Walker’s ‘eat the heart of the infidel’. That was the brutal waterloo the Satiru ultimately met.

Yan Tatsine was another radical Islamist group that emerged in Northern Nigeria in the 80s in Kano. The group was led by a Cameroonian preacher called Muhammadu Marwa or Maitatsine who built a following among the poorest of the society who had migrated from rural areas as well as neighbouring countries.

He criticised the Sufi Sheikhs and wealthy Muslims, even urged his followers to cast off accessories of Colonialism, forbidding them to use modern technology. Armed with numerous followers numbering thousands, a clash with the police was instigated by followers which resulted in the death of about 4000 sect members and civilians alike. The Military intervened and swept through the district executing suspected members to prevent them from getting away, Muhammudu Marwa was killed in the fighting.

Many other Radicalised Islamic groups have also emerged in Northern Nigeria before the advent of what is now Boko Haram. They all have similarly frowned at the social injustice in the system, and have attempted to use religious messages and rhetoric from the Qur’an to achieve these objectives.

Are these radical Islamic sects (now Boko Haram) trying to emulate the pathway of Othman dan Fodiyo to cleanse the North and Nigeria from all moral laxities and social injustices to create a new Islamic Caliphate? It might sound crazy, incredulous or even daft. But we must realise that it has happened before, and Boko Haram’s ascendency since 2009 has defied all the odds.

Many believe Boko Haram is being sponsored by some of the Northern elites who want to sabotage the Nigerian government and gain control of power in the country or the North, to establish the supremacy of Islam and the Sharia over all. The heavy weaponry and machinery that Boko Haram flaunts in their videos distressingly hints at that, or how else, can a group of uneducated illiterates gain access to such weaponry. They have also taken over territories in the past in areas of Borno state, which mildly indicates their grand scheme.
Terrorism isn’t a new occurrence in human society; as a matter of fact, it has existed in many forms in mankind’s rich societal and political history, only that it didn’t carry the same appellation as it is now. It is quite clear that all religiously clouded conflicts have the political undertone, which is the quest to retain power of some sort for the concerned group. This also applies to terrorists group all over.

In mankind’s past time we had bloody ‘crusades’, the Christian Patriarchs claimed was to spread the gospel to ‘heathens’ but it was truly inclined more towards power and political control through military force. The Islamic faith had the ‘Jihad Asgar’ the Jihad of self-preservation, under the Ottoman Empire. In the same vein the Christian faith also divided, into dichotomous factions, the Protestants and Catholics. This resulted in ‘terrorist’ like actions by the Protestant faith against the Catholics. The final outcome was a war that engulfed the whole of Europe with Protestants and Catholic Kings and Queens, people, and nations fought for power.

Similarly, the Irish Republican Army IRA an Irish Catholic Nationalist movement who wanted the unification of the whole Ireland free from British rule were considered a terrorist organisation because they utilised tactics like bombings and assassinations to achieve their aims. The group might have been mistaken to be a radicalised religious sect, perhaps if they were Muslims.

Most terrorist groups including Boko Haram, are essentially nationalist group in an unusual religious façade. They feel some form of detachment from the society they find themselves and want a utopian society they can live in. They therefore cling unto and hide under the guise of a “religious higher calling” to achieve their grander scheme.

The Islamic faith has been brutalised and stigmatised in recent time by the general society for being a religion of violence which it is most definitely not. The Islamic law outlaws war against any country where Muslims are allowed to practice freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. The “Islamophobia” that exists in the world today is born out of people’s failure to realise that these terrorists are not pious men, but political strategists who crave power.
Back to the Nigeria and Boko Haram, the government has failed to learn from past precedents in addressing the issue of terrorism. Historical archives have shown that the Boko Haram phenomenon isn’t entirely a new occurrence. Eventualities like Boko Haram have existed in one form or the other since Pre-Colonial times and the Nigerian government have had only one answer – military rampage. This rampage only put a momentary stop to them, and even emboldens the activities of those who survive.

Therefore, the problem of radicalisation is not tackled from the root. The government would have to setup an enquiry to why the youths from the Northern part of Nigeria are so easily hoodwinked by some religious cleric whose interpretation of Islamic theology is questionable. The resolution is that the Nigerian government and the northern elites should take active steps in improving social conditions in the northern areas – especially education. The impoverishment of the area has made the youths gullible to messages of hatred and contempt to the society.

The Nigerian government should holistically look into the history, cultural, and religious peculiarities of the North East and the North in its entirety to proffer a solution to the problem of Boko Haram. The Boko Haram is more of a political than religious problem.


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

Adetayo Adesola, 21, is a political enthusiast and a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who is currently serving at the Information Office, in the Oyo State House of Assembly. He bagged a degree in Mass Communication from Babcock University, in 2015. He’s very passionate about Nigeria and is highly optimistic that soon, this nation will achieve its great potential.


Comments (3)

  1. Quite enlightening I must say 💪

  2. Comment:I agree with that,this is really deep, nice 1

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