The Evolution of Boko Haram (Parts 1 - 3)

Muhammed Yusuf, founder of “Boko Haram” (BH) was a devout student and follower of Sheik Jafar Mohammed, a notable and influential Islamic scholar before he encountered a radical ideology (modelled on the Afghan Taliban)


 which counselled a total boycott of democracy, government and Western education. Yusuf was attracted to this ‘pure’ form of Islam which led to a confrontation with his former mentor, who regarded such teachings as extremist, and who was later assassinated, probably by Yusuf’s followers in Kano in 2007. Shehu Sani claims that BH’s actual origin dates back to 1995 when it was called Sahaba and led by one Abubakar Lawan who later proceeded to the University of Medina for studies, paving way for Yusuf’s takeover. Some others trace the “Boko Haram” tendency to the Maitatsine group of the 1980’s. The group is however formally believed to have started in Maiduguri in 2002.

The group’s formal name is Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’wati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) though observers nicknamed them “Boko Haram” (consistent with their teachings and conduct) which meant “western education is sacrilege/sin/forbidden”. They seek to abolish the secular Nigerian constitution in favour of an Islamic state, and want to establish a complete Sharia based state in the 19 Northern States and all over Nigeria. Sometimes known as “Yusuffiya” after its founder, BH also abhors banking, taxation and western jurisprudence/court systems and regarded the mixing of boys and girls in schools improper. Yusuf also rejected scientific explanations for natural phenomenon. It appears  clear (and was recently admitted by the new leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, a hard-line assistant of Yusuf now reportedly based in Qoundere, Cameroun) that the group’s membership include Chadians, Nigeriens, Cameroonians and other non-Nigerians and its organisational structure provided for “Amirs” in Chad and Niger!

 Yusuf’s landlord and in-law, late Baba Fugu, allowed him to build a mosque in the railway quarters area of Maiduguri, and along with Shekau, Yusuf developed his “state-within-a-state”-including a cabinet, a ruling council (Shura Council), departments, brigade of guards, military wing (with the “armies” recruited from the large pool of “Almajiris”), Hisbah, a large farm and court with Yusuf as judge! As Yusuf’s empire expanded, there is little doubt that the security agencies and the Nigerian state were aware of these developments. But in its dysfunctional state, they either looked the other way, or when security warned their counsel was ignored! Yusuf’s message resonated with the large number of pious, poor, uneducated, unemployed and disaffected youth and even some undergraduates and University lecturers joined his ranks. As his influence expanded, Boko Haram became attractive to politicians and soon was to form an “alliance” with the Borno State Government under Senator Ali Modu Sherriff who became governor in 2003. Sherriff appointed one of Yusuf’s associates, Alhaji Buji Foi as Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Water Resources and took the group under his wings, further expanding their influence and power and making Yusuf quite wealthy.

There was a political and social context to all this. Modu Sherriff was an opposition ANPP governor who was ready to use any means possible to defend his power base from the marauding PDP. Sherriff and his fellow ANPP governors as well as their presidential candidate, then Muhammadu Buhari had championed what Obasanjo called “political Sharia” to insulate themselves from the ruling PDP onslaught.BH expanded to Bauchi, Yobe, Kano and other Northern States, and quite plausibly helped ANPP sustain their holds on Borno and Yobe and to capture Bauchi and Kano from the PDP. Then Sherriff and Yusuf fell apart! Knowing the power of his Frankenstein creation, Sherriff (and Isa Yuguda who having secured power on the ANPP platform had headed back to PDP) launched a “pre-emptive” (in Yuguda’s words) strike against BH between July 26 and 29, 2009 routing the group in Bauchi, Maiduguri, Yobe and Kano States… or so it then seemed! It was convenient to all concerned to kill Yusuf, Boi and Baba Fugu! Meanwhile, the political environment was changing in favour of BH’s narrative! President Yar’adua who gave the order to crush BH died and Northern politicians, Imams, Emirs, and elite appeared unhappy that his Vice-Prsident, Jonathan, a Southern Christian would take-over from him. To make things worse, Jonathan proceeded to contest and win the 2011 elections against Northern threats and intimidation.

 BH duly underwent a transformation. To provide troops, jail breaks were organized-on September 8, 2010 from Bauchi Prisons; and Yola Prisons on April 22, 2011-where detained members were freed. A transition in terms of funding, logistics, training, operational capabilities, intelligence and audacity was also evident. How and who oversaw these transformations? At the latest, by January 2010 when BH launched its Jihad with its first terrorist attack in Maiduguri, it may have been linked with Al Queda as recently confirmed by the Nigerian foreign minister. From ride-by shootings on “okadas” in Maiduguri and environs, they graduated to audacious attacks on police headquarters in Abuja; and the Christmas day bombing of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State! Suicide bombings also came into the mix!

 The suspicious circumstances of the “escape” of Kabiru “Sokoto” (of Biu), the alleged Madalla bomber in the custody of Zakari Biu confirms that BH may have links high up in the police, security agencies, traditional and religious establishment, and political and elite circles. 

The Evolution of Boko Haram (2)

It seems Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda was instrumental in persuading  late President Yar’adua to curtail the menace of “Boko Haram”. Yuguda having decamped from PDP to ANPP, duly won the governorship in 2007. He subsequently became Yar’adua’s son-in-law, and returned to the PDP, possibly losing some political goodwill in the process. He may have dreaded returning to the electorate in 2011 with “Boko Haram” roaming free in Bauchi! I have previously noted that having fallen out with the sect, then Borno governor Modu Sherriff was also eager to see off Boko Haram. When security forces turned on “Boko Haram”, between July 26 and 29, they responded in a surprising manner- in Maiduguri, they exacted “revenge” in a perverse manner by turning on the nearest Christians!

 While under attack from the army and the police, Muhammed Yusuf ordered his followers to capture hundreds of Christians. The male captives had a simple choice-renounce your faith or die! For the females, it was renounce your faith or stay as captives, meaning slavery, servitude or worse! The worst treatment was reserved for Christian clergymen- three pastors were beheaded with the executioners shouting “Allah Akbar” in wild celebrations accompanied by celebratory gunfire. Pastor George Orjih of Goodnews Church Wulari, Maiduguri was one of the three. Muhammed Yusuf personally urged him to renounce his faith and live, to which the Pastor rejected and instead actually preached to Yusuf to accept the Christian salvation! Incensed, Yusuf ordered his immediate slaughter! Fortunately for most of the captives, the government prevailed in that confrontation and most of them were released after Yusuf’s capture.

 Once it launched its Jihad in 2010, Boko Haram has had four categories of targets-specific Islamic clerics who disagreed with its teachings or methods; government and security institutions and personnel; institutions which they considered abhorrent to Islam-particularly hotels and beer parlours; and Christians and/Churches. It is easy to understand why they would attack the first three groups-opposing Islamic clerics could potentially undermine their theology and legitimacy; government and security agencies had attacked and killed their leaders; the disdain Moslems are supposed to have for alcohol and prostitution is well-known. The resort to targeting Churches and Christians who till then had played no part whatsoever in this essentially intra-Muslim quarrel was inexplicable- the then president, governors of all states in which BH were attacked, the then National Security Adviser, etc., all being Muslims. The trend of BH were attacking Churches and Christians has since accelerated, rather than decline culminating in the Christmas Day 2010 attacks on Churches in Jos; 2011 bombing of the Madalla Church and killings in Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Borno, Bauchi, Niger and Plateau States.

 As previously stated, one can observe a clear transition from BH when it was pre-occupied with local politics in the North-East and Kano, and the newer version which seems to have a national or even international agenda (evidenced by the attack on the UN headquarters). It is clear that BH has been influenced by Nigerian politics in general, and the North-South power struggle that ensued after Yar’adua’s death in particular. Indeed, it is possible to interpret their January 2, 2012 ultimatum on Southerners to leave the North in explicit political terms-perhaps an attempt to reverse the April 2011 scenario in which a Christian Southerner obtained twenty-five per cent of the votes or more in most Northern States! One could also draw a parallel between the objectives of this ultimatum and the post-election violence which erupted across Northern Nigeria last April. Northern politicians such as Adamu Ciroma, Lawal Kaita, Yahaya Kwande, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar had made statements which may have contributed towards creating and environment conducive to or indifferent to political violence. Changes in Boko Haram’s methods and activities (such as suicide bombing) also suggest a link-up with Al Qaeda.

The body language of some Northern leaders (such as Borno elders who spoke out only whenever government took military action and the initially tepid response of the Northern establishment) while not establishing complicity with BH, indicated at least mixed emotions! The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) very recently issued a shocking statement claiming falsely that BH’s ultimatum was in response to an earlier one issued by the “South-South” in effect justifying same! The most blatant justification of BH has however been the one by CBN governor Sanusi Lamido who claimed to the Financial Times, that the phenomenon was a consequence of divergent federal resource flows to the South-South and North-East since 13 per cent derivations principle in 1999! Sanusi ignored any facts that contradicted his logic-Cross-River and Edo States (both in South-South) which get next-to-nothing from derivation should then be consumed by terrorism; South-West and North-Central States who do not benefit from derivation haven’t shown the same tendency; the South- East zone actually receives lower federal allocations than North-East; and how does Sanusi explain the pre-1999 religious riots in the North (when Northern States took the highest allocations based on population figures) including the Maitstsine crisis, or the 1995 beheading of Gideon Akaluka in Kano?

I recommend that anyone interested in resolving the crisis of poverty, unemployment and ignorance in the North, should seek the solution in education, skills acquisition, focus on economic development and avoidance of extremist religious philosophy! The BH crisis has its roots in a dangerous combination of extremist religious ideology abysmal social conditions and political brinkmanship!!!

The evolution of Boko Haram (3)

This columnist has written at least six articles dedicated to “Boko Haram”-“The Evolution of Boko Haram” Parts 1 and 2 on February 1 and 8, 2012; “Johnnie Carson, the US and Boko Haram” on April 18, 2012; “The Malian Jihad” on January 23, 2012; “The Politics of Boko Haram” on April 10, 2013; and “Amnesty and Emergency” on May 22, 2013 and other articles treating the issue in part and on social media. Through all these, my position hasn’t changed-the phenomenon has religious, political, social, military and global dimensions and appeasement is unlikely to resolve the crises.

Boko Haram (BH) is motivated by extremist religious ideology and seeks to overawe Nigeria’s secular constitution in favour of an Islamic Caliphate governed under fundamentalist Sharia. Socio-economic conditions in the North generally and North-East in particular facilitate religious demagoguery poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance, decades of tolerance for sectarian politics combined with hegemonic aspirations and an inclination to deploy violence for political ends, and a large, “un-parented” and uneducated youth population bereft of skills and employability whose only social conditioning has been through a bankrupt “Almajiri” system. National politics, since 1999, particularly since the demise of late President Yar’adua and the regionalised 2011 presidential contest encouraged a climate suitable for transmutation of what was till 2011, a localized band of religious miscreants with links to regional politicians into a national terrorist organization with the objective of destroying an unwanted presidency. Given these facts, the debate over whether Boko Haram is religious, political or otherwise is silly, nonsensical and pointless! The group is explicitly religious, has patently political objectives, exploits abject socio-economic conditions and weak governance, and is able to leverage a politico-religious narrative of marginalization of faith and religion!

The US and Western nations have been in denial regarding BH and made utterly faulty and escapist diagnosis and prescriptions for resolving the matter-Johnnie Carson wanted Nigeria to appoint more “Northerners” to “important” positions (unaware (?) that except the Presidency (which they had until then disproportionately dominated), Northern Muslims occupied many of the most important positions in the land-Vice President, ruling party chair, Chief Justice, Representatives Speaker, CBN Governor, Ministers of Defence, FCT, Foreign Affairs and Education, NSA, Inspector General, Attorney General, Head of Service, Court of Appeal President etc.) and to create a Ministry of Northern Affairs; Hillary Clinton refused to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)  on the faulty logic that doing so would alienate the North (curious given the official Northern positions that the group represented neither Islam nor the North); and Obama and Cameron tried their best to pretend not to notice BH even when it bombed the UN office in Abuja, Churches, newspaper houses and markets!

Till date we retain several wrong assumptions about Boko Haram-that most of the terrorists are infiltrators from neighbouring countries-Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Mali, even Somalia etc.-but the more empirical observation may in fact be that Nigeria is now the epicentre of a West and Central African terrorist network that may in fact destabilize other countries. I will not be surprised to find for instance, that the inspiration, funding and logistics for the failed Jihads in Mali and the Central African Republic may have partly or substantially emanated from Nigeria, No one doubts that BH has now linked up with Al-Qaeda and Somalia’s Al-Shabab! Another error has been discussing “Boko Haram”, “Ansarul” (the Malian-related, more internationally-focused brand of Boko Haram) and “Fulani Herdsmen” (the domestic terrorism franchise for the Middle-Belt of Nigeria) as though they were separate groups! Recent evidence confirms as I have always suspected that all are one and the same! Two other facts are evident-the Nigerian state would be wise to investigate the linkages to Sudan in Nigerian terrorism. The media expose by a retired ambassador, Bola Dada and the recent escape of Nyanya bombing suspect, Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche to that country suggests that Sudan plays a significant role in nurturing Nigeria’s Islamic fundamentalists!!! More troubling is the likelihood that elements in the armed forces and security services may be involved in sabotaging operational strategies and information in the war against BH! Nigerian soldiers evidently believe so, going by the mutiny against the now withdrawn GOC in Maiduguri, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed!!!

The internationalization of the ‘war’ against BH in the aftermath of the Chibok school girls’ abduction and involvement of US, France (which thankfully achieved of US, France (which thankfully achieved a breakthrough in regional cooperation incorporating Nigeria. Cameroun, Chad, Benin and Niger), Britain, China and Israel may be useful in addressing the problem. On the other hand, the development may signal the weakening of the Nigerian state and its possible decline!

 The critical question Nigeria and the international community avoids confronting is “who provides the funding and logistics for Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen and other terrorists groups operating in Nigeria?” Does anyone really believe that “Imam Shekau” is the “leader” of the group that has been tormenting our nation for the past three years? (I am inclined to the DSS position that Shekau is a “title” and “identity” just like “Abu Qaqa” and is really a dispensable image rather than substantive leader) How does Shekau, who operates in the border regions of the North-East record and upload his videos and transmit them to AFP? How do the Hilux vans, rocket launchers and arms and ammunition deployed by Boko Haram get to Shekau and his men? We know where the foot soldiers of Boko Haram are, but who are the brains and wallets of Boko Haram, and where are they?

While we ponder these question, Nigeria’s President Jonathan confirms that Boko Haram has now killed twelve thousand innocent citizens!!!
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