The sights and sounds of the horror of Boko Haram fills our consciousness. The smell of bomb. The tears. The cries. Burnt properties and hopes. IDP camps. The graves of our brothers. The gallantry of our soldiers. And the politics of blood. There are still here reminding us of the mistakes and sacrifices we have made.
Personally two of my brothers were killed fighting Boko Harm. My childhood friend who is a Captain in the Nigeria Army is still out there fighting, from Yola to Maiduguri, he fights on, with countless others like him. As they fight, most folks sit at home to play politics, religion and tribalism with Boko Haram.
How did we get here?
In the beginning when Boko Haram started; I mean the beginning when the bombs began to drop, the beginning when humans started detonating bombs and killing themselves in the process. In that beginning, Nigerians went into denial mode. They denied it was even happening. Then they denied that any Nigerian will ever agree to be a suicide bomber.
But this was not the real beginning.
At the height of this terrorism, the northern elders, and parents denied their children. They can’t be theirs. They can’t be Muslims. Then who are they? Who are these young men and women who blow up churches and mosques? Who are these people who kill students and wipe out villages and towns in the name of Allah? Who are these terrorists who attack schools and abduct young girls, forcefully convert them and marry them away? Who are the Boko Haram guys?
This takes us to the real beginning.
It began with a religion. No matter how we all want to pretend. The truth is that for a long time now there has been a certain extreme version of Islam being preached in the northern part of Nigeria. Our children and youths have been taught to uphold Islam intolerant of other religions. They have been told to brook no nonsense when it comes to dealing with other views and criticism of their religion.
They learnt well.
They burnt churches and massacred Christians in defense of Islam. When one idiot in Denmark draws the Holy Prophet Mohammed, Muslims in northern Nigeria will burn churches and kill Christians in Kano who don’t even know where Denmark is on the world map. To protest against Nigeria hosting the Miss World Beauty Pageant, Muslims will burn churches, kill Christians and burn their homes. When these were going on the Muslim elders didn’t deny their children; the elders will just offer a weak public rebuke and apology.
Things seemed to be going well until northern politicians brought religion into politics like never before. With the return of democracy in 1999, the northern politician’s sensed that the young Muslims needed more in terms of the expansionist Islam they have been taught. So the politicians cashed in on this. They promised the people they will deliver theocracy if voted into power.
The politicians promised to deliver theocracy if given the instruments of democracy. They were voted on this promise. And that marked officially the beginning of Boko Haram. All those stunts about introducing Sharia in Zamfara and other northern states were insincere efforts of the politicians trying to fulfill their campaign promises.
But the truth is that no one can deliver theocracy using the instrumentality of democracy. Democracy is not designed like that. One is exclusive while the other is inclusive. The both can’t work together. Democracy can’t deliver Sharia just like a goat can’t deliver a dog.
The people waited patiently for the politicians to fulfil their promises. They waited for the day when churches will be proscribed, Christianity banned and Christians exiled from their region. This never happened. This will never happen. This cannot happen under the arrangement called Nigeria.
But theocracy is not the only thing they failed to deliver. They failed to deliver even the dividends of democracy. They left their people in abject poverty and sorrowful ignorance. The North East is the most backward region of Nigeria. Poverty and deprivation coupled with ignorance provided a massive crowd of frustrated people for the Boko Haram recruiters to indoctrinate.
Then the explanations began. The politicians tried their best to explain to their mammoth supporters why they can’t have an all Muslim region. The people couldn’t understand. They couldn’t understand why this democracy can’t just disappear for sharia to take hold. They just couldn’t understand why they have to be forced to endure other elements… elements they have been told for decades are infidels and inferior.
Most young Muslims believed this Muslim politicians were taught the same things they were taught. They should want Sharia too. They are governors, ministers and president; why can’t they just declare Nigeria an Islamic Republic and force everyone to convert or leave? As the politicians try to explain why this is not possible, the people started suspecting something: too much western education, too much book must be responsible for messing with the minds and all the Islamic teachings of these Muslim leaders.
That’s why they shouted Boko Haram: western education is a sin. Boko Haram is a cry of betrayal and rebellion. It began as a cry against perceived betrayal. It’s a cry against broken promises. Since the elites have failed to deliver sharia through the instrumentality of democracy, our brothers decided to take it through violence.
Jihad has been the only way they were taught anyway. This is the way they would have taken long ago if the political elites have not promised to deliver sharia through political means. Since the politicians have failed, they was no stopping them. They began by attacking the infidels hoping to win the support of the elites. The support couldn’t come, because as earlier pointed out, the arrangement of the Nigeria State makes such a support impossible to come.
This is the truth the elites have kept away from the commoners in the north for ages: religion is just a tool conveniently used to manipulate the poor and promote the selfish interests of the elites. When this deceit dawned on the Boko Haram marauders, they turn their weapons of death on their own brothers too. The dragons they have nurtured began to destroy them.
This is when the denials began. While Boko Haram kept claiming they are Muslims, their Muslim brothers kept saying a true Muslim won’t kill a fellow Muslim. What do we expect from those who have been taught to feel superior and consider others as infidels? People who have been taught anger, bitterness and intolerance?
When Boko Haram abducted over 300 school girls from their school in Chibok and forced them into marriages, every Muslim pretended to be shocked. Why? What is the difference between what they did and what has been going on for years in the north? The Boko Haram members have watched all their lives how teenage girls and children are forced into marriage, converted to Islam against their will, raped and divorced after getting terrible diseases.
So who do we want to fool that abduction and forced marriage is something alien to the Muslim north? Even emirs and top politicians have been fingered in kidnaping of children and teenagers and marrying them. And if anyone dares to speak out, you will be branded an enemy of Islam. Meanwhile Islamic countries like Egypt has laws that prohibit child marriage. So who are we fooling?
Boko Haram is what you get when religious extremists are allowed to turn children into fanatics and robots. It is what you get when religious messages are laced with rumors and half-truths. It is what you get when young people are taught intolerance of other religions. And this is not just about Islam. No religion is immune. The mad days of the Catholic Church when those who disagree with the church were burnt at the stake and the Crusades are testimonials to this assertion.
Our gallant Armed Forces are on the march, defeating the Boko Haram insurgents. We salute them. But this is just the beginning of the end. The end of the beginning doesn’t necessarily lie in the hands of the Armed Forces; in lies in the hands of parents, teachers and politicians. Let’s halt this extremist interpretation of Islamic teachings. Let’s stop the shameful act of using religion to excuse sexual perversion. Let’s stop using religion for political aggrandizement.
No matter what your pastor or imam tells you, the day will never come when this world will be all Muslims or all Christians. Let’s stop killing in the name of God. If your God is truly that powerful he won’t need your help that much. Don’t let the politicians fool you, the instruments of democracy can never be used to deliver the utopia of theocracy. Man cannot even deliver theocracy.
Let’s rebuild the North East. Let’s build Nigeria. Let’s live together. Let’s focus on what binds us together and not on what separates us. Let’s allow Aliyu to go to mosque on Friday and then allow John to go to church on Sunday. Let’s allow our God(s) take care of the rest. Let Allahu Kubar never be a cry of war again, let it remain a chant of praise to the almighty.
First Baba Isa is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja