Boko Haram: The Nigerian Civil War as Religious War
by Osita Ebiem
“We are…calling on Muslims in this part of the world to be well prepared because, very soon, we would launch a full scale war between the Muslims and the Christians.” – Abubakar Shekau declared in February, 2011.
In the interest of those who might believe differently, the above declaration is far from being an empty boast.
The war has been on ever since Shekau made the above declaration and there is no sign of the war abating. Nigeria is engaged in its first civil war. We have explained somewhere else why this is actually Nigeria’s first civil war. Many people have sometimes mislabeled Biafra-Nigeria war as a civil war which it was not.
Internationally and locally it has long been known that Nigeria has been engaged in a brutal and protracted civil war which has been raging mostly in the northern part of the country in the last three years. The key players in the war which has claimed many thousands of civilian lives are members of the Armed Forces of the Nigerian Government on one side and Northern Nigeria Islamic fundamentalists spearheaded by the Boko Haram group on the other side. There are also other organized Islamic groups like Ansaru, the sect that first made news in February, 2013 when they kidnapped a vacationing French family with 4 children and 3 adults from across the border in neighboring Cameroun. The family was held for two months till a ransom was paid.
The goal of the Islamic radicals is to establish a separate country in the northern part of the country where sharia legal system is the rule of law. And that actually is the plan B of the Muslims of Northern Nigeria. The plan A has always been to Islamize the whole country through a gradual process where the control of the instruments of state authority, leadership of government and other key positions would remain the exclusive preserve of Northerners through which they would be able to achieve the goal number A.
The ongoing fighting began substantively in 2011 when the Islamic fundamentalist hardliner Muhammadu Buhari from the North lost the presidential election to the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan from the South. Buhari and other northern Islamic hardliners who are often referred to as born-to-rule cabals (those that believe that the Muslim North should always produce the rulers of Nigeria) were quoted to have said that they would make Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan should he go ahead and win the election. Lawal Kaita is an important northern politician and a born-to-rule diehard and this is what he said about Jonathan just before the 2011 presidential election, “If we fail to stop him at the general election, even if he wins he will not be able to rule we will make the country ungovernable for him.”
When the former president of Nigeria Musa Yar’adua a Muslim from the North died in office in 2010, Goodluck Jonathan as the vice president served out their term in office but the Northern Muslims were not happy. Some security reports have it that initially when Boko Haram sect resurfaced in 2010 after going underground in 2009, some past and serving army generals, politicians and business moguls from the North financed heavily, provided logistics and supplies for the operations of Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist outfits in order to destabilize Jonathan’s government. From the same intelligence sources it is also known that this arrangement and control by the local cabals worked up to a certain point. Up to the time, the local cabals effectively controlled the strikers or the foot soldiers; they struck targets as chosen by the paymasters. However as the group’s jihadist activities made headlines and gained international notoriety the international al Qaeda network and other branches of Islamic terrorism networks around the world noticed the strategic position of the struggle and have since cashed in on the Nigeria scene. Ever since it is believed that the control of Boko Haram and others have essentially spiraled out of the hands of the erstwhile local sponsors.
Though the local financiers and supporters have not completely stopped but the groups are now being adequately funded and supplied with equipment and logistics from outside Nigeria. Hardware stolen from Nigerian military armory and ordnance had been their first source of supply. But it should also be recalled that the terrorists’ strikes peaked around the time there was a lot of outflow of arms and weapons from the then fast depleting Gadhafi’s Libya stockpile. When the source of funds and logistics changed, of course, so did the source of much of the orders for those carrying out the target strikes. It does not really make much difference, from all indications the Nigerian scene has effectively become an important part of the global Islamic agenda.
The United States of America has a bounty of $7 million dollars on Abubakar Shekau while the Nigerian Government will pay 50 million naira, the equivalent of about $300,000 to anyone who can help them find and deliver Shekau to Nigerian authorities. It had been reported on several occasions that Nigerian troops fatally wounded or killed Shekau in gun battles with the authorities only for him to resurface and inflict more deadly attacks on Nigeria and its installations. Abubakar Shekau is the head of the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. He is many things to many people. Some people hate or dread him for some obvious reasons. One of the reasons that some people would like to hate him for is related to some of the things he said in his recently released video. In the video which was translated from his native Hausa language, he recounted and attributed the many victories his group has had over the Nigerian Armed Forces to Allah’s help. He described how the bodies of Nigerian soldiers and civilians were strewn everywhere on the ground after his group’s Bama military barrack’s attack. He said; “Had Allah allowed us to eat them we would have eaten them . . . As for killing, we will kill (for) Allah, if he says we should decapitate, we should amputate the limbs, we should mutilate.”
For the above statement and many others like that some people may accuse Shekau of many unspeakable things but there is one thing that no one can accuse him of; no one will accuse him of not being explicit enough on the goals of his sect and by extension those of the Islamic North of Nigeria. He is not known to muddle up his messages. His statement in the video under discussion is not an exception. In it he reminded everyone of and reemphasized what the issue is about in Nigeria. He made it clear that Nigeria’s problem is religious, ideological or cultural divides and not poverty, bad governance, incompetent leadership, political corruption or any of those other things that have been used by some mischievous individuals as veneer over the real issue in Nigeria.
In the video Shekau restated the fact that it is one Nigeria (a united Nigeria) that is the problem of Nigeria. To some Nigerian Christians they would like to wish away this reality and pretend that a religious war is not happening in the country. Some Nigerian analysts consider David Oyedepo, the leader of one of Nigeria’s evangelical prosperity-churches, Living Faith Church as one of those wishful thinking Church leaders in Nigeria.
In early November, 2013 when Oyedepo visited Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and called on the Governor of the state Godswill Akpabio, he was quoted to have repeatedly said that Nigeria will not break up. Some of his critics have taken him up on the statement which they consider as insensitive and reckless. Even some members of his congregation have taken offense with what they call a careless statement coming from their leader. Oyedepo’s critics say that he was merely exhibiting the usual hypocrisy and insincerity typical and expected of most leaders in Nigeria, irrespective of whether they are of church or secular leadership. Oyedepo’s critics cite as evidence of his hypocrisy the fact that he started his Living Faith Church in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria about twenty years ago but had to move his headquarters to Lagos in Southern Nigeria after personally witnessing several deadly jihadist attacks on churches and Christians in Kaduna. It is said that he moved not because his church business was doing badly in Kaduna but because of fear for his life and those of his family members.
However, since realities, facts and actual events should be the things that guide the decisions of policy makers and the opinion of a correctly-informed general public; we will go by them in this discussion rather than by the wishes of some Nigerian “leaders.” In the video Abubakar Shekau restated, as always very clearly, for the benefit of those who prefer to live in denial that the war he and others are waging in Nigeria is more of a religious war than an ethnic war.
Let’s hear Shekau in his own words: “They try to brainwash the people that we are fighting an ethnic war. No, we are fighting a religious war, we are fighting Jonathan, we are fighting Christians.” Further down he repeated, “The battle is against Jonathan and the rest of his Christian brethren, not ethnic war.”
For the benefit of doubters Shekau took time to clarify the nature of his war. Now, this clarification is important and we will explain. The basic difference between an ethnic and a religious war is that whereas a religious war is aimed at killing, defeating and subjugating the believers in the other religion, ethnic war is directed at doing the same things but against a people of the other ethnic group.
Generally, the goal of the prosecutors of religious wars at all times, just like the present one in Nigeria, is usually to convert non-believers and their lands to Islam. Incidentally, it is only Islam among all the major world religions that is known to use threat of violence and the devastations of war (terrorism) to convert and subjugate people to the faith. This is mostly so because terroristic acts and outright war are intrinsically built into the very fabrics of Islam. Violence against, war on and the killing of non-believers in Islam are part of the cardinal doctrines of the religion. The critics of the religion reach this conclusion going by the teachings of the two most important books of Islam; the Koran and hadiths. In the Koran and hadiths jihad or holy war is about the most important pillar on which the Islamic religion stands. Most analysts of Islam, based on some portions of these holy books and the teachings of all generations of imams and Islamic scholars, conclude that Islam with the absence of intolerance and violence will be no Islam. Here below are some of the portions of the Koran and hadiths that critics often cite when they argue that intolerance and terrorism are at the very core of the Islamic religion.
1. “Believers make war on the infidels (non-Muslims) who dwell around you, let them find harshness in you” – Quran 9:123
2. “When the sacred months are over, kill the unbelievers wherever you find them” – Quran 9:5
3. “Fight against Christians and Jews that do not believe in Allah or in the last day…and do not embrace the true faith (Islam)” – Quran 9:29
4. “Fighting is obligatory for you (Muslims), even if you dislike it” – Quran 2:216
5. “Our Prophet (Mohammed), ordered us to fight you (non-Muslims) till you worship Allah alone or pay us Jizyah (extortion) in submission…Whoever amongst us is killed as a martyr shall go to Paradise…and whoever survives shall become your master” – Sahih Bukhari 4:53:386
Islamic terrorism or jihad both in Nigeria and elsewhere is not a conflict exactly between Islam and the Western world and its civilization as in terms of the literal translation of Boko Haram (boko – books, Western Civilization books that is, are haram, forbidden.) Rather the Islamic jihad is Islam versus the rest of the non-Muslim world. This position is not hard to defend when one takes a look at where Muslims are involved in on-going conflicts around the world. Even a mere cursory look reveals one consistent pattern. In Nigeria it is the Muslims against the Christians and all others that are non-Muslims. The Nigerian conflict is not different from the one in Thailand which is Muslims against the Buddhists. And you go over to India it is Muslims against the Hindus. In the Middle East it is the entire Muslim nations against the Jews in Israel. In the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and others that represent the Western world it is the Muslims against Christians and atheists.
The truth is that in the Islamic worldview all non-Muslim territories are classified as Dar-ul harb (land of war.) By this teaching Muslims are not expected to be at peace with non-Muslims. It is expected of every true Muslim to strive to conquer and subjugate the non-Muslims including their worldview and territory. This is the war that is going on in Nigeria. Nigeria’s President Jonathan and what he represents: Christianity, make Nigeria a Dar-ul harb that must be conquered and subjugated or divided so that an infidel does not rule over the people of Islam.
Many analysts have been asserting that one major reason why Islamic jihadist terrorism has increased in the recent time is because of some technological advancement which Islamic clerics consider as existential threat to Islam. Other points worthy of mention here are the spread of the ideals of secular democracy, gender equality, Human and Peoples’ Rights and religious freedom. Notably, these liberal ideologies are being aided by many technologies that are mainly based off of personal computers and cell phones. The social and virtual interactive networks for example are fast gaining popularity around the world including the Islamic countries, so Islam feels threatened. Incidentally, because these innovations are computer based, people communicate easily with one another privately with little censors and the trend is expected to continue for a long time to come since these technologies are still growing.
In Nigeria just as it is in other parts of the world, the religion (Islamic clerics) is grappling with the issue of the eroding of faith in some of the dogmas of its core teachings resulting from the effects of these technological and ideological innovations. So, the war in Nigeria is expected to be a long drawn out battle whose cost in human and material resources will be very prohibitive.
In recommending a lasting solution for this problem we have to recognize that the present world society guarantee’s the rights of all groups and individuals to preserve and maintain their own unique cultural/religious identities. The honest truth is that Nigeria does not have the wealth and sophistication to effectively deal with or much more defeat this ideological or cultural onslaught. So it will be a waste of time trying to fight or wait it out. Fortunately, because of the nature of the demographic spread of the different ethnicities and religions in Nigeria, there is a less expensive and smarter solution to the problem. In Nigeria the most reasonable and quick solution to this seemingly endemic problem is the multistate solution through the principles of Self Determination. We cannot solve the problem otherwise.
Let’s do a more detailed analysis of how the dividing lines are drawn in Nigeria. Igbo people and the other peoples of Southeast and South-South of Nigeria are Christians and Traditional African Religionists. The people in Southwest, the Yoruba are Christians, Traditional African Religionists and Muslims. The people in the Middle Belt region are mostly Christians, Traditional African Religionists and some Muslims. Hausa/Fulani make up the majority people in the Northern part of Nigeria. They are mostly Muslims, Traditional African Religionists and Christians.
The people in the South-South and Southeast want to separate from the Nigerian union and establish a democratic secular country. Yoruba people in the Southwest would also want to separate from Nigeria to form a democratic secular country. The people in the Middle Belt are anxious to leave Nigeria to run a separate country that is democratic and secular. The Northerners do not only want to walk away from Nigeria, they are actually fighting a war to prove how serious they are about their demand for independence. They want a separate country that is based on the principles of the Islamic sharia, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Contrary to what a few elite individuals who profit from the present mess are saying, the Nigerian stage is set and well distributed to apply the multistate solution with little or no complications. With bold thinking and bold action we can easily and quickly solve the Nigerian problem by encouraging each section to embrace independence and self-determination and end the on-going civil war. To practically test this water, we can start by organizing some government sponsored referenda to prove how prepared the different components of the Nigerian union are to part ways from one another.
(The subject of this article which is the need to apply multistate solution to Nigeria’s problem is discussed in full in the book coming out this February, 2014 by this author. The book is offered in both ebook and hardcopy editions and will be available worldwide from all major booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Google Play, Apple’s iTunes, etc. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +1 347 863 2375 EST)