ALI MAZRUI'S MISDIAGNOSIS OF NIGERIA
It was not the first time. That Professor Ali Mazrui would comment on Nigeria. He comments on Africa, too. He is an academic and political writer, and the Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies . His voice is that of a god in the western world. He delivered a paper lately. He co-wrote the paper, actually. It was all about Nigeria. Sharia. Boko Haram. Ethnicity. Religion. Regionalism. Minority issues. Politics. And how the rest have affected Nigeria’s politics. One could almost take a bite off the well-researched paper. It was well-argued also. That’s Mazrui. He persuasively argues. Though he talks politics, culture, he can pass for an orator. He displayed that in his TV series - The Africans: A Triple Heritage. The epic sold the Kenyan-born re-known intellectual to this writer over two decades ago. Enough of him could never be had, not on anything cultural, historical, political, Africa. When he is in his element, that is. And he was in this latest paper, titled, Nigeria: From Sharia to Boko Haram.
Mazrui wanted to take a look at Nigeria’s current situation in the context of Islamic extremism that goes by the name Boko Haram. That makes recounting history a necessity. So he traced the current security challenges in the country back in time. He got all of the background he traced right. But one. This is what he got right. He said religion, ethnicity and regionalism are part of Nigeria’s politics and not one can not be extricated. True. He said the Boko Haram movement is a different kind of radicalization; that it is not the same thing as Sharia movement in northern states. He added that the resurrection of the criminal law aspects of the Sharia first came into being in Zamfara state in 1999. He further stated that, “this Shari’a movement consisted of an older generation in age, and was a response to the political decline of the northern elite, especially after the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo towards the end of the 20th century.” The problem starts from here, and it may not be noticed if close attention is not paid. But this is only by a reader who is not conversant with the development in the north in the time scope that Mazrui’s analysis covers.
The professor said Sharia movement consisted of an older generation in age, and was a response to the political decline of the northern elite, especially after the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. There is an error in this conclusion. And it is a serious one, because it analyses wrongly how the call for implementation of Sharia across the north came into being. It leaves out a point that is crucial to how Boko Haram sect turned to terror, those who constitute majority of the movement, as well as some of the immediate catalysis of the violent acts that the sect had perpetrated. Unfortunately, the conclusion by Mazrui about an elitist reaction to Obasanjo administration as the basis of Sharia movement is central to the rest of his argument, and this has left out a significant issue which is not just the making of that Administration alone but nevertheless has fueled tendency towards monstrosity Boko Haram has become.
Older generation? Sharia movement in Zamfara when Sanni Yerima, the state governor, was declared The Last Revelation consisted of the older generation? Well, maybe in the form of the clerics that urged Yerima on and formed the pillar of the implementation. First, note that youth who were the voting majority were significant to the governor. But the more educated older generation were more cautious about it all. The elite, not the political elite, across the north were cautious too. Though many openly said nothing against the introduction of the law, they fretted in their privacy. This writer lived among such educated set from the early 1990s into early 2000. Early 2000 was the period most governors wriggled and twisted when the call by their people for the introduction of the laws became more strident.
Fact is, unlike the delineation that Mazrui tried to make, phobia for the more western tendencies and some of the southern Nigerian tendencies that have long-invaded the north could be said to have informed that call, but not in the same radical manner Boko Haram makes its own call against things western. Some of the younger, and educated generation had supported Sharia, the mass of the non-literate (without western education) were for it, but most state governors were rather cautious, as well as the non-political elites. But they, for the sake of the mass’s voice, and with their eyes on a second term in office, mostly implemented Sharia in parts, shied away from the rest, and this seems to be the reason for the apparent dying embers of the implementation process that some states have witnessed till date. President Obasanjo did say at the time that what he called political Sharia would die a natural death.
Where Mazrui’s position becomes more untenable is his argument that the political decline of the northern elite, especially after the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 was the reason the older generation and the political elite implemented Sharia. No, Prof. One, the older, educated generation and the elite that he said wanted Sharia implemented, even in the heat of the fervour, realized they would be toying with a keg of gun powder in one form or the other, and they were cautious. Mazrui should speak to any of the major players of that generation of north’s politicians and confirm this. Two, Obasanjo was not yet in office as president at the time Yerima promised his people that if elected, he would implement Sharia. No one paid attention at the time, until he arrived office.
Zamfara State, a former part of Sokoto (Sokoto Caliphate of the revered Uthman Dan Fodio) was one place that kind of joker would work, with its predominantly Muslim population. Yes. The older generation liked the idea, but the intoxication was majority of the younger generation whose votes a politician needed. In any case, there had been strong desires on ground for strict Islamic way of life. The desire didn’t just start when Obasanjo arrived power in May 1999. It had been there from the First Republic of the early 1960s; so the predilection for maintenance of an Islamic environment with the Islamic law was not something that came suddenly when a non-Muslim southerner was elected in 1999.
It was just that Yerima saw an opportunity, and he had campaigned on the basis of it. A friend of this writer, who is a Christian, an indigene of Zamfara State and a couple of years ahead of Yerima in school confirmed to this writer the Yerima he knew, and the fact that the politician merely played a political card and he won. That doesn’t remove the fact that the former governor was a popular individual, and he still is among his people. The call for introduction of Sharia spread across the North after the Zamfara experiment succeeded, forcing other state governors to join the bandwagon. Unfortunately, it was on the wrong premise of an elite which wanted to seek relevance at the state level, after it lost power at the centre, that Mazrui went further to build his analysis of how Boko Haram emerged.
Mazrui said while Sharia movement was an assertion of pride in Islam, the Boko Haram’s ideology is adversarial towards other religions. He said the targets of this group’s violence have been churches, institutions of law enforcement, liquor stores, some officials of the Federal government, and some military and educational institutions associated with promoting Western culture. He did not mention that a large proportion of those who have died in some of the terror attacks were northerners, were Muslims because most of the mass killings occurred in Muslim states, and that attacks targeting mosques have also been foiled. On at least, two occasions, Muslim traditional leaders in Yobe and Borno states had narrowly escaped death from suicide bombers.
This oversight on the part of the academic is one step away from missing the socio-economic angles to the breaking out of Boko Haram violence, as well as its immediate causes. Boko Haram members did gather under their late leader Mohammed Yusuf, of course. And his teaching, radical, by North’s standard among its older generation of clerics was garnering more listeners across the north with each passing year. In fact, the sect, through Yusuf’s tafsirs in cassettes and CDs were generating huge revenue. The activity of the sect, having its own state within the state (Emir, Shura council, Hisbah etc), had actually raised concerns among the more conservative older generation of Muslims. With the poor economic conditions of the mostly younger generation whose ears Yusuf had, it was a matter of time before there would be clashes between the sect and security forces; they are always attuned to the worries of those who are part of the Establishment.
The first direct attack by Boko Haram on security forces had come in the wake of a vow to avenge. This was made by Yusuf when the police clashed with members of his sect on their way to bury one of their fellows in Maiduguri in 2009. The revenge attack happened, security forces responded with more force, sect members responded, and eventually Yusuf was captured and killed by the police. That was one reason Boko Haram promised large scale violence against the state. And it promised more when the police invited Yusuf’s father in-law, Baba Fugu Mohammed, to their station and he too was killed by the police. A court had ordered that the Borno state government pay a compensation of One hundred million for this extra judicial killing. With some radicalized younger ones across the north, and the subsequent contact with Al-Qaeda network, the breakout of terror attacks in the country is now well-known It is significant to note that while Mazrui was right that Boko Haram is adversarial to other religions and other sections of the country, going by its ultimatums that non-northerners and all Christians should move out of the North, the group’s pronouncements overtime shows it to be taking advantage of sentiments that may appeal to Muslim population in the North.
Lately, the sect said President Goodluck Jonathan should resign or become a Muslim. The issue of resignation is like playing on the sentiment among some northerners that north ought rule for eight years, just as South had ruled for eight years under the Obasanjo administration.
That the basis of Mazrui’s position is faulty is relevant for the following reasons. One, he wrote this paper for Global Experts Team, United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations. That’s an influential body. And it may in turn give advice based on this, to other important bodies that asks for it. Two, his paper assumes that a coordinated northern elites, for anti-South reasons, is in place. This overlooks the significance of years of misrule, impoverishing of Nigerians which makes radical Islamism, and the promise of a more humane socio-economic arrangement it has as an attraction; it is a major flaw.
A look at how the economic conditions of people have become more deplorable in the period Mazrui has as his time scope gives credence to this position. And the steps taken by the Goodluck Jonathan Administration to improve the lot of the Almanjiri segment of the north’s population by combining formal education with the Islamic learning tradition, a good breeding ground for more recipients of Boko Haram’s radical views, is another testimony. When therefore Mazrui stated that, “There is need to restore a sense of self-worth and a widening of opportunities for disadvantaged young people in Nigeria,” he got it right. And he had recommended the appropriate remedy. This is because the enthusiasm spurred by worsening socio-economic conditions, and the power of the ballot controlled by the young generation he referred to had galvanized Yerima into full adoption of Sharia in 1999, and by 2009 when Boko Haram went haywire, the same generation constituted the majority in its fold.