There is a group that calls itself Boko Haram; a culture that fosters the group; and the abject neglect of the basic governmental roles that perpetuate the group. Each of these are independent, but for now, Nigeria has to deal with the group Boko Haram, but in dealing with the group, we have to appreciate the culture and the government roles.
A recent interview of some men with affiliation to Boko Haram confirmed that the group receives money and ammunitions from undisclosed sources. Further, the interview confirmed that the men were mere touts in jeans and would kill for very little. So, where does this lead us?
For one, we know we are not dealing with a rebel with a cause. A rebel with a cause espouses a higher motivation that may fuel their rebellion. Boko Haram is neither religious nor tribal and is not bound by geography. The group’s articulation of Islam as a religion is fraud and sets them apart from the holy religion. At the core of Islam is obedience to a God, love of mankind and desire for knowledge. Sex and marriage are human and cultural. Even, in places that practice the most conservative form of Islam, the dreadful punishments under Sharia are reserved for vices under the religion. There is no practicing Moslem that advocates indiscriminate killing, regardless of the branch of Islam he or she practices. As such, it is important to deny this group any claim to Islam as a religion.
Two, Almajiri System of Education incorporates Quranic and moral educational systems that operate in most part of Northern Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Mali and other similar places in West Africa. According to Professor Idris A. Abdulqadir, a notable Islamic scholar, “the Almajiri system of education as practiced today in the Northern Nigeria is a completely bastardized system compared to the form and conditions under which the system was operating and its output during the pre-colonial period… During the pre-colonial era, begging was never involved and certainly the pupils were not reduced to doing menial jobs before they could eat.”
A friend from Bauchi State, in the northern part of Nigeria, once narrated how he managed to escape the Almajiri System of Education. The young, middle-aged man explained that, as a kid, he was sent to an Almajiri school headed by an Imam. That, early in the morning, his Imam wakes students up to go to the farm to work for hours and returns them back to study Quran for a short time. He explained that the essence of the schools were to serve the Imams.
The Almajiri schools were product of the jihad mounted by Dan Fodio in the Northern Nigeria in 1804, which, rather than the intent maintained a conservative form of Islam. During the pre-colonial days, Almajiri schools were supported and funded by the community. The Imams received compensation directly from the State. The British colonial masters were reluctant to support these schools, as such, the Imams task the students for their compensation. The students are forced to work for the Imams, and are taught menial jobs or begging. The Northern Emirs, on the other hand, are powerless to stop these Imams from this modern day slavery, which has perpetuated the conduct that has left millions of able body human beings in a state of abject poverty, and a fertile recruiting ground for the group that calls itself Boko Haram.
Three, the borders separating countries in West Africa, especially in the savanna areas, are plain, open, extensive and unmanned. In 1980, Abdurraman Shugaba Darman, simply known to many Nigerians as Shugaba, was a prominent Borno State politician and the Majority Leader of the State House of Assembly. Shugaba was arrested for false claim to Nigerian citizenship and was deported to Chad Republic. Shugaba challenged his deportation and won, but the fact of his court challenges exemplifies what it is to be a Nigerian from many parts of Northern Nigeria. The more than 7 million able bodies, graduates of this Almajiri System of Education, roam through borders unimpeded.
Before the advent of Europeans in West Africa, the open borders separating Northern Nigeria, Chad Republic, Mali, Cameroun and other West African countries were the source of civilization, trade and cultural exchanges. Goods from the forest of the Southern part of West Africa traveled to North Africa through these open borders. Men and women moved freely and the cultures across the borders were indistinguishable. With this background in mind, the nation’s predicament will begin to crystallize and possibly guide us towards manner of addressing this scourge.
As a start, the government cannot negotiate with this group. The group does not have a cause; it is not sophisticated enough to respect any negotiation, and most likely does not have a unified political structure to negotiate. Government must treat this group as an enemy of the State and a bunch of criminals. To be effective, the government has to set up a special unit of an elite force, consisting of intelligence, police, army and air force officers, task with the responsibility of combating this group. The United States and other countries around the world each maintain elite forces. The United States Navy SEALS, for example, was tasked with the responsibility of killing Osama Bin Laden, while, in United Kingdom, the SBS and SAS performed excellently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nigeria has maintained a mobile force—a branch of the Nigerian Police, tasked mostly with the responsibility of crowd and riot control. Nigeria must inaugurate her own special force to deal with special operations in the riverine areas, as well as in the thick of mainland forests and the back hills of our countryside.
The recent kidnapping of more than 200 girls from Borno State has made any initial government response to this group more complicated. With limited intelligence and the lackadaisical response to the kidnapping, it is impossible to mount an effective force against the group. Nigeria government may have to initially attempt to negotiate the release of these girls before any major offensive is initiated against the group. In short, the government has to be more flexible in the initial stage.
Also, Nigeria must collaborate with other nations around the region to effectively tackle this group. As at the present, Nigeria does not know the membership and how expansive the membership of this group is, but it is good to assume that the membership spans the countries bordering the entire Northern Nigeria. Nigeria must engage these countries to flush this group out.
Nigeria must embark on long and sustained eradication of Boko Haram. The long term project must be directed to educating the Imams and empowering the Emirs to dangers that the Almajiri educational system poses as it is currently undertaken. There must be a long sustained strategy involving the Federal government, States and Local Government in Northern Nigeria to design and develop an educational system that would utilize the potentials of all school age children in the north. The educational system may be an abridged version of the present system or something very different. As it is, Almajiri System of Education has created an unsustainable class structure in Northern Nigeria. The appropriate governmental agencies must be prepared to invest in human and political development of these affected areas to address this situation.