Rommy Mom: Will Nigerians speak out over the Boko Haram threat in the elections?

Walls are plastered with campaign posters ahead of the 14 Feb elections in Nigeria. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Flickr)

Walls are plastered with campaign posters ahead of the 14 Feb elections in Nigeria. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Flickr)

Update: This article was posted before Nigerian election authorities postponed the polls until March 28, 2015.

As Nigeria’s 14 February general election approaches, the menace of Boko Haram has intensified. Attacks are more frequent and brutal. No Nigerian is entirely safe.

In Baga, a community in Borno state in Nigeria’s north-east, over 2000 people were reportedly killed in a single attack in January. Boko Haram is easily one of the world’s deadliest terror groups — a group that slit 61 school boys’ throats in a raid; that straps bombs on 10 year-olds; that has kept 276 school girls abducted for almost a year and is abducting more; that has killed over 30,000 Nigerians and left over 3 million displaced.

The group now controls a land mass the size of Costa Rica, collects taxes, has its own emirs and has declared a caliphate incorporating parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. On 25 January 2014, the group, in a very daring move, made efforts to seize Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

Boko Haram’s activities are not restricted to the north-eastern part of Nigeria as generally believed. The attacks on the UN headquarters and police headquarters in Abuja, the federal capital city, and several other deadly assaults occurred in Nigeria’s north central states.

The group’s attacks have stagnated economic growth in the north east and weakened diplomatic relations between Nigeria and neighbouring countries. In an escalation, Chadian troops have attacked Boko Haram positions in Nigeria, the BBC reported on 3 Feb.

Local views

While the group has consistently reiterated that it is out to Islamise Nigeria, a good number of Nigerians — Muslims and Christians alike — find this implausible.

Initially it was a convincing strategy because the group targeted mostly Christian places of worship and a few government institutions. Over time, however, the attacks became more random and less deliberate. Individuals of different ethnic groups and religious convictions were dragged off buses and killed in vile operations in broad daylight, typically lasting several hours with no interruption from security agencies. Entire villages have been ransacked regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Some Nigerian Christians however, opt to stick with Boko Haram’s initial script, pointing out that the group’s attacks bear a close resemblance to those of ISIS, known to have a very low tolerance for people of other faiths and liberal Muslims. A handful of northern Muslims agree with this line of thought.

There are also those who believe the group is being funded by some members of the northern Islamic political elite for selfish gain. Such theories appear to have basis in fact. At least one sitting senator and a former governor of Borno state, have been closely linked at various times to the group. Why none of them have been investigated leaves most Nigerians baffled.

There are other theories about the rise of Boko Haram that pin the blame on the government. This line of reasoning cites the president’s southern heritage for a lack of interest with the violence in the north. Southerners are seen to be taking vengeance for the loss of lives and property suffered at the hands of northerners during the Biafran War of 1967. Boko Haram also presents another route for siphoning Nigeria’s funds into private accounts.

The accusations of a self-acclaimed Australian “negotiator”, Stephen Davies, that Nigeria’s former Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Azubuike Ihejirika, a southern Christian, was actively involved in funding Boko Haram activities while working to undermine Nigeria’s army, resonated with many Nigerians of northern extraction who believe the current administration is out to cripple the region. Some southerners, on the other hand, say the northerners brought Boko Haram upon themselves and should therefore reap the fruits of their folly. Such people neither see Boko Haram as a national threat nor believe there is any truth to some of the harrowing stories coming out of the north, viewing them simply as an attempt to frustrate President Goodluck Jonathan, himself a southern Christian, out of office.

Media silence

The media in Nigeria, despite their seeming independence, are divided along political lines depending on ownership. Government media are biased in favour of the government while the private media lean towards the political loyalty of the owner. Accountability to the citizens is low.

Investigative reporting on the situation in the north by local media is limited. Local journalists are quick to point out that they lack the support of their respective organizations to report these stories. The lack of insurance, social benefits or recognition in the event of death is also cited as reasons for this reluctance. Indeed several media houses have been attacked without any response from the authorities.

Nigerians will often quote foreign press in authenticating their stories, since other local sources are generally viewed as suspect. For instance, while authorities put the deaths in Baga at 150–based primarily on guess work, foreign media reported 2,000 deaths based on satellite imagery and interviews with some who escaped the carnage.

The military appears helpless. Stories are told of soldiers who trade their arms for mufti from the locals or wear civilian clothes under their uniforms in order to enhance escape in the event of an attack. Boko Haram is considered more brutal to soldiers.

In a recent interview with CNN anonymous soldiers said that supplies and incentives are low, morale is lacking and wounded soldiers are made to pay for their treatment. A spokesperson for the military has since denied these allegations, labelling the claims “satanic”. There has been at least one incident of mutiny among the troops in the north.

Most Nigerians see BH as a threat to Nigeria’s development and would want an end to the menace. Life is now altered. Roads that were four lanes in the past are now narrowed to a lane or two in areas with a heavy government presence. The roads in the country are heavily guarded, and a general sense of unease and fear rules especially in northern Nigeria.

Will Nigerians speak to the situation in the coming presidential elections? Tough question. Ordinarily yes, Nigerians will respond by voting out a government that has shown a complete lack of determination, political will or focus to counter Boko Haram.

But this is Nigeria. The political elite have successfully used religion and ethnicity to divide the populace, wherein voting, even if it counts, will be coloured by ethnicity and religion. Even so, for the first time in the annals of Nigeria’s history, the president’s campaign convoy has been repeatedly stoned.

February 14, Valentine’s day, Nigeria’s Presidential elections day, will tell where the love truly lies.

This article was originally published on 4 February 2015 at

#IndexDrawtheLine: How can we balance religious freedom and religious extremism?


Religious freedom and religious radicalism which leads to extremism has become an increasingly difficult balancing act in the digital age where presenting religious superiority through fear and “terror” is possible both locally and internationally at internet speeds.

The ongoing series of beheading videos released by the Islamic State and the showcase of kidnapped school girls by Nigeria’s Boko Haram on YouTube are both examples that test the extent to which the UN Convention of Human Rights can protect religious freedoms. According to a report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Egypt’s Youth Ministry are targeting young atheists vocal on social media about the dangers of religion. In Saudi Arabia, Raef Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 and received 600 lashes for discussing other versions of Islam, besides Wahhabism, online.

Article 18 of the Convention states that the “right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. The interpretation of “practice” is a grey area – especially when the idea of violence as a form of punishment can be understood differently across various cultures. Is it right to criticise societies operating under Sharia law that include amputation as punishment, ‘hadd’ offences that include theft, and stoning for committing adultery?

Religious extremism should not only be questioned under the categories of violence or social unrest. Earlier this month, religious preservation in India has led to the banning of a Bollywood film scene deemed ‘un-Islamic’ in values. The actress in question was from Pakistan, and sentenced to 26 years in prison for acting out a marriage scene depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. In Russia, the state has banned the publication of Jehovah’s Witness material as the views are considered extremist.

In an environment where religious freedom is tested under different laws and cultures, where do you draw the line on international grounds to foster positive forms of belief?

This article was posted on 15 December 2014 at

Nigeria: Journalists targeted in “war on terror”

(Photo: BBC via YouTube)

(Photo: BBC via YouTube)

The Nigerian government has faced criticism over their crackdown on Boko Haram, the terrorist group among other things responsible for the recent kidnapping of around 276 school girls from Chibok in Borno state. The efficiency of the state’s strategy, which has included extrajudicial executions, mass imprisonments and indiscriminate targeting of any young Muslim Nigerian who might fit the profile of a Boko Haram member, has been questioned — and the “war on terror” has also been used to target the country’s journalists.

In the first half of 2013, according to Amnesty International, over a thousand detainees, many of whose affiliation with Boko Haram was never confirmed, died in police detention. The human rights organisation has condemned the government’s crackdown. Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states were put under a state of emergency, countless homes, businesses and mosques were raided, and thousands of men and boys were arrested, loaded into trucks and thrown in prison. According to many of their families, the arrests have been indiscriminate.

In 2009, Nigerian police claimed the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram at the time. The government said Yusuf, who was blamed for violence that killed hundreds of people in northern Nigeria, was shot dead following his capture. The official line was boldly unrepentant about the lack of judicial process. “He has been killed. You can come and see his body at the state police command headquarters,” said Isa Azare, spokesman for the police command in the northern city of Maiduguri.

In 2010, footage obtained by Al Jazeera showed deceased and unarmed Boko Haram prisoners who appeared to have been killed by government troops after “crackdown” fighting had ended. Elements of the police and army reportedly staged a follow-up operation in which house-to-house searches were conducted and individuals were apparently selected at random and taken to a police station.

The efficiency of the government’s strategy to eliminate Boko Haram has been severely questioned by security experts.

“So many young men were killed and beaten in the crackdown against Boko Haram,” said Virginia Comolli, Research Fellow for Security and Development at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “ that police or soldiers might have developed sympathies for the group, if one of their relatives was caught up in this.”

“You wonder whether there could be complicity,” Comolli speculated.

Bala Liman, a PhD candidate at School of Oriental and Africa Studies in London and an expert on Boko Haram, pointed to further flaws in the crackdown. “Look at the $8 billion which was provided to the security forces in 2011,” he said, “most of the money was lost to corruption rather than going to fight Boko Haram. Most of the soldiers I speak to nowadays are still under-equipped.” With corruption so widespread, Liman also suggested that bribery could have been a motivation behind collusion with Boko Haram.

While international observers may have the luxury of pointing out the fallacies in such a brutal crackdown, as well as corruption (or sheer incompetence) amongst the police and military, Nigerian journalists do not: Security agents have abused the pretext of their own “war on terror” to threaten, harass, arrest, detain, and seize the equipment of local reporters.

In one case in December 2013, security forces assaulted broadcast journalist Yunusa Gabriel Enemali on the pretext he was a Boko Haram suspect, after he took photographs of a policeman demanding a bribe. “I was fortunate to come out alive,” Enemali told the Committee to Protect Journalists at the time.

In December 2012, the State Secret Service (SSS) unlawfully detained and seized the equipment of Aliyu Saleh, a reporter with the weekly Hausa-language Al-Mizan newspaper, and Musa Muhammad Awwal, the paper’s editor, allegedly over a story questioning the government’s extra-judicial imprisonment of people in Northern Nigeria.

Peter Nkanga, the Commitee to Protect Journalist’s West Africa correspondent, told Index on Censorship: “Awwal was twiced arrested and on both occasions had his equipment seized by the State Security Service. It is now over a year ago yet the SSS have refused to return his two laptops and two phones, alongside five other phones seized from his wife and children.”

Journalists covering protests since the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls have also been targeted. Hir Joseph of the independent Daily Trust newspaper was arrested on 9 May after he wrote a story detailing how female police officers and other security officers had joined with protesters calling on the government to do more to rescue the girls.

“Joseph refused to disclose his source for a story,” Nkganga told Index. While in custody, two police officers kicked Joseph, locked him in a cell “with hardened criminals” and was also told to simulate sex with a wall while being interrogated. The police charged Joseph in court on 12 May, accusing him of publishing “injurious falsehood”. Joseph pleaded not guilty and the case has been adjourned to 19 June. He faces up to two years imprisonment if convicted.

“Targeting a journalist for reporting on issues of public interest,” says Nkganga, “is tantamount to deliberately denying the public the right to be adequately informed about issues affecting their commonwealth. This is an attack on the society. By extension, this goes against the freedom of expression Nigerians are universally and constitutionally guaranteed.”

This article was posted on June 3, 2014 at

Boko Haram: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan”

More than three weeks after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram (BH), an Islamist militant group, the world is finally awake to the tragedy.

While Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself displaying the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, Angelina Jolie said she was “sickened” by the “unthinkable cruelty” and has expressed her anger.

“I heard about it just a few days back when a friend posted an article on Facebook. I was stunned beyond words,” said 19-year old college student Iqra Moazzam, in Karachi, who cannot get over the fact that the girls may have already been sold.

Last week, BH’s leader Abubakar Shekau, threatened to “sell [the girls] in the market” into slavery.

“Not only was the Muslim community slow to respond but the West was also slow to respond,” pointed out Aurangzeb Haneef, who teaches Islamic Studies at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He said there was also some discussion on whether the response would have been quicker had the girls been white.

Boko Haram came about in 2009 in an attempt to impose Islamic law in all 36 Nigerian states. It has been behind killing of thousands of people in Nigeria in recent years and known to have links with other radical Islamist groups in North Africa and Sahel.

“I think they have defiled the name of Islam and added one more stain on the Muslim Ummah. I’m infuriated they are calling themselves Muslims; there is not a shred of Islam in their evil deed,” Moazzam said.

And yet surprisingly, there has been no word of condemnation from any religious institution, no indignation from the pulpit by imams during the weekly Friday sermons and no remonstration from the people in the Islamic world.

In September 2012, video-sharing website YouTube put up a 14-minute clip of Innocence of Muslims, produced by an American that was disrespectful of Islam, Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad, which sent a wave of protests throughout the Muslim world. In Pakistan, complete mayhem broke out: 30 people were killed and over 300 were injured.

The 12 cartoons published on 30 September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of Prophet Muhammad, and which the Muslims found extremely and deliberately offensive, led to attempts on the life of the cartoonist and arson attempt made on the newspaper office.

Khalid Zaheer, an eminent religious scholar and vice-president of Al-Mawrid, a foundation for Islamic research and education, explained: “People come to the streets for issues about which they are sensitised by their scholars. Blasphemy is a topic that concerns the ulema (scholars) more because they have literature speaking against it.”

But he said: “Killing in the name of Islam is either considered an exaggerated propaganda, justified jihad, or atrocities done by some enemies who have conspired to malign Islam.” He said the narrow view of the world that is taught in madrassas and promoted in mosques causes non-issues to be made a matter of life and death and real issues to be ignored as if they don’t exist.

Haneef also attributed the inaction on the street to lack of response to the episode by the religious parties. He added: “Since the victims in this case are not Muslims (although some reports suggested that a few of them were Muslims) and since the accused here claim some kind of Islam, therefore, there has been understandable inertia on the part of Islamic parties to criticise BH.”

Unfortunately, pointed out Haneef: “Common Muslims are reluctant to take up issues involving atrocities against non-Muslims. Few people understand that these atrocities are in the name of Islam — Islam is being hurt here — yet they don’t feel compelled enough to raise their voice against BH.”

The same sentiment was endorsed by peace activist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is also an academic. “I am sure that most Muslims do not approve of Muslims killing non-Muslims or other Muslims, but this does not raise passions in the same way.”

He also said: “Most Muslims today do disapprove of the mass abduction and sale of the Nigerian girls, but they prefer silence. There is vague discomfort that being too loud might cause Islamic fundamentals to come under scrutiny, something that is best avoided in these dangerous times.”

Hoodbhoy explained that with BH at war with those they consider infidels: “Women captured during tribal wars were part of the war booty and the Holy Quran is completely explicit on the distribution of every kind of booty, including women. Of course, as with slavery, most Muslims regard these verses as meant for those times only.” He said that was the takfiri (a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy) philosophy of the BH.

Khadeja Ebrahim 12, studying in Class 7, at a British school in Karachi likened the Nigerian militant group to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “They seem like the Taliban we have in Pakistan, who attacked Malala and believe those seeking western-style education are committing a sin,” she told Index. Asked if she felt scared she nodded saying: “If it can happen in Nigeria, it can happen here in Pakistan and in Karachi too.”

Still, Hoodbhoy, finds the Taliban quite gentle when compared to the BH. “While the TTP does mount suicide attacks, and makes video tapes football matches played with the heads of decapitated Pakistan soldiers, the techniques employed by BH are brutal beyond description.”

This article was updated at 11:46 on 13 May, 2014.

This article was posted on May 13, 2014 at