Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

Long before the emergence of Boko Haram, the Nigerian Muslim population—especially in the northern part of the country—has always craved for a unifying leader. A leader that would lead based on the sharia system. The amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates in 1914 saw to the end of the last vestiges of the Uthman Dan Fodio Caliphate. Ever since, abjuration of this caliphate legacy has proved difficult for Nigerian Muslims to come to terms with. They have strived to find a replacement to it.

The amalgamation gave rise to series of constitutional amendments, and eventually independence in 1960. The twin impacts of amalgamation and independence reduced the former caliphate to a mere set of fragmented states within different nations (Niger, Cameroun and Nigeria). To the Muslims in the north of Nigeria, it was a re-ordering on a scale never envisaged. Hence, the notion that human rights and democracy are a western manifestation must be debunked and resisted. Senegal, unlike Nigeria, had that unifying leader before and after its independence in the form of Sheikh Ibrahim Niass in the early and late 20th century. Even after his death in 1975, he is still being held as a source of inspiration and guidance to not only the Senegalese, but also to a large number of Muslims in West Africa. By this sheer fate, Senegal would build the most enduring democracy in the region with little or no sectarian strife, and without any flirtation with the ever-divisive and unstable Arab world. Essentially, they aren't torn by the Sunni-Shia conflict that has come to define Islam. The Tijjaniyya Islam that Sheikh Ibrahim Niass propagated has so far proved to be the safety valve, and most importantly, a hedge against radical Islam in Senegal.

Nigeria, on the other hand, has been searching in the wilderness for such a leader as Senegal had. This saw the Muslims in Nigeria to journey far afield in search of this. In the 1970s, when Muammar Ghaddafi declared Libya a Jamhuriyya (a republic), it was commonplace to see male children named after him. Fast-forward to the 1990s: the Gulf War. Male children were named after Saddam Hussein. The one personality with the most devastating impact was Osama bin Laden, who exploited one of the major ideological issues uniting the Muslim world: the statehood and sovereignty of Israel. This ideological sentiment, which the leader of Al Qaeda used to coalesce an army of followers around the globe, found ready enthusiasts in Nigeria. These factors further radicalized the Muslim population, and to some certain degree steeled them to great feats of endurance with the ultimate aim of re-establishing a pax Islamica. The clerical parvenu that was created, politically speaking, by the above factors and personalities mentioned, considers the re-establishment of the sharia system as an elemental necessity—a precondition for justice and fair play. And the radical characters in this clerical assemblage conceived themselves as embodying a divine will. This movement is at cross-purposes with the Westphalia-style of governance or international order where citizens are expected to obey a sovereign power other than God in return for security and protection.

A 21st-century Nigeria finally bowed to terror. But something is missing in this gradual radicalization of Muslims in Nigeria. In as much as a more extreme form of Islamic terror has replaced Al Qaeda in the form of ISIS, we are yet to see parents naming their male children as Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi or even Abubakar Shekau—the leader of Boko Haram. So, what has changed? Truth is, ISIS and Boko Haram have the same ideology, which is the total annihilation of any form of a secular society or government. 

The positive here is that Nigerians have come to understand, first-hand, what religious extremism is, the same way Afghans and Pakistanis have come to the realization that this cannot be the proper way to pursue a cause. This shift is what I prefer to call the positive, and governments around the world must seize it. Yes, they must make Islam and democracy as compatible instead of opposing. Not even the case of Charlie Hebdo could reverse this positive trend in Nigeria. There were no riots in our country. Instead, adherents of the Islamic faith took to the media, both electronic and print, to register their grouse with the Charlie Hebdo magazine. We must understand that terror groups latch on to such rifts and divisions for their own advantage. 

Another salient positive is the issue of conventional banking, where loaning institutions charge interest. Muslims around the globe have always desired to have a banking system that incorporates ethical products. This feat was achieved not by war but by simple, democratic legislation in Nigeria. These positives have increasingly made the prospect of having an extreme individual or group as the fidei defensor diminished in the future.

However, the smooth elections of March and April 2015 and the now seamless transition process have denied these elements of terror what would have been their own opposite version of "The Miracle House of the Brandenburg" if we instead had a chaotic election.

In a nutshell, the war on terror cannot be about bullets alone, but must be about enlightenment on how far the world has become so interdependent. Hence, the notion of universality of any one system must be aligned to work in tandem with an interdependent world shaped by what is unanimously agreed upon as a legitimate partnership.

Nuhu Othman, [email protected]

You may also like

Read Next