Nigerian-born academic, historian, and professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, Moses Ochonu, has said that mob violence persists in northern Nigeria because of its political and religious utility to the elite in the region.

He made the remarks on the online interview programme, 90MinutesAfrica, hosted by Rudolf Okonkwo and Chido Onumah on Sunday.

Professor Moses Ochonu

The immolation of Miss Deborah Samuel by her fellow students at Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, on the accusation of blasphemy, has generated mixed reactions across the country. While some Muslims have justified the mob action that led to Deborah’s death, many Nigerians have condemned the perpetrators for taking the law into their own hands.

Professor Ochonu said events such as the killing of Deborah had their roots in religious and political control over a vast army of unemployed youths by certain segments of the northern elite.

“Such mob violence as terrible as they are tend to have their political uses. They have political utility for certain people,” Prof. Ochonu noted.

He argued that for some members of the northern elite, the existence of a ready mass of unemployed youths in the North is one way they can checkmate the political scheming and manoeuvres of other regions.

According to Prof. Ochonu, they believe that “if the political tool fails, they have this army of poor and unemployed youths that they could unleash to do their biddings and vanquish their enemies.”

Professor Ochonu situated the religious aspect of this control mechanism in the existence of different strains of extreme religious doctrines that have been allowed to fester in the region over the years.

“There is a problem of extremism in the north. The source of the extremism is partly doctrinal and partly socioeconomic,” he said. “There are certain doctrines and ideologies that have made their way historically into northern Nigeria and have been left to fester and thrive.”

Prof. Ochonu, who is the author of the book, Emirs in London: Subaltern Travel and Nigeria's Modernity, said only the northern Muslim elite can put an end to the culture of extremism and mob violence in the region. He suggested that to achieve that, it is necessary to resolve the problem of the interpretation of Islam in northern Nigeria.

He said that the resolution can only be done by northern Muslims.


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