Although we all seem to pretend that Boko Haram has caught us unawares, the worst thing is that we continue to hide our heads in the sands of self deception by further denying the roots of this ugly side of our humanity. That Boko Haram, its disciples and its victims are localised to Northern Nigeria should be instructive. What this calls for is an honest review of what the root causes are. We need to ask what it is about the past or the present that has led us to this ugly and deadly path.
It is my considered view that northern Islam has to confront the realities of taking its religion into the modern world of democracy seriously. Muslims in northern Nigeria cannot accept democracy and reject the inclusive nature of its philosophy as it is the case today. The driving force of democracy is that it presents us with the best instruments for managing our diversity, creating inclusiveness and breaking down the boundaries of exclusion. Unfortunately, northern Islam has continued to present religion as a source of identity, power and control. A hypocritical elite continues to believe that it can claim the benefits of democracy but use it only to consolidate its hold on power. This is what has laid the foundation for what is now Boko Haram.
We must locate the current crisis of Boko Haram within the context of the inability of the northern Muslim elite to live by their own dubious creed of being Muslim. They preached Sharia Law, but only for the poor. They preach a religion that encourages education, yet their own people are held in the bondage of ignorance. They came to power on the basis of a democratic society, but they turned around and declared Sharia to generate a false consciousness among the poor that they want a theocracy. They did not wish to live by the same standards, so they decided to live their own Islam in the capitals of the world away from the prying eyes of their own people. Boko Haram began as a revolt against this mendacity, subterfuge and hypocrisy.
Now, I hear Muslims in northern Nigeria hiding under the cover of the facts by saying: ‘These Boko Haram people are not Muslims. They do not represent us.’ Well, first, they are your own children. You must take responsibility for what has made them what they are today and to the rest of society. They claim they have been inspired by the Quran and no other holy book. They say they want to build an Islamic state. So, they are Muslims. After all, from the debates of the Constituent Assemblies of 1979, 1988, and 1995 and beyond, did their fathers and grand fathers not stage walk outs demanding Sharia Law? Was it not to tame them that President Babangida declared what he called, no-go areas in the debates about our constitution?
Let us just have the honesty to ask, what has gone wrong? Those that the New Nigerian Newspapers referred to in 1980 as mini ayatollahs have since come of age. They promised what they could not deliver and they have not had the honesty to tell their children that building an inclusive society demands tolerance and accommodation. However, since Sharia was discovered as a vital blue chip stock in the Stock market of Nigerian politics, the northern elite has continued to reap dividends on their investment. The promise to institute Sharia law has become the most potent tool for political mobilization and organisation. Till date, the tactics may have changed, but the essence has not. Rather than face the tough questions of how and why over 15m children in the northern states are on the streets, how and why the northern states are falling behind on almost every index of development, the northern Muslim elite continues to live for just the moment, with no plans for tomorrow. Should we pretend that a society that allows the forced marriages of its young daughters could frown at the idea of a group kidnapping and forcing young girls into sexual slavery? Islam must have an honest look at the mirror and have an internal discussion.
Culled from the paper (Thoughts On The Future of Religion in Nigeria’s Politics) by Bishop Mattew Hassan Kukah.