Borno: Not all blood and sorrow – Part 3
A shining star in the camp
Aunah Kulka, 17, holds her white Ipad with care and beams a shy smiles at her father, Kulka Nawal Hutsa. The old man asks her to look straight at the camera. Then he watches proudly as the reporter takes several shots of his third daughter. The digital device in her hand is the choicest gift she has ever received from anyone. And the gift came from a man she never dreamt she would meet in her lifetime: The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo.
Three years before meeting Mr. Osinbajo, Kulka, her seven siblings and their parents were living in far away Gava, an agrarian community in Gwoza local government area. It was a quiet town with a few schools and vast land for farming. Kulka, like every other teenager in Gava, would go to school in the morning and farm in the evening. She hopes someday she would become a medical doctor, and treats her people of their many ailments. She tells her father about this dream all the time, and the father has no reason to doubt her. Gava is a perfect town to raise children, though schools are few, the teachers are committed and his children are curious learners.
When Kulka too thinks back about life in Gava, she sees innocence of a community that has nurtured her childhood to become a curious teenager.
That worldview changed in 2013 when motorcycle-riding men swooped on the people of Gava and started shooting at anyone in sight.
Some people fell down because they were hit by bullet, others, because they were too exhausted to continue running.
In blinding shock, Kulka and her family ran with the rest of the survivors in different directions towards the bush. That was where they passed the night. The next day, some youths summoned courage to come out of the bush to see if the terrorists have gone. They were wrong. Boko Haram killed them all, and set many houses ablaze including her father’s.
Kulka and her family left Gava without cloth and food, and arrived Maiduguri hungry, thirsty and barely naked after two weeks of trekking. That was how the hope of going to school became dashed. For one year, Kulka did not attend any school. Borno State government has closed down all government schools, and the few operating private schools are too expensive. In 2014, her father and a few elders of Polo IDP camp, where they finally settled, set up a school for the children in order to prevent them from roaming the street like almajiri.
So Kulka joined the school and began to thrive again. She later participated in an essay competition involving schools across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and came top in Borno State among a few others. The winners were therefore invited by the acting president to Abuja, and that is where she received her cherished Samsung tablet. The presidency also promised to provide the winners with scholarship and solar lamp for reading, but that is yet to come. With or without scholarship from the acting president, Kulka hopes she would one day fulfill her dream.
Many other residents of Maiduguri also believe that the insurgency will end some day. But nobody can predict the end. The army has described the insurgency as “asymmetric warfare”, meaning the end is not yet in sight, but the people of Maiduguri are determined to live their normal lives for as long as insurgency last. “It is lafiya dole,” says Jubrin Gunde, a leader of the Civilian Joint Task Force.
To achieve sustainable peace, government should prohibit street preaching – Dr. Kolo
Dr. Baba Gana Kolo is a senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology , University of Maiduguri. He speaks about the origin of Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast and how peace can be sustained in the region.
What is the most practical approach to maintain peace in the Northeast?
For peace to return fully to the region, we need to first understand the origin of the conflict that led to the insurgency. And this can be traced back to 1999 when radical preacher like Mohammed Yusuf began to gain huge followership among the youths in the North, especially those who feel marginalised and believed that mainstream Muslim leaders are allies of the ruling class. He was like Maitasini or Shitte leader and others as it happened in other places. The conflict started as differences exhibited by religious sects, a group of individuals in the community who have different perspectives about Islam. Like any other religion, there are sects in Islam. The division came after the death of Prophet Mohammed. And each group has its own thinking about the concept of Islam. Here in Borno, we have the Sufi, the Tariqas, the Tijaniyyat, , the Shittes, the Izalat and the remnant of Maitasini. And several others. The understanding of Islam among these sects differs. The Tariqa will emphasis the medical aspect of Islam which encourages people to write on slate, wash it and drink either for healing or prosperity. But the Izalat will denounce such practice as paganism which contradicts the teaching of the prophet. This is one area of conflict.
Also, there are Shittes group, those who think a family member of the Prophet should succeed him after his death. And since Prophet Muhammed was survived by her daughter, Fatima, the Shitte Muslim insists that her husband Ali, should succeed the prophet as Caliphate. But Al sunnah think differently.
They rather wanted Abu Bakr, the prophet’s friend and father-in-law to become the Khalifa. The shitte think Abu Bakr and three other Khalifas: Umar and Uthman and Ali are illegitimate occupier of that office. So the Al Sunnah recognise the four caliphates while the Shitte recognise only Ali. So you can see the connection between politics and Islam and this dispute reflects on the happenings among teachers of Islam. As a follower of Islam, your opinion therefore depends on your source of information.
How is Boko Haram connected to any of this group?
Within the Boko Haram group, however, there are Izalat sect. They have been existing before the advent of Boko Haram . There was a word out there that Muhammed Yusuf was an integral part of Izalat group.
There was a man called Jafar who used to come to Borno to preach Islam. He was brought from kano by Muhammed Indimi, and he and Yusuf shared the same kind of ideology. But the two eventually had disagreement and got separated. So Yusuf built his own mosque in the Flower Mill in Maiduguri outskirt. Yusuf was so radical and later became popular. He was a demagogue of a sort and attracted a lot of youths. This was happening at the time when the discourse of Sharia was popular in the North. And there was support from the state governments that wanted to test Sharia law. So, the preachers and their followers were mobilised into politics of the state. Government introduced ministry of religious affairs and a Boko Haram member was made commissioner. Indirectly Islam was introduced into the affairs of the state. Preaching in public places became commonplace in Maiduguri and other places in the state. And Yusuf became so popular among the youths because his messages were found to be innovative and radical. The major point of attraction was his argument against corruption. Remember that the subject of corruption interests most Nigerians. He positioned himself as someone who had answer to the menace of corruption. When a preacher emphasised anti-corruption in his narrative so eloquently as Yusuf did, you get support.
What reason accounts for Boko Haram Clash with the authorities?
Corruption is crime. And it is the duty of the police to fight corruption. But police are also corrupt so they cannot fight the crime of corruption effectively. So anybody fighting corruption is also fighting the police. So the perception of Yusuf and his group is that the government and the police authorities that are responsible to fight the crime of corruption also are corrupt. Police and every institution of government became the subject of attack during his public preaching. And there was a huge public support for his anti-corruption narrative. When you say you fight corruption, the public will support you. That was how Yusuf succeeded in mobilizing people into the mainstream of Islamic radicalism in 2001.
At what point did Yusuf transit from being a preacher to rebel? How did a preacher become someone with access to dangerous weapons?
You can ask the government. Yes. How did he get guns? He was a preachers. He was not supposed to use gun. How did Yusuf get money to fund his group ‘s activities if not through government assistance. How did he bring arms into the country? After all, there are agencies responsible for stopping importation of arms. So we come to the issue of corruption again. The officials whose responsibility it is to stop unlicensed weapons from entering the country failed in their duty. And let say the arms were imported into the country legitimately, the question then is: Who gave Yusuf and his men access to the weapon? In a country where there are the Army, State Security Service, Customs and other agencies of government, how could Yusuf bring in arms into the country under their watch? So you can see political connection in the whole mix. Training people how to use arms is not for people who are not professionals. Why was Yusuf killed extra-judicially by the police? He did not engage them in fight or violence, yet he was summarily executed. So killing him in that manner is also criminal.
From his preaching, you could at least see that he was not against the interests of the common man. But he was ignorant about issues of science, philosophy and convention. The problem of Yusuf is applicable to all preachers. Almost all of them ignore the issues of science, philosophy and conventional issues such as politics and security, for their own selfish interest. As a Muslim preacher, your guide is Quran. Sadly the preachers read and interpret the message of the Holy Book to the people who don’t understand Arabic. So if the content of Quran command that certain person must be killed for a particular act, a preacher is not allowed to contextualise the message. In the case of Jihad for instance, all preachers have to tell their followers the verses as it is. By implication, the contents determine the message preached to the people. The preacher has no power over the content because the content is unchangeable. Therefore using Quran for adjudication brings a challenge. And the challenge is using a fixed text as an instrument to solve contemporary problems. Here is where the preacher is handicapped because he is not clever to navigate the impossibility. You can’t succeed in establishing Sharia in a democratic society. Therefore, I will blame Yusuf for his ignorance and his dream to build an Utopian Islamic State.
The dream needlessly cost him his life. His case therefore is applicable to all preachers. Therefore to see end to the issue of Boko Haram and religion extremism in this country, I suggest that we prevent preaching in the public space. To achieve sustainable peace, government should prohibit street preaching. Allowing preaching in the public allows for the mobilisation of people towards dangerous religious ideology. All public preaching eventually leads to conflict, if not immediate, then later. It is like loading people with a system of belief that cannot be scientifically verified. If the teaching of Quran in the public is to be allowed, then there will be no peace. If we do really care about establishing a peaceful society in this country, we must abolish the practice of religion in public space. Religion is political. It is a construction ,and cannot resolve contemporary issue scientifically.
This concludes the Borno: Not all blood and sorrow series.