By Luca Foschi
It is not the case that “Jama’atu Ahlul Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Djihad” chose the abduction of almost 300 Christian girls to gain global attention. “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” now also has its most successful slogan,”Western education is sinful,” beamed into the front rooms of the developed world.
On April 14, 293 schoolgirls have been taken away from Christian schools in Chibok, a village in the north-east region of Borno. Their kidnapper’s claim they have been converted to Islam, sold for few dollars as slaves or used to gratify the troop. The world has now a new bogeyman to contend with.
Boko Haram’s origins can be tracked back in the Maitatsine uprisings of the early 1980s. Following the harsh sermons of Muhammadu Marwa “Maitatsine” (“he who curses”), thousands of young and unemployed Muslims, Fanon’s “wretched of the Earth”, rampaged through five north Nigerian states, before being crushed by the army. The rebellion, was heralded as an example Khomeini’s revolution in Iran, trying to bring down the unresponsive Islamic hierarchy and a corrupted post-colonial administration. Though Maitatsine was killed, his proselytes rose up again in 1982, 1984 and 1985.
In 1999, the introduction in 12 northern Nigerian states of the Islamic law, Shari’a, wasn’t enough to appease Marwa’s heirs, who considered the change a diluted balm lavished by Abuja’s ruling class. In response, in 2002, Boko Haram was founded, by its spiritual leader Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. Less than a year later, in December, the group received for the first time widespread attention attacking police stations and public buildings in the towns of Geidam and Kanamma in north-eastern Yobe State. Boko Haram’s thesis was explained by Yusuf in a rare interview with the BBC, in 2009:
“Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of god rather than an evaporation cause by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teaching of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.”
During those six years Yusuf and his militias had set a secure strategic pattern replicating the first assault, to which police responded each time with raids and arrests. Boko Haram’s hideout in Yobe State was dubbed “Afghanistan”, their members, “Nigerian Talibans”. The umpteenth clash with the governmental forces in July 2009 caused the death of more than 700 people and the destruction of public buildings, churches, mosques and schools in the northern states of Bauchi, Yobe, Kano and Borno. Most of the relevant figures within the group were arrested or killed, included Yusuf. The movement was considered dead by analysts and politicians.
One year later, however, Abukabar bin Muhammad Shekau, Yusuf’s former deputy, re-launched the group through an al-Qaeda style video, defiantly stating that “Jihad has just begun.” Then Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, emir of al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) explained during an interview that AQIM was about to provide Boko Haram with weapons and training in order to obtain “strategic depth” in South Saharan Africa and to “defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of crusaders”.
Leading up to President’s Goodluck Jonathan decision to seek a full term in 2010 (after replacing president Yar’Adua), Boko Haram had attacked a prison, freeing 100 of its fellow militants and killed – with several IED (improvised Explosive Devices) – more than 80 Christians during Christmas Eve celebrations.
On June 14 2011 the group issued a statement in which it claimed a new brotherhood with the other African qaedist branch, al-Shebab: “Very soon, we will wage jihad…our jihadists have arrived in Nigeria from Somalia where they received real training on warfare from our brethren who made the country ungovernable”.
Boko Haram’s international relations introduce to the issue of funds. Part of the group’s activities have been financed by robbing hundreds banks. The “spoils’ of war” total amount would be, according to some , around four million pounds. However, the support of Saudi Arabia, through AQIM and al- Shebab is more than a hypothesis. A Nigerian investigation which lead to the arrest of many Boko Haram’s prominent figures has uncovered a source of funding in the “Islamic World Society”, based in Saudi Arabia. It is certain there are also conspicuous contributions from Nigeria northern governors. “Most of the Northern governors pay us monthly to leave their states alone” said Boko Haram’s spokesmen Saidu Umar aka Usman Al Zawahiri. It is alleged that, for example, Kano’s governor Ibrahim Shekarau’s administration in Kano reached in 2004 an agreement with Boko Haram for a five million monthly contribution, which has now risen to ten million.
Among those arrested and charged for having assisted the extremist militia there is Mohammed Ali Ndume, federal senator for the People’s Democratic Party. Almost certain, yet difficult to prove, are contributions from Muslim figures and communities, especially in Europe.
In 2012 Boko Haram’s control of northern regions became so thorough and pervasive to force the central government to initiate peace talks. On May 14, 2013, president Goodluck Jonathan ordered “Operation restoring order”, a massive military offensive in three northern states, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
In a year, hundreds have been the victims of the Boko Haram attacks. Only few weeks ago, on May 5, Boko Haram assaulted the twin towns of Gamboru and Ngala in Borno state. They shot down anyone who tried to resist. The final death toll was 336.
With the girls’ abduction Boko Haram and its charismatic leader Muhammad Shekau eventually reached global attention. American Special reconnaissance airplanes and intelligence are supporting the Nigerian armies hunt for the group. “Boko Haram is no longer the local terror group with some regional sentiment that started in Nigeria in 2002 to 2009. From 2009 to date, it has changed and is operating clearly as an al-Qaeda organisation. It can better be described as an al-Qaeda in West and Central Africa”, president Goodluck Jonathan said on May 17 in Paris, during a summit with other five African states, the EU and US. An unprecedented war against the group has been launched.
But leaders of the west must remember that poverty and injustice have always been the origin for every form of fundamentalism. In Nigeria most of the 168 million people live with less than 1 dollar per day. Nigeria is the largest African economy, especially thanks to an oil business that enriches western societies and greases the palms of corrupt officials.