The notorious Islamic sect popularly called Boko Haram appears unstoppable on its path to creating further anarchy in the country as it launches sporadic attacks on different places, often throwing the security into disarray
Segun Tijani, 23, had hoped to pursue his Higher National Diploma at the Kano State Polytechnic later this year. That was not to be, as he became one of the victims of the tragic strike by the Boko Haram, the militant Islamic sect that set the hitherto peaceful Kano City on fire recently. He was shot in the chest while returning home from Sabon Gari to Dakata. Tijani was identified at the Bompai police station the next day by the Chelsea Football Club jersey he wore. Basil Ibe, another victim, a 45-year-old family man, was shot while trying to escape from his office after Boko Haram stormed the Farm Centre near his office. He was hit in the chest and head.
The relatives of Femi Akin, a pastor of the Celestial Church of Christ, will live with the trauma of that day for a long time to come. They had hoped that Akin was returning to them before nightfall that Black Friday. He was also in Sabon Gari area when the anarchists came calling, and had called his family to warn them to stay indoors. He called his mother-in-law, after he thought the shoot-out had subsided, to say he was coming home. After the call, he stopped answering his calls and nothing was heard from him again. Unknown to them, the father of three had been shot in the chest while rushing home to his family. They got to know the next day when a police officer picked the call and informed his family that his corpse was at the mortuary of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
Among the police personnel killed was Ayuba Aliyu, a corporal, who was shot point blank in front of his residence at Bompai police barracks. Aliyu got married six months ago and his wife was expecting his baby. Stephen, his elder brother who was among mourners at the Christian Cemetery, described his death as “a painful loss,” and asked the government to “beef up security.”
Kano, in fact the whole country, has been thrown into shock and mourning since Friday January 20 when members of Boko Haram hit the city with multiple bombings and rapid gunfire shortly after the Muslim afternoon prayers around 4.30pm. For nearly two hours, gunshots and the sound of explosives rented the air and the impact was felt in all parts of the city. Security agencies and residents say the attacks were well coordinated and planned to take the city by surprise.
At the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, Zone 1, along Bayero University Road, a suicide bomber drove his car into the premises and detonated his arsenal a few metres away from the office of Abubakar Mohammed, the assistant inspector-general, AIG, of police in charge of the zone. The explosion blew off the roof and shook the one-storey building to its foundation. The AIG was said to have jumped through the window, and in the process sustained injuries. The explosion killed and injured some of the policemen said to be on duty.
A second suicide bomber, obviously detailed to take out the family and residence of the AIG, rammed his car into the house located in Bompai. But the wife and children of the AIG had already escaped through the exit door before the bomb exploded.
At the same time, the headquarters of the NPF, Kano State Command, came under furious fire. Some members of the sect believed to have prayed in the mosque located inside the premises of the police barracks opened fire on the congregation and residents of the barracks shortly after the prayers. Simultaneously, police stations at the Farm Centre, Ungwar Uku, and several other places in the metropolis came under fire.
The third suicide bomber expected to take out the headquarters of the State Security Services, SSS, in Ginginyun also crashed his car into the walls of the office after security men guarding the office fired him to a stop. As the police later confirmed, one officer was killed in the explosion. The Nigeria Immigration Services office at the Farm Centre in the GRA was also attacked.
The attacks happened at a time when most civil servants were returning from work. Residents who were still in offices or in markets were forced to close and rush home. There was indescribable fear and panic that residents say the city had never witnessed. The rush to escape from fear led many to their death.
Scores were caught in the fierce firefight between security agencies and the insurgents, and many were felled by stray bullets. A survivor told the magazine that some men in police uniforms opened fire on them and killed several people. He said he could not remember how he escaped. This testimony gives credence to claims by the police that some members of the sect wore police and military uniforms during the attacks. This could also be a confirmation of the claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the security had been infiltrated by the sect. Apart from that, it suggests that some of the casualties may have been tricked to their death by the uniforms adorned by the sect members.
Last Monday, the police put the casualty figures at 186, but many believe the official figure is very conservative. Out of this number, 150 of them were civilians trapped in the crossfire. 29 police officers, three SSS, three immigration officers, one customs officer and one journalist were also confirmed killed.
The Kano State government described the tragic incident as unprecedented and said it was shocked at the magnitude, timing and coordination of the attacks. Umar Jibrin, the state commissioner for information, who said the government was taken by surprise, said the killings were unfortunate. The Kano Emirate was no less shocked by the turn of events in a state that had seen relative peace in recent years. Ado Bayero, the venerable Emir of Kano, could not hide his shock and disappointment when President Jonathan paid him a condolence visit the day after the attacks. The emir broke down in tears.
Kassim Ibrahim, one of the imams recently turbaned by the emir, told the magazine that the emir considered the attacks as “unbelievably callous and wicked,” and he was even saddened more that they were carried out by people claiming to be Muslims. Ibrahim said many of the civilians killed during the attacks were indigenes of the state that had shops close to police stations. He said the number of those killed was far higher than the police claimed.
As at last week, the security agencies were still discovering undetonated explosives parked in vehicles in different parts of the city. At least 10 of such vehicles were recovered at various points by security men. Security has also been beefed up in the metropolis, especially around police formations. By Tuesday last week, when security men raided the home of one Uzairu Abba Abdullahi, said to be a sponsor of the sect, in Tsammiya Boka area of Kano, they were welcomed with gunshots. During the gun duel that lasted between 1.30am and 5.30am, the man said to be a textile merchant was killed along with his pregnant wife. These incidents further put the security on the alert that danger was more palpable, perhaps, than they had imagined. Roads leading to all police stations in the town have been barricaded, and residents no longer have free access to the stations. The same air of insecurity hangs precariously on other parts of the country, even in the southern part, where residents fear that the attacks could spread. That is despite assurances by the security apparatus that they are capable of putting the crisis under control.
The fears are not without reason. Prior to the attack on Kano, Boko Haram had threatened to carry out what they called “mother of all bombings.” The group had circulated leaflets weeks before the attack warning it would strike the city unless security agencies released their members in detention. The security agencies must have dismissed the warning as scare tactics, and so dropped their guard.
But Ibrahim Idris, the state commissioner of police, who said that 158 suspected members of the sect had been arrested after the last attack, told the magazine that all security agencies took “necessary measures” to put the security situation under control. He said going by the number of arms and bomb-laden vehicles recovered from fleeing Boko Haram insurgents, the attack could have been worse but for the vigilance of police.
On the contrary, Nigerians believe that if the casualty rate was that high despite preparations by the security, then there is cause for alarm. Thus, the people see the scale of the recent attack on Kano as a signal that Nigeria may be heading down the precipice. Churches, businesses and drinking parlours have been targeted and attacked by the sect in different parts of the North, leading to the death of hundreds of people, including women and children. Yet the sect appears unwilling to ceasefire. For instance, while the President was condoling with the people of Kano, the sect members were having a field day in Bauchi State, another area that had been afflicted by the sect in the course of their deadly adventure. That attack led to the death of two soldiers, one police officer and eight civilians. It also damaged two church buildings located in a rural community at the Tafawa Balewa Local Government, LG area of the state.
In states like Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe and Adamawa where the sect had wreaked havoc on the people, large numbers of non-indigenes have continued to leave for other states considered safer. Many have sent their families down to their states for fear of attacks. The talk in town, even among prominent citizens of the country, is that the activities of Boko Haram are threatening the unity of the country. But areas hitherto considered safe are also experiencing attacks, bringing about an exodus with the attendant effect on affected families and people of different ethnic nationalities who have long been friends. For instance, Isaiah Iguhi, an indigene of Benin City, Edo State, has lived in northern Nigeria for the past 15 years. But he was forced to relocate to Benin recently, following the upsurge of violence in the North. He had worked in Jos, Plateau State, until 2008 when the crisis in the state compelled him to move to Abuja in the belief that the Federal Capital Territory was safe. But with the growing insecurity in the North generally, he was forced to return to his native land. What with the Christmas Day bombing of St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State.
By the time Iguhi realised that it was no longer safe to live in the northern part of the country, he had lost some friends to the crisis. His words: “Some of my friends were killed when the main market in (Kafanchan) was razed to the ground by hoodlums. Those who managed to escape did not take away anything from the place, except the shirt and trousers they were wearing at the time of the incident. Kafanchan Market is dominated 98 per cent by the Igbos. Since then many of them have been forced to return to their states of origin.”
Iguhi is married with two children, aged 12 and 14, but he had to leave his wife, who is a native of Plateau State, behind in the crisis-ridden state. “My wife is employed by the state government as a health worker, that is why I had to leave her behind in Jos,” he told the magazine. Since he returned to Benin, he has resorted to petty trading to feed himself and the two children.
Those who are left behind live in uncertainty. Such persons’ fears are made real when situations like that of Kano and Bauchi occur, particularly when the dead are buried, as it happened in Kano last week, when the crowd at the Christian Cemetery wept uncontrollably as the undertakers lowered the corpses into their graves. Or at the mortuary of the Kano State Specialist Hospital, where the corpses were taken for mass burial at the cemetery on the northern outskirts of the metropolis. In situations like that disconsolate relatives could hardly be consoled with injunctions from the holy books that such incidents be taken with faith. The implication is that the country may just be sitting on a keg of gunpowder. That is why there have been calls on leaders in the area to cooperate with the authorities in the efforts to put an end to civil strife and the activities of the sect in the North.
Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has repeatedly asked Muslim leaders to call Boko Haram to order to show they are not in support of its activities. And Muslim leaders in the country, including Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto, have continued to reassure their Christian counterparts that Nigerian Muslims were not at war with them, and that the activities of Boko Haram were contrary to Islamic teachings. When the attacks became persistent, Oritsejafor told his followers to defend themselves. And in a television interview last week, the CAN leader said, contrary to insinuations that he was inciting Christians against Muslims, what he meant was not for Christians to revenge, but to protect themselves to avoid falling prey to attacks all the time.
Some critics point out that the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, the umbrella socio-cultural organisation for northern Nigeria, also appeared not to have gone beyond media appeals to the sect. Leaders of ACF have individually and collectively made repeated appeals to Boko Haram to sheathe their swords, but their words do not appear to carry much weight. That was probably why the forum organised a peace conference last year to address the security challenges posed by Boko Haram.
There were speeches at the occasion, which was attended by all the northern state governors and Namadi Sambo, the vice president, on how to stop the violence and bring peace to the region. Blames were laid at the appropriate quarters and responsibilities for action put at the tables of the political leaders. But months after, the state governors seemed to have put the conference behind them and moved on to other matters.
Babangida Aliyu, governor of Niger State and chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, recently advocated another conference to address the challenge of insecurity in the country. Aliyu, who spoke after the Madalla Christmas Day bomb blast, said “a security summit” was needed to address the problems. But many are of the opinion that the solutions to the challenge do not require much talk, but action, especially on the part of political leaders.
However, some are of the opinion that critics of the seeming silence of the North over the Boko Haram crisis were being unfair to northern leaders. They say members of the sect were not like Niger Delta militants who have addresses and were known to the people. One of those in this school of thought is Magaji Abdullahi, former deputy governor of Kano State. He told the magazine that the biggest problem northern leaders face over Boko Haram is identifying the leadership of the group.
“They are not like Niger Delta militants who had identifiable warlords and militia. People even knew where they were. But these ones cannot be identified. They live in the community; they belong to all professions and are everywhere just like the President said. It is a very serious phenomenon that requires a lot of tact and patience to deal with. The leadership of the North has no form of contact with Boko Haram. And that is the mistake people from other parts of the country make; they think we control them and can tell them what to do.” He is right. Kabiru Sokoto, the alleged Boko Haram leader now at large and Abdullahi (Uzairu), both graduates, lived among the people, engaging in legitimate ventures and unsuspected by the people that they could have been sympathetic to the militant sect. How many of them are still in the society? Thus the fear is that your neighbour or colleague, unknown to you, may be a potential bomber.
So what then is the way forward, and what does it take to stop Boko Haram? None of those who spoke to the magazine in Kano could give an easy response to the question. Most believe what is required is the political will on the part of the federal and state governments in the North to tackle the problem. The way forward, many say, is for government to find ways of reaching the leadership of the sect with a view to discussing whatever problems they may have had with the government.
Abdullahi said a more realistic way was to begin by mobilising community leadership in the North to intervene. He urged state governors in the North to mobilise community leaders in order to resolve the problem. He said most of the boys must have passed through local almajiri schools and as such could be identified by their former teachers and ward leaders. “The first step is for us to engage community leaders who know these boys to talk to them, and get them to embrace peace,” he told the magazine. The former deputy governor may have hit the bull’s-eye. The escape of Sokoto is said to have been facilitated by an army of youths coordinated by the son of a local chief in Abaji. The chief’s son is said to be a close friend of Sokoto, known as a textile dealer at a shop beside one private clinic in the town. The security agencies may have got reports that the youths used by Sokoto’s friend are also believed to be responsible for the breaking of oil pipelines in the area. The suspect, along with his friends, is said to be a member of the Izala sect, a sub-group of Boko Haram, whose members are identified by the Osama bin Laden type of beard and harem trousers.
But in response to the agitation by some northern leaders, including ACF that government should negotiate with the sect’s leaders, officials of President Jonathan’s administration argue that the situation is not in any way similar to that of the Niger Delta, because as Abdullahi said, members of Boko Haram are not known. Thus the administration seems to favour the military option. That is why it has sent soldiers to states where the activities of Boko Haram have been most pronounced. He also declared state of emergency in 15 LGs across five states in the North, asked the insurgents to come out of hiding and negotiate with government. The President appeared willing to talk even though Azubuike Ihejirika, the Chief of Army Staff, said last week, at a seminar organised by the alumni association of the National Defence College that “no matter and whatever the measures you put in place, we will not get the best result through negotiation, unless the society as a whole rejects terrorism without any justification.”
Certainly there are some people who disagree with the military option. Olusegun Obasanjo, former president and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is one of them. Obasanjo said long ago that the military was not equipped to fight a faceless enemy, and a combination of dialogue was what was needed.
Obasanjo had taken the dialogue initiative and by going to Maiduguri to meet with the family of Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of Boko Haram, killed extra-judicially in 2009. But his effort failed because Babakura Fugu, Yusuf’s in-law and the man who hosted the former president, was also killed shortly after the visit, this time by people believed to be aggrieved members of the sect. So if members of the sect would not embrace negotiation and the security agencies appear unable to tackle them, does that not imply that Nigerians will continue to live under the bangs of explosives and bombs, like it has become a way of life in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Maybe there is a way out. Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, who helped Obasanjo broker the meeting with Yusuf’s family, told the magazine last week that he was planning another intervention. Sani, who is popular among northern youths due to his radical views, said he was making contacts with northern leaders to see how they can bring a stop to the slide into chaos.
He said: “I am talking to leaders in the North and we’re hoping that our effort again would succeed. But the problem is that when you are not in government, you may not have the resources to do this kind of thing the way it should be done. I don’t have anything to offer them, so it is not an easy task but we’ll try. And I hope that very soon, these attacks would stop.”
But there is still palpable fear in the land, especially in those vulnerable northern states, where residents are still apprehensive that the worst may not be over yet. The result is that many non-indigenes have started relocating their families. Those who chose to remain said they could not just leave their businesses or work and go. Ransome Bello, a bishop and the Kano State chairman of CAN, told the magazine that residents were still “horrified” at the level of violence unleashed on Kano by Boko Haram, and there was fear that Christians and churches could be the next target.
Bello said Christians were worried because Boko Haram had stated in their leaflets that they would attack security agencies and CAN. He said although no church had been reported attacked during the last violence, there was apprehension among the Christian community about the possibility of attacks on them. The fear is that Boko Haram may have planned to decimate the security first before taking on the Christians. “People are afraid to go to church because Boko Haram had warned that they would attack security agencies and CAN. So we want the government to beef up security and reassure the people that they are safe. Because anytime these people issue a threat, they carry it out,” the bishop pleaded.
Top hierarchy of the nation’s security agencies and many prominent Nigerians have said several times that the attacks were not a declaration of war on Christians, but an insurgency by a group with satanic intentions.
Oluseyi Petinrin, the Chief of Defence Staff, supported this argument when he disclosed last week that 91 per cent of those killed in the Kano blasts were innocent Muslims. He said that would confirm that it was not a Muslim versus Christian attacks. Rabiu Kwankwaso, Kano State governor, also told the magazine that most of those killed in Kano were indigenes of the state, stressing that the violence should not be given religious colouration. Kwankwaso who said his administration was concerned about the lives of everybody regardless of faith, said: “Fifty per cent of our spending now is on security, so we’re working very hard to make everyone safe,” he declared.
Despite the governor’s assurances, residents of the city, especially non-indigenes, have expressed concern about the state of security since he took over as governor last year. Before Boko Haram struck, the Kano State government house had been attacked by hoodlums at least twice. The last time was during the protest against removal of fuel subsidy when hundreds of people attacked the Government House, breaking down the approximately 1 kilometre long fence.
The opposition parties are feasting on the attacks as a sign of disconnect between the administration and the people. The All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, led by Ibrahim Shekarau, immediate past governor of the state, which has had a running battle with the Kwankwaso government, has accused the administration of handling the security of the state with levity.
Sule Yau, Shekarau’s spokesman, told the magazine in an interview that Kwankwaso has abandoned the security policy of the former administration, which made it possible to have eight years of relative peace in the state. According to Yau, who said some of the strategies could not be disclosed publicly, stressed that the security policy revolved around consultations with all segments of the people of the state.
It is widely believed that one of the reasons for the peace during Shekarau’s eight-year rule was his relationship with the Kano clerics, especially the Council of Ulamas, noted for their influence among the largely Muslim indigenes of the state. Shekarau brought many of them into government through the Sharia Commission, and was generous with their funding. Hundreds of idle youths in the state were also employed as Hisbah guards, monitoring compliance of residents with relevant provisions of the Sharia as proclaimed by the state.
But the Kwankwaso administration has cut down funds going to the clerics, citing lack of funds. The magazine was reliably informed that most of the allowances formerly enjoyed by the clerics have been drastically reduced and the Sharia Commission downsized. The magazine learnt that the Shekarau administration doled out close to a N100 million monthly to the commission, but they now get less than N10 million monthly.
The influence of the Ulamas was underscored by the Boko Haram before the attacks when it said that though it had been held back from attacking Kano by the Ulamas, its patience had been exhausted. But Jibrin said claims of a rift between the government and the Ulamas was a mischievous lie being spewed by political opponents of Kwankwaso. He said the Kwankwaso administration enjoyed a cordial working relationship with Muslim and Christian clerics in the state. He said the cut in the budget of both the Sharia commission and the Ulamas was not a punitive measure but part of efforts to cut the cost of governance.
He said: “My allowances were also cut. It was done across the board. The governor also cut his own allowances. Look, we’re in an austere period and we cannot live the way Shekarau lived; we can’t afford to do. Otherwise we would not have achieved what we have done in the last eight months.” Issues like this put a question mark on the agitation by members of Boko Haram, who claim to be fighting for the sanctity of Islam. That also raises fear as to whether there could ever be an end in sight.
Additional report by RAYMOND MORDI