The situation in northern Nigeria has become worse. In some ways the situation can be likened to genocide. Genocide can be defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group. Acts of genocide have occurred at different times in the history of mankind. Most notable was the gruesome extermination of six million Jews and others (homosexuals, children, blacks, Jehovah Witnesses) in 1944 by Adolf Hitler.
Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide defines the crime as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,” such as killing members of the group, causing serious bodily harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another.
In the Nigerian case, a notorious group called Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden,” seeks to impose strict Islamic law across Nigeria. To achieve this, the group began the systematic extermination of Christian institutions. Since 2009, the group has targeted police stations and other government buildings, churches and schools. Hundreds of people have died in the attacks, and if the killings should continue unchecked, the nation will descend into anarchy with clashes between Christians and Muslims.
Viewed as a political problem, the federal government has largely tried to negotiate the peace of 160 million people with a minority terrorist organisation. The President and even a former military president have been quoted as saying that the Boko Haram threat would soon come to an end, but given Sunday, June 17 suicide bombings of three churches in the northern Nigerian states of Kaduna and Borno, it is very much the case that Boko Haram is on a mission indeed to rid the North of Christians and to make it ungovernable.
It is debatable whether the Nigerian situation would fall under the legal definition of genocide. But the residents of Kaduna, Makurdi, Jos and all the affected parts of the northern unrest most certainly would feel the huge disruption. They would know the pain and suffering attached to random loss of wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.
In 1994, in a small central African country called Rwanda, over 850,000 people were systematically wiped out for being Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Whilst the West struggled with the definition of genocide, the Interahamwe militia, an anti-Tutsi youth organisation, was unrestrained in their thirst for blood. The killings began in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. Most of the killings were done with machetes, clubs, or knives. Since the government had the names and addresses of nearly all Tutsis living in Rwanda, the killers could go door to door, slaughtering the Tutsis. Men, women and children were murdered. Since bullets were expensive, most Tutsis were killed by hand weapons, often machetes or clubs. Thankfully, the Nigerian situation is not as gruesome, but the boldness of Boko Haram is getting rather uncomfortable.
The reasons for each massacre have become complicated and blurred. Initially, the group was aggrieved with legally constituted authorities like the police and the fact that their leader was extra-judicially killed. To convey their grievance, they blew up schools, United Nations building, newspaper houses, churches, police stations to name a few, leaving corpses in their wake. Analysts have suggested that Boko Haram have festered because of the endemic poverty and the sharp difference between the rich and the poor. The Boko Haram message each time they strike is similar to another Rwanda: senselessly coordinated and calculated killings.
Innocent Christians are targeted and wasted in cold blood. The Boko Haram massacres lack justification and reason. Why would harmless Christians worshipping their God be targeted? Why would newspaper companies struggling in Nigeria’s harsh economic climate be targeted? Why would policemen who are only doing their jobs be targeted? It has never made any sense, and one must dare opine that anybody who sympathises with this organisation lacks the interest of the country at large. This includes the President and his cabinet, basically, for not doing enough to contain and end the violence. Nigeria’s intelligence units must already know those behind Boko Haram, they must already know their financiers and bankers. They are privy to this information and other such information that would bring a capture of these people. The state governors of the affected parts must know something. Sadly, they do nothing.
The recent bombing in Kaduna and parts of Borno suggests that Christians are the ones who bear the brunt of the wrath of this demonic terrorist group. Unfortunately, Christian youths carried out reprisal attacks all across Kaduna city, maiming and wounding many, thus compounding the problem. A national newspaper reported an attack on a photojournalist who was approaching the area to take photographs of the disturbed parts of the town. Another man, a 20-year-old woodchopper, narrated that ‘they’ nearly chopped of his hands, but for the timely intervention of a woman who pleaded with these thugs. Is this Nigeria? Where are we going? Outsiders, quite frankly, project a nation at war. The beginning of a civil war – who knows? But Nigerians, other than the routine denouncements of the bombings, are perhaps a bit too passive in seeking solutions to this embarrassing onslaught.
This writer toured northern Nigeria when she was much younger. She has evocative memories of fine roads, good hotels, an accommodating people, exotic Hausa accents, goat cheese, among others. The writer also lived in Kaduna for six months in the 1990s; Kaduna was the most beautiful city for literature and history of northern Nigeria. Sadly, this cosmopolitan city is disappearing. Is Kaduna now a war zone?
The fact that Boko Haram has not reached the southern parts of Nigeria should not suggest peace. Tragically, the preponderance of prayers has still not effectively ended the nightmare. Whilst political commentators, analysts and pundits debate non-existent government tactics in battling and containing the Boko Haram menace, Nigerians are largely unsafe when they go on Sundays to worship God in their churches. What remains unclear is if Muslims are also targeted on Fridays during or after their prayers.
For debate purposes, would Nigerian Muslims feel more involved if Christian youths mobilised themselves and decimated their sacred buildings also? We all know this would never happen, for Nigerian Christians are mainly pacifists who generally believe in the violent possession of the Kingdom of God but only in the spiritual sense of it. Many Christians would rather pray and ask God to fight their battles for them. But indications from Kaduna suggest a shift in the paradigm.
Recently after an emergency meeting in Enugu, no fewer than 30 different Igbo youth movements threatened to commence reprisal attacks on all northerners in the South-east if the federal government failed to checkmate the increasing spate of bombings of churches in the North. The simple truth is that if this threat is carried out, in no time the entire nation would be caught up. Communities could be set against each other and no telling what would happen next. The security of the country has failed and 160 million of us must stay alert till we subdue Boko Haram by our collective will, or till Boko Haram wins (God forbid!).