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August 5, 2014
African Voice
The Boko Haram Nightmare in Nigeria
by Imo Eshiet

While teaching at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia, I received a note from an assistant to the college president. Could I stop by her office after class, she asked?

Since President Smith interacted freely with faculty and students, I thought maybe he had time to chat. Professor Smith was radically different from university presidents I had worked with previously.

Before now I had taught in colleges and universities in Nigeria from 1983 to 2007, when I fled the country. During my first year of teaching at a college of education in Western Nigeria, I had an encounter with the head of the institution that remains fresh in my memory.

I remember asking to see my principal to discuss some challenges and student-related affairs with him. After a long wait, I was ushered into his sprawling office.

As I walked in, the man sat facing me like a tin god. I introduced myself and since he made no gesture I extended him a handshake. At that point the man completely froze. When he recovered, he let out a freakish yell, whereupon his secretary came rushing in.

He said something in Yoruba to her, and the assistant whispered for me to prostrate before my colleague. In the East where I was raised, respecting our elders was norm and ancestor worship part of our traditional religion, but deifying a man while he was still alive was unheard of.

Although Nigeria has had centuries of contact with the West, yet some outmoded indigenous traditions still sit pretty like a boulder on the people. More than four decades of military dictatorship only helped to worsen a native culture of repression. It further encouraged among other things, a punishing retrogression including fawning in order to obtain favors.

Worse, governments at both the state and federal levels turned a blind eye to the separation of religion from the state. Governments especially in Northern Nigerian actively used state funds to sponsor pilgrimages to Mecca. Meanwhile welfare, education, and health got scant attention.

Before 1967, when the civil war in the country began, governments there had abandoned their responsibilities and instead promoted religious bigotry in order to divert attention from their failings. By choking vital aspects of development, northern Nigerian politicians made the idea of modern practices a particularly hard sell. By promoting bigotry, the politicians made it difficult for their people to live in harmony with others.

Stuck in the rut of uncreative thinking, the Nigerian North thus became a warren of terror. I learned early just how virulent that kind of situation can get. Living in a border town between the East and the North, I was brutally traumatized seeing beheaded and mangled bodies brought home from the North in open trucks for burial. These easterners were victims of tribal and religious violence commonplace in the North.

When I got to the U.S., I thought I was free from the haunting horror on my mind. That afternoon, when President Smith asked me to come over to her office, I knew I could run but not hide from the news and sights of those daily violated by the unending outrage in northern Nigeria.

It turned out I was not invited for a free lunch with President Smith. A student had just arrived from Nigeria and, being the only African faculty there, I was asked to help the student adjust to her new environment.

From the student, I learned that her father was Southern Christian who had served in the military in northern Nigeria. She narrated how her schoolmates on occasions used red-hot metals used to mark cattle to brand her. Her only crime was she was Christian.

Asked how her parents reacted, she said they were happy she escaped alive while others were slaughtered. Her mates got away with the crime because killing or inflicting harm on Christians there is a long established tradition.

I shuddered with bad memory.

While bloodletting was occasional, now it is so frequent that people have come to accept it as the new reality. Boko Haram, currently the deadliest offspring of a long-running series of groups that commit atrocities, is hardening aspects of a culture screaming for change.

Rabid misogyny, beheadings, kidnap, floggings, stoning and executions have all resurfaced with fury. Bombings of churches crowded with worshippers are now common on Sundays.

The incentive for the killings is political Islam. The jihadists want to replace the Nigerian constitution with Islamic law. Since 2002, when Boko Haram was founded, more than four thousand people, most of them Christians, have lost their lives gruesomely to the insurgency.

Other than churches, schools are incessantly attacked by the fundamentalists. The jihadists extremely disdain Western education and show their implacable revulsion by burning down schools, killing students, and taking teachers and their wards hostage.

About three hundred girls kidnapped more than three months ago in a school are yet to regain freedom in spite of global outrage. It is worth remarking that most of the kidnapped girls are Christians.

Their kidnappers bragged they would sell the girls at $12 each and forcibly convert the rest to Islam. Hatred for Western education however does not preclude the militants’ use of weapons made in the West to prosecute their killings of infidels.

Also to underscore the warped reasoning driving the insurgency, rich Northern politicians while actively supporting Boko Haram, have no qualms sending their children to Western colleges and universities so they will acquire quality education.

This ensures that while many underprivileged youths are indoctrinated and recruited to serve as cannon fodder in the jihad, the children of the rich are safely tucked away from the war theater.

While some believe Boko Haram is the result of poverty and unemployment, the fact however, is the terror network is pretty much inspired by the Islamic fanaticism raging in the Middle East all the way across the Sahara to Nigeria. Though Boko Haram receives help from outside sources, it is also sponsored by notable Muslim politicians opposed to the present president of the country because he is a Christian and southerner.

It should be noted that out of 53 years of independence, Northern Nigerian politicians have held power for more than 38 years. Most of the northern leaders came to power through military coups. While in power, the corrupt leaders built empires for themselves through state funds budgeted for national and regional developments. This had the adverse effect of degrading the lives of the masses.

Sadly, the very victims of state neglect are now the pool from which sponsors of Boko Haram recruit their thugs and suicide bombers. Particularly worrisome now is the use of women as suicide bombers. The despicable practice further aggravates the prejudice against women already embedded in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria needs the help of global authorities to sanction backers of the terror network. Some of these are well known politicians with considerable wealth. Unless concerted efforts are made to arrest the jihadist terror in Nigeria, Christianity might become an endangered faith in the country.

Of equally dire consequence, what happened in Sudan, Nigeria’s northern neighbor might be child play given the diverse tribes and teeming population of the country.

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