Giving Militancy a Bad Name

Absolutely nothing surprises me anymore in Nigeria, that is, until the last two weeks, when Islamic fanatics rampaged all over the northern part of the country causing havoc, destruction of property, not to talk of the inevitable and unfortunate loss of lives that usually accompany such anarchy.

Actually, it was not the fact that a religious riot took place in that part of the country that surprised, it was the term “militant” that is now being used for the perpetrators of this anarchy that surprised me. Militants? Moslem or Islamic militants in the north? Get out of here!

Niger Delta Militants, the game is up. You are not the only genuine militants in Nigeria anymore. Give up your arms and militancy, accept the dubious amnesty from the Federal Government and tuck your heads in shame. The real militants, the one of a religious nature, are now here to stay. The northern “militants” have put you to shame and upstaged you in fighting for what you believe in.

I do not want to sound irreverent or unsympathetic to the struggle of the really genuine Niger Delta militant group (s), but there we have it.

Knowing how we easily adopt and adapt things in Nigeria, I will not be surprised if we now apply the term “militant” to every demonstration against the government that have, or will take place in Nigeria in the future. MASSOB, OPC and even the ACF (Arewa Consultative Forum) will soon become militants. Labour unions will not be exempted; ASUU, NURTW, NUT, NBA, NMA, Petroleum unions, etc, anytime they go on strike, will soon become known as militants. Trust me!

That is our lot.

So what does the word “militant” mean? According to Wikipedia, the word militant, which is both an adjective and a noun, comes from the 15th Century Latin “militare” meaning “to serve as a soldier”. The related modern concept of the militia as a defensive organization against invaders grew out of the Anglo-Saxon “fyrd”. In times of crisis, the militiaman left his civilian duties and became a soldier until the emergency was over, when he returned to his civilian occupation and life. Militant could be compared and contrasted to several other words such as activist, belligerent, combatant, rebel, crusader, demonstrator, vigilante, rioter, extremist, fundamentalist, mercenary, partisan, protester, and zealot.

Militancy is the state or condition of being combative or disposed to fight; the active championing of a cause or belief.

Incidentally, there is nothing socio-politically or morally wrong in engaging in some form of militancy to advance or fight humanitarian and political causes, such as that purportedly fought by the Niger Delta militants, but when it becomes religious, or those religious fanatics are classified as militants, such classification tend to give them some modicum of legitimacy and acceptability.

And this is my main thrust: (genuine) Niger Delta militancy must not be reduced to that of the northern religious fanatics, who find Western education and values as their main cause of militancy. It is a very dangerous recognition and acknowledgement.

In all the years of history of our religious riots, mostly in the extreme northern parts of Nigeria (and there are too many to mention here) never have I ever heard these fanatics referred to as “militants”. Militating (to have an influence, especially a negative one, on something) against what?

Let us call a spade a spade and hit the nail on the head: Islam or Sharia is not the cause of this militancy in the north, or for that matter in the Niger delta or anywhere else it may happen in Nigeria; the fundamental causative agents are failure of political leadership and corruption and underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education. “Even established leaders of Islam in the north, who condemn Yusuf’s preaching, are aware of how government has failed Nigeria’s young,” Jean Herskovits, Research Professor of History at the State University of New York, wrote in Foreign Affairs. “What has Western education done for them lately? For that matter, what have other Nigerian institutions, all easily seen as Western-inspired, done for them?”

As Salisu Suleiman wrote in of 28 July 2009, “For most, the recent carnage in Bauchi was just another case of Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ or Muslim intolerance, but in reality, the outburst of violence is an explosion of pent up grievances, especially as hunger and unemployment create fertile grounds for unrest. Just as government neglect of the Niger Delta has spurned the militants to military action, the same issues have ignited anger and the mindless violence that was seen in Bauchi. Religion proved a convenient umbrella for what is in essence, a manifestation of government insensitivity. How many jobs would have been created by the estimated ? 3 billion spent on the marriage of Bauchi’s Governor Yuguda to Turai’s daughter?

The so called Islamic fundamentalists in the north of Nigeria – Boko Haram (no to western education) are in reality disaffected young men failed by the inability of the Nigerian state to provide a decent standard of living for its teeming number of unemployed youths”.

Unfortunately for us, when religious riots break out in the north, we not only fail to probe deeper into the fundamental causes, but we completely ignore the problems, leaving them unaddressed. We tend to see it as a religious issue only. Why, for example, don’t we have religious riots in the south-western part of the country, where there seems to be an equal number of Christians and Moslems, both fighting for some kind of supremacy? Comparatively, how many religious riots have we had in Ilorin and its environs, which is certainly one of the bastions of Islamic religion in Nigeria? In Ibadan alone, there are probably more Moslems than Christians, but I have not seen or heard of attacks on each other since growing up in this multi-religious city, historically known for its, you guessed it, militancy in every aspect of the word.

The reason is not far fetched. There is hardly any family in the south-west that is not composed of both Christians and Moslems and even the indigenous African traditional religion. My own immediate and extended families are composed of both religions, not to talk of numerous friends, classmates, colleagues, etc. I cannot imagine myself taking up arms against them because of our religious differences, if indeed there is a difference.

Most Northern Nigerian politicians rode to power and cling to the same thing by using the vehicle of religion. Yet, there is not one iota of adherence to Islamic principles in their lives or mode of governance. They are not bothered about the well being of the people they govern. They only continue to acquire wealth for themselves and their immediate families, and this is from the blood, sweat and land of the Niger Deltans. But let’s thank God that a new generation of Northern youths are seeing through the facade being presented by their leaders.

Hear one progressive Northern youth, Umar Mukhtar, on Facebook,”If northern governors want to practice Islam the way Mallam Yusouf (May His Soul Rest In PEACE) and Ahli Sunnah preaches then this Country would have turned to Another Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and a host of others (But I pray we do not come to that). But because they used Religion to acquire political and economic Power, they shall be used as firewood for JAHANAMA. I was opportune to meet about 4 serving Governors and some prominent Northern Federal figures during Lesser Hajj in 2007 during prayer session at Medina. You will be surprise the way they stick to the Holy place of worship but back home they are wors

t than the real ENEMY of ISLAM and God SHALL expose them soon“

But typical non-truth-telling Nigerians that we are, or rather, typical evasive Northern Governors that we have, the blame for this rampage has been spread. Nobody will of course admit collusion or negligence or take the blame. The Northern Governors blamed The Nigeria Immigration Service for allowing foreigners into the country via the porous northern boundaries. This is one of the most inane, curious and ludicrous excuses ever heard. Poverty and poor governance not only opens up a very large space for such uprisings and extremism, but also the complacency and cynicism of some of those in elected office,” said Nigeria expert Antony Goldman. The upper echelons of the civil service and military are full of northerners but the private sector aristocracy — oil, banking, telecoms and trading moguls — are largely southerners, leaving parts of the north feeling economically marginalised.

The following The Guardian Editorial comment (11 August 2009) about sums up our problems: “Nigerians are angry and not just because of Boko Haram. Following massively flawed polls, Nigerians have little respect for their ‘elected’ representatives. In a real sense these legislators lacking in legitimacy have found themselves incapable of addressing the needs of Nigerians. As a result the country lacks infrastructure. Our roads are bad. There is no working railway. Education and health are in crisis. There is hardly any electricity. Many industries have been closed down or they are relocating. There is corruption. The Niger Delta is a hornets’ nest of rebellion. There is serious unemployment. Security is often lacking. The majority of our people live in abject poverty while a small cabal of corrupt and indolent public officials live in unspeakable opulence. To add religious restiveness into the mix of Nigeria’s problems may just be the straw that will break the camel’s back”.

It is no gainsaying or exaggeration that we are running an extremely bad government, with no respect or responsibility to the people. Political leaders take power either by force or through political rigging, and wave it in our faces. They also use us, such as the Boko Haram, to subjugate us and divert our attention away from the real problems, which they, incidentally, helped to create or created deliberately.

Sharia and Militancy
The use of Sharia and other Islamic codes is not unique to Nigeria. Sharia, the Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran and the ways of the Prophet Mohammed, is a source of law for many Muslim nations. Sharia is largely a personal code of conduct, but its tenets govern every aspect of Muslim life from financial to political to legal. Meanwhile, Islamist movements call for supplanting secular law and governance entirely with Sharia, a particularly difficult issue in nations, such as Pakistan and Somalia, riven by political turmoil, conflict, and areas of lawlessness.

Sharia in the Muslim world is often associated with good governance. A 2008 Gallup poll of Muslims in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt found Sharia is “perceived to promote the rule of law and justice.” Most Muslim-majority countries have political systems and legal codes derived from Western models. However, many of these countries have majority populations that are economically or politically depressed. In some nations, Sharia’s use is confined to narrow questions of religion and morality, in others it is the underpinning of legislation, and in still others it is the basis for all criminal and civil law. Unlike secular jurisprudence, instituting Sharia in practice encompasses civil and criminal law meted out by religious clergy. Experts say that in regions where greater use of Sharia laws and courts recently have been instituted, such as Nigeria’s North and Indonesia’s Aceh Province, secular law and courts have acted as a buffer for some of Sharia’s harsher interpretations, such as stoning adulterers and cutting off the hands of thieves.

As an aside, in Nigeria, especially in the North, if the cutting off of hands for thieves is strictly adhered to, can you imagine how many political leaders will fall into this category? Is there any difference between the common pickpocket, the egregious armed robber and the Governor and legislators stealing public funds? Both are thieves, aren’t they?

A growing number of countries are struggling to find a balance between secular law and Sharia. And Sharia has become a rallying cry for Islamic militant movements seeking to show religious authenticity, thereby becoming a tool for extremism and for irresponsible politicians, as we often see in Nigeria. In troubled and failed states in particular, extremists often gain influence when they espouse what they tout as a purer–and harsher–form of Islam that includes bans on dancing, music, and education for girls and advocates punishments such as beheadings. Having said this, it is mostly and inevitably, militants and the irresponsible politicians and clerics who stoke their fire for entirely selfish political reasons, not average citizens, who benefit from the institution of Sharia.

So how do we engage extremism or Islamic militancy? Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria writes. “We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license.” Some also note that even extreme Islamic movements may moderate over time once they become part of a “stable political process”, in other words, political reforms and good governance is essential to engage Islamic militancy or extremism, and for that matter, any kind of militancy, including Niger Delta’s MEND, MASSOB, etc.

Thus the key words here are good governance, exceptional good leadership and focus, commitment to the ideals of democracy, sincerity of purpose, political reforms leading to a stable political process and environment, rule of law, fairness, justice and equality.

At present all these are lacking in our political and governance systems, due to the intransigence of our current crop of leaders, who continually refuse to change, even in the face of restiveness from all parts of the country. If we do not make any attempt to get rid of this evil clique, then there is no hope for us as a nation of diverse people, culture, religion and ethnicity.

Enough said.

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
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