Terrorism, Conflict and Violence in Islamic Northeastern Nigeria

The Nigerian Army has pledged to “strangulate” Boko Haram terrorists for good in the Northeast part of the country.

Brigadier General Abdul Khalifa Ibrahim, general commanding officer of the region, said last month that new military strategies will be aimed at “forcing [Boko Haram] to surrender”. This news came a week after the Second Republic Lawmaker, Mr Junaid Mohammed, declared the war against Boko Haram to be badly run by the Nigerian army.

“If officers and men don’t believe in the task of fighting insurgency or banditry, you cannot motivate them enough,” he said. “Secondly, if the morale is so low that soldiers went to the extreme extent of assaulting their officers, then you know there is something fundamentally wrong.

“The battle in the Northeast is not being won. The war must be fought, terrorism must be finished but it has not been finished. There is a fissile definition of fighting a terrorist organization: as long as they do not control any area, then they are finished. The Multi-National Joint Task Force has not addressed the issue and, if it has, it has not done it well.

“A lot of the problems we have, have their root not just in some banditry which somewhere springs up every day…We begin to see there has always been some lawlessness because this country is under policed, is under controlled by the army and other security services. The solution lies in one good, reasonable, reliable funding and provisioned government. Without that, there is nothing you can do.”

He emphasised that: “Politics have been completely commercialized and monetized and nobody sincerely believes in fighting the war against corruption. Indiscipline has become the norm”.

The UN Refugee Agency reported in February that Boko Haram attacks in the Northeast had left 35,000 Nigerians fleeing to Cameroon for refuge. There are now 240,000 Nigerian refugees in the Lake Chad Basin region of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. 2 million Nigerians have been internally displaced from their home in the Northeast.

It is not clear what Islamic sector Boko Haram allegiances to, although Professor of Religious Studies, specializing in Islam, Dr David Cook of Rice University, has written that the terrorists’ use of suicide bombers is similar to tactics used by al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Nigeria’s Long-Standing History with Islam

Northern Nigeria’s relationship with Islam dates back at least 800 years. In 1999, Nigeria swore in its first democratically elected president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo, a Christian, broke a long succession of Northern Muslim military heads of states in post-independence Nigeria. The predominantly Muslim Northern states imposed Sharia Law to unite the formerly duelling Sufi and Salafi Muslims who feared the Christianization of Nigeria.

By the end of the 2010s, Nigeria’s Federal Government and army were at war with two opposing Islamic factions who also idealised Islamic domination.

Despite court rulings asking for the release of Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government continues to detain him, claiming that El-Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) aims to turn Nigeria into an Islamic State.

In a counter-affidavit filed against El-Zakzaky’s group, the IMN, the Nigerian Federal Government claimed:

“The IMN views itself as a government and Sheikh El-Zakzaky as the only legitimate source of authority in Nigeria, and it does not recognise the authority of the Nigerian government, and views its leaders both Muslims and Christians as corrupt and ungodly.

“That the Islamic Movement in Nigeria began with a Shia Muslim university activist, Ibrahim El- Zakzaky, who become so impressed with the 1979 Iranian Revolution that he wanted one at home (Nigeria).

“That later, El-Zakzaky went to Iran, ultimately becoming a Shia cleric.

“That after he returned home, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky formed the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and turned it into a vehicle for proselytising and gaining followers in the 1990s.

“That till date, Sheikh El-Zakzaky enjoys the support of Iran in all the activities of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, including an agenda to make Nigeria an Islamic state.

“That as a result of El-Zakzaky movement’s activities, many Muslim youths have converted to Shia Islam of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.

“That the main aim of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria is to propagate the ideology in Iran and turn the country (Nigeria) into an Islamic state as was done in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.”

El-Zakzaky has, conversely, been championed by Shia Rights Watch. The advocacy group argues that El-Zakzaky is a victim of the government’s systematic anti-Shiistic discrimination. In a press release, it wrote:

“The brutal lack of justice against Shia Muslims in Nigeria brings the credibility of the State into question. Injustice is apparent in the prosecution of Zakzaky’s case as evidence is lacking and there is inconsistency within the governments judicial and executive actions,” and that “Nigeria is home to one of the fastest-growing populations of Shia Muslims in the African region. Despite the government’s attempts to thwart such growth, more Nigerian nationals have turned towards the religion. Discrimination against Shia Muslims has only made it clear that the Nigerian state thrives on inequality and injustice. Further, anti-Shiism has reduced the peoples trust towards their government.”