The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, suggested, in an interview in the Financial Times (UK) last Friday, January 27, 2012, that the Boko Haram sect’s grouse against Nigeria could be mitigated or resolved by ‘some sort of Marshall Plan’ to help rebuild the economies of the North.In his view, the underlying cause of Boko Haram syndrome is poverty; and so, development of policies to alleviate poverty in the region could help combat the spread of violence by this sect. I have regard for Sanusi as I’ve always seen him as somebody who is highly intelligent, un-corroded by ambition, and a useful brain to have at the heart of government. By linking poverty in the North with violence, there are, therefore, good reasons for me to be concerned at what he has described as ‘un-even nature of distribution of resources’ between the northern and southern parts of the country.
For sure, bombs do not happen at random. They are delivered by people for reasons. ‘When you look at the figures and look at the size of the population in the north you can see there is a structural imbalance of enormous proportions,’ Sanusi further said. In truth, poverty can certainly fuel violence. For example, most countries that are struck by economic destitution often experience political violence. From Liberia and Sierra Leone to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are plenty of examples to draw on the causal relationship between poverty and violence. To consider a different set of events, it would be hard to dismiss the argument that the outbursts of violence in the United Kingdom in August 2011 had nothing to do with the economic inequality and social deprivation faced by the youths living in London and other big cities.
Yet the cause of violence is multi-faceted and must not be narrowed down to socio-economic deprivation alone. In a journal article entitled, ‘Violence, Identity and Poverty’ (2008), Amartya Sen, a professor of economics and philosophy, wisely cautions against using a single-factor explanation for poverty-violence relationship. Using Calcutta – one of the poorest cities in India, but with the lowest violent crimes in all Indian cities – as an example, Sen argues that claiming that poverty automatically leads to violence ‘draws on an oversimplification of empirical connections that are far from universal’ (p. 9). A clear indication of Sen’s argument, further buttressed in the same article by sound statistical data for different cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Dhaka, New York, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, is that violence is not universally associated with poverty and that it is, perhaps, contingent on many other factors, including political, social, cultural and religious circumstances of each country.
To single out religious circumstances, the incessant murderous attacks by the Boko Haram sect on individuals, churches, police stations and other targets in the country, to my mind, stem from fanaticism and reactionary religious thinking. There is no point responding that income growth and/or income redistribution to alleviate poverty will eventually get rid of violence. For even though the north is thought to lag behind the south by any measure of economic development, it is important to remember that mass poverty and unemployment blight the whole of the country. Discontent over poverty and inequality by any group from any part of the country does not in itself justify bombings and killing of hundreds of people, or provoking greater conflict in the country. To that extent, there is a legitimate reason for believing that the on-going Boko Haram’s appalling, gratuitous and indiscriminate violence goes beyond the impact of mass poverty and unemployment in the north.
For instance, Boko Haram sect styled itself Jamā’at Ahl al-Sunnah li Da’wah wa-l-Jihād (‘The Group of the People of Sunnah Call, and Jihad’) and claimed association with the North African branch of the worldwide militant Islamist terror group, al-Qaeda (The Base). The al-Qaeda, as we know, is not afflicted by pauperdom. Rather it draws heavily from the militant anti-Western teaching of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Sayyid Al-Qutb, who was executed in 1966 in Egypt for plotting to assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Abd Al-Nasser. And supposedly, Al-Qutb was the ideological godfather of Osama bin Laden who, of course, built his whole life on self-delusion and wishful thinking.
Regardless of whether Boko Haram’s association with al-Qaeda is authentic or not, the pitiless nature of the assaults on civilians by the sect is far more in keeping with the depraved record of al-Qaeda. Like al-Qaeda’s protracted harangues on many issues ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Israel and the Palestine, Boko Haram is content to draw on whatever alibis and excuses appeared convenient: if not poverty, then security agencies; if not security agencies, then Western education; if not Western education then the expulsion of all southerners, or — if all else fails — change of leadership at Aso Rock. The sect’s goal is clear—to impose a regime of darkness in the whole country!
Now, apart from a direct assault to disintegrate Boko Haram, what else can the Federal Government do to repulse the group’s onslaught?
Here is the answer: In discussing the relationship between the people and the irregular warriors (guerrillas), Mao, in On Guerrilla Warfare (2000), explains that ‘the former [i.e. people] may be likened to water [and] the latter [i.e. guerrillas] to the fish who inhabit it’ (pp. 92-93). That is to say like guerrillas, a militant group like Boko Haram that terrorises can also survive in the ‘water’ of people. Although members of the group and even its leaders may be caught or killed, as long as there are people who provide funds for the group or offer ‘ifs,’ ‘buts’ or other excuses to validate or implicitly support its terrorist acts, the group can exist indefinitely. My point here is that Boko Haram’s mosquitoes-like terrorism breeds in the swamp of people around them and, unless this swamp is drained, we may not entirely get rid of its terrorism. To the extent that just like the al-Qaeda’s militarisation of grievances was repulsed through a full arsenal of intelligence-gathering technologies and human sources by the West, Boko Haram is a mafia of murderous fanatics that must be hunted down by State Security Service and other intelligence agencies.
In truth, Boko Haram members are not from Mars, they live amongst us in the country. In this respect, President Goodluck Jonathan must invite religious leaders from the North (and the South possibly), to come together to demonstrate their rejection of acts of terrorism carried out in the name of their faiths. In that meeting, Jonathan must impress on those Muslim leaders from the North, in particular, to let the authentic message of Islam come best from them and must ring out through mosques, schools and community centres in the region. Also they must take a lead in ensuring that violence and extremism are evils that Nigeria must do without, albeit by being intolerant of intolerance within their midst. More importantly, they must look closely at what goes on in various madrassas (religious schools) scattered across the North, by making sure that children attending them are not being taught to hate those who do not share their common beliefs or asked to attack human differences, in violent forms rather than in discourses. The history of global madrassas requires that these messages must go out.
In another breadth, Sanusi, in an online article entitled, ‘The ‘True Believers’ and Anti-Intellectualism: The Opportunistic Roots of Neo-fundamentalist Criticism’ (2002), wrote that in the North the ‘Funds meant for social services go to finance trips for hajj and umrah, charity for those who offer prayers, money for setting up hisbah corps, conferences and conventions on shariah, newsletters for propaganda etc.’ This is the heart of the matter. For a veteran journalist, Alhaji Femi Abass, has reminded us all that ‘The Mosques in Makkah, Madinah, and Quds (Jerusalem) serve the same purpose as those in Cairo, Jakarta and Sydney. And, there is no difference between the Mosque in Sokoto and the one in Rio de Janeiro’ (The Nation, 26/08/2011). Why then is Saudi Arabia (or Israel) so much attracting an inordinate desire of Northern Muslim (or Southern Christian) elite who could squander huge resources as a result, while poorer members of the community are suffering deprivation? Is it for baraka (blessing)?
Here is the message: There is no place on earth that is holier or less sacred than another place. Nigeria is as holy or sacrilegious as Saudi Arabia or Israel. Empirical data on this speak for itself. The use of terms such as “holy day,” “holy land” and “holy cities” are oxymoronic par excellence. Makkah is only described as “al-Mukarramah” (“the generous”), while Madinah’s adjective is “al-Munawaarah” (“the luminous”). And Jerusalem is the location of al-Haram al-Sharif (“the noble precinct”). Nigerian elite must understand that humanitarian giving ought to trump repeated visits to Saudi Arabia or Israel. Hospitability, philanthropy and warm affections towards the less fortunate members of one’s society are of higher values that should be cultivated than making repeated journey to Saudi Arabia or Israel. Or, can we not remember that charity begins at home?
- Dr. Ajetunmobi is a Lecturer in International Law, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom. firstname.lastname@example.org.
culled from punchng.com