Monday, March 20, 2023
HomeReligionThe Genesis of Boko Haram by Al Ghazali

The Genesis of Boko Haram by Al Ghazali

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Assalamu alaykum dear brothers and sisters.
Our gratitude remains with Allah SWT for sparing us to this great day of Ramadan. May His peace and blessings be His prophet and his household, amin.
I have been invited in my capacity as a resident of Borno state to speak on the genesis of Boko Haram and the many conspiracy theories surrounding it. This is the third time I have enjoyed the privilege to make contributions to the series of the annual Ramadan lectures on this platform. I remain thankful.
Throughout my commentaries on the Boko Haram crisis, I have never taken the trouble to talk about its genesis–and I think this may have the reason why it was drawn to my path this time. Even as I’m asked to do so now, I’m not sure if I can do exactly that. The apparent restrictions inherent in doing that in a scientific manner that it ought, have so far been the reason why I do not feel adequate justice could be done to the subject now. If ever I should talk on such matters, I have always thought, I need to be exceedingly thorough and exhaustive.
To say the truth, I have written so many things on Boko Haram, including: its ideologies, its doctrines, source of incomes, objectives, recruitment policy, membership, source inspirations, tactics, mode of operation, targets, major events that transpired and etc but I feel so shy of making them public because honestly I’m not myself contented with them. To this end, I must therefore say that the management of Hilal Crescent is not fair to me. This is besides the fact that I’m both unqualified and unsophisticated to do justice to the subject. Of course, people like Adam Yamani are the most qualified to do that.
Any exhaustive and satisfactory work on this subject warrants that one has to do a lot of ground works–but so long as these restrictions such as the security factor, remain, this will be hard. The time at which Hilal Crescent’s calling came was too short to afford me the luxury of doing my best.
Nonetheless, on a general level, I will today say few things about what for those of us who saw it from its beginning, seem to have caused the crisis, which I think is what is meant by ‘genesis’, in this parlance. I will only do so, let me be clear, with the belief that those who have better opportunities will build upon our little efforts.
Generally, for students of society, we know that one of the causes of crises such as those of Boko Haram is injustice. Now, may I be afforded the luxury to elaborate on this, even if briefly?
People generally believed that Boko Haram started around early 2000. But that’s not entirely true. It in truth started quite earlier. It is simply the reaction to what people perceive as injustice–and as we know it is a common phenomenon all over the world for young men and women to take up arms and fight what they consider as injustice. And the propping up of the Boko Haram insurgents along the way is just a stage in this reaction to perceived injustice I’m talking about. I hope we need not argue about the fact that wherever there’s injustice, crises breed.
We had then in place a government that was unjust and exceedingly indifferent about the plight of its people–a government that took things for granted. A government that did not care about education: it did not matter to it whether anyone went to school or not; and if it did, certainly not about the quality. For instance, no thoroughbred student of knowledge well equipped with the understanding of the intricacies of modern world would denounce education. May be you will, but certainly, much as I am yet to qualify as thoroughbred, I will not. I know very clearly that many of his followers, at least not less than 50%, had at least a secondary school education. But we know, in this state, most with such qualification cannot, I repeat, cannot, at gunpoint write their names. So isn’t it logical that they yielded to such a cleverly thought-out psychological manipulation by a folk gifted with an understanding of these handicap and a notorious oratory to put forward conflicting arguments in that respect?
Those people at best therefore stand as easy prey, who, even if there was no a Muhammad Yusuf, would do something quite outrageous, if not even more outrageous than what we have today.
Added to this, was the fact that idleness and unemployment were the order of the day. The major employer of youths those days was what we used to call ‘achaba’ (factory): it employed its riders, its repairers, spare parts dealers and sellers. But this, if at all justifiable, should have been restricted to uneducated group of people who in addition have no any productive skill. But it had remained the dominant even for those who were educated. As it should, this resulted in breeding an army of hopeless youths–with no proper education and jobs to do–ready to do anything just to get paid–especially when some very restrictive measures were introduced and enforced by force against the ‘achaba’ industry: that crash helmets must be worn, overload must stop, curfew imposed and etc.
When a government neglects its youths and their welfare, it is quite usual for them to develop a sense of rebellion towards it. A group of young men who think the government was not doing justice to them found in Mohammed Yusuf a rebellious man who spoke out against such injustices and thus flocked behind him–but what formed his worldview, is an important point which needs elucidation in detail. In fact that was the secret behind the acceptability of Mohammad Yusuf.
And honestly he couldn’t have had a better time and opportunity to sell his idea, for at that time, a dangerous political culture of money and violence was introduced to the state by some rabble-rousing do-or-die politicians where youths have already been groomed by the political machinery in the art of violence. Already, even before Yusuf would take to massive arming of youths, to be honest with ourselves, some youths were armed: many had guns and other deadly weapons; therefore Muhammad Yusuf met a fertile ground for advancing his cause.
Young children growing up, at that time, saw these violent thugs we call ECOMOGs as hereos. Their characters were being inspired and shaped by those of these thugs. Many a time, a convoy of thugs, in hundreds, would criss-cross Maiduguri clenching deadly weapons unleashing terror against foot-soldiers of the opposition (who were also armed and violent) and intimidating an innocent population with utmost impunity. Who, for God almighty’s sake, will forget the likes of Duhu, Bale, Yan biyu and etc?
These guys at one time had assumed the role of policemen in this city, for, people no more report cases to the police stations, but to them! In fact, some, because of their brutishness and outrageous outlook, even intimidate the policemen into fear. And nobody was talking, in fact nobody could, for those who should, were the masterminds!
Ignorance, Poverty and Unemployment
Of course, factors such as ignorance, poverty and unemployment played the most dominant role in breeding the crisis. But even at that, no thorough pondering is required to arrive at the reality that they are in themselves what specifically constitute injustice.
No doubt at that time youths were both largely uneducated and unemployed–and that itself was the failure from the part of the government. But in spite of that, a sizeable number of people no doubt left their jobs and education to join the sect–and that was natural. These factors inherent in our youths–ignorance, unemployment and hopelessness–were met with what was considered to be a solution in Islam. We all know how people in Maiduguri are. All you need to do to convince them to do a thing is to tell them that it is ‘Islamic’. Because of youthful exuberance, sadly, they could not apply critical thinking to such temptations and therefore they easily yielded to Mohammed Yusuf’s pseudo-Islamic ideologies.
Dislike for Education
But one important factor that must also not be overlooked remains the historical dislike for Western education across the entire northern Nigeria–and more especially in Borno state. Parents in lieu with clerics, being conservative Muslims, and largely uneducated in the Western fashion, with a government not interested in doing anything about it, were stooped in the belief that Western education constitutes a major sin–in fact to some even among the innocent it amounts to apostasy right now as we speak. Therefore for a society with such a long held tradition programmed into its fabric, with a folk who understood these weaknesses and carefully exploited it to his advantage, it won’t be surprising for its youth to develop some sort of apathy towards Western education and even begin to declare war against it. Sometimes we used to get tempted as to whether Yusuf was confusing Western culture for Western education; but this is a point to be addressed in detail later. Perhaps, no explanation of the genesis of the crisis will go down well without also considering some of the following:
Muhammad Yusuf
In this world revolutions were fought by many people. They start in a very small way but eventually bring about major changes to the entire world. It normally starts with an individual, extends to a few group of people and eventually spreads across the wider society. Such pioneers mostly hardly survive it, but at the end, the consequences will cause them, for those who survive, to regret their actions, to feel despair–at least in the short run. There’s always the role of such individuals in bringing about tensions, crises, wars and so on. This point may not be very thoroughly clear, as I am reluctant to go into details, but one is only interested in showing the role of Muhammad Yusuf in the crisis.
No explanation of the genesis of this crisis can be any meaningful without, even if only briefly, paying attention to the person of the leader of the movement. Seeing how his ideologies have flowered now, I am so sure, if he were to be alive, Muhammad Yusuf would have been non-plussed about the turns it took.
Of course, psychologists may help expalin to us the role of age in the character of individuals. We know, Muhammad Yusuf was a young man, not up to 40 years, when he began his movement. Young age certainly plays a role here. At such age, you feel you’re better than everyone and everything is possible without even thinking of its consequences. This was further complicated by the fact that he had very little knowledge–and knew virtually nothing about Western education. Nobody who has had some level of good education will call those who actually taught him ignorant! Well, Yusuf did. Yusuf did not only have little education, officiousness, impatience and infantile self-confidence characterised his person. All these were beautifully concealed by eloquence and oratory.
To be honest, even those of us who did not believe in his ideologies listened to his preachings from time to time. Such oratory and self-confidence cruised upon officiousness can easily convince those who have little or no education–and to be fair to a youth caught up in this confusion, most of them embraced his ideology believing that it was all about the true reading of Islam. To be honest with you, the guy was such a very good teacher, but unfortunately he knew ‘nothing’ to teach. What he mastered was the art of inspiring (and cunning) people–and he has succeeded in inspiring many to be extremist, even when, technically speaking, he was only one in speech!
Now, many people believed that Muhammad Yusuf was himself used as a tool by some forces bent on causing disaffection among Muslims to advance a cause–whatever this cause was! This cannot however be supported by any concrete fact base on available information at our reach now. Among these people were scholars such as late Sheikh Albani Zaria (rahimahullah) who had very close relationship with him. He said, to be specific, some forces across the Maghrib had confronted many scholars from this part of the country–whose names he had mentioned–to execute what he said was a major plot against Islam, but all declined, except for Muhammad Yusuf. We are yet to get redoubtable proofs on that; only that since those people he mentioned are alive when he made such remarks and did not come to belie him, we may surmise, with some confidence that, it is true. And this may not be surprising going by the fact that in the history of Islam, many Muslims have been connived with to fight it (Islam).
Another possibility was that he may have had a poor understanding of some scriptural texts and went ahead to build his worldviews upon them. And this is the more plausible reason since misunderstanding and misinterpretation of scriptures is by the way a common challenge faced by most people. This, coupled with youthful exuberance, as noted above, may have been the factors that framed his ideologies and mental framework. He may have thought, it is not out of place to think, he was doing the right thing!
Whether he did not know that he was doing the wrong thing, employed to execute a plot against or deliberately misleading people, he succeeded at the end because those who had what it takes to check his dangerous excesses refused to take to the challenge!
Role of our Clerics, Parents and Government
Perhaps we cannot afford to deny the fact he rode on the back of the laxity of some of our scholars, parents and the government of the day. To be sincere to ourselves, some of our scholars refused to come out to give counterarguments to Yusuf’s ideologies when very well they knew the danger it posed. Of course, few had done that, only that their efforts were not complemented by the government. Everyone thought it was another person’s responsibilty.
Let me digress, fellows. One of the major failing of our scholarship in Borno has been that most of our scholars had very little knowledge of Western education. A scholar may be widely read and exceptional in the understanding of Islam; but may not be well versed in Western sciences: philosophy, comparative religion, social sciences, psychology and so on. On the contrary, those with Western education, are not very versed in Islamic texts.
A society as decayed as Borno during those days, and faced with such sensitive issues, needed a scholar who is a representation of the harmony between Western and Islamic educations. Therefore, without such people, it was easy for Yusuf to confuse our youths without anyone to guide them.
We must be fair to our scholars such as Sheikh Muhammad Abba Aji (rahimahullah), Sheikh Abubakar Kyari, Sheikh Modu Mustapha, Sheikh Goni Gabcha, Sheikh Gambo Kyari and etc who had done their best in that respect. But what we needed was an individual, who, when Muhammad Yusuf dismisses the theory of big bang as un-Islamic, today, comes out the next day to give a true picture of it from both Islamic and scientific perspectives, affording a helpless, confused youths the luxury to have an alternative view to choose from. To show that such aspect of knowlegde was in fact taken away from Muslims by the West–and that we must take it back from them.
A scholar who breaks into pieces the history of science and technology during the Arab civilization of the Medieval Ages: to show that in fact, university education in the modern fashion began with Islam, that al-Azhar was amongst the first universities of the world; the exploits of Arab and Muslims in the field of Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Medicine and etc was all that we needed to handle such matters. We sincerely either had no such people at that time or they chose to be indifferent.
And this is not surprising going by the fact that the government in place during the formative stages of the movement was frankly speaking not sophisticated enough to carefully handle the matter. It did not understand the danger that the group posed, and still ignored calls by many who had seen it coming. With very poor understanding of the situation, wrong policies were adopted. These ‘misfit’ policies as we all know only succeeded in catapulting the crisis further.
In a peaceful society, the then government introduced brutal security forces called Operation Flush to do what I honestly don’t know, nobody does! With nothing to do–or only the wrong things to do–this security forces went on harassing innocent people on issues as insignificant as not barbing their hair! They mixed the responsibilities of the Road Safety with their very stern measures and unleashed them gainst innocent people. This further deepened the contempt with which many (already) held the government.
However, possibility may have been that the government, heeding the calls of some concerned individuals about the dangers of the group, brought in the soldiers to check the increasing violent tendencies of the Boko Haram. If that was the case, we are right to conclude that such measures were very wrong and that the government did not have idea about what it ought to do.
Everyone was watching when Yusuf asked his people to sell all their belongings to buy weapons. Nobody spoke even as those weapons were eventually bought and transported into Maiduguri! A good and serious government, faced with this, ought to have understood that enforcing traffic rules was not the right thing to do! And ironically, the first spark of the crisis, of course the major one, in 2009, besides the few ‘skirmishes’ earlier, was the enforcement of traffic rules!
May I, at this juncture, dear brothers and sisters, close my presentation? Well no, I am tasked to speak on the many conspiracy theories. But what is conspiracy theory? Simply to believe that everything happens because some faceless people are behind it. Now, you have heard enough so far about my position on this crisis, right? Does is it sound like a conspiracy theory? Find out!
The truth is, Boko Haram’s targets are so diverse to defy any particular theory: they have killed Muslims, Christians, northerners, southerners, foreigners, men, women, old, young, pastors, mallams, teachers, students, their parents, traders, rich, poor, traditional rulers, politicians, PDP, ANPP, APC and attacked mosques, churches, schools, cinemas, markets etc among other things. Now, if you are genius, choose your conspiracy theory!
Allow me to say may God forgive us for all the things we have said wrong and increase us in knowledge. I sincerely apologise if I’ve only succeeded in living you with more questions than answers. Forgive my jargonizations here and there. Like I said above, one needs a lot of time to write on this subject. I will close by promising you that this piece will be upgraded in the few coming days for your consumption. Thank you.

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