From Christians Under Attack:
14 February 2012
Nigeria: Forces Infiltrated By Boko Haram, Jonathan Almost Left Hopeless
Travelling the 700-kilometre-route from Baga to Kano is a death wish.
Since the first Boko Haram bomb went off in Maiduguri last year, fish traders from the Lake Chad region of Chad Republic have seen enough human parts on the streets and now avoid northern Nigerian markets like a plague.
Such is the handiwork of the Boko Haram. Cities like Damaturu, Potiskum, Kano, Bauchi, Jos and Katsina are also crawling with Muslim extremists and their sympathisers, some of them in the police and the other armed forces.
In January a Mitsubishi bus with six Christian passengers fleeing the carnage in Maiduguri took the chance of refuelling at Potiskum. Hardly had the attendant started the pump than some men on motorbikes, armed with AK 47, pulled in. They shot dead the travellers, including a woman and a baby. Such horrific massacres hardly make the headlines anymore in today's Nigeria: they are eclipsed by even more macabre killings as Boko Haram jihadists mix sadism with showmanship. Newspapers headlines are literally in red.
On December 22, 2011, at least eight Christians were slaughtered in Damaturu, Yobe State, in Northeast Nigeria; the next day about 68 people, most of them Christians, police personnel and soldiers were killed in multiple bomb attacks believed to have been coordinated by the Boko-Hara Islamist sect in Damaturu, Yobe State.
More deaths recorded
On Christmas day last year at least 65 worshippers perished at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, Madalla in Suleja, Niger State, in anearly morning bomb attack. Elsewhere 10 more people were killed in bomb blasts that hit churches in Jos, Plateau State and Gadaka, in Yobe State.
The gory chronicle continued on January 5 when at least eight members of the Deeper Life Bible Church were shot dead during a church service in Gombe. On January 6, at least 20 Christian traders were massacred in Mubi, Adamawa State. The victims, all Igbos from South East Nigeria, had gathered to make funeral arrangements of an Igbo kinsman who, a day earlier, had been killed by the Boko Haram when armed Muslim elements burst into the meeting and opened fire, killing all the mourners.
On the same Friday, at least eight members of the Christian Apostolic Church were slaughtered during church service in Yola, Adamawa State by the rampaging Islamist Sect. The bloodletting continued on January 7 when at least, three people were killed in Lamurde area of Adamawa State. A day after, the sect killed six people in Borno State.
On Monday, January 9, 12 more members of the Christ Apostolic Church were hacked to death by Boko-Haram, again during church service in Yola. Eleven of them were slain on the spot, while one of the five worshippers who escaped with critical injuries later died in hospital.
The following day, January 10, the Islamist group killed two Christians in their homes in Maiduguri just as an officer of the State Security Service (SSS) was shot dead in another part of Borno State. About the same hour, eight Igbo Christians were shot dead at a popular bar in Doruwa, Potiskum and a Christian shop owner was killed in Damaturu; all in Yobe State, Northeast Nigeria.
Three people were reported killed in Pyakiman in Tafawa Balewa area of Bauchi State on January 11. Two days later, the sect returned to another bar in Yola killing two Igbo Christians while two more people were shot dead inside a restaurant in Gombe.
Most dangerous attacks
So far, the most audacious attacks by the Boko Haram sect include the suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. In that attack last August, which killed 25 people and drew global attention to the terrorist sect, a suicide bomber Mohammed Abu Barra, rammed his explosive-laden Honda through a gate. There were other attacks on the Police headquarters, Abuja, an Air Force base in Borno and an SSS office. Perhaps, it was the attack on Christians on Christmas Day that is most seen as an open declaration of war.
In 2011, the death toll from Boko Haram killings was put at 714. Between Christmas and the second week of January 2012, 204 people had been slain. By the third week, at least 250 people have been killed. Kano attacks claimed 186 lives. With figures routinely suppressed, official statistics are at best conservative even as a number of Boko-Haram related killings go unreported or are downplayed as robbery attacks.
Like a killjoy, Boko Haram has redefined political and social life in Nigeria. Wherever they may be, Nigerians are worried when and where the next bomb will go off. Now they are forced to factor in the murderous sect before they make the choice of attending a church service, a wedding, a funeral or going into any public building or hotel.
It is not only in northern cities bestridden by Boko Haram that nerves feel frayed every other minute. Bomb scares have made Nigerians in the South of the country so paranoid that residents of Lagos scurry for cover whenever a car tyre bursts. As Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) become a common feature of city life, panel discussions and talk shows on radio and television are incomplete without a mention of Boko Haram. The refrain on air, in newspapers, social media, and town-hall meetings, houses of worship, sports centres, shopping malls, bus stations, bars and restaurants is: "What do they want?"
In the most simplistic form as found in official records, the Boko Haram is a Salafist jihadist organisation founded in 2001 by Mohammed Yusuf. In Arabic, they are known as Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad. Boko Haram is Hausa and translates as "Western education is a sin." The group which fiercely opposes secular law also seeks to abolish the secular system of government in Nigeria and ultimately enthrone a Sharia system in the most populous black nation.
When Boko Haram first appeared on the scene, Mohammed Yusuf claimed he was angry at Nigeria's corrupt elite and the abysmal failure of the political leadership to deliver good governance. Ironically, Mohammed Yusuf's patrons are politicians known for mindless looting of state funds. One of the most well known supporters was Amoudu Sherrif, the flamboyant former governor of Borno State who once imported 77 exotic jeeps as election campaign vehicles.
For a poor state like Borno where there is no portable water and where in some villages on the road from Baga, a pool of water is a common heritage shared by humans and animals alike, but the Boko Haram saw nothing wrong in doing business with the likes of Amodu Sherrif.
Sect members were routinely rented out as armed thugs to brutalise political opponents to submission. They were visible elements in the violence that characterised the 2007 general elections which saw Sherrif making a re-election bid for governor.
As Mohammed Yusuf's influence grew with a daily dose of vitriolic sermons from his mosque, businessmen and politicians were forced to pay protection fees disguised as generous contributions to Islam. Even with public school buildings in derelict state in Borno, the governor paid out a fat monthly allocation to Boko Haram. It was a jolly good ride with Amodu Sherrif until things went awry in 2009.
It is difficult to piece together the last days of Sherrif-Boko Haram dalliance. It is said in political circles in Borno that Sherrif enlisted the help of federal forces to save him from Mohammed Yusuf. It had become a question of who could get who first. State House correspondents recall that the fateful day the Boko Haram leader was arrested by soldiers and brought to the Borno State Government House; the fiery preacher was pouring invectives at Sherrif, demanding to know from the governor in Hausa language why he had betrayed their pact.
The soldiers handed the Boko Haram leader to the Police in Maiduguri who took him in only to execute him. Political observers believe there was more to Mohammed Yusuf's killing than meets the eye. The opportunity to rein in the sect leader was not in any way the most propitious. The Boko Haram members were said to flout a new edict in Borno State requiring motorbike taxi operators and their passengers to wear protective helmets.
Offending sect members were arrested, sparking the fury of their leader. They went on rampage, burning down government buildings and police stations and storming prisons and setting free hundreds of criminals.
Army called, 800 killed
As the violence spread across Borno and neighbouring states, the army was called in. About 800 people were killed in five days of fighting.
The Boko Haram movement was in a lurch, but not for long, after Mohammed Yusuf's death. Abubakar Shekau took over as the new leader. A video posted on January 11 on YouTube showed Abubakar Shekau in paraphernalia that suggested the new Boko Haram leadership would like to be seen as part of a global jihad aligned to al Qaeda. In a 15-minute video, Abubakar Shekau is seen wearing a camouflage bullet-proof jacket. Two Kalashnikov rifles mounted in front of him complement a gruesome beard, fearsome headscarf and militant gestures.
His message was as ambivalent as his mission: "The reason why I am giving this broadcast is the recent comments of (President) Goodluck Jonathan about us and that of the leader of the Christians and other statements by others, describing us as a cancer to Nigeria. We are neither a cancer nor a disease. If people don't know us, God knows us."
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Executive Director, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (InterSociety) says Boko Haram's words and deeds hardly match and that the sect and its activities are fraught with contradictions. Umeagbalasi, whose organisations have documented sectarian violence in Nigeria since 1990, describes the new wave of religious massacre in Nigeria as ethnic cleansing directed principally at the Igbo who, statistics have shown, constitute 80 per cent of casualties of major crisis in the country.
Because the Nigerian history is replete with mass killings motivated by ethnic hate and religious fundamentalism, the Boko Haram is seen to have come with nothing new besides its name. If anything is new, it is the sophistication of its killing machine which Umeagbalasi believes is on lease now to political figures even more powerful than Amodu Sherrif.
The big names behind the violence
In response to the string of bombings, the Nigerian government deployed in addition to the police, a military force called the Joint Task Force (JTF) to quash the Boko Haram insurgency. So far every military and security strategy has been botched by fifth columnists (traitors) who take battle plans to the enemies. It was in utter helplessness that President Jonathan cried out in public, after yet another massacre, that Boko Haram elements have infiltrated his government, the police and the military.
Following the Christmas Day bombing at Madalla, residents of the bustling town near Abuja denounced the official death toll and put the figure at 200. They could only be appeased when news came that Kabir Sokoto, the mastermind of the bombing had been arrested. Incredible as it would seem, Kabir Sokoto was arrested while taking refuge inside the Abuja luxury lodge of the Borno State governor.
The wanted terrorist had been chaperoned to the lodge by a top Muslim military officer. About 24 hours later, Kabir Sokoto escaped from police custody. The intrigue became too much for beleaguered citizens to bear when it was revealed that the terror mastermind had escaped while in the care of Zakari Biu, a notorious figure from the dark days of Gen. Sani Abacha's rule.
Zakari Biu was, in the late '90s, the police officer throwing bombs at political opponents; including the bomb at Durbar Hotel that killed a journalist Bagauda Kalto. With Abacha's death, Zakari Biu was dismissed from the police force to face justice; or so Nigerians were told. Unknown to many, however, Zakari years later found his way back into the police force through the back door and was made the Head of Police anti-terrorist unit.
President Jonathan came close to tears when he was told of the insidious harm Zakari Biu had done to the police force. It was revealed that three weeks before Kabir Sokoto escaped, four other Boko Haram terrorists had similarly escaped while in the custody of the same Zakari Biu.
With the benefits of hindsight, Nigerians now believe that Zakari Biu might know something about the multiple bombs two years ago that went off in Abuja during the 50th Independence anniversary celebration. One of the bodies found at a car park where one of the bombs was planted was that of Zakari Biu's son, a 26-year-old operative with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).
Conspiracy theorists say it was a mission gone wrong: what was Zakari Biu's son doing at the bomb scene? The day was a public holiday and EFCC operatives are not known for patrolling car parks. Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka described Biu as a "well-known torturer" who could be readily available to work for al-Qaeda.
The escape of the Christmas Day bomber was one complicity too many. The Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, was fired but was replaced by another Muslim Mohammed Abubakar who in 2001 was indicted by the Justice Niki Tobi Commission for using his position as Plateau State Commissioner of Police to assist his Hausa-Fulani Muslim tribesmen in recurring religious killings in Jos. In shocking demonstration of high-level intrigues the white paper on Abubakar's indictment was never published until February 2010.
Like Mohammed Abubakar, several top police and military officers have been fingered in ethnic and religious killings including the massacre by Muslim attackers of 512 villagers last year in Plateau State. In the past 10 years, there have been 93 documented attacks on Christian villages. Accounts of survivors provide overwhelming evidence that Muslim Hausa-Fulani attackers, with the support of high-ranking officers in the security forces, planned and carried out the attacks. In attacks on villages like Rassa, Rabwat, Tatu, Kwi, Heipan, Loton, Dabwak Kuru and Farin Lamba, not only were entire families wiped out but name tags from military fatigues were recovered in bushes.
Even when such screaming evidences were handed to authorities, no arrest has ever been made and no attackers have been brought to justice.