Ifiok is a public affairs analyst and sociopolitical commentator passionate about good governance, justice & equity. He lives in Nigeria.
Terrorism in Nigeria, which is most prevalent in the northern part of the country, has its roots in Islamic fundamentalist and extremist ideologies. Islamic fundamentalism in the country dates back to the 18th Century. A Fulani Islamic scholar, Usman Dan Fodio, in his expansionist quest to spread Islam on the West African coast, led other Fulani fundamentalists on a bloody military expedition to conquer the territory now called Nigeria. The Fulani are primarily a pastoralist and nomadic tribe. Over the years, however, many of them have settled down to live in urban areas.
The Islamic expansionists succeeded at taking over territories in northern Nigeria and forcing the indigenous people to embrace Islam. They established the seat of political and spiritual power, known as the caliphate, in Sokoto, Northwest Nigeria. However, local tribal militias eventually defeated them and stopped their quest to make further incursions southwards. But even after the defeat, the Fulani fundamentalists have never given up hope of conquering the country. They keep evolving various schemes on multiple fronts to ensure that they achieve that goal.
Politics in Nigeria rests primarily on a tripod of sentiments, namely ethnicity, religion, and region. These three are intricately intertwined. Nigeria comprises six geopolitical zones. However, when it comes to the crunch of political issues, the country divides broadly into northern and southern regions.
Coincidentally, the adherents of the nation's two major religions—Christianity and Islam—broadly separate into these two regions. The North is predominantly Islam, while the South is Christian.
A Historical Perspective to Terrorism in Nigeria: The Uthman Dan Fodio Jihadist Movement
Historical records show that Uthman dan Fodio, a Fulani Islamic scholar and teacher, founded the Sokoto Caliphate, which is the spiritual headquarters of Islam in Nigeria.
Dan Fodio was one of a class of urbanized ethnic Fula people who lived in the Hausa Kingdoms since the early 1400s, in what is today's northern Nigeria.
One of his is teachers, Jibril ibn ʻUmar, a radical Muslim and a staunch proponent of jihad, influenced Uthman's belief system greatly. Under such influence, Uthman, alongside his followers, comprising majorly Fulani pastoralists and some Hausa outcasts and peasants, started the jihad against the Hausa kingdoms in 1804.
Uthman launched the jihad, ostensibly to purify Islam. He felt that the ruling class had adulterated the religion with heathen practices and other anti-Islamic vices such as bribery, unjust and illegal taxes, and confiscations of property, compulsory military service, gift taking, and the enslavement of other Muslims. These practices were very prevalent in those Hausa kingdoms. His stand against those societal ills particularly appealed to the outcasts and peasants of the Hausa society who felt oppressed by their rulers.
But in reality, the jihad was more a religio-political movement aimed at conquering and annexing territories for economic and political gains than a liberation movement. To date, the Sokoto Caliphate is the seat of political power in Nigeria.
By 1808, Uthman had conquered and annexed much of the territory that is today's northern Nigeria and forced the indigenous peoples to convert to Islam. He administered the conquered lands on a strict Islamic penal code or Sharia Law. By 1830 the jihad had engulfed most of what we now know as northern Nigeria and the northern Cameroons.
However, dan Fodio's military incursions southward met with stiff resistance and eventual defeat at Ibadan, in what is now southwest Nigeria.
But his writings and sayings continue to inspire jihadists to date.
In 1804, dan Fodio reportedly said,
"I have been given the sword of truth to defeat and conquer the enemies of Allah. I will establish the Caliphate to rule over all, and Sakwoto shall be its capital. It is either the pagans and unbelievers accept sharia and the Koran or they accept the sword".
The Hausa-Fulani Muslim's preoccupation with the political domination of the country
The expansionist ideologies of the Dan Fodio jihadists undergird the activities of Islamic fundamentalists to date. Unfortunately, the Islamic fundamentalist mindset is not peculiar to members of organized terror groups alone. It is very prevalent among northern Nigerian politicians as manifested in their utterances and actions in pre and post-independent Nigeria.
At this point, it is pertinent to reproduce some such utterances here:
In 1957 Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and the Premier of Northern Nigeria reportedly said;
"We, the people of the North, will continue our stated intention to conquer the south and to dip the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean after the British leave our shores."
Following Nigeria's declaration of independence in 1960, the Sardauna made the following statement;
"The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their future.
"Our great-grandfather conquered up to Ilorin, but we have now accomplished the task which he did not complete. I will dip the Q'uran in the sea."
This statement, which came less than 12 days after Nigeria's independence, was reported in the October 12, 1960 edition of the Parrot Magazine.
In 1963, to underscore his bias towards his region, the northern Premier said;
"I would rather employ a foreigner in the northern civil service than employ an Igbo. Igbos tend to always want to dominate others wherever they go and we do not want that in the north".
The British connection to the plot
However, it is on record that Nigeria's British colonialists helped a great deal to entrench the North's/Islamic domination in the country before they departed political administration in 1960.
In 1914, Lord Frederick Lugard, the British Governor-General of the newly-established Nigerian nation reportedly, said;
"The amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria is a marriage between the poor northern husband and the rich southern wife. May this union be unbreakable, and may it last forever".
What is more? That union was a forced one! No less a personality than the man who later became the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, attested to this in a statement he made in 1948.
"Since 1914, the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country".
To further confirm that the British facilitated the North's political domination of the rest of the country, here is what a one-time Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, said in 1992:
"This country was given to us northerners by the British to rule. When they left, the understanding between us was that the North would always lead and rule Nigeria".
In 1987, a renowned and controversial Islamic cleric, Sheik Abubakar Ahmad Mahmoud Gumi, who is the leader of the Sunni Muslim Izala sect in Nigeria, emphatically declared;
"No Christian will ever rule Nigeria again unless it is over my dead body."
The current President, Muhammadu Buhari, who was Nigeria's military Head of State from 1983 to 1985, is on record to have, at different times and on many occasions, made statements that have shown him as a strong supporter of the expansionists philosophy of the Islamists.
For instance, in 2001, following the introduction of the Islamic penal code or Sharia Law in many states across northern Nigeria and the widespread opposition that greeted the move, especially from Christians in the country, Buhari said;
"I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God-willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia Law all over the country".
Incidentally, the adoption and implementation of the Sharia Law across many northern states coincided with the advent of full-fledged terrorism in the country.
Buhari also urged Muslims to vote along religious lines when he said;
"Muslims should only vote for Muslims and those who will defend their faith."
In 2013, when the military under Goodluck Jonathan's administration ramped up the counterterrorism war against the insurgents with devastating air assaults and ground attacks on the terrorists' positions, Buhari, who was then aspiring to the office of President of Nigeria, said;
"An attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the north."
In 2014, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, said;
"By Allah, we will not stop fighting until every Nigerian abides by sharia law. If you don't comply, we will kill you".
In 2015, Buhari declared that members of the dreaded terror group, Boko Haram, were 'our misguided brothers' that the government should treat with empathy.
In 2018, following incessant attacks on communities across the nation by Fulani herders armed with sophisticated military-caliber weapons, Buhari as President said;
"The Fulani herdsmen are Nigerians and have a right to be here. They carry sticks and not dangerous weapons. If you want peace, give them your land".
In 2019 Alhaji Abdullahi Bodejo, National President of the umbrella organization for Fulani cattle herders in the country, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), said;
"You are a Governor, and you want to enjoy peace in your state; you don't need any long meeting, just create a particular area for the Fulani and equip them with modern facilities."
Bodejo has been making several such provocative statements ever since, including saying on more than one occasion that the Fulani own Nigeria and will continue to rule the country.
There are very few Muslim politicians from northern Nigeria who are not rabid Islamists in their political outlook. These politicians, with this mindset, fan these extreme ideologies in the hearts and minds of the illiterate population of the region to achieve their selfish political ends. Northern Nigeria consistently remains the region with the lowest literacy rating in the country. The region has the largest number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
These unwholesome statistics work in favor of the elites of the region. They would readily appeal to religious sentiments, whenever things do not go their way, to stir up the chaos that would work to produce their predetermined outcomes eventually. That has been the practice of northern Nigerian politicians even before the country's independence in 1960. This practice is primarily responsible for the region's inability to measure up to and compare favorably with others in the country. It lags behind others on all indices of development.
"I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God-willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia Law all over the country".
— Muhammadu Buhari
When the Northern Elites Fully Bared Their Fangs
But if there was ever a time that the northern elites bared their fangs fully, it was during the Jonathan years in office. Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian from a minority ethnic group in the southern part of Nigeria.
Nigeria has over three hundred and fifty ethnic groups, but only three of them, namely, Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo, are regarded as major ethnic groups. While two of the three, Yoruba and Igbo, are in the southern part of the country, the Hausa are in the northern region. Goodluck Jonathan came to power by some sheer providence, much to the dismay of the Islamic North.
To the northern elites, it was unfathomable, almost unthinkable, that a Christian from a southern minority tribe should again preside over the nation not long after another southern Christian, Olusegun Obasanjo, had done two terms of eight years in office!
Here is how it all began
Olusegun Obasanjo, who was about to complete his second term in office, almost singlehandedly handpicked the late Umaru Musa Yar'adua from the northern state of Katsina to succeed him in office in 2007. Umaru Musa Yar'adua was a younger brother to late Shehu Musa Yar'adua. The older Yar'adua was the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, or the de facto Second-in-Command to Obasanjo as the military Head of State from 1916—1979. Both men were good friends until the senior Yar'adua's death.
Obasanjo also handpicked Goodluck Jonathan as Yar'adua's running mate in the 2007 presidential elections. Obasanjo threw his full weight behind their candidacy, and the duo eventually won the elections. Unfortunately, Yar'adua was battling with a terminal illness which later claimed his life in May 2010, midway into his first term in office.
However, information concerning Yar'adua's state of health and eventual death was kept under wraps by a small closely-knit group of individuals, all northerners, later nicknamed 'The Cabal.' The cabal ensured that the rest of the cabinet, including the Vice President, knew next to nothing about the President's health status.
Unfortunately, whether by omission or by design, Yar'adua did not officially transmit a letter to the National Assembly before he left the country to transfer power to the Vice President in the event of his prolonged absence from office as the constitution demands.
The absence of that letter effectively handicapped the National Assembly (or so they would have us believe) from declaring Jonathan the Acting President. Even though the President's absence from office had exceeded the length of time that the constitution allows, the Vice President could not assume the powers of acting President. The cabal exploited the loophole in the system to the fullest. It clandestinely exercised presidential powers in Yar'adua's name under the guise/pretext that he was still alive and well and in charge!
When the cabal could no longer hide Yar'adua's death, it sneaked his corpse into the country in the middle of the night. Yet the group kept carrying on as though the President was alive and well. It took the then Minister of Information, late Mrs. Dora Akinyuli, to disclose to Nigerians that Yar'adua was dead.
By the provisions of the Nigerian constitution, if a President dies in office, the Vice President is automatically sworn in as the President.
But that was not to be so in the case of Jonathan because some vested interests, mostly from the North, insisted that another northerner must fill the slot that Yar'adua had left and complete his Yar'adua's term of office. That, they said, in blatant disregard to the provisions of the constitution. It took the insistence of and pressure from eminent Nigerians, comprising mostly southern Christians under the auspices of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), to force the Nigerian Senate to invoke the doctrine of necessity clause to make Jonathan the President.
But the battle just got started!
Jonathan's intention to contest the presidential election in 2011 drew the battle line. The entire North rose in unison in strong opposition and resistance to his ambition. The North's grouse was that Jonathan was attempting to usurp the region's turn to produce the president to complete Yar'adua's tenure in line with an informal power-sharing agreement within the then ruling party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), represented by the very vocal Prof. Ango Abdullahi and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), spearheaded the battle to install a northerner as President in Yarádua's stead. The NEF named Atiku Abubakar as its choice for the position from a pool of aspirants from the region.
Jonathan defeated Atiku at the primaries and went on to win the 2011 presidential election. It was, however, a pyrrhic victory as violence broke out in certain parts of the North because the people felt that their preferred candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was rigged out of the election. The violence consumed hundreds of lives, including young men and women on the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme who had volunteered as ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election.
But Jonathan was to fight the ultimate battle against the northern elites when he indicated interest to seek re-election in the 2015 presidential elections. Meanwhile, in the build-up to the 2011 elections, a prominent politician from the northern region of the country, Sani Kaita, had threatened that should Jonathan contest and win the election, the North would make the country ungovernable.
Incidentally, Boko Haram stepped up its terror attacks on different parts of the North, especially the northeast. The group detonated bombs frequently and even captured and occupied a large expanse of territories where it hoisted its flag. Its nefarious activities culminated in the Chibok schoolgirl's abduction in April 2014. Conspiracy theories were rife that Boko Haram's stepping up of violence and schoolgirl's abduction was politically motivated. To date, it is tough to convince some Nigerians to believe otherwise.
Although Boko Haram had started its revolt against the Nigerian state sometime in 2009, it was a ragtag army of radicalized young men armed with locally fabricated weapons. It could hardly face the Nigerian Army. The Army effectively quelled the group's first attempt at insurrection and completely routed it and arrested its first leader, Mohammed Yusuf. But Yusuf's death in police custody, in very suspicious circumstances, angered his followers. They then regrouped and re-launched the insurrection, ostensibly to avenge their leader's death.
They attacked mostly security agencies and public institutions back then. It was not until 2011 that the group began to carry out major terror attacks on Christian targets in the North. It also started detonating bombs and explosives and added suicide bombing to its arsenal around that time too. It is worth noting that that period coincided with Goodluck Jonathan's ascension to power.
At the height of the violence, the Jonathan administration, through its Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, took the battle to the terrorists in a ruthless fashion. But sadly, prominent personalities from the North, led by none other than the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, and many other political office holders in his administration today, constituted themselves into a strong opposition against the military action. They accused Jonathan and Ihejirika of declaring war on the North and killing the region's youth. According to them, a fight against Boko Haram was a fight against the North.
Buhari specifically insisted that the Jonathan government should instead offer amnesty to Boko Haram members in much the same way that it did to the militants from the oil-rich Niger Delta region of the country. He accused Jonathan of pampering the militants but killing Boko Haram members, who he said were 'our misguided brothers.' The northern elites then threatened to sue Jonathan and the COAS at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for crimes against humanity.
Ironically, the same set of persons has, at some point, accused Jonathan of sponsoring Boko Haram, especially following a botched attempt by the administration to purchase arms at the black market in South Africa, which led to that country seizing the funds meant for the deal. America and Europe had refused to sell arms to the administration to prosecute the counterterrorism war because of the propaganda put forward by the northern elites against its military action against the terrorists.
At the height of the battle to wrestle power from Jonathan, the North rubbished every step he took for being against the region. These included the Almajiri schools he established to educate the children of the region.
Its elites riled, castigated, and portrayed him as the worst president to ever rule the country. During the electioneering campaigns, opposition supporters in some parts of the North threw stones at him. Some communities swept their surroundings and washed their roads after his campaign to symbolize outright rejection of his bad luck.
Within the framework of such negativity against him, it was no surprise that he lost the 2015 Presidential election to the North's preferred candidate.
If Buhari had lost the 2015 Presidential election or if Jonathan had not chosen to concede defeat in the manner he did, the nation would most likely have gone up in flames. The reason for this was not farfetched either. Buhari, himself, had set the tone for a violent revolt if he lost the election. He reportedly declared that if the 2015 election went the way of the previous contests, which he never believed he lost fair and square anyway, 'even the monkey and the baboon will be soaked in blood.'
Buhari's support base comprises the large pool of mostly illiterate but highly indoctrinated northern youths, who can barely think for themselves outside the extremist religious ideologies they have known from childhood. They make up the teeming army that is ever ready to unleash mayhem on fellow citizens at the slightest nudging. They are Buhari's foot soldiers. They are the ones who consistently gave him at least 12 million votes in the three previous elections he contested in and lost. He would always only muster very few votes from the southern part of the country.
Such is Buhari's influence on them that when the Jonathan government decided to negotiate with Boko Haram, the terror group insisted that he must be on the government's team or else it would participate in the talks. But, typical Buhari refused to be part of the negotiation, and so the talks broke down. To them, he is a demi-god who is nearly infallible.
They are willing to die and ready to kill whosoever stands in their way for Buhari. They showed that in the post-election violence of 2011, in which they murdered over 800 persons. Interestingly, even though Buhari knew that the violence happened because his supporters felt the ruling party rigged him out, he never called them to order but allowed the violence to fester.
The North's Next Moves
Currently, as it strategizes towards the next election cycle in 2023, the North's game plan seemed to have entered a new phase.
Armed Fulani herders have clandestinely taken over forest reserves in the southern parts of the country over time. From their camps in these forests, they now frequently launch attacks on communities in the region. The current epicenter of such attacks is in the southwest of the country, the home region of the nation's Vice President comes. The attacks in the southwest have led to tension within the country as residents of the area make a feeble attempt to push back the bandits.
All these arm-twisting tactics are supposed to cow other Nigerians to submission to let the northern elites have their way in 2023.
There has been a persistent clamor and agitation for power to shift to the South in 2023. To pacify the region, the North has responded with a strategy that would ultimately favor it in the long run. It is currently shopping for a pliable southern candidate who would be on its leash while he functions as a figurehead president to do its bidding.
In addition, prominent voices in the North are simultaneously calling for amnesty for hard-line terrorists in the region, especially for armed Fulani bandits. The elites have begun a determined attempt to control the narrative with deliberate efforts to decriminalize the terrorists and project them as the victims instead of the aggressors.
The controversial Islamic cleric I mentioned earlier in the piece, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, is at the vanguard of this overt and covert campaign. He began by initiating peace talks with the armed bandits. After undertaking his highly-publicized first visits to the bandits' enclaves in the bushes, the cleric appeared to have taken up the role of the bandit's mouthpiece.
He now articulates their demands to the government on their behalf. He has also begun an orchestrated campaign for amnesty for the bandits, who he said have legitimate grievances for taking up arms against fellow citizens.
They are doing all this to ensure that they have the backing of these criminal elements in 2023.
MG Singh from UAE on March 06, 2021:
Islamic terrorism is connected with fundamentalism. Do away with terrorism you have to reform the Muslims and this is not confined to Nigeria alone at this sort of terrorism is in many places. Nice article.