NIGERIA: Terror agenda sparks debate on campuses

The political and ideological agenda of Boko Haram (pictured), a Muslim fundamentalist group that opposes 'Western education', has ignited debate at Nigerian universities. The group has attacked buildings and threatened to send suicide bombers onto campuses. The university community has roundly condemned terror, but is polarised over Boko Haram's intentions.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the recent bombings of the highly secured headquarter of the Nigerian police and of the United Nations compound, both in Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital.

The group is faceless and makes its views known via the internet. It operates like a clandestine urban guerrilla movement, with most of its operations in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's north-eastern Borno State.

The real Arabic name of Boko Haram - Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad - also symbolises its political and ideological programme. It means "people committed to the propagation of the Prophet Mohammed's teachings and Jihad [holy war] against all infidels".

In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means "Western education is a sin and therefore anti-Islamic".

Boko Haram's deputy spokesperson, Abul-Qaqa, declared in an email to Nigerian journalists that his organisation's intention was to wage a total war against so-called unbelievers.

He said: "I wish to tell you that peace will never reign until Sharia as a complete way of life is restored 100%; just like the way it was practised during the period of Daular Usmaniyya."

In other words, to achieve a purely Islamic state where Sharia will be the main law, the use of violence (Jihad) is a compulsory religious obligation 'sanctioned' by Allah.

It took a while before universities started to react to the activities and ideological agenda of Boko Haram. It was the threat to send suicide bombers onto some university campuses, as reported previously in University World News, that heightened awareness within the university community about the group.

Professor Hussein Oloyede, vice-chancellor of Fountain University in Oshogbo, the capital of Osun State in Western Nigeria, roundly condemned the activities of Boko Haram.

Oloyede, who is an internationally renowned expert on Islamic jurisprudence, was quoted on the website of the national newspaper Punch as saying:

"Islam does not encourage terrorism in any manner. Prophet Mohammed said we should seek knowledge. Allah is knowledge and knowledge is Allah. Holy Quoran enjoins adherents to seek knowledge."

He further stressed that it was anti-Islamic for any group to fight against knowledge and carry out violence on the basis of propagating Islam.

Professor Abdullahi Ashafa, dean of the arts faculty at Kaduna State University in northern Nigeria, also rejected the use of violence and loss of lives in the name of Islam.

The website of The Guardian Nigeria quoted him as saying: "God created man and honoured man in his place of creation and somebody will just use his hand to kill innocent people; this, to me, is not Islam."

Boko Haram's castigation of Western education as anti-Islamic also did not go down well with Ashafa, who explained that "Westernisation as a way of life and as a civilisation" - rather than Western education itself - could be seen as a problem. He said grievances should be against the educated in government who were "perpetrating corruption" and "holding this country to ransom".

The views of Oloyede and Ashafa are representative of the opinions of Islamic scholars in Nigerian universities on the activities of Boko Haram. They argue that adequate employment opportunities for young men and women would considerably reduce the number of potential suicide bombers willing to be employed by Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram debate assumed controversial proportions when Dr Osisioma Nwolise, head of the political science department at Nigeria's oldest higher education institution, the University of Ibadan, argued that the Boko Haram sect was not a terrorist organisation.

An expert in terrorism, he described the group as a "liberation force" in the mould of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and the Oodua People's Congress.

The tag of "liberation force" given to Boko Haram did not go down well with many of the university's academics and students.

Musa Kassamu, a postgraduate student in anthropology, was deeply concerned by Nwolise's liberation description: "Boko Haram's sketchy political agenda wants to impose Islamic theocracy on Nigeria which is, in reality, a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation.

"Less than 40% of Nigerians are Muslims, of various ethnic backgrounds. The imposition of Islamic theocracy will require Boko Haram to ignite...many years of bloody civil wars. If that is the case then Boko Haram cannot be described as a liberation force," he said.

As Nigerian campuses were embroiled in the debate over Boko Haram, in the faraway Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University in the US, experts on Islamic affairs were also discussing the role of Islam and peace-building efforts in West Africa.

One of the speakers was Sa'ad Abubakar, the sultan of Sokoto in northern Nigeria, who is also president-general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. He is regarded among local and international Islamic organisations as the spiritual head of Nigerian Muslims.

In a paper presented at the Harvard seminar titled "Imperatives of Knowledge, Justice and Anti-corruption", the sultan described Boko Haram as a conservative organisation that rejected modern science and technology. He also pointed out that many Muslims had embraced science and technology without losing their Islamic identities.

In a veiled reference to the use of violence by Boko Haram, Abubakar expressed the opinion that dialogue and tolerance could guarantee peaceful coexistence among the various complex ethnic and religious organisations in Nigeria.

The vast majority of members of the university community in Nigeria strongly believe that the government should undertake constructive dialogue with the leadership of Boko Haram.

The ball is in the court of this terror group to either drop its pursuit of violence and opt for dialogue as a means of resolving its grievances, or engage in a long and protracted war of attrition with the Nigerian government. This is surely a war it cannot win.

Related links
NIGERIA: Campus security reviewed after threats
NIGERIA: Terrorist threats close universities


I strongly believe that the advent of Boko Haram is an offshoot of perceived injustice caused by deception and insincerity of political elites in Nigeria. There is a matrix of suspicion in the way and manner in which the Nigerian government has reacted to the destructive mission of the Boko Haram organisation and its protagonists.

This is evidenced by the fact that the Nigerian government was able to mobilise its armed forces to checkmate various deadly militants in the mangrove forest of the Niger Delta. Eradicating Boko Haram from the savanna will be easier than prevention of militants in the creeks.

It is clear that the Nigerian government is not ready to stop the spate of violent destruction, which is presently in progress in Nigeria. The Nigerian government should stop deceiving the populace and most importantly avoid propaganda, which has remained a potent force in state reactions to the onslaught of Boko Haram insurgency.

Dr Akeem Ayofe Akinwale