Last Sunday, the attention of the nation was drawn to the killings of innocent Nigerian Muslims, including unsuspecting travellers on the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, by Christians as a reprisal attack to Boko Haram bombings of churches in Kaduna and Zaria. A number of Mosques and shops were also burnt that Sunday in Christian-dominated neighbourhoods in the southern part of the city. In all the attacks, as at the last offical count, has killed 21 Christians, while the reprisals killed 29 Muslims and hundreds were injured. As a result, I will pause my series on Kano to say a word about the matter.
Before we continue, however, I have a confession to make. Writing on matters of religion in Nigeria and especially where lives and places of worship are involved is very difficult for commentators that would like to remain impartial. So many times, as we try it, a writer finds it difficult to walk the tight rope of objectivity, balance and reason. Yet, the mettle of a writer is not tested by his treatment of populist topics or points of view but by how delicately he handles tough issues with equanimity and fearlessness. In the midst of high tension and soaring tempers, a voice of reason, even if faint, is most welcome.
The fact that a group of Muslims in the name of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnati Lil Da’awati wal Jihad – popularly known as Boko Haram – has been attacking churches in Northern Nigeria is a settled one. Its leader, Malam Abubakar Shekau, has twice featured on YouTube claiming responsibility, and so does his spokesperson, Abu Qaqa, in the aftermath of many such attacks. The fact that there are Christians found involved in church bombing activities – and there are many reported and unreported cases – or in supporting Boko Haram as I once wrote on this page does not renounce the confession of Boko Haram; it only complicates our analytical equation by introducing more variables and, thus, making it less linear than most of us would wish.
Targeting churches and Christians with bombings by Boko Haram is a matter that has saddened every well meaning Muslim and Christian in this country. Attacking worshipers is not only un-Islamic but also cheap. The command of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his companions on this is clear. A Muslim must not have a better model on religion than him. Demolition a place of worship is an act of fasad – or corruption of the world, as clearly stated in Suratul Hajj, ironically in the very verse that the leader of the group quoted in his first video to justify its resort to arms, though he did not complete it.
A worshipper is a guest of God. When a delegation of Christians once paid a visit to the Prophet in Medina, he not only camped them in his mosque but also asked them to use it for their worship. That is how the sanctity of worshippers and their place of worship became a settled issue among Muslims of various sects. That is why destruction of churches are hard to find in Muslim history. Muslims have left churches and even idols in Jerusalem, Syria, Europe, Egypt and Asia intact to date. The Taliban that destroyed the idol of Buddha in Afghanistan a decade and half ago was widely condemned by Muslim scholars across the world.
I am yet to come across a Nigerian Muslim – a scholar or a layman like me – that approves of the demolition of churches and attack on worshippers. That was how the first claim by Boko Haram came to the Muslim community as a great shock and shame. Of course, Muslim rioters have burnt churches before and they continue to do so, just as Christians also burn mosques when there are unrests. The difference is in organization. Those are acts of mobs. The ones of Boko Haram are organized operations of a sect that claims to be waging a holy warfor Islam, for God. But what is its justification, if we may ask?
Fortunately, the group is unequivocal on its reasons. It seeks to legitimise such operations based on the principle of retaliation. It is true, as it says repeatedly, that Muslims in the past twenty years became targets of barbarous attacks by some Christians in areas where the latter dominates. The examples of Kafanchan, Tafawa Balewa, Zangon Kataf, Kaduna, Plateau and Zonkwa cannot be denied. It is not the barbarity of such attacks that worries Muslims most, however but how Christians get away with the crimes so easily. Many accuse the Christian dominated security and law enforcement agencies of complicity.
It is difficult to recall any substantial prosecution or even arrests of Christians in all these despite the presence of hardcore evidence, including videos, in the hands of security agencies and the general public. The most recent of them are the attack on Muslims on Eid ground in Jos and the cannibalization of their bodies in the presence of law enforcement personnel and that of how Muslim villagers were massacred in Southern Kaduna during the post election violence, both in 2011. On the other hand, the violent reactions of Muslims to these atrocities are greeted by severe punishments by tribunals, courts and law enforcement agents that play the prosecution and the judge at the same time. From Karibi-whyte tribunal of 1987 to the latest arrests on the Plateau, it is Muslims who consistently receive the butt.
It is this selective justice and indifference of Nigerian authorities to Muslim blood, property and dignity that gives Boko Haram the pretext to retaliate on Christians. But here too, the group is wrong. No doubt, God has permitted the Prophet to retaliate against the polytheists of Arabia who transgressed against Muslims for over a dcade. In issuing that permit, however, God was specific about the target and the proportion of the retaliation:
“Whoever transgresses against you, transgress (in return) against him in proportion to his transgression against you, and know that God is with those who fear Him (i.e. those who follow his command without retaliating beyond the proportion of the offence they received). (Chapter Baqarah)
In another verse He said,
“And fight those who fight you and do not transgress (beyond the proportion that you were attacked with). God doesn’t like those who transgress.” (Chapter Baqarah again)
This is equal to the principle of proportionality in international law.
The interpretation of Boko Haram that every Nigerian Christian bears the burden of the crime that another Christian committed is absolutely untenable Islam:
“And no soul would bear the burden of another soul…” (Chapter Fatir)
Therefore, the actions of Boko Haram on these matters do not conform with the provisions of the Qur’an. Throughout his life, the Prophet of Islam was specific in punishing those who wronged Muslims on the few occasions he could not forgive them. For example, he never generalized punishment on the polytheists of Arabia then. When he was fighting those of Mecca, he was fighting those of Mecca alone. Neither did he treat the different tribes of Jews and Christians then in Arabia as one. He treated each on its own merit, befriending them except those who proved hostile to Islam. This is the provision against collective punishment in international law, again.
In the same manner, even if we were to accord a margin for retaliation, which I will discount later in the discussion, we must accept that Nigerian Christians cannot be treated as one organic collection of murderers that deserve a carpet treatment of bombs and bullets. In this case, the task is even made easier because the communities where these atrocities are perpetrated are known; so are the names and pictures of people who committed the crimes.
Why would Boko Haram then target innocent worshippers for God’s sake? Why not go for the criminals specifically? If it would avenge the cannibalization of Muslims on the Eid grounds of Rukuba for example, let it obtain the video, take the pain of identifying the attackers and go after them with a surgical precision. Why then attack a cheap target of Christian worshippers in Gombe or Kaduna and leave those in Zonkwa or Rukuba? Come on. This is not Islam.
I remember the fatwa once given by Sheikh Salisu Abubakar Suntalma of Ahmadu Bello University during the Kafanchan crisis of 1987. He said, agreed that innocent Muslims were killed in Kafanchan, it does not warrant any Muslim to attack any church or Christian in Kaduna or Zaria. If you can find the culprits in Kafanchan and attack them, you may have a point, he said. Islam does not sanction attacking an innocent person, he concluded. During the same episode, Ibrahim Zakzaky expressed the same view. (Ironically, the Karibi-Whyte tribunal that was set up on the crisis jailed Zakzaky for five years, despite his opposition.) It is difficult to come across any scholar, leader or informed person in Islam that holds a contrary view.
So, though Boko Haram is in every sense right to become worried about the impunity with which some Christians commit barbaric actions against Muslims and go unpunished by the Nigerian authorities, the group misfired in its answer to situation even from the perspective of Islam. The Muslim community in Nigeria has repeated this objection times without number. This is not to mention the group’s lack of locus standi even from the Islamic perspective since in Islam only the judge can order the killing of a criminal if so ordained by the law.
By way of summary, if I were to grade the script of Boko Haram here, I would give it minus one (-1).
Now let us turn to our Christian brothers. The answer of some Christians in some Northern communities is, sad to note, a mirror reflection of that of Boko Haram. They too have collectivised Nigerian Muslims, as Boko Haram generalized Nigerian Christians, and made their blood and property targets of their retaliation. If Boko Haram has attacked a church, what stops the Christians from identifying Boko Haram, if they need to, and deal with them?
I question the need because the Christians have the mighty Nigerian security, law enforcement and military apparatus behind them, at their disposal, if we go by the sacred-cow treatment they enjoy from them. Why then resort to killing innocent travellers, burning mosques and shops? So if Boko Haram is wrong in attacking innocent worshippers and churches, what makes the attack by Christian fanatics on innocent Muslim travellers and burning their mosques legitimate? This is the wrong answer to the challenge of Boko Haram.
It is also wrong from the point of view of practicality. In how many communities are such Christians fanatics ready to barricade the highway and cowardly kill innocent Muslims? In how many states or communities in the North can they do it? Honestly, I see that possibility only in Plateau and Kaduna, in the very communities where those atrocities against Muslims have been repeatedly committed due to ethnic reasons and where there are state governors who would mastermind their protection from the law. (I was told Yakowa is married to Jang’s sister!)
Man is a rational animal though he sometimes behaves stupidly at sub-human level especially when propelled by the spur of religion. Normally, he calculates his degree of safety before taking any risk on his life. Few are the fools that would dare start a fire that would consume them. Even in Kaduna State, why did not the Christian reprisal attack take place in Kaduna North or Zaria?
So, I grade the Christian answer script as minus one (-1), too.
When we add up the two, we end up with -2, two failures in the two negative quadrants of the Nigerian security equation. This is worse than where we were without either or both of them. That is where we are today. The fact is that retaliation could only serve as a deterrent for a short while. It often produces a vicious cycle of violence. Christians in some communities carry out war crimes against Muslims. Boko Haram says it retaliates but under the hidden tactic of bombings. Then Christians retaliate in areas they too think Muslims are weak. Both do it against innocent citizens, against places of worship, against God, though purportedly in the name of God.
This cycle of cowardice can continue forever except we find a way to cancel the negatives and arrive at a positive digit. And to this we turn in the remaining part of the essay.
Christian leaders and opinion shapers have appealed to Muslim leaders to use their weight to restrain Boko Haram. But sincerely, which citizen would restrain any Nigerian that carries arms today? There is none. In the same vein, I have heard many Berom leaders saying that their youths are beyond their control. When some chiefs of Niger Delta tried to stop its militants from terrorist activities in the mid-nineties, the youths accused them of complicity and murdered them. Righ now, Nigeria has a high deficit of willing martyrs among its leaders.
The truth is that when it comes to violence, the answer lies with the law and nothing else. The law it is that can cancel those negatives. It is the instrument that stripped all citizens of the right to possess firearms. If people had the right to protect themselves adequately, some of these atrocities would not be committed. (Though think about it honestly: if all of us would possess arms, it will be 160million guns and billions of ammunitions. How would there be peace? We would be facing another form of instability.) However, in most contemporary states, the law has entrusted the security of lives and property to the state. In Nigeria, keeping that trust has been in the decline for decades now. Unless we are interested in replacing the state with anarchy, we must rise to strengthen the law.
Strengthening the law means using it appropriately as an arbiter when injustice is perpetrated and getting the right people to enforce it, whenever possible. Muslims, as I have maintained, should, in the absence of any interest to bring the criminals that have been perpetrating crimes against them to justice locally, refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. They must be prepared to walk the ladder to its top. Armed with hard evidence like the ones we mentioned earlier, it is inconceivable that they will not be offered justice there. So the question of their retaliation is cancelled, ab initio.
Christians on their part must also resort to the law and support it. They must ensure that the law enforcement agencies that they control have risen to the challenge. They must also be patient with them until they succeed without complicating matters through retaliation. The current President is their making. They boasted of supporting him to victory during the last elections. In his hands lie the keys to our peace. He is the commander-in-chief. They must get him to act appropriately. Making a President is the beginning, not the end, of his service.
I will be dishonest to say that the government is doing nothing about Boko Haram. Achievements are recorded daily, albeit not enough to see us through completely yet. But when the President’s primary constituency dismisses him and resorts to taking the law into its hands by killing innocent travellers, I would think he has a problem at hand. He should not claim to be helpless, as he has often expressed in church services. He is not Moses. And we are not the Children of Israel on the bank of the Red Sea. Appealing to God without working hard maximally will only embolden the agents of destabilization. He must yield the stick as well as the carrot to both Boko Haram and his Christian counterparts in Plateau and Kaduna. Only this democratic distribution of justice would finally bring peace to our nation.
Ordinary citizens like me who have a voice must come out and speak boldly. The Christians have often emphasized that there is not enough voice of condemnation heard among Muslims. True. But that has to do more with the lack of protection from the government for those who would dare to do so. Man is a rational animal. Again, our dear Goodluck comes into the equation.
The Christians, on their part, often forget that they have been most economical with their voice against acts of sectarian violence. It is very hard, very rare, and very unusual to hear a Christian voice – a leader or opinion shaper – condemning the atrocities committed by his fellow Christians against Muslims, except Sam Nda-Isaiah of course, which mbay Christian fanatics say he is with Muslims. I cannot remember even a few, specifically directed at Christians. The best I would hear, if I am lucky on those rare occasions, are general statements condemning violence and calling for peace.
Has any Christian leader called for the prosecution of the massacres in Zonkwa or other villages of southern Kaduna of recent, for example? No. Have Nigerians heard the voice of any pastor on his pulpit condemning the Christians that attacked Muslims in Eid ground, roasted their bodies on vehicle bonnets and ate them in the presence of security agents? No. And so was it with every occasion of violence, including the latest killings on the Kaduna – Abuja Highway. What we only hear is the expression of shock, but not a single call for arrest. As usual, none is arrested and none will be arrested, anyway. There was never a time when any Christian cleric or traditional ruler even admitted that his people were at fault. The closest we heard was the recent statements by our Rev. Hassan Mathew Kukah. The videos are there. Let them join us in calling for the prosecution of the culprits. The truth, I must tell my Christian brothers, is that Nigeria cannot clap with one hand.
There are many other ways we can express our voice to garner support for peace though. For example, someone online has suggested mass rallies for peace across Northern Nigeria. Yes. I have seen the federal government and politicians rent crowds to show their solidarity for a cause or a candidate. Why cannot the president go beyond the pulpit and march across the road to the Eagle Square for the sake of peace? Why would not state governments summon all their ulama and priests and their followers to a peace rally in the largest public square of their states? These guys enjoy free largesse to Hajj, Umra Jerusalem and Rome. This is the time to ask for a pay back. Ehe now! Let us reassure the world with the pictures of oceans of peace loving Nigerians on international television screen. It will refute the notion that majority of Nigerians are murderers. It will also tell the agents of destabilization how insignificant they are in our midst.
As for the other forces that are interested for various reasons in aggravating the conflict in Northern Nigeria – those within the region and beyond – I wI’ll say that it is our negligence that has given the allowance for the expression of their nefarious interests, using Boko Haram and Christian groups. The people of Northern Nigeria, and those of other regions, will continue to remain where they are, each in his own domain. In the North particularly, God has enriched us with diversity. It is a blessing, not a curse. And so shall we remain together long after the guns of Boko Haram and those of Christian fanatics are put to silence.