Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Bloodbath in Baga

As the world focused on the murder of journalists in Paris, little was heard about the deaths of 2,000 Muslims massacred by Boko Haram extremists in northern Nigeria, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Africa has a genius for extremes, for the beginning and the end. It seems simultaneously connected to some memory of Eden and to some foretaste of apocalypse. Nowhere is a day more vivid or a night darker” — Lance Morrow

The Islamist terrorist movement Boko Haram once again demonstrated the long reach of its attempts to impose a fanatical version of Islam on the Muslim people of northern Nigeria this week.

While the international media was stupefied by the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris, scant attention was paid to the six-day rampage by Boko Haram in the impoverished town of Baga in remote northeastern Nigeria.

The motives of the massacre are unclear, but it appears to have been spurred by the Nigerian authorities’ indifference to the deplorable living conditions in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria.

The Baga tragedy was described as the “deadliest massacre” by the London-based rights group Amnesty International. It began on 3 January when truckloads of Boko Haram militiamen overran the Baga military post.

The militiamen seem initially to have intended to massacre those defending the military post, but when the troops fled the scene they turned on the terrified townspeople instead. For the period of a week they proceeded to methodically raze Baga’s buildings, public and private, and murder those they found at random, leaving 2,000 dead.

Hundreds of corpses remain strewn in the backwoods of the border area between Nigeria and neighbouring Chad in a scandalous flouting of Islamic religious requirements and regulations.

The terrified survivors of the massacre were warned not to vote in the upcoming Nigerian presidential elections or face dreadful retribution. Boko Haram’s message was clear: people must not participate in Nigerian democracy, something the militia describes as a sham.

The elections are scheduled to take place on 14 February, pitting the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, against his main rival, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Jonathan has called for the disqualification of Buhari because of his presumed illiteracy. Buhari, a devout Muslim and former Nigerian military ruler, had been pressed to present the minimum requirement of a school-leaving certificate, poignant in a way since Boko Haram insists on boycotting Western education.

A spokesman for the APC claimed that Buhari had lost the original copies of his educational credentials.

The Jamaat Ahl Al-Sunna lil-Daawa wal-Jihad (Society Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad), popularly known as Boko Haram (Western Education is Forbidden), denounces Western education.

“Academic qualification is a threshold issue that cannot be waived for any citizen no matter how highly placed and irrespective of whichever region [a presidential contender] hails from,” retorted a spokesman for the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

The question is whether a barely literate military strongman can run Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s biggest economy.

In contrast, Jonathan holds a PhD in zoology and was an educational inspector, lecturer and environmental-protection officer before he ran for president. Whether zoology or a seasoned military career better enhances a presidential candidate’s credentials remains to be seen.

The website has ranked Jonathan sixth on its list of wealthy individuals, claiming his net monetary worth to be some $100 million. However, Buhari, who has served as the chairman of Nigeria’s Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), is no pauper either.

Buhari has favoured the application of Islamic Sharia law in the northern Nigerian states, but he later rescinded his position by declaring that he stood for freedom of religious belief. “They accuse me falsely of ethnic jingoism; they accuse me falsely of religious fundamentalism. Even as head of state, we never imposed Sharia,” he said in a presidential campaign speech on 6 January.

Nigeria and its neighbours have attempted to crack down on Boko Haram, but just as the Iraqi military forces tend to flee in the face of attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group, Nigerian troops desert their positions whenever Boko Haram militiamen attack.

Whether the troops flee because they are not adequately armed or because they are sympathetic to Boko Haram is an open question.

The Nigerian government and Boko Haram are at loggerheads, but for the time being neither side has blinked. They seem unable to agree to stop the violence or to walk away from the morass.

In a related development, Boko Haram militants launched an attack on a military base on the northern Cameroon military base of Kolofata on 12 January. The base is adjacent to the Nigerian state of Bornu, where Boko Haram is most active.

The Kolofata attack came a day after bombs exploded at an open market selling mobile handsets in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, another Nigerian state ravaged by Boko Haram terrorism.

Cameroon President Paul Biya recently ordered air strikes against Boko Haram positions in the mainly Muslim northern part of his country. Up to now a policy of containment, whether in Cameroon or in Nigeria, has largely served as a cover for the continuation of war and terror.

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