How boko turned from preacher to bomber.

Year 2005, a young and
vibrant journalist named
Ahmad Salkida was living in
Maiduguri , in northeastern
Nigeria , when one of his
mother’s friends knocked on the door. Her son had
dropped out of university
to study under a local
imam. She begged Mr
Salkida to convince him to
return home. The student refused to change
his mind and instead introduced
Mr Salkida to the imam,
Mohammed Yusuf, a “brilliant
orator” heavily influenced by
the conservative teachings of a 13th century cleric. Soon Mr
Salkida began praying at
Yusuf’s mosque – and reporting
on the rise of an increasingly
radical, if obscure, sect. Today Boko Haram,or “western education is
forbidden”, is notorious
throughout Nigeria . The
police execution of Yusuf in
2009 sparked an insurgency
in the country’s north that has become as violent
as any in the world. About 500 people, mostly
Muslims, have been killed this
year in Boko Haram raids, suicide
attacks and commando-style
assaults targeting police,
students, the media, churchgoers and ordinary
civilians. Indeed on Tuesday, news
agencies reported that at least
seven people were killed in
separate overnight shootings in
northeast Nigeria , which they said were linked to the sect. Yet with the Islamist group
holding no territory and
providing no services to
local populations to win
support – unlike the
Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia – it
remains largely faceless
and mysterious to many
Nigerians. But not to Mr Salkida. The
37-year-old journalist is
one of the few people
outside the sect able to
talk authoritatively on the
Boko Haram ideology, its leader Abubakar Shekau,
its choice of targets and
what Mr Salkida describes
as the group’s growing
links with al-Qaeda. Arrested with Yusuf in 2009, Mr
Salkida narrowly survived being
killed by police, and has
continued to report on Boko
Haram, as his old contacts, now
underground, sent him video clips of attacks and personal details
of suicide bombers, and claims of
responsibility. The closeness of
his relations became clear in
March, when, in an effort to
initiate dialogue between the government and Boko Haram,
the head of the Supreme Council
for Sharia in Nigeria asked Mr
Salkida to act as a go-between
with the insurgent leaders. Mr
Salkida secured Boko Haram’s commitment to talks but they
subsequently fell through due to
a dispute between the
government and the Supreme
Council. Though his closeness to the
insurgent leaders has led
to harassment and
questions about his
partiality, causing him to
take a break from writing, few question his expertise
or knowledge. Shehu Sani, a
civil society activist in
northern Nigeria , says:
“He’s the most
authoritative voice on Boko Haram today.” Mannir Dan Ali, editor of the Daily
Trust, Mr Salkida’s former
employer, adds: “He is the one
journalist with access, who
understands their position.” In an interview in Abuja , Mr
Salkida said that Mr Yusuf, the
movement’s founder, has based
his teachings on the works of Ibn
Taymiyya, after whom he named
his mosque in Maiduguri , and who has influenced other modern
radical Islamist movements. Ibn
Taymiyya believed in the strict
adherence to the Koran and
principles of the Prophet
Mohammed, and was devoted to the concept of holy war. Why Boko Haram Was Founded Boko Haram was founded on
ideology, but poor governance
was the catalyst for it to
spread. Yusuf, who named his sect
“People Committed to the
Propagation of the
Prophet’s Teachings and
Jihad”, reasoned that
elements in the modern education system conflicted
with this interpretation of
Islam – hence his
movement’s nickname. “On
education, he did not want
mixed schools, or the teaching of evolution. He
wanted children to have
more time to study their
religion,” says Mr Salkida.
“But it was not just
education. Democracy was alien to him, and he said he
could not support a
government whose
constitution was not based
on the Koran.” In northern Nigeria , sharia law
was already in place before Boko
Haram launched in 2002. But it
was applied mildly and failed to
check the rampant corruption,
inequality and injustice. Poverty levels were high, and growing,
and for most young people there
were few job prospects. “Boko Haram was founded
on ideology, but poor
governance was the
catalyst for it to spread. If
there had been proper
governance and a functioning state, Yusuf
would have found it very
difficult to succeed,” Mr
Salkida says. Before Yusuf’s execution, Boko
Haram had a microfinance
system, operated a farm and its
own ruling council and emirs, Mr
Salkida says. His following
stretched far beyond Maiduguri and Borno state, across
northern Nigeria , as well as into
neighbouring Niger , Cameroon
and Chad . Mr Salkida witnessed
the fervency of Yusuf’s
followers when violence first erupted in July 2009. On
capturing a policeman – a fellow
Muslim – they “slaughtered him
like a goat”. At the same time,
hundreds of Boko Haram
members were thrown into police cells – as was Mr Salkida. When
Yusuf was brought in, Mr Salkida
heard police singing “no mercy,
no mercy”. Yusuf was executed
by an impromptu firing squad
behind Mr Salkida’s cell. “I don’t think that the
police were acting on
orders, but emotions. Boko
Haram was killing their
colleagues.” Yusuf was also growing
increasingly militant. In an
interview with Mr Salkida
days before his death, he
said: “Democracy and the
current system of education must be changed
otherwise this war that is
yet to start would continue
for long.” Mr Salkida returned to Maiduguri
as a freelancer in 2010. Yusuf’s
mosques and many homes had
been destroyed, causing huge
resentment. Some sect members
who survived fled to neighbouring countries selling
their stories of injustice, Mr
Salkida says. Having been dormant for more
than a year, Boko Haram re-
emerged under the leadership of
Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf’s
deputy. Mr Salkida knew him
before 2009 and estimates that he is 34 years old. “Shekau was always studying and writing, and
was more devoted and
modest than anyone else.
He would only wear cheap
clothes and did not accept
even to drive a car, preferring a motorbike.
Even when Boko Haram was
peaceful, he was somehow
more feared than Yusuf.” Initially, Boko Haram launched
small attacks on security forces. In June last year, the first
suicide bomber struck, driving his
car full of explosives into the
police headquarters in Abuja .
Two months later, a second
bomber blew up a UN building in Abuja . This was an attempt to
tighten existing links with al-
Qaeda in the Maghreb by
illustrating Boko Haram’s
capacity to strike “western”
institutions, Mr Salkida says. “In the past few years the
relationship with al-Qaeda
has been about ‘capacity
building’. But the links are
growing.” The recent attacks on
Christian churches were
designed to provoke
retaliation against Muslims,
which could drive more
people into Boko Haram’s arms, Mr Salkida says. But
he rejects the notion that
the insurgency is a
reaction to having a
Christian president,
Goodluck Jonathan, or that some northern politicians
are involved. “If there was a Muslim president
tomorrow, this would not end.
The war is not about individuals,
it’s about institutions. Boko
Haram sees the northern
governors and emirs as part of the institutions.” Mr Salkida dismisses
reports that the group has
different factions. Its 30-
member ruling council is
largely unchanged since
2010, he says, apart from two members arrested by
police. “It’s clear they
(Boko Haram) are winning
the war,” he says. “But I
believe Boko Haram wants
to end this, just not in a climate of uncertainty and
insincerity. Compromises
are possible.” (Financial Times)


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