By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
My heart hurts terribly. I have been sick in the heart since I read of the suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja. What justification could someone possibly have for murdering scores of innocent souls who were no more than mere cogs in the UN machine? Just thinking of this makes me wonder if we are all equally human.
It takes a really detestably insensate beast in human form to choose to kill innocent, defenseless men, women, and children just to make a political statement. I share no common humanity with such a person.
Almost all the people that were killed in the blast were UN humanitarian workers. The most tragic for me was the news of the innocent foundlings (children with no known parents because they were abandoned) who perished in a crèche at the UN building. This is just plain conscienceless villainy!
What is Nigeria turning to? A few days before the suicide attack on the UN building, the New York Times did an analysis that suggested that Boko Haram had now linked up with al Qaida and could become more ferocious and more wide-ranging in its attacks. I’d dismissed the analysis as lazy and idle propaganda and, in fact, intended to debunk it on this blog.
Now I know I was wrong. So many strange things are happening in Nigeria these days—and at such a phenomenally dizzying pace— that I have given up trying to make sense of them using old cultural frames of reference. When Umar Farouk Muttalab attempted to blow up a Delta Airline on December 25 2009, a lot of Nigerians—Muslims and Christians alike—vowed that Mutallab couldn’t possibly be a Nigerian. We all thought that suicide bombing was so alien to our ways as to be worthy of being dismissed as totally un-Nigerian.
The stereotype of the average Nigerian is that he loves life so much that he would give up everything and anything to be alive. Plus, suicide is actually a grave sin in Islam. Islam teaches that people who commit suicide are guaranteed an unfettered passage to hellfire in the hereafter.
It is beyond me how the culture of suicide bombing took roots in parts of the Arab world in spite of the forceful doctrinal rejection of suicide in Islam. Someone once suggested that it is the recrudescence of pre-Islamic Arabian cult of martyrdom. I don’t know how sociologically and historically accurate this notion is because the modern roots of suicide attacks, according to many informed sources, are actually traceable to the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, who are Buddhists.
But the sneaky incursion of suicide attack culture in Nigeria should concern us all. It bespeaks a worryingly sinister cultural infiltration. At least three instances have led me to conclude that this previously alien, “un-Nigerian” culture is taking roots on our soil.
One, Umar Farouk Mutallab was clearly a would-be suicide bomber. Although his extremism was planted and fertilized in Yemen, he is Nigerian. Two, the attack on the police headquarters in Abuja early this year, by all accounts, was a suicide attack. And now we have an unmistakable case of suicide bombing on the United Nations building by a Nigerian.
We don’t know for certain who exactly was behind this savage mass slaughter of innocents, but we need to start telling ourselves some uncomfortable truths. Middle-East-type religious extremism is seeping out dangerously in Nigeria. The Boko Haram is only the concentrated expression of this disturbing trend. If nothing is done to reverse this, as I’ve pointed out previously here, we may become Afghanistan in Africa—or worse. But many of our people are reluctant to come to terms with this unsettling truth either out of cowardice or the hypocrisy of not wanting to play into the hands of the “enemy.”
But our silence will consume us all. As is already common knowledge, more than 90 percent of the victims of terrorism are often people who share the same faith—and nationality—as the terrorists. The problem on our hands is therefore as much a law-enforcement challenge as it is a doctrinal one. We need to strike at the roots of what disposes young people to be brainwashed by murderous, suicidal, and clearly un-Islamic teachings from the lunatic fringe.
A lot of highly knowledgeable and tolerant Muslim clerics are afraid to openly contradict and condemn the deluded and homicidal teachings of Boko Haram—and their ilk—for fear of being labeled and murdered. But silence will only further entrench their ideology and marginalize the mainstream. So I think the most effective front in the battle against Boko Haram would be to mobilize the ulama (community of Muslim scholars) to frontally confront and dilute the sect’s ideology so that they can no longer recruit young, impressionable minds.
Our security and law enforcement apparatuses are, of course, painfully weak. And our president is even weaker. You need to go no further than Jonathan’s pitifully illiterate response to the bombing to know this. When journalists asked him if the attack on the UN building would hurt Nigeria’s image, his response was: “Of course, wherever you have terrorist attack in any country, Nigeria is not an isolated case. Many countries have suffered from terrorists attacks, may be it is the turn of Nigeria. But we are on top of the situation.”
Forget the disjointed thoughts; the man is famously incapable of stringing together coherent thoughts. But how could Jonathan say with a straight face that his government is “on top of the situation?” Three terrorist attacks in Abuja (that is, including MEND’s Independence Day terrorist attacks) in the space of one year and the president still says he is “on top of the situation”?
The presidency is obviously above this president’s pay grade. That’s almost as tragic as the tragedy of the suicide bombing. God save us.
As I end this piece, I read about the unprovoked, homicidal attacks on Jos Muslims as they were observing or about to observe the Ed-il-ftr prayers to mark the end of Ramadan. This is truly depressing. It’s just as detestable as the suicide attack on the UN building or the irrational murders by Boko Haram members. This perpetual cycle of recriminations and violence on the plateau must stop.