Monday, May 7, 2012

Boko Haram: Killers for God

The Boko Haram jihadi outfit in Nigeria has struck at the heart blood of the Nigerian people -- its robust and creative media.
Boko Haram means "Books are Forbidden." It's a Muslim Hausa group that has swallowed the bin Laden Kool-Aid. In a country of 80 million Muslims and 80 million Christians and animists, BK wants to impose Muslim religious law on everyone.
Hard to believe there are people out there who believe their vision of God authorizes them to blow up newspapers, churches, police stations, markets and schools.
Children are now afraid to go to school across much of Northern Nigeria. Suicide bombers have killed indiscriminately in the huge traditional market city of Kano -- the last major city before traders cross the Sahara desert bearing carpets, cloth, gems, crafts and other ware to and from Marrakesh and other cities of North Africa.
I was sent to Nigeria by the U.S. government to train local journalists in 1993 so I was extremely sad to hear of the suicide bombing of the Abuja offices of ThisDay newspaper on April 26, and threats issued by video by Boko Haram against a slew of other mainstream Nigerian papers. I must assume some of the reporters I trained are now under the gun.
I recalled how Nigeria's history foundered when its great statesman Moshood Abiola died in jail, taking with him hope for a consensus to unite the religions of Africa's most populous nation.
I met Abiola at the Lagos airport in 1993. He was standing in a billowy traditional light blue and white robe and shaking hands with every traveler, porter and taxi driver in sight. His business card read: Moshood Abiola, Presidential Aspirant.
Other cards he gave me said he was editor and publisher of Concord newspapers and president of the Nigerian publishers association.
A few days later I rode with Abiola on the large campaign plane he'd bought from the British royal family, using some of the millions made in business working for ITT and his many investments in Nigeria.
At one stop in the north, Abiola handed out prizes to girls at a soccer tournament, telling thousands in the stadium that girls should stay in school and transform the nation. "We are all one nation, Muslims, Christians, Nigerians all," he said.
At another city he met with a few dozen senior political and tribal leaders, telling them bluntly: "I am a wealthy man and I have worked hard to make my fortune. And what do I do with my money? I hire your sons and your daughters. I believe in this country. Let us build it together."

The British steward on his plane who brought him his orange juice during the flight, told me "He's the finest man I ever worked for. He's genuine and really cares about everyone he meets."
Although he was widely believed to have won the 1993 election, the military aborted the vote count and seized power. Abiola fled the country but then he returned, possibly believing he could challenge the military and prove his victory. But he was arrested and remained in jail until 1998 when he died in mysterious circumstances on the very day he was to have been released.
Today, the country faces a movement catching fire as hundreds of disgruntled and poor young men cast their lot with Boko Haram, possibly inspired by al Qaeda. The video showing the bombing of the newspaper shows their leader making his threats against other journalists, including the Voice of America. Behind him, leaning against the wall, just like in the bin Laden videos, an AK-47 rifle is propped.
Nigeria lies on a global fault line of world civilization. To the north, in the Sahel, Sahara, North Africa and the Middle East, lies the Muslim world. To the South, lie the Christian and animist peoples. We've recently seen vicious civil wars pitting Muslims against Christians in Ivory Coast and Sudan. If Nigeria goes up in smoke, it will be horrible -- perhaps a repeat of the terrible 1967 Biafra war which left one million dead as the Ibo people sought their own nation.
Regrettably, the man who might have brought everyone together was left to die in jail, and we are facing the rise of Boko Haram.

Author: Ben Barber, a journalist, photographer and media consultant
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