By MALCOLM FABIYI, PhD
Recently, your group declared that it would no longer dialogue with the Federal Government. You have publicly stated that Boko Haram has two fundamental objectives. The first is to Islamize Nigeria, expel Christians from Northern Nigeria and re-establish the legacy of Shehu Dan Fodio. The second is to bring an end to the practice and propagation of western education in Nigeria. With such hardline positions, it is difficult to see what the basis for any negotiations would be. Dialogue presumes there is the capacity to find middle ground, and the possibility that the two sides to a conflict have certain common positions on which they can agree.
The Nigerian constitution guarantees the rights of all Nigerians to choose their faith and to worship as they please. Educational access is also protected under the Nigerian constitution. Because your demands violate the constitutional rights of other Nigerians, no representative of the Nigerian government is constitutionally empowered to negotiate on any of the issues you have identified as being fundamental to your cause. It is therefore unlikely that any serious government will enter into negotiations regarding amnesty for your members without requiring that the demands that you have made which are not aligned with the constitution are dropped.
It has also been implied that the model for the negotiations between your group and the government is the Niger Delta Militants amnesty program that was initiated by late President Umaru Yaradua. It is unclear whether that is in fact an appropriate model. No objective Nigerian can argue with the facts that the petroleum induced environmental degradation of the Niger Delta, and the lack of economic opportunities in a region from which most of Nigeria’s resources are derived is an assault to decency and fairness. Few will also argue with the fact that successive governments had systematically ignored the Niger Delta. MEND’s stated objective was ensuring fairness for the Niger Delta in the use and allocation of revenues derived from oil and gas resources sourced from the region. Redressing these wrongs was well within the powers of the Nigerian government to implement. In fact, it can be argued that the failure of government to address these issues earlier was in violation of both the spirit and letter of the Nigerian constitution.
No one doubts that Northern Nigeria is in crisis. However, where well-meaning Nigerians will likely differ is in deciding where the blame for the North’s predicament should lie. To blame southerners, Christians, or western education for the woes of the North is to misplace the source of responsibility for our predicament. The North has been blessed with the privilege of leading this nation for much of its history. What did our leaders do when they were in office? Apart from the brief period of growth and progress in Northern Nigeria under the leadership of the Sardauna (Ahmadu Bello) and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, what have northern leaders done to uplift the Northern masses? What improvements to the lives of the Ja’maa and the Talakawa have occurred under the rule of Northern leaders since 1966? What improvements to the lives of their citizens are Northern political leaders implementing today?
As a Nigerian and a Northerner who is aware of the legacy of Shehu Dan Fodio, and as a father whose son is named for the Shehu, your insinuation that your struggle is linked with the restoration of the legacy of Shehu Dan Fodio is offensive. If you are truly concerned about the Shehu’s legacy, you should look first at what has become of that legacy in the North. It might be in your interest to know that Shehu Dan Fodio was a firm believer in education, even in the type that you derisively refer to as western education. Ibraheem Sulaiman, author of “A Revolution in History”, an authoritative treatise on the life and times of Shehu Dan Fodio tells us that “the Shehu utilized the sciences (ulum) in his efforts to transform society; the science of tawhid, the science of hadith, the science of tafsir, the science of fiqh, as well as the sciences of medicine, astronomy and mathematics.” It is our good fortune that this work is readily available for inquisitive minds to review (http://nmfuk.org/danfodio/IbrahimSulaimansBook.pdf). It might also be in your interest to know that the love for the sciences and mathematics was not restricted to the Shehu alone. Hugh Clapperton, the first European to document the conditions in Northern Nigerian after the Shehu’s Jihad, recorded finding the Shehu’s son, Sultan Mohammed reading a copy of the classical mathematical text by Euclid during a visit to the Sultan in 1827. Whatever your agenda is, it is clear that by opposing “western education” you seek to destroy, not enhance, the legacy of Shehu Dan Fodio.
What exactly do you even mean by western education? Do you not realize that you belittle the contributions that Africa and Arabia made to science by using such a term? Do you not see that by calling a body of knowledge to which all races, peoples and civilizations have made a contribution by the name “western education” belittles the role of Africa and Islam in the development of modern science? Mathematics is the language of science. Are you aware that Algebra, the most fundamental of the branches of mathematics is derived from the Arabic word Al-Jabr, coined by the Persian Mathematician Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī who published the earliest known comprehensive treatise on the subject in 820 AD. Are you aware of the Rhind Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian (African) mathematical text containing groundbreaking mathematical concepts dated to about 2000 BC, clearly demonstrating the African origins of modern mathematics? Do you know that Euclid, the father of modern geometry actually lived and studied in Egypt? Do you know that the number system that underlies all of modern science is called the Arabic numeral system – not the German, French, or English numeral system?
Some inconsistencies in your position on education need to be addressed. Your discussion with journalists was carried out by mobile phone, a technology developed by “western education.” You use improvised explosive devices that incorporate timer mechanisms developed by western education. These explosives derive their destructive power from violent chemical reactions and exothermic processes that have been tamed only through a deep knowledge of chemistry and physics. The cars that you load your bombs in are powered by an internal combustion engine developed from thermodynamic principles which we understand only because of “western education.” The rifles that you carry, the camera that you use to record your messages, the computers on which you type and process your messages, the internet that allows you to reach the entire world with your views, the printers that publish your positions, the compact disks and thumb drives that you use in sending your messages – all these are products of the western education that you claim to despise.
Dr Datti Ahmed, who is mediating with the government on your behalf, is a medical doctor, trained in the foremost western traditions. I am hopeful that you have had opportunity to ask him what he truly thinks about western education. I am also hopeful that he and the other northern leaders you say you have respect for have been upfront with you about what they really think about western education. Ask our political, religious and business leaders in the North like Dr Datti Ahmed, Adamu Ciroma, General Buhari, Nasir El Rufai, Alhaji Umaru Muttalab, Nuhu Ribadu, Aliko Dangote, Sultan Abubakar, and Sanusi Lamido where their own children are. If we should find that their own children are in the west – at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, Manchester, LSE – gaining the most that they can from western education, we must question their silence at this critical period of Northern and National existential crisis. We must ask them to state publicly and clearly what their views are about western education, and what they believe its role should be in society.
There is another irony to consider. While you are calling for an end to “western education,” purporting to do so in the name of Islam, Muslim nations all over the world are tightening their embrace of education. Do you know how many Nigerian academics – Christian and Muslim – have been poached by institutions such as King Fahd University in Saudi Arabia to teach “western education” to their citizens? Are you aware of the radical social and economic transformations that are occurring in predominantly Islamic nations like Malaysia, Qatar, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, powered by western education? In an age where Iran is at conflict with the rest of the world because of its deepening pursuit of Nuclear capabilities, where Pakistan has built a Nuclear bomb, where Malaysia and Indonesia are becoming technological and commercial powerhouses, you are calling for an end to the pursuit of science and progress in Nigeria.
Let us now go back to the issue of amnesty and negotiations. The negotiations with MEND yielded two things. Firstly, the government increased its commitment to the Niger Delta, creating a ministry for the region and a special projects parastatal focused on infrastructural development. Secondly, the militants negotiated personal development programs for themselves, and many have been enrolled into training programs where they are developing the necessary skills to serve as engineers, drillers, divers, sailors and support personnel in the oil and gas industry. If your negotiations move forward with the government, what developmental programs will you demand for the North and for yourselves? What will the fate of your 500,000 members be when your guns finally go silent? What useful careers or jobs can be created for them if they do not have any western education?
Finally, to claim that Boko Haram seeks to re-establish the legacy of Shehu Dan Fodio by disrupting society, maiming and killing innocents and calling for the cessation of the pursuit of knowledge is to dishonor the legacy of the Shehu. The Shehu’s true legacy was about leadership by example and selfless service. The Shehu decried all materialism, he hated corruption and hypocrisy, he refused the crown after his victories, preferring worship and the pursuit of knowledge to the pomp and pageantry of office. Shehu Dan Fodio’s Jihad was a campaign against corruption and selfishness by leaders. If indeed you seek to restore the Shehu’s legacy and to engage in the revolutionary principle of Tajdid, then your focus should be on those leaders who have led the North to ruin, those who amass wealth, steal from the people, build palatial homes, and concentrate solely on the acquisition of worldly possessions, while their own people suffer. The real villains are those leaders who destroy schools, fail to fund hospitals, and do to the children of the North what they would not do to their own children. The true enemies of the North are those leaders who hypocritically maintain a complicit silence when western education is denounced yet send their own children to the best western schools that money can pay for. There is no difference between the oppression that these leaders impose on the North today and what the Habe Kings were doing to the Jama’a in the days of Shehu Dan Fodio.