As the only journalist who dispatched the first ever report on late Muhammad Yusuf’s activities in Maiduguri, on the 23rd of July 2006, at a time when the sect was relatively unknown to many Nigerians, I should be able to give an insight into the Boko Haram saga.
I have closely followed the activities of the Boko Haram sect. In fact, I was invited by the late Yusuf at that period to establish and head an Al-mizzan styled newspaper for him. However, in the course of our deliberations, I tabled the following issues that set us apart: I wanted to be partner in the project, I wanted editorial freedom to edit out anything I may find to incite the public in the publication and I wanted to introduce a regular column that totally disagrees with his ideology.
I think, my conditions, at a time when I hadn’t any gainful employment, shocked the prospective investor who thought any budding journalist would rush at the opportunity to become an editor-in-chief especially of a promising paper, on account of the large follower ship and the group’s loyalty to their Imam.
However my relationship with late Mohammed Yusuf continued as he visited me when I lost my 8 months old son that died of malaria. Perhaps, he saw me partially as one of his students and partially as a dissenter due to my independent disposition. But, to be fair to him, I admire his depth of knowledge, oratorical prowess and apparent willingness to emulate Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
In early 2002, Yusuf was seen by many as a likely heir to the renowned late Sheik Ja’afar Mahmud Adam in Maiduguri on account of his brilliance and closeness to the late renowned scholar. But all that changed shortly when one late Mohammed Alli approached late Yusuf with reasons to boycott democracy, civil service and western oriented schools. Late Yusuf then disengaged his service with the Yobe state government.
Then, in a 2006 press release signed by the sect’s Shura (Consultative) Council, they stated that, Islam permits them to subsist under a modern government like Nigeria but has explicitly prohibited them from joining or supporting such governments in so far as their systems, structures and institutions contain elements contradictory to core Islamic principles and beliefs.
However, the late Alli argued that the sect must embark on Hijra (migration), but late Yusuf declined and Alli proceeded to Kanamma in Yobe with his faction, and one thing led to another, the group launched an insurgent attack on the Police that resulted in the loss of many lives and property in Kanamma and later in Gwoza in Borno state. Although the insurgents, a renegade group that called itself “Taliban,” led by Alli, fiercely disagreed with late Yusuf and many of the escapees later returned to Yusuf.
Unlike Alli, Yusuf went on undeterred, though he was prevented from preaching in several mosques and was denied TV/Radio appearances in the state. But he setup a preaching outlet in the front of his house at the railway quarters and at Angwan Doki, millionaires’ quarters among others. The demand for his tapes increased by the day all over the north and the proceeds there from increased tremendously. He, then asked his landlord and in-law, late Baba Fugu Mohammed to allow him to build a mosque whom he named Ibn Taimiyya Masjid.
It was in Ibn Taimiyya Masjid that late Yusuf together with his hard-line top lieutenant Abubakar Shekau alias `Darul Tauhid,’ began to build an imaginary state within a state. Together they setup Laginas (departments), they had a cabinet, the Shura, the Hisbah, the brigade of guards, a military wing, a large farm, an effective micro finance scheme, and late Yusuf played the role of a judge in settling disputes, each State had an Amir (leader) including amirs in Chad and Niger that gave accounts of their stewardship to Yusuf directly.
The sect, led by Yusuf took advantage of the poor quality of our educational system, the incessant strikes, cult activities, widespread malpractices and prostitutions that is made worse with no offer of jobs after graduation to wheedle many youth to abandon school and embrace Yusuf’s new and emerging state that promises to offer them a better alternative.
Late Yusuf also took advantage of the irresponsible leadership at all levels of government as unemployment, poverty, corruption and insecurity become the order of the day. And, as he points out such failures, citing verses of the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet, the youth see him as the leader that will indeed deliver them from malevolence to the promised land.
In my write-up of February 28, 2009 in the Sunday Trust I wrote about the sect, where I alerted the general public about the sect’s total disregard for civil obedience. The report in question warned that to disregard the simmering cauldron “smells like rebellion…and it will be irresponsible of any authority to wait for the occurrence of violence before it acts in the face of impending threat to law and order,” in subsequent reports and during my interactions with senior security agents, I did not only predict the crisis but hinted on the strategy of the sect. But, typical of investigative journalism, instead of these revelations to catch the attention of the relevant agencies, their attention was shifted on how to frame me. Apparently, the plan was never to prevent a crisis but to allow it to occur.
However, in fairness to the government of Borno state that is living witnesses to the unruly behaviour of the sect and its extreme dislike for government institutions, the state government like other governments in northern Nigeria saw the need to halt this nuisance in their states; they were alarmed that the sect that started with a handful of people is hitting the 7-digit mark and one day (if not very soon) the likelihood that the sect may determine the politics of the land cannot be dismissed.
According to Isa Yuguda, the Governor of Bauch state in a recent interview with a weekly newspaper, “When the Boko Haram issue came, I sat down and scientifically organised a Commando raid on their stronghold. We identified them over a period of time and made sure the Ulamas came and preached against them for two weeks and they in return issued fatwa against the Imams that are preaching against them. We had to attach policemen to the Imams because the Boko Haram people threatened to slaughter them. We planned for them.
“We cordoned off their area around 3a.m. in the morning and phoned my neighbours in Borno and Yobe states about the operation I was going to carry out because their leader was there at that time. After exchanging gunshots for some time, we smoked them out of their houses. They were fully armed with grenades, machine guns and rocket launchers,” said Yuguda.
Having kept track of political activities in the state, I knew very well that Ali Sheriff, unlike Yuguda, could not afford to strike first, Borno could take anything from him but not an attack on Muslims. However, the government in Borno setup a joint security patrol nicknamed, `operation flush’ in order to serve as a constant check on the sect.
As the crisis started in Maiduguri, reporters did the obvious; `live and tell the story’ and they stayed mostly in the Government House (GH) and most of them contacted me directly or indirectly to get briefed because I chose to do the `unexpected’, which is to `risk my life to tell the story.’ Indeed, I took undue risk which exposed me to the unimaginable that would form the subject of a book I am now writing.
On Tuesday 29th July 2009 when I made a stop at the Borno state Government House, a staff of the GH, one Yusuf dragged me into the office of the Chief Security Officer to the Governor, insisting that the governor’s aide wanted to see my face for the first time. The aide wanted to know from me why I did not shave my beards and lower my trousers below the ankle to avoid the wrath (Alas! bullets) of the security agents.
I, then, told him that it is wrong for security agents to brand innocent people that wear beards as Boko Haram and even killed them based on that. In fact, to keep beards, to wear turbans and nisfusaak (trousers above the ankle) are part of the prophet’s Sirah, which is recommended to every Muslim over 1400 years ago, and it is seen as a deeply spiritual task by many Muslims all over the world.
He, also, asked me whether or not I was abducted by the sect members for a while and released. I put the record straight that, I only ran into a mob and thereafter I was left off the hook when they were convinced that the brown apron I was wearing carried an inscription of Daily Trust had nothing to show that I was a government official.
Sadly for me, the CSO did not like my guts and the fact that I reported the two sides that clearly exposed the Achilles’ heel of his boss, he ordered for my arrest, calling my crime `counter intelligence.’ At the GH I was assaulted by the mobile police (at the quarter guard post). There, a Police Constable Sani Abubakar, held my beards and pulled me to the ground, he kicked my legs to forcefully remove my loafers.
I was made to lie down with my face down instantly I urinated in my pants when two mobile police men contemplated who was going to pull the trigger, whether that was a joke or an attempt to scare me. Thank God I am alive as yet, maybe the powers that be are aware of the event that would follow the execution of a media man within the GH or as the government claimed, I was held in protective custody for my safety.
I was then driven to the police headquarters in the state where I was kept in a cell with 58 others. After spending 30 hours in the cell and about 48 hours without food or water (because, I couldn’t break the fast I was observing upon my arrest), I was then allowed to wash up the urine that had dried up on my pants and relieved myself of the running stomach that became the audible music in our cell as everyone witnessed how cell mates were being called out and executed, everyone was waiting for his turn.
Surprisingly, none of my colleagues investigated and reported the assault meted against me, even when some of them searched for me in the crowded cell as I sat without shoes on the floor. Instead, speculations were rife amongst them that indeed I was a Boko Haram member, on account of the following baseless talk: That I wear beards and trousers above my ankle and yet I came from a Christian background and this to many of them makes me an extremist.
That I was doing fairly well as a journalist in the last ten years with a mere primary school certificate and that makes me a Boko Haram too. That, my fair complexioned spouse was a Shuwa Arab and given out to me in marriage by late Yusuf and finally, they said late Yusuf had contacted some members of the media on two occasions through me in the past.
Now that I no longer carry my youthful goatee and halfway trousers to avoid being branded a terrorist meets your requirements however I want to state here that I am proud of my Christian background as a Muslim because it has afforded me a unique sense of tolerance and impartial view for the need for dialogue that many born Christians and Muslims lack, leading to the kind of mistrusts we see today.
My wife is a very proud Tarok, from Langtang LGA in Plateau state, I met and married her in Abuja in 2002 and never saw Yusuf in her life. Yes, I was perhaps the only journalist known to late Yusuf on account of what I mentioned earlier on. But, when has it become illegal to know a public figure who later became a criminal?
I started a career in journalism as a staff reporter with Insider Weekly Magazine, from 2001 to 2002. Thereafter, I had a stint with Crystal Magazine as a Special Projects Editor and later a founding staff with New Sentinel and freelanced for several mediums. Currently, I work as a reporter with the Media Trust Limited. I do not posses any formal educational qualification beyond primary school; however I was self educated through years of extensive reading of books.
As a primary school pupil in the early 80’s, when late Yusuf was a little kid himself, I would choose to climb a tree and read a story book while my mates were in school. Somehow I managed to complete my primary school but my disdain to learn under the four square walls of a classroom continued during my Secondary School and my father decided to discontinue funding my education. Although, I was visible in the University of Maiduguri, not as a student but sadly, as a commercial final year project writer to nearly a hundred undergraduates and a handful of master’s degree thesis as well, anyway this is a story for another day.
Although there was a extraordinary effort by the correspondents chapel and the Nigerian Union of Journalist in the area to secure my release but as my wife who is yet to recover from the trauma of that crisis argued, the NUJ should have demanded for my release and out rightly condemn my arrest but instead, they pleaded and pleaded until I was released; this is an admittance that indeed one of their own is guilty as alleged and as my wife always said, this allegation will hang over my head for the rest of my life.
Recently, when Al-jazeera showed video footage of extra-judicial killings the world became aware of some of our experiences in Maiduguri, and typical of Nigerians, we heard calls for probe. The most disturbing call for probe is the one by the very government that ordered the summary executions in the first place. Can a military or police officer go to town and harvest corpses without an order from above? If this is possible, then it should not be a probe of extra-judicial killings instead, government should probe insubordination and total breakdown of law and order amongst security agents leading to numerous deaths. And, let us not forget, what happened to the previous probes setup by the federal government? I have a disturbing video that confirmed what security agents told me during my arrest. “No prison for Boko Haram members, we want them all death.” Is it the governor of Borno state that gave such an order or Mr President that has absolute control over the police and military under the constitution? Oh, ours is a country where the constitution is always disregarded.
Why did they execute Yusuf together with Baba Fugu Mohammed and Bugi Foi before any trial? Was it to cover the dirty tracks of under cover agents that worked for years with late Yusuf, leaving the impression that these two (that are the richest people close to late Yusuf) funded the uprising? Why are the sophisticated guns of Boko Haram that was used to keep Nigeria’s defence forces away from their enclave for three days not displayed to the public along side corpses? What we saw was mostly bow and arrows.
Where is Abubakar Shekau? The police said he died from injuries he sustained during the crisis. Can we believe them after all? They said late Yusuf died in a shootout when in fact over 50 mobile police men shot him behind my detention room, at the armoury right inside the police headquarters. In my opinion, Abubakar Shekau, the second in command of late Yusuf may be alive.
Over the years, the failure of security agents to prevent crisis that often times leads to loss of lives and property worth billions of naira goes unpunished. We never hear any apology or resignation from political leaders or heads of security agents. The only punishment is, erring commissioners of Police are transferred to an obscure department of special duties at the Force Headquarters’ in Abuja, as was the case with the commissioners during Boko Haram and the recent Jos crisis.
Were it not for a country like Nigeria, where government have failed to provide basic life support for its citizens, late Yusuf may have never thrived. A functional environment with opportunities for all, equal justice for all, fairness to all and governed by leaders that are responsible for their people, the rude and retrogressive teachings of late Yusuf would have not received the attention of about a million followers all over the north. Indeed, late Yusuf’s teaching was an abuse to Algebra, reproductive health and the science of astronomy that has its roots in Islam, if indeed it is true that he said boko is haram.
From my interaction with him, he never said boko is haram plainly; in fact the name Boko Haram came to being during the crisis. What he always said was, as long as anything that contradicts the teachings of Islam (in his own view) exists in the educational system then it is haram to go to that school unless such things ceased to exist. As members of the sect realised, they cannot ensure such change, especially in a secular state like ours; they withdrew from schools completely. But I am aware that late Yusuf had plans to set up a school, a hospital and a market in the future to complement the sect’s micro finance scheme and other Laginas.
Unfortunately, late Yusuf’s teachings that caused crisis and death of hundreds of our gallant security agents and made it inhuman for people like Yusuf to survive, contradicts not only Islam which he claims to be preaching to his followers but his very existence. I saw when members of the sect slaughtered a police sergeant, L. Adamu. He pleaded with them that he was never against them and said he was a fellow Muslim but yet they slaughtered him like a goat. Was this the reason why the police and military summarily executed the suspected sect members in the same manner the sect did to their colleagues?
Suffice it to say here that government should investigate why the sect took up arms against it. What were the issues that led to the armed struggle? And what are the chances of recurrence of violence. Government must as a matter of urgency police our porous border because Shekau may be living close by. Government through religious and traditional leaders must dialogue with the displaced family members of Boko Haram and ensure that their children all go back to school.
Government must begin to locate them and assure them of a fair trial at home in order not for them to easily fall as fodders to any al-Qaeda advances. Religious institutions like the one headed by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III should be empowered to independent and be able to effectively regulate and censor religious activities in the country.