If anyone needs proof that post 9/11 militant religious terrorism has set up shop in Nigeria, he or she should look no further than the mayhem unleashed by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. But the average Nigerian is good at sweeping rubbish under the carpet and hoping that this illusionary approach will eventually drive away ugly reality.
Let us face some harsh realities. Today, Nigeria's biggest threat is religion. An overwhelming number of Nigerians have imbibed brands of Islam and Christianity characterised by fanaticism, sheer mindlessness and aberrant thoughtlessness. In an interview, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie described the religious fundamentalism in Nigeria as 'troublingly overt' and highlighted some of the features of our practice of religion: 'insular, self-indulgent, self absorbed and self-congratulatory.' True, extremist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity are not unique to Nigeria. While the Middle East/North Africa leads the world in the former, USA is the champion of the latter. But what is so terrifying about the Nigerian scenario is the lethal mix our religionism is being thrown into. Grinding poverty plus ethnocentrism lit up by puerile leadership can only blow the country sky-high when ignited by religious extremism.
While Al-Qaeda and Taliban want to take over Nigeria, the fact is that the religious and cultural orientation in Northern Nigeria might be providing the leeway for groups like Boko Haram to wreck havoc. History can help here. Working hand in hand with the British colonial masters who did not want to lose their grip of the North, the Northern Emirs restricted the flow of formal education. When they released the reins as from the 1930s, education went to the children of the elite. But the question remains: what really is being taught in mosques and both Quranic and formal schools in the North? This question is necessary because though Boko Haram condemns Western education, quite a few of its members had formal education.
Islam supports the acquisition of knowledge. A misinformed man expounding religious tenets is as dangerous as a secondary school Biology student wielding an injection. Many things going on in Northern Nigeria in the name of Islam are anti-Islamic. Islam discourages discrimination on the basis of religion; even Prophet Muhammed assured the liberty of Christians in Medina. The scenario in the North is different. When the Prophet's followers met with the ruler of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) they expounded the tenets of their faith, then under Meccan persecution. Subsequently they got refuge in Ethiopia. In certain Northern circles any mention of intra and inter-religious dialogue is a one-way ticket to the grave. The manipulation of the masses with religion by the self-centred descendants of the allies of the British colonialists even as they wreck opportunities for their people's improvement creates a festering sore that pushes desperate young Northerners into the arms of groups like Boko Haram.
Devoid of the mental balance required of any honest seeker of truth and follower of any humane faith, most Nigerians live up to Blaise Pascal's observation that 'men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.' Finally, the country's security forces should realise that post 9/11 terrorism knows no boundaries. I recommend a careful study of 'The Avenger' by Frederick Forsyth to all Nigerian security operatives.
*Henry C. Onyema is a teacher and writer in Lagos, Nigeria