Editor's Note: Small World News is currently undergoing an exciting transition. Soon correspondents from around the globe will be producing new stories on a regular basis. We are actively seeking new international correspondents, so please get in touch if you have suggestions or wish to join our team. What follows is the first column from our Nigerian correspondent, Rotimi Olawale. As we undergo this transition, any feedback will be appreciated.
At face value, Mohammed Yusuf, the 39 year old leader of the boko Haram sect looked nothing like the average educated muslim scholar and cleric. From his picture, he looked like the neighbour next door, devoid of the characteristsics of an average scholar – a long white beard and a turban – Mohammed Yusuf trained, groomed and led more than 3000 young men across four states in Northen Nigeria to unleash terror, violence and killings which led to deaths totalling more than 800 in just 2 weeks.
Boko Haram, meaning "western education is a sin" in the hausa language, was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf with the objective ‘eradication of western education and the introduction of the Sharia law in all the 36 states of the Nigerian federation'.
According to newspaper reports, earlier in November 2008, Mohammed Yusuf and some of his followers were arrested by the police for public incitement through preaching and were dragged to abuja for trial. Two months later in January, they were granted bail after they were handed over to the police for prosecution.
The violence which started in Maiduguri, the Borno state Capital with an attack on the Borno state police command, religious centres and government building quickly spread to other Northern states of Yobe, Bauchi, and Kano.
Government responded by ordering a full frontal joint response from a combined team of military and police called Operation. The police, already bitter from the fact that the attack started right in their state headquarters left no stone unturned in smoking out the perpetrators.
At the end of the day, 800 lives were lost, mostly members of the islamic militant group and a score of innocent people including women and children who were caught in the cross fire.
However on July 30, Government announced the capture and later the death of Mohammed Yusuf, the sect's leader, which has led many observers, including several international analysts to allege that he was killed extra-judicially. Many Nigerians don't mind, extra-judicially or not, at least for the first time, the perpetrators of violence has been brought to justice, jungle justice or real justice, so they argued.
However, beyond the arguments of wether Mohammed was killed extra-judicially, there are still several questions that are left unanswered. For instance, how did the Boko Haram sect lay their hands on sophisticated weapons? Could it have been bought from the militants in the Niger Delta? How did they plan, group and stock-pile arms without attracting Government's intelligence system? Why was the group not placed under surveillance after they had been charged to court last year for public incitement in a region that is volatile and susceptible to such?
Beyond these questions also, is the need to find lasting solutions to ethnic and religious violence that at every interval springs up from the Northern region. The causative factors are easily identifiable. The northern region is the least educated region in the entire country, the poverty level is also higher and combined with the high unemployment rate in Nigeria, you have a region that has a pool of poor, uneducated and unemployed youth roaming the streets on a daily basis. How would these kids not be susceptible to brain-washing and incitements, especially when the person delivering the message can meet their basic human needs – food, clothing, shelter and cash.
The Boko Haram tragedy is likely going to repeat itself over and over again if the government of the 19 Northern states do not harmonise development strategies especially as regards education, tackling youth unemployment, dealing with religious crisis and gathering intelligence reports amongst others. If Nigeria would become the 20th largest economy by 2020; one of the fundamental things to eradicate is ethnic and religious crises. The time to act is now!