Nigeria: Boko Haram and a Web of Accusations in Borno State

Voices in and outside Nigeria frequently accuse Northern Nigerian political elites of supporting the violent Muslim sect Boko Haram from behind the scenes. President Goodluck Jonathan himself said in January that sect members had infiltrated every branch of the government. Other observers have voiced skepticism at “conspiracy theories.”

On October 18, Nigerian soldiers reportedly arrested a man named Shuaibu Mohammed Bama, said to be a Boko Haram commander, at the house of a senator in Maiduguri, Borno State. The arrest reinforces concerns about the possible connections of Borno State politicians to Boko Haram.

After the arrest was announced on October 20, the senator’s name emerged as Ahmed Zanna, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP has ruled Nigeria since the restoration of civilian democracy in 1999, and President Goodluck Jonathan is a member. The PDP does not rule Borno State, whose three governors since 1999 (current Governor Kashim Shettima, former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, and the late Governor Mala Kachalla) have all been members of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). At the national level, the ANPP functions as a (primarily Northern) opposition party.

Many facts concerning Zanna’s role in the case of Shuaibu Bama are in dispute. In an interview with the BBC Hausa service, translated here, Zanna identified Shuaibu Bama as his nephew but said that no Boko Haram commander was arrested in his house.

Zanna characterizes his nephew in the following way:

Mr. Zanna confirmed that the Boko Haram suspect is his “sister’s son”, who he had long kept at arms length.

“He beats up my children; he abuses my friends. He came to my house, so I sent him away. That was about a year ago. And for whatever reason I don’t know, he came to my house last week and I said he should leave the house,” Mr Zanna said of Mr. Bama’s behavior.

“Sometime ago, he even threatened to kill his mother. So, the mother was not even feeling comfortable living with him. And he narrated that to me. That is why I also do not want him to be near me.

“I don’t know him to be a Boko Haram member. Never, never, I do not know him to be a member of Boko Haram.”

Elsewhere Zanna, who has been to Abuja for questioning, has called the incident a “frame up,” a plot inspired to silence his criticisms of military operations in the Northeast. Zanna further stated that the suspect was actually arrested in the house of former Governor Sheriff. Zanna, who defeated Sheriff in the 2011 senatorial race, has said that the current investigation against him reveals Sheriff’s ambitions to destroy him and claim the senate seat. Zanna’s charges echo accusations made in 2011 by the Borno State branch of the PDP that Sheriff was an early supporter of Boko Haram.

Sheriff has responded by denying the charge and accusing Zanna of seeking to displace blame and of facilitating terrorist training for Nigerians abroad.

This web of accusations and counter-accusations will have to be sorted out by the Nigerian government’s investigators. Whatever comes of that, the reports and statements that have emerged so far seem likely to elevate the public’s cynicism and alarm about the political class. One could argue for the innocence of either politician, but many may also view the incident as a sign that Borno State politicians as a group are willing to play dangerous games with Boko Haram as they jockey for position.

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3 thoughts on “Nigeria: Boko Haram and a Web of Accusations in Borno State

  1. I write, not as a scholar, but as a Nigerian that has witnessed the steady decline of this nation. In fact, that has been the story of my life.

    1. These men are senior politicians, they are not marginal figures. Most Western analysts wrongly conclude that Abuja is the key to solving Boko Haram, that Abuja should throw money at the problem. The role to be played by local politicians is often ignored.

    2. This is precisely the kind of poor leadership at the local level that gave rise to Boko Haram. North-Eastern Nigeria has one of the lowest literacy rates on Earth and you don’t get any sense of urgency from its leaders about it. Instead, you have accusation and counter-accusation and silly politics.

    3. Nigerians will conclude that these men (and by implication), the Northern political establishment has something to do with Boko Haram. Southern and Middle Belt Nigerians will conclude that the core North is using Boko Haram as a tool to both curtail the spread of Christianity and frustrate a Southerner in office. The full impact of this will be out in the open next election cycle – but this will do nothing to promote national cohesion.

    4. This will feed the narrative of Oritsejafor and Akinola – that a “Jihad” is being sponsored by the Northern establishment against Christianity. It will be the topic of quite a few sermons next Sunday and yet another layer of suspicion will be added.

    5. Nigeria appears to be in terminal decline, there is no other way to describe the outbreak of lawlessness, the absence of a coherent set of ideals to drive national unity, the increasing polarisation between North and South, the unchecked corruption and the decay of infrastructure and institutions. People are starting to ask whether Nigeria hasn’t worked because She was never designed to work int he first place – i.e. too unwieldy, large, incoherent to ever make sense.

    6. In Chinua Achebe’s new book, he describes the mediocrity that has come to characterise the modern Nigerian state. This mediocrity, being displayed by these two senior politicians, will eventually destroy Nigeria. It is that simple.

    • There’s nothing in that report that is new or that most educated Nigerians are unaware of.

      Karl Maier wrote a book about Nigeria titled “This House has Fallen”. Nigeria in its present form is dead, we are simply witnessing the convulsions of a dying animal, a beast that should die.

      For Nigeria to endure, the present regime, the present ruling class must go. Probably a traumatic event will make that happen, but watch Nigeria and watch Sub-Saharan Africa this century – the era of “big men” and corruption must end, we just pray it doesn’t happen violently.

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