Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel movement in Nigeria’s North East, has assassinated a number of people: policemen, prominent politicians, and even imams who disagree with their doctrine of rejecting the secular state and Western-style education. But in the past weeks Boko Haram has apparently killed two members of the leading religious family in the North East: including, yesterday, the brother of the Shehu of Borno.
Northern Nigeria has a number of Islamic leaders who occupy hereditary and very influential posts. The Sultan of Sokoto, heir to the rulers of the nineteenth century Sokoto Caliphate, is often reckoned to have the widest geographical influence in Nigeria. But the Shehu of Borno has the highest stature in the North East, parts of which Sokoto never controlled (and this influence extends even into surrounding areas of Niger and Cameroon). For Boko Haram to assassinate the Shehu’s relatives sends a message that the movement has decisively rejected the religious establishment in their area. Even more significantly, the act may reveal important intra-Muslim splits in the North East. This killing could cost Boko Haram many supporters – or it could show that the Shehu and his circle have lost standing among a major segment of the population. Whatever the case, the news is sure to be on many people’s lips. If BBC Hausa, where the story was one of the top headlines yesterday, is any indication, Northern Nigerians will be following the news closely.
AFP provides more details on the assassination:
Abba-Anas Umar Garbai was shot by gunmen outside his home in the city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, late Monday.
“He was about to enter his house to retire for the night when some gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members accosted him and shot him at close range,” said state police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi.
It was the second attack on the Shehu’s siblings in two months. Another sibling was shot and killed early in April, also by suspected Islamists, according to police authorities.
In addition to revealing and exacerbating religious cleavages in the North East, the killing could also increase pressure on authorities to deal more effectively with Boko Haram. I imagine that the Shehu’s family, in addition to the grief they must be feeling, will ask that security forces take action to find the killers and prevent such a killing from happening again. Whether or not the security forces can stop Boko Haram is another question – the movement is out to demonstrate that no one, even someone highly placed, is safe from their violence.