Sallah in a Time of Fear


For anyone who grew up in Northern Nigeria, the Eid-el-Adha/Eid-el-Kabir festival commonly referred to as “Babban Sallah” evokes images of wearing brand new clothes, preparation of hearty meals shared with neighbours (Muslims and Christians alike), exchange of visits between family and friends, going to gardens or parks, and most importantly, the symbolic slaughter of a ram to celebrate and commemorate the near sacrifice by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) of his son, an event similarly recognized by Christians and Jews as well.

This year however, things turned out to be quite different for Nigerians for as many prepared for the Eid amidst rising prices of basic commodities such as food stuff and  transportation fares and as people travelled to their hometowns with their various families, they were met with sad and frightening news of the utterly despicable and violent attacks unleashed by Boko Haram in the two north eastern cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. The series of (suicide) bomb blasts and gun battles were targeted at Police Stations, Joint Military Task Force (JTF) Headquarters, 6 Churches, a mosque and even a bank. By Sunday, casualty and death toll had climbed to over 150, according to the Red Cross and other official sources.

To say that the country is under siege by Boko Haram would not be farfetched. Bombs and violent assassinations have been going on through-out the year. The fact that Boko Haram seems to be growing stronger and more daring with each passing day is simply a reflection of government’s utter inability and incapacity to restore order and protect innocent citizens. The fact that Boko Haram unleashed this mayhem on the eve of the Islamic festival and celebration robs them of any religious or moral undertone, for Islam clearly does not preach murder and bloodshed. It has reached a time when Nigerians, especially those living in the North are slowly coming to grips with the stark reality that peace and basic freedom which were taken for granted,  and every aspect of normal daily life is suddenly being fundamentally altered. The way the Eid celebration activities were almost grinded to a halt in Maiduguri and Damaturu as residents were forced to stay indoors in fear, is a clear indication of dark clouds looming in the horizon.

It also appears Boko Haram is revelling in this attention it is getting from the naked fear it has driven into people’s hearts. Shortly after it claimed responsibility for the carnage in Damaturu and Maiduguri, it’s spokesperson, Abul-Qaqa stated that more violent attacks should be expected, while the US and even Canadian embassies have issued statements warning their citizens of impending attacks in three major luxury hotels in the FCT, Abuja.

You have to wonder what Boko Haram actually intends to achieve with this bloodbath onslaught.  Would its unreasonable desire for complete Islamization of Nigeria be attained by senseless bloodletting of innocent Nigerians? Or is there a larger political objective, even though no “Abuja” politician has so far been a victim except ordinary, common Nigerians  – Muslims, Christians, moderate Islamic clerics and occasionally one or two Maiduguri politicians? So what exactly do they want? This is a question whose answers seem unclear to the vast majority of Nigerians, the authorities inclusive.

As if Nigerians do not have enough to deal with – the bombings, the fear, the incompetence of the security apparatuses to safeguard lives and property– more is added to the list of problems by subtle propaganda and allegations that Boko Haram is sponsored by politicians from the North, the “sore losers” of the last general elections, hell-bent on destabilizing President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. What started as an online rumour and unfounded assertion has made its way to mainstream media  circles with even hitherto respected national figures regurgitating such baseless allegations. The absurd claims specifically state that some Northerners are simply fulfilling their promise of making Nigeria “ungovernable” if they did not win the last general elections, due to a feeling that the Presidency is regarded as “the birth right” of the North. If you ask anyone making these false assertions to list one person who actually said this, or to give evidence of who said such, where and when, they are unable to do that.

This is clearly unfounded for despite the fact that Boko Haram is clearly being sponsored by powerful people — especially in the wake of the evolution of their tactics — from the use of motorcycles and scooters to the use of expensive SUVs and other exotic cars in their recent violent activities — to say that the group is acting at the behest of Northern politicians to undermine the government is absolutely outrageous. President Jonathan would not have won the elections without active support of northern politicians and elite, many of whom actively campaigned for him during the PDP primaries and the main elections proper. Even during the primaries, northern PDP delegates who happened to be in the majority could have supported Atiku Abubakar – a Northerner and Jonathan’s then rival – but instead, they overwhelmingly rooted for Jonathan. This notion of a grand conspiracy by northerners to destabilize Jonathan’s government is simply a divide and rule tactic, employed by the political elite as usual, as has been done times without number in the past, to divert the attention of Nigerians from the relevant issues. And it has proven to be highly effective every single time.

As Nigerians round-up the Eid-el-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, it is pertinent we remind ourselves of the ultimate sacrifices others have been forced to make with their lives in this country, the increasing state of helplessness of many more Nigerians regarding their basic personal security and to hope that government will wake up to its responsibility of safeguarding the fundamental right to life of all citizens. For with each violent attack by Boko Haram, the descent to complete breakdown of law and order seems to loom dangerously closer in the horizon.

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