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Of ‘Killer’ Phone Calls

Ok, have you heard the latest rumor circulating?

I got a call from Naija a few days ago and after the discussions, my interlocutor asked me whether I knew what was going on in Naija. I was about to hang up the phone when this question came flying at me. So, I paused and asked to be told what this all-important news was. You see, usually when I call Nigeria, I try to get posted on the latest events—sometimes, I get the new information before they make it to the online Nigerian newspapers. Yes, word sure travels fast back in Naija.

In a partly unserious, partly scared tone of voice, he informed me that about 5 people suddenly dropped dead somewhere in Adamawa state after they replied a call from some anonymous 5 digit number. So the word spread like wildfire throughout the federation, and people are now being extra-cautious about picking up calls from 5 digit numbers. To understand why this would cause some panic, there is no telecommunications network in the entire country on which you could get a 5, 6 or even 7 digit number for your cellphone or landline. They are usually 10 or 11 digit numbers.

But why was this scary? According to the person who gave me this info, we’ve heard and seen a spate of violence from Boko Haram. His suggestion was that disgruntled and hidden Boko Haram members, fortified with great juju charms, have devised a new means of wasting lives. They would give you a call from this 5 digit number 09141, and as soon as you picked up the call, you would collapse and die—ostensibly from the devastating power of the charms which were being channeled across phone lines.

Hmmmmmm—dis naija people sef. Oh by the way, you can stop laughing now. You think I don’t see you smiling to yourself there?  But on a serious note: Why are so many Nigerians so superstitious and gullible?

I started to laugh after he finished his tale. In a stern voice, he demanded to know why I found the account amusing. I suppose in his mind, and given the plethora of scary supposedly supernatural events he had heard (but never seen), this was something to take seriously; something you dare not scoff at. This was probably in line with what he might have thought or suspected.

Pray tell me, how does one begin to answer this query? How exactly do you convince someone like him that the story is a hoax, or at best heavily embellished? How do you explain to him that people just do not slump and die from answering phone calls? How do you get him to understand that since he was never there and never personally witnessed the story, he couldn’t tell if 5 people really died—and if they did, what the full circumstances of their death was?  Who was it that did the autopsies of these dead people, or who exactly was the investigator that revealed all 5 (or however many casualties there supposedly were) had the particular ‘deadly’ number as the last calls on their phones? How do you explain to him that if at all 5 people died after picking phone calls, then you should first suspect that these unfortunate dead people were tracked and personally executed—and so didn’t die magically from getting a phantom  killer call?

When I began to persuade him not to pay attention to this nonsense, he quickly shot back at me that I was the one who was living in some lala-land because I have allowed myself to be deceived into thinking that rumors like these must have perfectly natural explanations which ought to rob them of their capacity to inspire fear and dread. He claimed that I had completely westernized my mindset and values and I have simply refused to acknowledge the ability of evil persons to channel their malicious ill-will to their targets through whatever technology is available.

I must admit it sounded like a compelling accusation. But when we x-rayed the details of this account, we found out that it really ought to be treated as a rumor. First was the fact that there was no compelling evidence for these claims—there did not seem to be any eyewitnesses to the account, nor any investigators who could verify the cellphones and the ‘killer numbers’. Secondly was the convenient distance and remoteness of the said account. This happened in some nondescript rural environ in an already sparsely populated dusty Adamawa village—at the very edge of nowhere. Thirdly was the fact that since the rumors began to spread it seems as if there have not been any further casualties. Why indeed would these supposedly malicious mobile phone murderers suddenly cease their operation seeing as there was virtually little to no means of being caught? And are we to believe that since this rumor started spreading a few days ago, everybody in Nigeria is now currently aware of this ‘deadly’ number 09141—aware and scared of the number so much so that they have taken great pains to not answer a possible call from the number? How possible is it to believe that these cellphone mercenaries could not find at least one unlucky chap out of 150 million (who perhaps due to sleepiness, tiredness or sheer carelessness) unknowingly answers a call from the ‘killer’ number a few seconds before realizing that he should not have done so?

By the time I was done talking to him in this manner, he was now laughing along with me at the transparent hilariousness of this claim. It reminded us of other urban legends and superstitious hogwash that one can find a dime a dozen in Nigeria. A clever spinner of tall tales is certainly going to enjoy this gullibility-rich environment. It is almost as if a great number of people come pre-packaged with a propensity for believing the utterly absurd. How easy to tap into this rich fountain of unquestioned credulity!

My friend was laughing with me at this stage, not quite sure how he could have allowed himself to be taken in by this obvious sham. As we were laughing at this absurdity, I suddenly stopped laughing and in a serious tone of voice I asked him:

“Hey, what if a call comes to your phone now from that 5 digit number. You will definitely pick it up now that you agree with me that this was just a silly hoax, right?

“You must be mad”, he shot back at me quickly “why would I want to do something stupid like that—did someone tell you that I am tired of my life or something? Stop this joke at once!”

And the line went dead.

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Contra Boko Haram!

It may come as no surprise to any Nigerian following the political winds that the country has been seized by increasing panic and fear over the general security of lives and property ever since Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was declared the winner in this year’s election. At first, people were content to dismiss the mass killings in the North as a temporary but fixable orgy of violence designed to let off collective steam over the North’s failure to produce the president. But it is becoming increasingly clear now that what was once thought to be a momentary but manageable spike in violence in many parts of the North has indeed metamorphosed into a full-blown and persistent scourge of terrorism.

Yes, Nigeria is now a hotbed of terrorism; marinate on that for a minute.

There appears to be many groups that could at a moment’s notice visit unspeakable cruelty to the minority in the north. By minority, I mean Christians, Southerners or perhaps members of the National Youth Service Corps that hail from southern states. Of the lot, one has managed to come to the fore by the sheer ‘success’ of their frontal assault on not just the minorities in the North, but also visible symbols of state or federal administrative power. This group is known as Boko Haram.

First of all, it would be necessary at this point to remind non-Nigerians about the tenuous nature of Nigeria’s constitution. Nigeria is roughly divided along religious lines into 2—the predominantly Christian South and the predominantly Muslim North. This does not to suggest however that there are no Muslims in the South or Christians in the North; indeed as the case may be, there is a healthy 10% of Nigerians who are adherents of indigenous pagan religions. To effectively govern a country like Nigeria, it made a lot of sense that the highest law of the land, the Nigerian Constitution, should in fact be secular in nature and tone; pandering neither to Christian or Muslim sensibilities, but nonetheless cognizant of the fact that people might on occasion allow cases to be settled in customary, less secular, or even religious courts.

As the case may be, the North decided that it was not going to recognize the secular Nigerian constitution as the final arbiter on matters of justice. As if to give weight to that general sentiment, as far back as the first term of President Olusegun Obasanjo, 13 core Northern states in the Nigerian Federation unilaterally chose Sharia law as the preeminent law in these states. Such bold and reckless decision by these Northern states should have been grounds for concerted Federal action, if for nothing else, to demonstrate how seriously the Obasanjo administration takes any affront to the [fictional] unity of the federation. Suffice it to say that the Obasanjo administration did nothing to rein in these excesses with catastrophic consequences to the religious and cultural minorities in Northern Sharia states.

What followed was a season of anomie as people genuinely wrestled with Sharia’s prescribed punitive measures for crimes like petty theft and adultery. The world watched in horror as the predominantly Christian south railed at Sharia’s requirement of amputations for petty theft and stoning for adultery. This only consolidated the xenophobic attitudes of many extremist Northerners who chose to see the outrage as a direct attack on Islam and their religious identity. This gave rise to many resistance groups like Boko Haram, who swore to remove or kill the pesky Christians and Southerners and vestiges of Western education and civilization from core Northern states. That struggle, to sanitize the North as it were, and rid it of the non-Muslims opposed to the dictates of the Quran, goes on to this day. It is against this backdrop that one has to now weigh the escalating terrorist activity of Boko Haram at this time. One thing is undeniable though: they have managed to grab not only the attention of the present occupant of Aso Rock but former occupants as well. As a matter of fact, people who were formerly complacent about the ugly menace of terrorism are beginning to wake up to the fact that Boko Haram really means its sinister business.

So, we are no longer just talking of routine massacres of innocent North-bound southern travelers who are waylaid, ordered off their luxurious buses, robbed at gun or machete point and then eventually slaughtered or set ablaze. No, our homegrown terrorists are now going after big game. If you were unmoved when ordinary civilians were butchered for no crime other than they were minorities, – if you maintained your peace when patriotic NYSC corpers in many parts of the North were beheaded and mutilated during the past election, – perhaps you would sit up and whistle now that Boko Haram has proven that they could recruit more foot soldiers from places like Chad, Somalia, Niger and Sudan to commit even more daring atrocities. In recent times, they’ve threatened politicians and murdered some (as a matter of fact the current Vice President Sambo is on their target list), they have targeted the IG of police and came close to killing him when they detonated a crude bomb at the Abuja Police Headquarters. Boko Haram has put great fear into youth corpers when they bombed an NYSC Orientation camp in Maiduguri. The feeling of insecurity in Borno state was so pervasive that the University of Maiduguri, Borno’s state university, was forced to close and dismiss students indefinitely—presumably until the Nigerian state finds a way to arrest this terrorism issue.  They have also attacked and bombed Businesses and Banks with crippling effect to the local communities.

The time has come for all peace-loving Nigerians to wake up and smell the coffee and denounce Boko Haram and all her sister terrorist outfits. If Nigerians do not want the country to become another Pakistan or Afghanistan, paralyzed and ruled by discrepant extremist guerilla groups, the time for concerted and brave action is now.

I do not want to place all blame squarely at the door of the various security agencies in the country like the very incompetent Nigerian Police Force simply because one needs no crystal ball to see that they are simply ill-equipped to handle this menace. Many policemen do not have the requisite training nor the motivation required for the task of uprooting terrorists. In like manner, I do not want to simply blame President Jonathan for not taking a bold and decisive action earlier. He is still settling into his job and at any rate, the task of providing local security should be under the purview of state governors and local police. But we cannot afford to be lethargic now because Nigerians are paying the price of administrative ineptitude with a senseless and a needless loss of innocent lives.

We are talking about a well-funded terrorist network in Boko Haram. I am not normally in favor of governments turning their country’s military loose upon the local population, but Nigeria presents a unique case. The Nigerian military is perhaps the only organized force with the adequate firepower and training required to stake out Boko Haram hideouts and defeat them in any ensuing firefight. It is precisely because the local police and other security personnel have shown themselves severely overmatched by Boko Haram that I welcome any future move to send soldiers into any suspected Boko Haram enclaves to tackle this incipient menace fully and frontally.

Down with Boko Haram and all their diabolical, murderous accomplices! The sooner this is nipped in the bud, the better for everyone. It is regrettable to read or listen to commentary which amount to nothing more that cuddling and pacifying brazen killers. If Nigerians perceive that to get the attention of the president and others straddling the corridors of power, all one need do is become part of a heartless murderous extremist group, I’ll predict that we shall see rival, ethnic-based, armed bandits spring up in other geopolitical zones to compete for government attention and largess. I do not need to point out that what will ensue is a furious race to the bottom; a horrific dance of death played out in a ghastly theater of innocent blood.

Islamic Fundamentalism in Northern Nigeria: Bombings In Jos

 

Bomb Blasts in Jos: Victims of Islamic Extremism

The orgy of violence has continued in Jos. If you can remember, on Christmas Eve, an Islamic fundamentalist group called Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da’awati wal jihad detonated some bombs in Jos the capital city of Plateau state. This horrific act of violence claimed 80 innocent lives and injured about 120 people. The report making the rounds is that there are also smaller scale and continuing acts of terrorism by this terrorist group. This spate of Islamic extremism has lately become an intermittent fixture in Jos even as one notes its resonance in other parts of the Muslim-dominated Northern Nigeria.

According to this report, here is how the leader of this terrorist outfit justified their actions:

If you don’t know us, we are Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da’awati wal jihad which was falsely labelled Boko Haram, and we did this because our Creator has ordered us to wage war on everyone who does not embrace the religion of Islam after preaching to them. And (another) one of the reasons why we are doing this in this country is because of the way we are being killed in this country. Through evil machinations, plans are orchestrated to achieve desired goals (against us) and we are continuously being killed, just as the Arabs say ‘what the eye sees is better than a story that is told’. Everyone knows how our Muslim brothers and sisters were massacred in different towns in this country; Lagos State has witnessed it, so has Ibadan, the town called Zangon Kataf in Kaduna has also witnessed it, Bauchi has witnessed it and so has the town Suldaniyya known as Plateau or Jos, where we have carried out our attack being a witness to the killings of our Muslim brothers and even the abduction of our Muslim sisters and children whose locations are not known until now. It has also happened in Kano State at Sabon gari area. These happenings including what we have not even witnessed or heard of, only God knows their magnitude (and) God shall judge (in these matters) on the Day of Judgment. These are some of the reasons why we are waging this war because God has ordered us to go to war when our brothers and sisters are killed, and now we are even denied our rights to practice our religion. God knows best.

This is the message I want to pass to people, and finally I want to tell the Muslims in this country and the whole world that they need to know this is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. So wherever you are, you should be weary; this is not a tribal war, nor is it similar to the wars of the pre-Islamic era, it is not a war for financial gains, it is solely a religious war. We did not start this war so it would end in one week, or one month or one year. Only when we are completely annihilated and nobody chooses to continue with our struggle, maybe that could be the end. Or (we establish a system where) religion has the final say or religion determines everything, that will be the end of this war. And definitely, this war will not end just because we are visibly present anywhere. This is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. We are ready for anyone willing to face us, whether it’s a group of people or even the government because we know who supports us, God the Creator of the universe, praise be to God. Therefore, we are warning every Muslim who believes in the religion of Islam that he should never help a non-Muslim in this war. If he helps any non-Muslim and in so doing, a fellow Muslim suffers due to that, he should know that he is a dead person.”

 

After reading that, I had a few observations:

A) The leader of this terrorist group claims that the loss of Muslim life in other parts of the country was the motivating factor for the Jos violence which was primarily directed at Christians. As far as I can tell, religiously-inspired clashes are not the norm in the southern part of the country. Skirmishes in the south are either politically-motivated or based on ethnicity; they are not primarily religiously-inspired. So the claim that Muslims were being victimized in Lagos and Ibadan doesn’t hold much water. If there were clashes in Lagos and Ibadan, it would rather be a clash or confrontation between the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani. That means that the nature of that conflict was ethnocentric and not necessarily religious. It is only coincidental that the majority of the injured or killed Hausa-Fulani in such a clash are Muslims. There is no way for this terror kingpin to verify the diabolical insinuation that there was some sort of Christian plot to kill Muslims. That is arrant hogwash.

B) It is also useful to remember that there is a sizeable Yoruba Muslim population in the Southwestern states. So if there is anyone or group that ought to be incensed over the loss of innocent Muslim lives in the Yoruba South-West, it would indeed be the Yoruba –amongst which would be the Yoruba Christian relatives of such persons. So it is rather ludicrous to read about some terrorist group in faraway Jos, some of whom never had any affiliation with Lagos and Ibadan, use the possible loss of lives in those places as justification for their religiously-inspired violence against the Christians in Jos.

C) The rest of the places that the terrorist mastermind spoke of were places in the North with a Muslim majority. It is rather odd to hear these places cited as a reason for the attack. Who exactly, if not the Muslim radicals in these Northern enclaves, are responsible for the sporadic orgies of religious violence? The fact is that time and time again, the Christian minority in the Northern states have had to fend off, nay endure unprovoked attacks at the hands of a super-radicalized Islamic majority. To then use the scant, disproportionately smaller reprisal attacks against the Muslim perpetrators of violence in the Middle Belt and Core Northern states as justification for unprovoked orgies of violence against innocent Christians in other parts of the North smacks of revolting duplicity.

D) Now that I have debunked the vacuous and fictitious reasons adduced for this horrific attack, it is useful to reach out to sensible and peaceful men and women everywhere regardless of what faith or creed they hold to. If indeed there are concerns for the wanton loss of innocent lives, would it not have been better if concerned citizens pressured their respective local or state governments for concrete actions to arrest chaos? Would it not have been better for citizens to demand for more arrests and more trials, convictions and incarcerations? In what way can anyone justify the senseless slaughter of the innocent who were never in support of any religiously-mandated war?

E) Some analysts may conclude yet again, that this was just one isolated fringe group acting out their own twisted agenda. They may suggest that people should simply sweep this under the rug and continue living their lives like nothing happened. Some analysts may manage to twist and bend the harsh reality of religious violence staring us in the face and somehow exhume some buried or hidden political agenda. I will caution that people should not swallow such shoddy analyses wholesale. The ugly truth staring everyone in the face, and which has been spoken of in no lesser terms by the perpetrators of this mindless bloodbath, is that Nigeria should quit pretending that there is any sort of unity or cord that binds all together. It is high time people stopped drinking the “One Nigeria” coolaid because from the actions of the people tied together in that giant cage, there is very little that unites the people in the country. The animals that committed these heinous acts are telling anyone who cares to listen that they are waging a religious war targeting anyone who does not subscribe to the faith. It is rather idiotic to spin something tame and political from clearly worded warnings of impending religious carnage.

F) Perhaps it is time to stop rationalizing away this menace and start addressing the real issues here. It appears to me, that something has to be done about this volatile and extremely radicalized version of Islam that is currently being practiced in Nigeria and in other parts of the world. I am not going to make the silly assumption that all Muslims condone this senseless slaughter, nor am I even going to insinuate that Muslims (no matter how moderate) are secretly comfortable with such barbarity perpetrated in their names. But frankly, why does it seem like in many parts of the world, wherever there are incidences of barbaric communal, regional or localized violence and terrorism, in most cases, it always appears to involve Muslims and others? What can be done about this propensity for religiously-motivated bloodshed that is increasingly morphing into an Islamic narrative? Isn’t it time that people actually admitted to themselves the obvious truth about this global menace? When will political correctness allow people to correctly address the monster of Islamic fundamentalism especially that breed ravaging Northern Nigeria and many parts of Africa?

G) Finally, I am going to make a cynical prediction. This unprovoked attack on the Christians in Jos will engender an outcry from the Christian communities in these places and in parts of the South. It will attract a few headlines in the dailies or some commentary on radio or television. It will propel some despondent self-professing Christians to engage in a milder version of some retaliatory attacks which will also be unequivocally condemned. There will be assurances given from state and national-level law enforcement promising to arrest the chaos and to prosecute the masterminds of this assault. Christians in the north will be begged by seemingly peace-seeking politicians to return back to their daily lives with promises of swift and decisive action. Then, this unfortunate Christmas eve butchery will be swept under the rug. That is until, the next round of religious violence flares up again and engulfs some city in the North.

H) This is a vicious cycle. If I seem very cynical of placid reassurances from state-level actors or of hypocritical demands for restraint on the part of the victims without commensurate strong words of condemnation for the perpetrators, it is only because this is a familiar recurrent decimal in Nigeria’s theatre of horrors. Yes, this seasonal mass murder of Christians in the North, followed by vain promises of arrests and detentions, followed by a season of calm before the next religious storm erupts has been going on in Nigeria for as far back as 1953. Go figure. One thing is certain—there is absolutely no honesty in denying that Nigeria is without question a hotbed of Islamic extremism. If left unchecked, it may be the catalyst for a sustained war which would mark the end of that geographical namespace as we currently know it.

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