The renewal of violence in the northern provinces of Nigeria brings this oil producing country to the brink of "Talibanization," threatening not only the precarious ethnic and religious makeup of the most populous African state but also the entire region, from Chad to Senegal.
The fight between the now-called "Nigerian Taliban" and the governmental forces took place this week within a country whose borders are 300 miles from where President Barack Obama stood inside the Ghana Parliament to address Africa's "problems." Unfortunately last month, the president didn't use mention words such as “Taliban,” “jihadists,” “Shariah,” “salafists,” or any term indicating that Nigeria and 10 other African countries are suffering from a real invasion, fueled by a totalitarian ideology. That was a miss that came back to haunt the international public opinion as dramatic pictures of the bloodshed were disseminated by the news agencies.
In short, Nigeria is at war with the jihadists, in as much as Somalia, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, and Chad are, to name a few. But the Nigerian brand of terrorists is peculiar. It indicates not only that we weren't giving enough attention to the expansion of the Wahhabi ideology in sub-Sahara Africa, but it also projects where the next waves of "African Talibans" will hit inside one of the most explosive countries on the continent, if not across many borders.
The radical Islamists movements in Nigeria have obviously local issues, but as with all jihadists worldwide, the local is subservient to the higher "cause," that is to resurrect the caliphate from China to the Atlantic Ocean. According the region's experts the spread of salafism in Nigeria is the result of the irresponsible financial irrigation provided by the oil rich regimes of the Arabian Peninsula. Wahhabism has been the most aggressive incubator of madrassas and extreme-Shariah militants throughout the Sahel for decades.
Nigeria, as a half-Muslim country, didn't escape the spread. Today, the population of the oil producing country is about 140 million, the single largest national population on the continent. The Hausa form the majority of the mostly Muslim north; the Yuroba are the largest to the southwest and the Christian Ibo are concentrated in the southeast province of Biafra.
In 1968, a genocidal civil war killed more than a million Ibo who were claiming self-determination, a la Kosovo, but without obtaining the same support from the international community. After years of military regime, civilian rule came back in 1998 but clashes between Christians and Muslims still left 9,000 casualties, including about 700 killed in the central part of the country last November. However, the most recent incidents were initiated by jihadi elements, as Christians and mainstream Muslims have been sharing power. In 2007 a Muslim president, Umar Mussa Yarado, succeeded a Christan predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo.
In 2002, a jihadi group emerged from the vast network of Wahhabi indoctrinated militants branding the name of Boku Haraam, which in local language means "Western education is forbidden." The rapidly rising militia promotes Wahhabi teachings and emulates the Taliban methods by waging terror in the northern provinces, 12 of which already apply some form of Shariah laws.
The Boku Haraam, like the Somali now-defunct Islamic Mahakem, and their successors Shabab al Jihad, wants to establish a total Shariah state throughout Nigeria, regardless of the fact that the southern half is Christian and Animist. Hence these self-declared Taliban of Nigeria, have two strategic tasks: First wage a "jihad" inside the Muslim communities of the north, mostly the Hausa tribes, to defeat the seculars; and second, wage an "Islamist jihad" against the rest of the non-Muslim ethnicities, principally the Yoruba and the Ibo, to establish a greater Emirate of Nigeria.
Their chief, Mohammed Yussuf, who was killed in the recent incidents, claimed the "jihad" was about local demands, against corruption and for the strict implementation of Shariah. But pro-government Muslim groups, such as Nasr el Islam, dismissed his allegations declaring him an "extremist," a similar scenario as in Somalia and Pakistan.
This week's clashes took place in several locations but mostly in Maydo Ghori city, not far from the Chad borders. Yarado responded to the Boku Haraam actions with a strong military campaign leaving hundreds of casualties among the country's "Taliban." More than 100 children were freed from the latter's compounds, perhaps avoiding a Beslan like horror. So far, the government won this round but in my assessment it is not over.
Grounded in Wahhabi indoctrination throughout the north, and fed by oil-related funding from the Gulf, Boku Haraam will come back against with a new leader, and possibly with a future name. What is behind these Nigerian Taliban are a lethal ideology and oil interests. These jihadists want to seize Nigeria’s precious commodity, oil, for the caliphate. If you scratch deeper, you may find the hallmarks of some players inside OPEC, who want to make sure no one can escape its domination of the game.
Meanwhile the jihadists’ propaganda war is on. Posting on Al-Jazeera, the "Islamic Emirate of Egypt" said "our brothers the Mujahidin are striking back at Western evangelization in Nigeria." Abu Ayman al Hadrami, of Saudi Arabia, said the Nigerian government is "an agent of the West, but Islam will win in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, Iraq, and the entire world." The internationalist jihadists won't let go, that's the lesson from Africa.
Dr Walid Phares is the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.” He is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
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