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Mayhem in Nigeria

It looks like the end of what has been a violent few days in Northern Nigeria, where clashes between the Islamist sect Boko Haram and police (then military) have left at least hundreds, maybe more, dead. The group’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, is among them — though it’s unclear how. Officials at first said that he ...

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It looks like the end of what has been a violent few days in Northern Nigeria, where clashes between the Islamist sect Boko Haram and police (then military) have left at least hundreds, maybe more, dead. The group’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, is among them — though it’s unclear how. Officials at first said that he was alive and in police custody. Then he was dead (presumably under police custody?) And the latest story: he died in a shootout between Nigerian government forces and violent sect members. The Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, admitted to the BBC that she didn’t know exactly what happened.

But Akunyili also said something else rather abrupt: that Yusuf’s death was “good for Nigeria.” True, maybe this means the latest round of violence will end. But that’s pretty thin grounds to claim that a potentially extra-judicial killing is good for one’s country. 

Worse, Akunyili unintentionally proved a point about why uprisings like this take place to begin with. It’s all about governance — and as the minister’s comments so aptly demonstrated, the Nigerian people are not often factored into that equation. In Northern Nigeria, the problems of corruption and mismanagement became so acute that Sharia law was welcomed several years ago when it was introduced — less as a religious tool but as a means, at last, to bring some justice and order to an other backwards system. 

But Sharia failed to improve corruption and governance, too — and I suspect it was this frustration that led Yusuf, and many of his followers, to look deeper for something else. While activists in the Northern region of Nigeria denounced the way they saw Sharia (and common law) enriching the already wealthy at the expense of the poor, Yusuf blamed Western institutions for the mess.

This is, of course, not a popular telling of the story in Abuja, the capital. Religious violence is a much simpler answer — and on the surface, a correct one. That is probably why Akunyili didn’t feel ashamed saying what she did. And it’s why one of my good friends from the North, who spent many years in prison for his activism, has now devoted his career to writing plays and articles about the intermixing of corruption, state, and Sharia law.

With Yusuf out of the picture, it would be silly to assume that the trouble is over. These sorts of episodes will keep popping up as they have throughout the North for the last decades until the root of the problem is fixed. That root digs deeper than religion alone. It in fact stretches all the way back to Abuja.

Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

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