Of Religion, the North and the Rest of Us – By Terka Jam

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There was a time we were all Nigerians. Then came a time we were either Muslim or Christian. Now we do Southern Christian or Northern Muslim. If the government does nothing we will soon be Southern Moderate or Northern Extremist.

Interestingly, these divisions are not as compartmentalized as the media, often the Western media highlight them to be. What happens in the north eventually affects the whole of the country and all Nigerians. It matters not that you are Christian, Muslim, Animist, Atheist, resident in the south or the north.

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For too long we watched with disinterest as the north came under the heavy influence of radical Islam without voicing our concerns or lifting a finger to stop it. The end result was Boko Haram, whose reign of terror was programmed to stretch from the Sahel to the Atlantic Ocean. We did defeated Boko Haram terrorists but with collateral damage and a heavy price we are still paying.

The north is again breeding another terror sect in the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. From its online videos of members getting combat training to their actual application of those skills in fighting the military, it is now very clear the group is not the peaceful corporate group it pretends to be.

Beneath the veneer of a civil seeming group is a killer machine being assembled; worse than Boko Haram is its strategy of infiltrating all sectors of the Nigerian state while running corresponding ministries and departments internally to build the capacity for when it can overthrow the government. Like Boko Haram, it has outside help in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which throws in funding, expertise and international connection.

All these treasonable activities go on under the cover of religion that incapacitates any efforts to counter IMN members. It is easy for them to cry religious persecution when security operatives have cause to clamp down on them and it has proven even more effective to plead sectarian intolerance when Muslim are among the troops. Yet, a couple of decades ago the rest of us down south or even all over the nation only knew the peace preached by Islam without consciousness of Sunni, Wahhabi, Shia or any other rendering.
The north kept quiet and allowed this toxic sect to indoctrinate, radicalize and militarize its youths. The political elite are interested in the next election and it matters not if hate preaching demagogic clerics are the ones to make wins at the polls possible. IMN festered. Even with Boko Haram defeated the region continues to be on edge as the sect remains a constant threat. Because IMN gets support from the northern population and certain leaders it became bold to the point of being able to fight the military.

This boldness now borders on insanity as the sects militants began a trek, read code word for ‘march on the country.  The claim is that they are trekking to Abuja to demand release of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem Al-Zakyzaky from custody but there are worrisome developments. In the rank of the ‘trekking’ IMN members are persons that have been flagged as potential terror threats. Under the cover of the trek they are able to leave their enclave and head south without being stopped from spreading their reach to southern cities. Any attempt to stop them would trigger uproar about religious intolerance and sectarian repression. Many of those making the trek will chose not to return to the enclave in Zaria, they either stay on to establish more cells in Abuja or sneak into other cities to build similar cells. Boko Haram did it before in the wake of the founder’s death. Now the rest of us are now in the crosshair of this emerging terror sect.

This underscores why states and the federal government must act in unison. They must come to the rescue of the masses by regulating the activities of preachers, including itinerant clerics. There is nothing wrong for instance in registering anyone – irrespective of faith – that has to preach any religion or doctrine. The country should also by now begin to demand that would be clerics show proof that they underwent requisite training that qualifies them to be licensed for their roles. This is because of the various sects that have re-written the holy books based on false inspiration that have no bearing with their mother religion.

Government must provide training for security operatives and media practitioners in dealing with the scenario we now face so that terror in the making can be recognized for what it is. Additional counter terrorism measures must be put in place to reduce the workload on security agencies thereby increasing their efficiency.

The truth is bitter but the fact remains that government must give special attention to the north, in cities where extreme doctrines are preached freely, as this is where the toxic IMN operates from. The north, as a geo-political bloc and as component states, has flatly refused to deal with the problem of religious extremism as proven by the rise of IMN and it is important the rest of us save ourselves from the meltdown these sect would bring upon the area and those that provided the enabling environment for it to thrive. When this happens the rest of us want no part in it.
We were once Nigerians, then Muslim or Christian; later Southern Christian or Northern Muslim, Moderate or Extremist; and now they want us to become Shiites.

Jam, a forensic psychologist  writes from Katsina-Ala, Benue State.

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