Africa, Headlines

NIGERIA: Fears for the Future as Religious Violence Claims 35

Mustapha Muhammad

KANO, Dec 29 2009 (IPS) - Government has again clashed with a religious sect in the state of Bauchi. Just under six months ago, an Islamist sect called Boko Haram launched attacks on police stations across four northern states, and hundreds of lives were lost before the situation was brought under control.

Atiku Yusif Kafur, Bauchi State Police Commissioner, told a press conference that 35 members of an Islamic sect known as Yan Kala-Kato – including its leader Malam Badamasi – were killed on Monday by a joint army and police squad at Zango, about three kilometres from the state capital.

“We have made arrest of twenty people, eleven adults and nine youth and fourteen were injured. We carted away weapons from the group leader’s house, including cutlasses and knives,” he stated.

Fighting broke out at Zango on the outskirts of the city of Bauchi in the afternoon hours of Dec. 28 just after a sermon delivered by the sect’s leader created sharp divisions within the group.

Badamasi, who had been sick for some time, was under pressure to step down; he is reported to have delivered a provocative sermon to his followers that triggered a violent fight within the group, resulting in the death of three members.

A joint army and police unit drafted in by the government attempted to try to control the situation, but the sect turned against the security personnel, killing one soldier and two civilian bystanders. The joint force then opened fire on the group, killing 32 members of the group.

With the fresh memory of the Boko Haram violence which began in northeastern Bauchi in late July before spreading to three other states claiming 780 lives in the city of Maiduguri alone according to Nigerian Red Cross, the recent fighting quickly caused alarm in Bauchi, where hundreds of people were seen fleeing to take refuge at army barracks, according to a resident of the area Ibrahim Garba.

“We are really worried about this development just five months back we have a terrible experience of Boko haram violence,” Garba told IPS on the phone from Bauchi.

Sectarian violence has been witnessed periodically in various parts of the Muslim north, dating back to the early 1980s, when followers of Mohammed Marwa, commonly known as Maitatsine, sparked religious riots that claimed more than 4,000 lives.

In 1992, the same group resurfaced in Maiduguri and another northeastern city, Yola, preaching the same message calling all forms of modernity cursed by God – Allah tatsine, in Hausa.

This rejection of western values and modernity is shared by the Boko Haram and Kala-Kato sects – Yan Kalo-Kato is widely regarded as a return of Maitatsine under a new name.

Kala-Kato – the name derives from Arabic and Hausa meaning “a lay man says” – strictly believes in Quranic teachings, whereas Boko Haram is based on Quranic teaching and prophetic sayings; their rejection of secular education and law Western values and modernity of any kind, which is contrary to the belief of the vast majority of Muslims in Nigeria.   Religious experts believe that such upheavals have more to do with persistent economic hardships in the country than with religious faith.

Speaking to IPS about the origins of the Boko Haram violence in July, Professor Murtala Muhibbu-Din, head of the department of religion at Lagos state University, asserted that it is mostly born out of anger and frustration.

“The people are frustrated and they are just looking for any means to confront the government of the day for not providing them the basic necessities of life,” the professor of religion said.

There are fears that 2010 will see more violence of this kind, following immigration officers’ reports from Kano that the Boko Haram are re-grouping and more sects are either springing off or resurfacing.

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