The fight against Boko Haram cannot succeed unless leading Islamic scholars with mass followers come out of their silence to preach against the ideology from an intellectual perspective so as to change the narrative to discourage young men from being recruited by the sect.
Governor Kashim Shettima whose state, Borno, has been at the centre of attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents has said.
The governor said that notable Islamic scholars with the capacity to fight the ideology through preaching have maintained silence because they were afraid of being killed like many of their colleagues who were without security details to protect them from the sect.
Shettima made the observation when he delivered a paper entitled, “Democracy and Security in Northeast, Nigeria – The Case Study of Borno” at a fellowship and award dinner organised by the National Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) during which he was awarded Governor ?of the Year, 2014, at Sheraton Hotel in Abuja.
“Changing the ideology of the Boko Haram will require intellectual roles by leading Islamic scholars with mass appeal.
“It is most disturbing to note that today in northern Nigeria, there is no single Islamic scholar that preaches against the Boko Haram ideology and the reason is because everyone is afraid.
“Leading scholars like Sheikh Jaafar Mahmud Adam and Sheikh Albani Zaria who vehemently preached against the ideology have been killed.
“In Maiduguri, scholars like Sheikh Ibrahim Gomari, Malam Bashir Gomari and over 30 different scholars who were opposed to the Boko Haram ideology have all been killed.
“Today, the only group in the north that can speak against the sect are holders of public offices who have security men surrounding them.
“It is hugely important for us to identify Islamic scholars with the intellectual depth and mass followers to change the Boko Haram narrative so that we can save young souls from listening to the sect.
“We must support these scholars and provide them with maximum security for not only them but their families as much as public office holders are adequately protected.
“These scholars will be performing very important national security assignments that are as important as those of any public office holder, no matter how highly placed,” Shettima said in his prepared paper that was delivered by his Deputy, Zannah Umar Mustapha.
Governor Shettima whose paper went memory lane to discuss the evolution of the sect in Borno blamed democratic institutions for failing to address the problem at the early stage.
He also blamed leaders including himself for not rising up to the occasion. The Governor also blamed journalists for unknowingly helping insurgents.
“We all have roles to play in addressing the insurgency because we all contributed in the making whether by indifference, by directly fueling it, by failing to address it or by standing in the ways of those who make efforts to address the problems. No active group is free from blame, from those of us who are political actors to even journalists,” he said.
“In exercising its freedom of expression and sharing of information, the media has had running battles with those in position of authority; security agencies in particular.
“Oftentimes, security agencies devise strategies aimed at fighting insurgents but these strategies end up being disclosed by the media and as a result, these steps are killed by these media reports despite enormous human and material resources that might have been put in by security agencies over time.
“In some cases, deployments made to haunt insurgents get reported, thus giving insurgents clues about number of boots coming after them, sometimes including telling the world the routes being taken by troops. Insurgents in turn prepare to ambush troops. Apart from these instances, certain avoidable reports give undue superiority to Boko Haram, which boost their confidence. In fact, disorganised commanders of Boko Haram rely on the media to reach their fighters.
“I remember with serious concerns, how a particular media house reported in April, 2015, that leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau was calling on his followers to continue fighting and not to relent in their struggles. A national and otherwise respected media house reported this.
“I also remember how another media house reported someone calling himself a soldier, alleging that Nigerian troops were behind Boko Haram attacks and I was wondering how unreasonable it was for someone to declare that his only eyes with which he sees are rotten, when the alternative to those eyes, is simply blindness. What do we do if we are made to believe that those who are our only hope are those killing us? That would be a hopeless situation.
“These instances however, are not to say that the media hasn’t helped in the fight against Boko Haram. The media has done far more positive things than posing some challenges. Journalists even sacrificed their lives in an attempt to expose activities of insurgents. The media remains a hero in the fight against insurgency.
“Perhaps, even on the challenges posed by the media in exposing security strategies, I think the problem has largely been refusal to take the media into confidence. The worst mistake one in authority can make is to disregard or underrate the capacity of a journalist to know what the man in authority tries to hide. So long as you want to hide, the journalist wants to expose. For me, the best approach is to take a journalist into confidence by treating him or her as a partner rather than an opponent.
“I therefore respectfully suggest that the incoming President and National Executives of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) consider the need to establish a National Standing Committee on Strategic Media and Security Co-operation under the co-chairmanship of the NUJ President and may be the National Security Adviser or any appropriate official with President of the editors guild to serve as Secretary.”