Boko Haram from the beginning
BY OUR REPORTER ON MAY 18, 2014 · COVER
Ahmad Salkida, a former journalist with the Daily Trust, was with the Boko Haram sect from inception and had a close relationship with the sect’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf. Accused of being a Boko Haram accomplice, Salkida was detained and almost got killed in the clash between the Boko Haram and security agencies in 2009 during which the sect leader was captured and later killed in police custody. This article written in 2009 by Salkida, who is now believed to be on exile, gave an insight into the evolution of the Boko Haram group. He also made reference to Abubakar Shekau who later emerged the sect’s leader after Yusuf.
I have closely followed the activities of the Boko Haram sect. In fact, I was invited by the late Mohammed Yusuf at that period to establish and head an Al-mizzan styled newspaper for him. However, in the course of our deliberations, I tabled the following issues that set us apart: I wanted to be partner in the project. I wanted editorial freedom to edit out anything I may find inciting the public in the publication and I wanted to introduce a regular column that totally disagrees with his ideology.
I think my conditions, at a time when I hadn’t any gainful employment, shocked the prospective investor who thought any budding journalist would rush at the opportunity to become an editor-in-chief especially of a promising paper, on account of the large followership and the group’s loyalty to their Imam.
However, my relationship with the late Mohammed Yusuf continued as he visited me when I lost my eight-month-old son who died of malaria. Perhaps, he saw me partially as one of his students and partially as a dissenter due to my independent disposition. But to be fair to him, I admire his depth of knowledge, oratorical prowess and apparent willingness to emulate Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
In early 2002, Yusuf was seen by many as a likely heir to the renowned the late Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmud Adam in Maiduguri on account of his brilliance and closeness to the late renowned scholar. But all that changed shortly when one late Mohammed Alli approached the late Yusuf with reasons to boycott democracy, civil service and western oriented schools. The late Yusuf then disengaged his service with the Yobe State Government.
Then, in a 2006 press release signed by the sect’s Shura (Consultative) Council, they stated that Islam permits them to subsist under a modern government like Nigeria but has explicitly prohibited them from joining or supporting such governments in so far as their systems, structures and institutions contain elements contradictory to core Islamic principles and beliefs.
The Alli argued that the sect must embark on Hijra (migration), but Yusuf declined and Alli proceeded to Kanamma in Yobe with his faction, and one thing led to another. The group launched an insurgent attack on the police that resulted in the loss of many lives and property in Kanamma and later in Gwoza in Borno State. The insurgents, a renegade group that called itself ‘Taliban’, led by Alli, fiercely disagreed with the late Yusuf and many of the escapees later returned to Yusuf.
Unlike Alli, Yusuf went on undeterred, though he was prevented from preaching in several mosques and was denied TV/radio appearances in the state. But he set up a preaching outlet in the front of his house at the railway quarters and at Angwan Doki, Millionaires’ Quarters among others. The demand for his tapes increased by the day all over the North and the proceeds therefrom increased tremendously. He then asked his landlord and in-law, the late Baba Fugu Mohammed to allow him to build a mosque, which he named Ibn Taimiyya Masjid.
It was in Ibn Taimiyya Masjid that the late Yusuf, together with his hard-line top lieutenant, Abubakar Shekau alias ‘Darul Tauhid,’ began to build an imaginary state within a state. Together they set up Laginas (departments). They had a cabinet, the Shura, the Hisbah, the brigade of guards, a military wing, a large farm, an effective micro finance scheme, and the late Yusuf played the role of a judge in settling disputes. Each state had an Amir (leader) including Amirs in Chad and Niger that gave accounts of their stewardship to Yusuf directly.
The sect led by Yusuf took advantage of the poor quality of our educational system, the incessant strikes, cult activities, widespread malpractice and prostitution that is made worse with no offer of jobs after graduation to wheedle many youth to abandon school and embrace Yusuf’s new and emerging state that promises to offer them a better alternative.
The late Yusuf also took advantage of the irresponsible leadership at all levels of government with unemployment, poverty, corruption and insecurity becoming the order of the day. And as he points out such failures, citing verses of the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet, the youth see him as the leader that will indeed deliver them from malevolence to the Promised Land.
In my write-up of February 28, 2009 in the Sunday Trust I wrote about the sect, where I alerted the general public about the sect’s total disregard for civil obedience. The report in question warned that to disregard the simmering cauldron “smells like rebellion…and it will be irresponsible of any authority to wait for the occurrence of violence before it acts in the face of impending threat to law and order.” In subsequent reports and during my interactions with senior security agents, I did not only predict the crisis but hinted on the strategy of the sect. But typical of investigative journalism, instead of these revelations to catch the attention of the relevant agencies, their attention was shifted on how to frame me. Apparently, the plan was never to prevent a crisis but to allow it to occur.
However, in fairness to the government of Borno State that is living witness to the unruly behaviour of the sect and its extreme dislike for government institutions, the state government like other governments in northern Nigeria saw the need to halt this nuisance in their states. They were alarmed that the sect that started with a handful of people is hitting the 7-digit mark and one day (if not very soon) the likelihood that the sect may determine the politics of the land cannot be dismissed.
According to Isa Yuguda, the Governor of Bauchi state in a recent interview with a weekly newspaper, “When the Boko Haram issue came, I sat down and scientifically organised a commando raid on their stronghold. We identified them over a period of time and made sure the Ulamas came and preached against them for two weeks and they in return issued fatwa against the Imams that were preaching against them. We had to attach policemen to the Imams because the Boko Haram people threatened to slaughter them. We planned for them.
“We cordoned off their area around 3a.m. in the morning and phoned my neighbours in Borno and Yobe states about the operation I was going to carry out because their leader was there at that time. After exchanging gunshots for sometime, we smoked them out of their houses. They were fully armed with grenades, machine guns and rocket launchers,” said Yuguda.
Having kept track of political activities in the state, I knew very well that (the then Borno State Governor) Ali Sheriff, unlike Yuguda, could not afford to strike first, Borno could take anything from him but not an attack on Muslims. However, the government in Borno set up a joint security patrol nicknamed, ‘Operation Flush’ to serve as a constant check on the sect.
As the crisis started in Maiduguri, reporters did the obvious; ‘live and tell the story’ and they stayed mostly in the Government House (GH) and most of them contacted me directly or indirectly to get briefed because I chose to do the ‘unexpected’, which is to ‘risk my life to tell the story.’ Indeed, I took undue risk, which exposed me to the unimaginable that would form the subject of a book I am now writing.
On Tuesday 29th July 2009 when I made a stop at the Borno State Government House, a staff of the GH, one Yusuf dragged me into the office of the Chief Security Officer to the Governor, insisting that the governor’s aide wanted to see my face for the first time. The aide wanted to know from me why I did not shave my beard and lower my trousers below the ankle to avoid the wrath (Alas! bullets) of the security agents.
I, then, told him that it is wrong for security agents to brand innocent people that wear beards as Boko Haram and even kill them based on that. In fact, to keep beards, to wear turbans and nisfusaak (trousers above the ankle) are part of the prophet’s Sirah, which was recommended to every Muslim over 1400 years ago, and it is seen as a deeply spiritual task by many Muslims all over the world.
He, also, asked me whether or not I was abducted by the sect members for a while and released. I put the record straight that, I only ran into a mob and thereafter I was let off the hook when they were convinced that the brown apron I was wearing that carried an inscription of Daily Trust had nothing to show that I was a government official.
Sadly for me, the CSO did not like my guts and the fact that I reported the two sides that clearly exposed the Achilles’ heel of his boss. He ordered for my arrest, calling my crime ‘counter intelligence.’ At the GH I was assaulted by the mobile police (at the quarter guard post). There, a Police Constable Sani Abubakar, held my beards and pulled me to the ground, he kicked my legs to forcefully remove my loafers.
I was made to lie down with my face down. Instantly I urinated in my pants when two mobile policemen contemplated who was going to pull the trigger.
I was then driven to the police headquarters in the state where I was kept in a cell with 58 others. After spending 30 hours in the cell and about 48 hours without food or water (because, I couldn’t break the fast I was observing upon my arrest), I was then allowed to wash up the urine that had dried up on my pants and relieved myself of the running stomach that became the audible music in our cell as everyone witnessed how cell mates were being called out waiting for his turn.and executed. Everyone was Surprisingly, none of my colleagues investigated and reported the assault against me, even when some of them searched for me in the crowded cell as I sat without shoes on the floor. Instead, speculations were rife amongst them that indeed I was a Boko Haram member, on account of the following baseless talk: That I wear beards and trousers above my ankle and yet I came from a Christian background and this, to many of them, makes me an extremist. That I was doing fairly well as a journalist in the last ten years with a mere primary school certificate and that makes me a Boko Haram too. That my fair complexioned spouse was a Shuwa Arab and given out to me in marriage by the late Yusuf and finally, they said the late Yusuf had contacted some members of the media on two occasions through me in the past.
Now that I no longer carry my youthful goatee and halfway trousers to avoid being branded a terrorist meets your requirements. However, I want to state here that I am proud of my Christian background as a Muslim because it has afforded me a unique sense of tolerance and impartial view for the need for dialogue that many born Christians and Muslims lack, leading to the kind of mistrusts we see today.
My wife is a very proud Tarok, from Langtang LGA in Plateau state. I met and married her in Abuja in 2002 and never saw Yusuf in her life. Yes, I was perhaps the only journalist known to the late Yusuf on account of what I mentioned earlier on. But, when has it become illegal to know a public figure who later became a criminal?
I started a career in journalism as a staff reporter with Insider Weekly Magazine, from 2001 to 2002. Thereafter, I had a stint with Crystal Magazine as a Special Projects Editor and later a founding staff with New Sentinel and freelanced for several media. Currently, I work as a reporter with the Media Trust Limited. I do not posses any formal educational qualification beyond primary school. However, I was self educated through years of extensive reading of books.