John C. Thompson
9th October, 2017
The Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram have long been a red-handed local franchise of al Qaeda and the Salafist-Sunni Jihad. In 2015, they switched their allegiance to ISIS but have otherwise remained little changed.
Remarkably ‘eccentric’ even by Jihadist standards, the group is responsible for over 20,000 murders and have destabilized swaths of Nigeria and some adjoining countries. Besides murdering Christians, they have also gone after Sufis and other Muslims from sects that are considered heretical by Salafists.
At least one problem looks to be addressed in the coming weeks. The Nigerian government is not one of the world’s most efficient administrations, and Boko Haram has clearly shown that time and again. However, secret trials of some 2,300 suspected members are about to begin; the Nigerian government is showing that it can take action after all.
Secret trials of batches of terrorist suspects do not reflect well on Nigeria’s standards of Jurisprudence. The death penalty is a contentious issue in the country. Executions are again legal in Nigeria – which firmly told Amnesty International to stuff its objections in August 2017; and it remains to be seen if secret batch trials will result in mass executions.
Nobody should have any sympathy for the schoolgirl-raping, church-burning, village-massacring, truck-bombing ignoramuses of Boko Haram. Thanks to them (and the Taliban hillbillies of the Pakistan-Afghan frontier), the global campaign to eradicate Polio has stalled, millions of refugees have been generated, and the patient work of years has been lost.
Nigeria’s human rights record is so stained that fresh blots are likely to go unnoticed, but for a country struggling to overcome its usual standards of corruption, cronyism, and inefficiency, these mass trials are not likely to help.
However, the critical issue for Nigeria right now is stability. Boko Haram still has anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 members on the loose; the conflict is continuing, and the group has – inevitably – turned to organized crime for funding. Many members of the group are not fanatic Salafists, but opportunists embracing the chance for a little violent fun at the expense of their neighbours and to turn a buck. Maybe a little grim deterrence might help to weaken the group.
The other point is that Sharia Law has become embedded in much of Muslim-dominated Northern Nigeria. The promptings of Boko Haram is partly responsible for this, and a sign that the group is weakening may likewise weaken the hold of Sharia. Salafist Islam didn’t have much of a hold in Northern Nigeria, most of the nation’s Muslims followed less severe interpretations – some of which are as idiosyncratic as some of Nigeria’s Christian sects.
One should hesitate to give the Nigerian government the benefit of the doubt under most circumstances, but perhaps in this one case, secret batch trials might do more good than harm.
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