Ibrahim Faruk 2

21st Century Lessons for the Nigerian State and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria

For July’s edition of YIAGA AFRICA’s Knowledge Management Series, team members express profound thoughts through their written reflections on Yuval Harari’s somewhat controversial, but philosophical book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018), which sets out to give the world a guide towards settling in the 21st century world.

In July 2019, the Federal Government of Nigeria obtained a court order to proscribe the  Shiites’ organisation formally referred to as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and designated the activities of the Shiite organisation in any part of Nigeria “as acts of terrorism and illegality.” The court restrained “any person or group of persons” from participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the IMN “under any name or platform” in Nigeria.

The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, as amended in 2013, further expands the implication of tagging organisations as ‘terrorist groups’ to include meting out stricter punishment to not only members of the organisation who automatically become terrorists by virtue of their identification with the group, but also to all members of the public upon conviction for association with such group.

Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, in his op-ed on ‘The Nigerian State and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria’, argues that, “for too long, a pattern of behaviour has been established in which IMN members engage in protests and security agencies respond with excessive force and kill their members. The greatness of a state is never defined by its use of excessive force against citizens. In situations where such behaviour has emerged for whatever reasons, the state can start rebuilding its credentials by seeking pathways that reduce human carnage. The time has come for the Nigerian state to realise that it’s not a sign of weakness to redefine its relations with the IMN”.

Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, asks the question, “How then should the state deal with terrorism?” He suggests some answers for consideration. According to him, “a successful counter-terrorism struggle should be conducted on three fronts. First, governments should focus on clandestine actions against the terror networks. Second, the media should keep things in perspective and avoid hysteria. The theatre of terror cannot succeed without publicity. The third front is the imagination of each and every one of us. Terrorists hold our imagination captive, and use it against us. It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact.”

The protracted conflict between the Nigerian State and Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) clearly indicates a need to draw lessons from Harrari in managing the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in order to prevent a full-blown insurgency. As noted in the foregoing, Harari urges the state and people not to act out of panic as desired by terrorist organisations. If indeed the IMN is a terror group, it would have achieved part of its aim of instilling fear in the government possibly leading to the proscription.

The Nigerian State has missed the opportunity to invite the Islamic Movement of Nigeria to the table to amicably bring an end to the brewing conflict. The Nigerian State cannot continue to sit around waiting for a conflict to be “ripe” for talks to start, or for the forces of history to solve it for them. Beyond proscribing the IMN as a terrorist organization, dealing effectively with a terrorist threat that comes from such an action requires political leadership, patience, a reflection on lessons from the past (remembering what happened last time) and preparedness to take the necessary actions to forestall future occurrences.

Ibrahim Faruk is a Senior Program Officer with YIAGA AFRICA’s Youth Program and has a Masters of Science (M.Sc.) in Conflict Management and Peace Studies. He can be reached via [email protected]