National Geographic : 2013 Nov
104 national geographic • November 2013 rumpus of alcoves and anterooms. I arrived alongside a busload of Gulf-state visitors filing in with gifts in duty-free bags. After convening with them, the emir emerged in a meringue of robes, mounted a horse, attendants shielding him with a giant, tasseled umbrella, and rode to his mosque. It used to be that anyone could come and watch these rituals. That ended in January, when men drove up alongside the emir’s Rolls-Royce, pulled out guns, and opened fire. Two of his sons were shot, several of his entourage killed. The assurance of violence hangs in the air. While I was in Kano, there were near-daily reports of shootings and a series of botched bombings, including one at the palace. On Sun- day mornings police park water-cannon trucks outside churches, and preachers inside talk about the “Lord’s battle” against Boko Haram; in nearby mosques clerics condemn Goodluck Jonathan’s “war on Islam.” On Easter a TV re- porter friend of mine got a call. JTFs had raided a suspected Boko Haram hideout. He returned a few hours later with familiar footage: an orderly array of guns, bullets, and homemade bombs, and near it an orderly array of bodies of slain “militants.” Among the dead on this day I could see at least one woman and a child. The position of the bodies suggested that the people had ei- ther been piled together after being shot or were killed en masse. There are various creation stories for Boko Haram. The most common I heard in Nigeria is this: In the early 2000s in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Mohammed Ali, a preacher fed up with poverty and disorder, embarked on a he- gira, a Muhammadan withdrawal from society. He and his followers created a commune and practiced sharia. After a dispute with authorities, the Nigerian Taliban, as they’d become known, attacked a police station. The army laid siege, and Ali was killed. Survivors regrouped around a promising con- temporary of Ali’s, Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf built a bigger commune, described in a report as a “state within a state, with a cabinet, its own religious police, and a large farm.” He called his group Jamaa Ahl al Sunna li al Dawa wa al Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Possibly derid- ing Yusuf ’s religiosity, someone called it Boko Haram. Yusuf was carrying out forced conver- sions to Islam, according to reports, and likely ordered the murder of a rival. Nonetheless he gained sympathizers around Nigeria, not all of them Muslim. “Boko Haram is a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group,” one bishop said. Yusuf, a Maidu- guri reporter told me, “was so charismatic. He could talk to people very gently, very simply,” but “when he preached, he acted. Overacted.” In 2009 Yusuf ’s followers clashed with security forces. The army shelled the commune. Yusuf had predicted that if he was ever arrested, he would be killed without trial, and that’s exactly what hap- pened. Surviving devotees went into hiding. Some traveled abroad for training with other militants, and some regrouped in Kano around Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf ’s deputy. They set out to “liberate ourselves and our religion from the hands of in- fidels and the Nigerian government.” Northern Nigeria was overtaken by bombings, arsons, and shootings—at police stations and government offices, then at churches, mosques, schools, and universities—and by assassinations of officials, politicians, clerics, and others. The federal po- lice headquarters in Abuja was suicide-bombed, then the UN compound. A residence of the vice president’s was shot up. A deadly attack hit Kano on January 20, 2012. Waves of gunmen set upon police stations and State Security Service offices. The official estimate of the dead was 185, but according to Kano resi- dents I spoke with, the real number was much “There’s been a failure of government at all levels historically in Nigeria,” a Western diplomat work- ing there told me. This failure is ever ywhere apparent, but nowhere as much as in Kano.