At least 39 people were killed on August 26th in Bauchi State as a result of clashes between armed men and police officers. According to the BBC website, "clashes erupted when 60 Islamist militants armed with guns and explosives attacked a police station." All roads leading to the area have been closed, an indefinite curfew has been placed on the state by its governor and the mortuary where victim's bodies are being kept is now guarded by the military.
This is the second time that Bauchi state has witnessed such violence this year. In February 2009, 5 people lost their lives in clashes that were described as 'religious'. Also, political fighting soon devolved into religious clashes in Jos during local government elections in 2008. This time, it appears that men from a Muslim group attacked a police station. Al Jazeera's English news website reports that the attackers call themselves members of the 'Nigerian Taliban', a group seeking to impose Sharia Law across the entire country.
There is no explanation as to what, if anything, motivated this attack on the police station, other than an intent by these men to make their presence known. But, why would a group interested in spreading Sharia law conduct an attack in a Sharia state? Whatever the logic for this attack, it seems backwards and frankly, rather than attest the status of 'militants', 'Islamists' or some other classification to these men, it is more likely that this group is seeking attention. Energies would be better spent learning exactly where these individuals got their weapons from so as to prevent future attacks.
It must be stated that the United States government reported in May 2008 that the Nigerian Taliban had no ties to Al Qaeda or other Islamist militant groups anywhere else. And, Nigeria's head of the Police Force, Mike Okiro, rolled back statements suggesting that Al Qaeda had plans to attack in Nigeria. However, this new incident in Bauchi begs the question of whether Okiro and others in the federal and state government were actually aware of an impending attack by this small group of militants, though they seemingly have no ties to the larger Al Qaeda network. There is also the issue of what measures the Police, Yar'Adua administration and his son-in-law, Isa Yuguda, the state governor, have to keep citizens safe.
MISTAKES MUST NOT BE REPEATED
While it is fine for northern states to adopt Sharia law, it is unacceptable, and frankly reprehensible, for any group to even suggest that the rest of Nigeria - many of whom are not practitioners of the Muslim faith, be forced to observe Sharia law. Furthermore, this violent group must not be allowed to grow especially considering that previous governments/administrations ignored the security threat presented by militant groups such as the Niger Delta's MEND. That group has gone on to attack major oil installations, foster- either directly or indirectly- a sense of insecurity that has in turn contributed to a rise in kidnappings and other violence across the country. To ignore the future problems a group such as this alleged 'Nigerian Taliban' could cause for a country already grappling with the effects of militancy and struggling to achieve development, would be foolhardy.
Time will tell whether these alleged Islamist militants will have a larger impact on the security of Nigerians and the law of the land. Despite this, Nigerians cannot idly sit by and wait to see what happens. This group must be prevented from gaining any further strength immediately for the sake of Nigerians and the future of the nation.
UPDATE (7/28/09): It appears that these 'militants' have taken their fight beyond Bauchi State and have attacked in other states in Northern Nigeria. Nigerian authorities are now hunting for anyone with connections to the group.
UPDATE (7/29/09): Despite previous reports, Associated Press is now clarifying that the term 'Taliban' was attributed to these militants by certain local police and military officers. The news organization now refers to the group as Pokoharam and asserts that they "are...clamoring for the prohibition of Western education..." It also seems that a hideout for these individuals is surrounded by authorities and under attack.
UPDATE (7/31/09): The alleged leader of the militants is now reported to be dead. (Hattip to Jide Salu). Although there are now questions as to whether he was found dead or alive.
From the Archives:
- Jos: The Power of Texts & Poverty
- Boko Haram: Questions Remain
- Aftermathof Northern Islamist Attacks
- Nigeria-List of Intolerant Nations
- Religious & Political Violence in Jos
- How To Shoot Yourself In The Foot With Al-Qaeda