Boko Haram’s neoteric rhetoric

Guess who is the new social activist coming out of Africa? Robert Mugabe. Yeah, the same Mugabe of Zimbabwe under whose dictatorial watch the country has gone under, suddenly achieved 15 minutes of fame recently.

Typical African leader that he is, he knows how to wind people’s buttons to shore up his moral bank account that has been stuck in the red for a while.

At one of his 88th birthday jamborees on February 25, Mugabe engaged in a tirade against the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, over the issue of gay rights, pretending that one of the reasons the West ‘hates’ him is that he condemns homosexuality.

Somehow, his attention-seeking gimmick worked. Under the comments on various news sites and blog posts, people praised and are still praising Mugabe for standing for what is ‘right’.

Now, “the Mugabe effect” is one of the histrionics African leaders play on the minds of their citizens. An incorrigibly bad leader like Mugabe who has done more damage to his country than 1,000 LGBTs put together can ever come close to suddenly dabble with the Bible to support a personal bias and he becomes a poster boy for ‘African values’? It is disappointing some people cannot throw the messenger and his smokescreen message under the bus. It’s like Nigeria during elections; clueless politicians go to see ‘Daddy Pastor’ for a photo-op and half of their campaign problems get solved. Adolf Hitler might as well rise from the grave to sing: “One Love, Keep us Together”!

Mugabe is someone who should be told to shut his trap and stop comparing himself to Jesus Christ. He even asked youths to join in his proxy war; here is one who has used his gerontocratic flatulence to repress young people for years but he suddenly remembers them when he needs to fight Britain, his long-standing enemy?

In the past few days since the tirade hit the wires, the responses show that Mugabe and the effect he generated are part of the metaphors for what is wrong with Africa.

But it is not only Mugabe who is using rhetoric to deflect attention from his murderous evils. Boko Haram and its supporters seem to have joined too. In a New York Times article (published the same day as Mugabe’s tirade) about Boko Haram, a NYT reporter, Adam Nossiter, interviewed some members of the murderous Islamic sect and their local sympathisers.

Their rhetoric may be summed up thus: We are on a mission against social injustice; we have local support because ‘our’ people can see that there is inequality in the land.”

What I find annoying is the manner Nossiter lets them off the hook. I expected a line of questioning like: if the issue is social injustice, then, why not face the ruling class who — according to Yusuf Maitama Sule and quoted in the article — “because of this oil habit, … are sending (their) girlfriends to do their hair in Paris?” If Boko Haram knows public funds are being expended on frivolities, why not bomb the persons directly if murder is its way of obtaining redress? Why bomb a church on Christmas Day? Why beer parlours? Why attack mosques? Why bomb public spaces and blame it on inequalities?

True, Nigeria’s problem is predicated on contradictions and social injustice but not the way Boko Haram tries to paint it. Truth is, Boko Haram is no Robin Hood who is engaged in a class war to level the playing ground between the haves and the have-nots. The members have no humane or socialist message and they mean nobody no good.

I cannot fathom why the reporter did not critically engage them at the level of their operations instead of letting them and their supporters rant on and on about what affects all of us; perhaps because he found a ‘Next Top African Noble Savage’ story that he became uncritical.

For me, his analysis calls into question the integrity of articles these foreign newspapers report about other continents. How much of local nuances do these western-based journalists really know when they research on stories in far-flung zones and beam them as ‘Inside Wherever’? It reminds me of the fuel subsidy protests where some of the foreign media outlets portrayed Nigerian protesters almost as drooling idiots who couldn’t appreciate what was good for them.

The interesting part of the NYT piece, however, is that Boko Haram didn’t speak about entrenching Sharia law! Up till January, these guys said it was either Sharia or nothing. Now, the story has shifted to social injustice and if the rest of what the article states is to be wholly believed, they are gaining local support for their newly-minted fandangle activism.

Could the ‘Mugabe Effect’ be taking a hold even among a people who have lost their loved ones to Boko Haram’s bombing outrages? Who knows, this being Nigeria, if they start doling out sums of money in the streets to the poor, they might even win more converts.

In a country where people are daily searching for a Messiah to take them to the Promised Land, a vicious mind bender is tacitly putting a foot through the door.

But beyond those, I find the coincidence of the Boko Haram’s gospel with that of the Niger State Governor, Babaginda Aliyu, who, equally, ranted about inequitable distribution of federal allocation recently, more than accidental. Isn’t it also interesting, that just a month ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, also told the Financial Times of London that “there is clearly a direct link between the very uneven nature of distribution of resources and the rising level of violence” in Northern Nigeria? Sanusi also called for a Marshall Plan that would industrialise the northern zones.

Maybe, it is all coincidental but to a cynic like me, a thread runs through all the rhetoric that shows that Boko Haram has, perhaps, recruited a PR expert to whitewash its murderous image and match it with what its ‘leaders’ have been agitating for. The sect appears to have smartly latched on to a topical issue and if it keeps up with that rhetoric some more, it might even morph into a political party. Before you think that is far-fetched, think of how Mugabe gently wormed his way into some lumpen African minds!

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