"I Don't Know Boko Haram Members" Alhaji Lateef Adegbite Speaks On Terrorist Designation Of Boko Haram By The US Govt
Secretary General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Lateef Adegbite has clarified his earlier statement asking the United States Government to slow down in her effort to designate the insurgent group, Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
In a brief interview with Citizen Journalist Segun O’Law in Lagos, the Islamic cleric dissociated the Muslims from the activities of Boko Haram, suggested ways to end the group’s insurgency and expressed concern over the likelihood that the group may have been infiltrated by foreign extremist insurgents. He also proffered National Conference as an avenue for Nigeria to make progress .
Your recent statement asking the United States to exercise caution in listing Boko Haram as a terrorist group has attracted various comments and suspicions regarding the relationship of the Islam Supreme Council of Nigeria with the insurgent sect. Can you shed more light on the position of the Islamic community with regards to the activities of Boko Haram?
Our position has been made abundantly clear. As the highest Islamic organization in the country, we have been seriously concerned about the activities of this insurgency group, and we have made it very clear that we dissociate ourselves entirely from their activities. We do not believe that what they are doing is in the interest of Islam. Islam is not a religion of violence. Islam is a religion of peace and is strongly against bloodletting.
Islam says if you kill anybody, not that if you kill a Non-Muslim, it is like killing a whole nation. So, we dissociated ourselves from them, and we have made public statements in this regard.
If the Islam Supreme Council has nothing to do with this group, then why speak on their behalf to request that the U.S. halt the decision to enlist the group as a terrorist group?
Well, that is very good. I think people misunderstood my statement. What I said was that the United States Government should give the Nigerian government more time to deal effectively with these people, and they are already making progress. I asked the United States to step slowly because of two fundamental repercussions. One, it will undermine our sovereignty.
These people are faceless, and you can not determine who is and who is not. The United States with their technological resources can attack anyone from anywhere, and most targets would be innocent people. It happened in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan. So, that is our first concern.
The second concern is the difficulty that such a declaration would bring on Nigerians generally, especially the traveling Nigerians. The security personnel at the service of the United States may classify anybody as a Boko Haram member, from just looking at the person. We have seen that happening, where people with beards and Islamic garbs are mischaracterized as terrorists. That will make life difficult for the Nigerian citizens. But if they do their research carefully and identify these people, like they have identified some leaders who are terrorists, let them deal with them.
We are not happy with the way they make life unbearable for people, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. We want them to be flushed out, so we are not protecting them, far from it. But we want discretion to be exercised to avoid indiscriminate persecution of Nigerians by the foreign governments.
But as it were now, are you saying you do not know the Boko Haram people?
No, no, no. I do not know any Boko Haram member. If I see anyone, I’ll hand him over immediately to the government.
But they claim that they are fighting the Islamic cause, so how come you do not know them?
I say they are wrongly claiming to be doing so. They are not doing it on our behalf, and we do not accept what they are doing. We have had the existence and practice of Islam for about 1,000 years in Nigeria, and things are going on well.
Terrorist threats in Nigeria come mostly from people who profess Islam. Recall the case of Abdulmutallab who attempted bombing an airliner over Detroit in Michigan, and now it is Boko Haram, also professing Islam. What explanation does the Islam Society of Nigeria have on this?
You can not conclude by citing those cases that all Muslims are therefore terrorists. We are not happy about all these developments. You know there are many people there in the world, who have grievances, and though some of the grievances by some people may be justified but they are using unlawful way to express those grievances. It should not be through violence. It is just a pity that the one facing us here is coming from people who say they are Muslims, but you should also note that there are other countries in the world experiencing similar conflicts that are non-Muslims.
What do you think is the cause of Boko Haram Insurgency and how do you think Nigeria can come out of this?
Well, first, some elements in some parts of the country believe that they are not receiving their fair share in the scheme of things. They feel that they have been marginalized, and they think that the cause of this is the western civilization that has been imported and is made supreme and that therefore, they are left out. And then, they resolved to the slogan that western education is a sin, an abomination, which is ‘Boko Haram’. But that is a faulty premise. It is not the system that has kept them out of being part of it; it is instead their own making because many of them refused to receive Western Education, and then they are caught in the cold. Their mates have become Councilors, Chairmen of councils, members of the House of Representatives and even Governors. But then, their leaders are literates, they have received western education, they are using gadgets produced through western education and most of them are also employed in organizations that have western education foundation.
I believe they could seek a peaceful presentation of their grievances with the government authorities, and they can both look into what they want and what they could do together, rather than resort to violence. Now that the insurgency is so deep, I think that the Nigerian government should intensify attacks on them and find them out and deal with them according to law. Government should also use a diplomatic and tactful approach to approach and win over the moderate ones among them and re-orientate them back into the society. So that when the most defiant ones among them see that the moderate ones have negotiated with the government and are getting incentives, trainings and good employments, they will declare that they renounce rebellion, just like the Niger Delta militants.
But the Niger Delta Militants are identifiable…
Yes, I think that is the big problem. They are faceless and that even makes them more dangerous, but I do not think that they are only Nigerians now. I am suspecting that there has been a significant infiltration of well trained rebels. They are either fanatical rebel from North Africa, from Somalia or even from Libya because their expertise is far from what I think could be from our locales, and that adds another dimension to it. So, the federal government must look into that. We now have to make sure that our borders are better protected; we have to make sure that we keep the infiltrators out and also make sure that weapons are not smuggled into the country. But then, there is also a social aspect to it, which I mentioned in that statement. There is too much poverty in the land, and the federal government should do more to eradicate poverty. The government should provide more employment for the people because an idle hand is the devil's workshop. These people are cheaply recruited because they will accept anything, apart from the fanatical ones among them that are ready to die due to misguidance. I believe that Nigeria is ripe enough to have Social Security System. Government should employ as many Nigerians as possible. Even those that are not employed should be given loans and trainings so that they can stand on their own.
What is your view on Sovereign National Conference?
Well, I will not call it Sovereign National Conference because it has aroused a lot of emotions. I will call it National Conference, conference of all Nigerians, to look into our circumstances and the people’s constitution. It is not the one that they say the National Assembly wants to amend the constitution, no, no, no. we should have a proper National Conference, a Constituents Assembly. The draft constitution adopted by the National Conference will then become the People’s Constitution.
Finally, some citizens have formed the opinion that Nigeria is a forced union and that those rebellious escalations will keep happening except we split up. What’s your take on that?
That is not a popular view. It is only the idea of some extremists. We have been living together as Nigerians for almost 100 years. In 2014, we will be celebrating the centenary of the amalgamation of the North and South. We have been living together, although there are certain policies, actions and attitudes that we should sit together and look into. When we all sit together, we will all find a solution without a break-up.
Segun O’Law could be followed on Twitter @SegunOLaw