Religious leaders in northern Nigerian will vet Islamic clerics more closely to try to prevent a repeat of sectarian violence that killed close to 800 people, officials said.
Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff told a meeting of religious and traditional leaders that lax monitoring had allowed radical preacher Mohammed Yusuf, whose Boko Haram sect staged a five-day uprising last week, to build a following.
“A preaching board is to be reconstituted to ascertain that only qualified and reliable clerics would be allowed to preach in mosques and in other places,” Sheriff told the meeting in the state capital Maiduguri.
“It is to be regretted that the law which had been in place was not enforced. That laxity was what enabled Mohammed Yusuf to conduct his type of sermon and foment trouble without being cautioned.”
Gun battles raged for days last week as the security forces fought to put down the uprising by members of Boko Haram, a militant sect which wants sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed more widely in Africa’s most populous nation.
The Red Cross has said close to 800 people were killed as the security forces fought to control sect members, who went on an anti-establishment rampage attacking government buildings, police stations, schools and churches.
Followers of Boko Haram — which means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria pray in separate mosques and wear long beards and headscarves.
Loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, its views are not espoused by the majority of Nigeria’s Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. Muslims and Christians alike have been killed and lost property in the unrest.
“What has happened nobody supports,” Borno state’s acting chief Imam, Zannah Laisu Imam, told Reuters, adding that Islamic leaders and scholars would sit on the preaching board.
“Anybody that wants to preach, they will interview him to know his knowledge, to know how or what he will say during preaching,” he said.
Failed to act on intelligence?
The troubles began last week in Bauchi state, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Maiduguri, when members of Boko Haram were arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack a police station.
Rioting by sect members armed with home-made guns and machetes spread to at least four states in northern Nigeria but Maiduguri, where Yusuf’s main mosque was based, endured the heaviest fighting.
Residents of the State Low Cost neighbourhood, where the security forces used tanks and bulldozers to destroy Yusuf’s compound, questioned why the police had not acted sooner on intelligence built up over years about Boko Haram.
Although initially relieved by the killing of Yusuf, who was shot while in police detention last Thursday, and of other Boko Haram figures, they question whether his death has deprived the authorities of an opportunity to find out more about the sect.
“I thought what they would have done is to capture them and interrogate them. You need to keep them alive to interrogate them,” State Low Cost resident Sanctus Onyenze Ogualili said.
“I feel threatened. If this sort of thing can happen and security personnel do not see it coming, it is worrying.”
The scale of the violence appears to have taken the security forces by surprise. Sect members used home-made explosives to attacks schools, police stations, government buildings and churches.
President Umaru Yar’Adua has said the security agencies had been monitoring Boko Haram for years.
Some analysts say the fact the intelligence was apparently not acted on suggests certain sect members may have been protected by their links to powerful families in Nigeria’s northern elite.
Pic: Riots in a Nigerian city