Eating the heart of the infidel

Olutayo Irantiola shares Andrew Walker’s views on the rise of Boko Haram in his book, Eat  the heart of the infidel.

I accepted fate when I was posted to Maiduguri, Borno State for my mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) but it feels nostalgic now when I remember that some of the notable places that I had been to have been levelled or deserted. From Tasion Kano, to Gomari, to Bulunkutu, to Post Office, to KofaSheu, to Custom, London Citi and other places. As a Corps member, I discovered the lawlessness in the region which one dare not attempt in the other regions of this country. This review is in the light of the complexities of Nigeria’s North-East mentioned in the book, particularly the Boko Haram terror.

There are many nations (communities) in Africa that experienced different forms of conquest before becoming colonies of Western countries. The book opens with the story of John Henry Dorogu, one of those captured around 1849 in his native community around Lake Chad. However, he became the Biblical ‘Joseph’ who found favour in the hands of Germans and he eventually found his way back to his homestead, where he lived till he died. Interestingly, there would have been incidences of sacking towns for slaves before 1849. J.H Dorogu eventually became an asset to the colonial masters as he was made an interpreter. This is akin to what happened in some coastal towns, where the history of the slave trade has been preserved and it has now been turned to places of tourist attractions.

Virtually all religious sects in the world started out in search of puritanism, Islam is not exempted. Based on the early contact of the North East with the Arabians, Islam reflected in their traditional way of life greatly. From the days of Othman dan Fodio, when he led the Sufi brotherhood, there had been many wars on different communities. Thereafter, many other leaders emerged like Abubakar Gumi, who started out in Sokoto, before coming to settle down in Jos; he condemned the Sufi brotherhood. Muhammadu Marwa had his own camp in Kano; a charismatic leader, harnessed religious zeal and turned the anger of the poor into a social movement that clashed against the police in 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1985.

The final uprising that the country has been battling with is the Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf. He started out in the 1990s; he was a great orator and was strategic in his delivery of his message through writing, the use of mass media, while also preaching on market days. The sect used a welfare system to gain the attention of people and it was operating as a state within Borno State. The group is against Western education. Eventually, its leader was killed and members have been seeking revenge till date.

Historically, Western education, which was introduced to the North around 1914, was not accepted wholeheartedly from the colonialists; schools were rejected by the Emirs, and the colonialists were eager to educate indigenes of the region to run the civil service. According to Walker, the rot of the Nigerian education system is eating the heart of the society. These rots include, poor funding, late disbursement of funds, specific needs of schools were not addressed, poor communication among areas of governance, nepotism and corruption in the process of hiring. Others are poor salary, teachers involved in business to augment their salaries, blatant cheating that supports the certificate culture in the country.

Another rotten area that was touched in the book include the military incursion into the politics of the country, with specific mentions of money laundering in the days of ECOMOG, promotion of officers based on their loyalty and not on the trade of soldering; corruption, poor organisation, poor human rights record, the setup of the army which favours heavy weaponry; mechanised division and armoured division. The police force was not spared, some of the identified problems include mounting checkpoints for bribes, poor payment, poor training, ill-equipped officers who prefer to protect the homes and businesses of the elite rather than facing the risk of the job.

The book also deals with electioneering in Nigeria — the various methods of rigging elections, the political food chain, political thuggery, technicalities of primary election and the lack of ideologies by political office aspirants, with focus only on their individual ambitions. This, the author calls ‘Stomach infrastructure’, as described by Gov. Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State. Everyone wants to have a share of what is offered during election periods.

The author of the book, who is an international journalist, spoke about the form of journalism that is being practiced in the country when compared to the Western world. The news items are on oil business, human interest stories which comprise of mysterious, strange, absurd and humourous aspects of life.  According to him, ‘the articles are mostly written in syntax.

The high level of corruption in the media was cited. Journalists are poorly paid by their employers, who are aware that they are providing their employees access to a marketplace where they can hustle among political players. This often relegates them to the role of ‘stenographers.’ The level of subjectivity in many journalistic pieces is a source of misinformation. It is really a challenge for journalists on all desks in Nigeria to be involved in investigative journalism and research that would rightly inform the society and aid her advancement.