‘Boko Haram is a symptom, not a disease’ | Africa | DW | 10.05.2012
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‘Boko Haram is a symptom, not a disease’

The radical Islamic group Boko Haram has carried out a number of violent and deadly attacks in Nigeria. Their bombings and drive by shootings have killed hundreds of Nigerian civilians, both Christian and Muslim.

For more insight into Boko Haram, DW talked to Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah during his current visit to Germany.

Kukah is the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, a predominantly Muslim state in the extreme northwest of Nigeria. Bishop Kukah has a reputation as a moderate, who has repeatedly blamed chronic poverty and Nigeria's corrupt social system for the rise of Boko Haram, rather than religious extremism.

DW: Most people say Boko Haram is fighting for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria - what is your take on that?

Bishop Matthew Kukah: Boko Haram very clearly does not believe in anything. I don't believe that their talk about establishing Islamic rule in Nigeria makes any sense - in part because neither their own version of Islam nor their conversation leaves one to have even the faintest idea that you are dealing with people who have an idea about how to govern or how to run a state.

I mean you can't found an Islamic state without a particular level of knowledge, a particular level of discipline, a particular level of articulation of what your beliefs are.

How do Nigeria's political and economic problems contribute to the rise of Boko Haram?

I think that tragically the political elite in Nigeria has not shown enough responsibility in coming to terms with all that will be required to consolidate the gains that we have made.

A rescue worker wearing an orange safety vest looks at the burnt-out wreckage of cars and motorcycles

A rescue worker inspects burnt-out wreckage after a Boko Haram bomb attack in January

We have had very difficult elections but the patience, the commitment and the sacrifices of Nigerians have not been adequately rewarded by the political elite. The economic conditions have not changed, the level of mass looting of the resources of the state has not abated. We haven't had the political elite appreciate the beauty and the benefits of what democracy can achieve in terms of consolidation our unity and giving our country a sense of direction. To that extent, the persistence of corruption is actually what has continues to hurt us.

When I talk of Boko Haram, they are a symptom not a disease. The real disease in Nigeria is the incredible, embarrassingly high degree of corruption in the Nigerian bureaucracy, in the Nigerian public service, and among the Nigerian political elite.

If you were the President of Nigeria, how would you fight Boko Haram then?

I would be more concerned with creating a sense of nationhood and a sense of belonging among citizens of Nigeria who have been vilified and who have been abused and who have suffered and who have been humiliated and who have watched their resources being squandered and who have watched their life span constantly diminish. I would try to come to terms with those kinds of issues. I would design the best possible mechanism for ensuring that the resourses of Nigeria are adequately distributed.

But the situation where the average Nigerian public official believes he need a home in his village, he needs a home in (the Nigerian capital) Abuja, he needs a home in (the northern trading hub of Kaduna), he needs a home in New York, he needs a home in London - there is something blatantly sick about that.

The problem with Nigerian presidents or Nigerian leaders is that nobody wants to (give up their position). This is largely not because people want to serve, but just because there is so much to steal. Nigerians now hold the political elite in contempt because they do not believe that (the politicians) have the interest of their country at heart.

There is a saying in Hausa language, 'if there is no crack on your wall, then lizards or rodents will not enter your house'. And I think the cracks that Boko Haram are exploiting are cracks that have been left as a result of the carelessness of the Nigerian state.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus (kh)
Editor: Daniel Pelz

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