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Jonathan N. C. Hill

May 2010

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ISBN 1-58487-443-0



Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab’s recent failed

attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253 as it came

into land in Detroit, Michigan, has placed the issue

of Islamic radicalism in West Africa squarely on the

international political agenda. Indeed, his actions and

close association with Al Qaeda have raised a number

of urgent questions. For instance, what are the chances

of further attacks against U.S. interests being planned

and launched from Nigeria? Is the country now the

latest battleground between Al Qaeda and those who

oppose it?

Dr. Jonathan Hill’s monograph goes some way to

addressing these questions by examining the political,

economic, social, and cultural conditions found in the

country’s Islamic heartland in the north. But it also

considers how the threat of Islamic radicalism might

be countered, and in particular, the role that the local

Sufi Brotherhoods might play in meeting it.



Strategic Studies Institute



JONATHAN N. C. HILL is a lecturer in the Defence

Studies Department at King’s College, London, United

Kingdom, based at the Joint Services Command and

Staff College. He has provided academic support to

both the British Peace Support Team (BPST) in South

Africa and the British Defence Advisory Team (BDAT)

in Nigeria. Dr. Hill has published widely on issues

of African security. His most recent book, Identity

in Algerian Politics: The Legacy of Colonial Rule, was

released by Lynne Rienner Publishers in June 2009.

He is currently working on a new book, a clutch of

articles on Algeria and Nigeria. Dr. Hill holds a Ph.D.

in postcolonial politics from the University of Wales,

Aberystywth, United Kingdom.



In light of the ongoing threats issued by Al Qaeda

against the United States and its allies, the need to

prevent the radicalization of young Muslim men and

women remains as pressing as ever. Perhaps nowhere

is this task more urgent than in the countries of West

Africa. The global expanse of the ongoing war on

terror places these territories in the frontline. With

large Muslim populations that have hitherto remained

mostly impervious to the advances of Islamism, the

challenge now confronting the Nigerian government

and the international community is ensuring that this

remains the case. But in recent years, Islamist groups

have been highly active in the region. The aim of this

monograph is to assess the potential of Nigeria’s Sufi

Brotherhoods to act, both individually and collectively,

as a force for counter-radicalization, to prevent young

people from joining Islamist groups.1

To achieve this goal, the monograph is divided

into four main parts. The first considers U.S. strategic

interests in Nigeria. It argues that most of these interests

have some sort of security dimension relating to either

oil, terrorism, the safety of shipping in the Gulf of

Guinea, or the peace and stability of West Africa. In

particular, it notes that as the region’s key actor, Nigeria

can be a vector of either stability or volatility. As such,

it is incumbent upon the United States to try to ensure

that the country remains as stable as possible.

Section two then looks at the various groups and

organizations involved. It opens with an overview

of Sufism before moving on to trace the histories of

the two main Brotherhoods in northern Nigeria, the

Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya. This includes an explanation

of the suspicion and hostility that exists between


Sufis and salafists throughout the Islamic world and

in Nigeria specifically. This antagonism is driven by

both theological and political considerations. Yet the

Islamist movement must not be considered a unified

front, as it is made up a variety of different groups,

each with their own agendas and methods for pursuing

them. The section finishes with an examination of the

means the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya use to counter the

Islamists’ influence.

The third section examines the political, economic,

and social conditions in Nigeria—and the north in

particular—today. As past experience in other parts of

the Islamic world demonstrate, these circumstances are

often critical to an Islamist group’s ability to expand

its membership and propagate its message. While

the monograph is at pains to show that the spread of

these organizations and ideals is not solely the result of

high unemployment and political disenfranchisement,

they are clearly contributing factors. And the picture

that emerges is indeed worrying, for Nigeria seems to

suffer from many of the social ills that have so helped

Islamist groups elsewhere in the Middle East and

Africa. The main conclusion this section draws is that

northern Nigeria represents fertile ground for Islamist

groups to cultivate.

The last section outlines the monograph’s conclusions

before offering up a series of recommendations. Its

main suggestion is that the U.S. Government establish

a permanent consular presence in the northern city

of Kano, Nigeria. Such a mission would act as a focal

point through which aid, development assistance, and

military training could be channeled. In this way, the

United States could extend its influence throughout

the entire region and into Niger, Mali, and the

southern Sahel. This recommendation, like the others


the section makes, is designed to limit the spread of

Islamist groups and ideas and gradually counteract the

political, economic, and social conditions that allow

them to exist and, to some extent, thrive.


1. In Arabic, each Brotherhood is known as a tariqua.





In 2010 Nigeria will celebrate its half-centenary. The

closer the country edges toward this historic date, the

more its citizens are drawn to reflect on its past. Few

but the most optimistic are likely to conclude that the

last 50 years have been anything but difficult. Politically,

Nigeria has endured prolonged bouts of chronic instability

as time and again the military has intervened

to install one of its own as head of state. Far from saving

Nigeria from the avarice and corruption of its civilian

leaders, the military’s actions have helped strangle

democracy and institutionalize electoral fraud. Economically,

the rapid expansion of the oil industry has

enriched a few at the expense of the many as Nigeria

has been transformed into a rentier state. Socially, the

country continues to be plagued by intercommunal violence

as ethnic and religious groups everywhere periodically

fall upon one another with murderous intent.

In fact, it is no small wonder that Nigeria has survived

at all. The Biafran war of the late 1960s was but

the most dramatic manifestation of the regionalist and

sectarian impulses that still threaten to tear the country

asunder. Even today, the Federal Government (FG)

continues to face numerous challenges to its authority.

In the south-east, the Movement for the Actualization

of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is fuelling

and channelling Igbo desires for an independent

homeland. In the south-south, the Movement for the

Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Movement

for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)

are working in different ways to free this oil producing


region from Abuja’s control. And in the north, memories

of the Caliphate of Sokoto still linger as ordinary

people and politicians alike dream of establishing an

independent Islamic state of northern Nigeria.

Indeed, of all Africa’s anomalous states—and there

are many—Nigeria remains one of its most fragile. Yet

the difficulties currently confronting the FG are at least

partly of its own making. Decades of corrupt, abusive,

and inept government have left millions of Nigerians

feeling frustrated and desperate. With little faith left in

either mainstream politics or politicians, hundreds of

thousands of them are drawn to more radical proposals

and the individuals who make them. Some of these

schemes advocate the complete overhaul of Nigeria’s

existing political, economic, and social orders. Yet others

trumpet the rights of particular ethnic groups. Still

others call for the secession of this or that region. Perhaps

unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of corruption

in Nigerian public life and the selfish behaviour

of the country’s leaders,1 these suggestions are often

rooted in religion and expressed in moral terms.

It is no coincidence that the past 15 years have witnessed

the exponential growth in the number, size,

and socio-political importance of religious movements

in Nigeria. Within the Christian community (which

constitutes roughly 40 to 45 percent of the total population),

there has been a proliferation of evangelical

and “health and wealth” churches.2 Among Nigerian

Muslims (who make up about 50 percent of the populace),

there has been a surge in support for sharia, culminating

in its reintroduction in 12 of the country’s

36 states.3 In fact, this is one of the clearest examples

of religion and faith-based ideas and practices being

used politically, even if some of those who called for

sharia’s implementation were motivated solely by reli3

gious conviction. At the very least, its reintroduction is

a condemnation of the efficacy of the courts and ability

of the state to provide judgment and justice in a fair

and timely fashion.

Yet, arguably, this is not the sum of the rebuke being

given. Neither is widespread support for sharia the

only way in which Nigerian Muslims are looking to

their religion to express and, they hope, address their

political, economic, and social grievances. A number of

them continue to turn to groups whose ideas and recommendations

are rooted in more radical interpretations

of Islam. Such organizations, as they are currently

recognized,4 have been present in northern Nigeria

since independence. During that time their individual

and collective fortunes have fluctuated wildly. Yet significantly,

some have endured and are presently flourishing.

Indeed, they are drawing strength from the

inability and unwillingness of the federal, state, and

local governments to either improve ordinary Nigerians’

standards of living, or fully respect their political

and civil rights.

In actual fact, based on the experiences of other

countries with large Muslim populations in North

Africa and the Middle East, the current political, economic,

and social conditions in northern Nigeria suggest

that the region is ripe for infiltration by radical

Islamic groups. But support is also growing, for much

the same reasons, for Sufism. Represented in northern

Nigeria mainly by two brotherhoods—the Qadariyya

and Tijaniyya—it encompasses a rich array of traditions,

practices, and beliefs that form a distinct stream

of thought and actions within Sunni Islam. At times

over the past century, this difference has cost those

who practice Sufism (Sufis) dearly. Indeed, both intellectually

and, on occasion literally, they have found


themselves under attack in many parts of the Islamic

world. In the past, a majority of these onslaughts were

organized by the various imperial powers as they attempted

to retain control of a particular territory. Yet

increasingly, these assaults have been orchestrated by

other Muslim groups.

This ongoing contemporary wave of violence was

originally triggered by the Muslim Brotherhood, which

emerged in Egypt in the late 1920s before spreading to

other parts of the Middle East and Africa. In particular,

the salafist tradition it has helped establish and sustain

continues to provide the impetus and justification

for many of the attacks mounted against Sufism today.

This tradition, with its call for Muslims to think and act

like their earliest forbears (salafs), is highly critical of

Sufi beliefs and practices which, it argues, verge on the

heretical.5 Since then, salafism has spread throughout

Muslim communities the world over. Perhaps even

more worrying for Sufis, it has helped give rise and

succour to some of the most reactionary and violent

factions in the Islamic world today.

Sufis, therefore, including those in Nigeria, find

themselves confronted by Islamic radicals. And they

are not alone, for many of these groups, again in accordance

with their salafist beliefs, are also hostile to

Western governments and publics. In fact, this threat

confronts both Sufis and North American and European

countries alike. By extension, containing and

countering it is a goal they all share. For their part, the

Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya continue to finance and run a

range of religious and social programs that have the

effect of preventing men, women, and children from

turning to these radical factions. To begin, such programs

are alternatives to those offered by groups and

organizations promoting salafist views and agendas.


In addition, they help make up for some of the state’s

failings, which encourage individuals to turn to radical


Therefore, one of the main aims of this monograph

is to examine these programs to assess the ability of the

Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya to counter the radicalization of

northern Nigerian Muslims. To sustain this analysis,

the monograph is divided into four main sections. The

first considers Nigeria’s strategic importance to the

United States, and why what happens there matters to

Washington and the U.S. Armed Forces. This leads, in

section two, to an examination of the different Islamic

organizations in the region. As well as identifying

the size, influence, and make-up of the various radical

groups there, the section also provides a brief overview

of Sufism and the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya. It then focuses

on what actions the Sufi brotherhoods are taking to

dissuade people from joining radical groups, and the

challenges they have to overcome. The third section

then provides an overview of the political, economic,

and social conditions in northern Nigeria today. In so

doing, it will help determine the potential susceptibility

of the region’s inhabitants to the radicals’ siren calls

and uncover the scale of the problems the Qadiriyya

and Tijaniyya have to overcome. Finally, section four

offers some conclusions, which it uses to outline a series

of recommendations for the U.S. Government and

Armed Forces.

Nigeria and the United States.

The United States has a range of strategic interests

in Nigeria. Some of them—such as its desire for peace

and stability in the Niger Delta—it shares with the

Nigerian FG. Others—like its commitment to reduce


high-level corruption—are resisted or quietly ignored

by the country’s ruling elite. Still others —such as its

efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and the

rule of law—it holds in common with foreign governments

and key international organizations. Yet despite

these differences in levels and sources of internal and

external support, most of these interests have some

sort of security dimension. Indeed, it is their security

implications that raise them to the level of strategic importance.

They have grown in both number and relative

significance over the past few years.

To begin with, Nigeria is now one of the world’s

main oil producing countries. Under the terms of its

agreement with the other members of the Organization

of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it is

allowed to pump up to 2.2 million barrels of oil per

day. This represents around 3 percent of the total

amount extracted daily worldwide, and even though

it struggles to meet its quota allocation because of the

everyday violence in the Delta, Nigeria remains one of

Africa’s largest oil producers.6 Its importance as an energy

supplier is raised still further by the quality of the

oil it extracts. Described by industry experts as light

and sweet, it is ideally suited for refinement into motor

fuels.7 Furthermore, the country’s geographic location

gives it excellent access to the Atlantic sea-lanes and

refineries in both the United States and Europe.

These factors alone would be sufficient to prick

U.S. strategic interest, for like its allies in Europe and

the rest of the world, the United States is committed

to keeping the notoriously volatile global oil market

as stable as possible. This means making sure that the

flow of oil into it is kept open. And this task is especially

important at the moment, given the ongoing instability

in Iraq—another major oil producer—and other


countries with significant reserves, like Sudan. Yet that

is not the sum of the U.S. interest in Nigeria, for the

United States is also its best customer, buying 46 percent

of all the oil it produces daily. Indeed, it is the fifth

largest exporter of oil to the United States, supplying

some 11 percent of all the crude the country imports.8

To better safeguard this important energy supply,

the United States is helping establish a dedicated naval

force to improve maritime security in the notoriously

dangerous waters off the Nigerian coast. Envisaged as

a combined force made-up of U.S., Nigerian, Equatorial

Guinean, and British naval assets, the main purpose

of the Gulf of Guinea Guard Force (GGGF)—as it

will be called—will be to protect shipping and oil rigs

from pirates operating out of the Niger Delta. The urgency

of this task has grown significantly over the past

2 years as the number of attacks against vessels and

sailors has increased.

Indeed, the issue came to something of a head on

February 11, 2008, when a Nigerian navy gunboat was

fired upon in the Kalaibaiama Channel close to Bony Island

after it disturbed pirates who were in the process

of attacking a vessel belonging to Total Oil Nigeria. It

led the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to

warn Nigeria’s FG that the country risked being blacklisted

if it did not improve security in its territorial waters.

Some shipping lines have already taken unilateral

action to protect their ships and crews. For example, in

January 2008 the Maersk Group suspended all its operations

to the port of Onne in Rivers State following

an attack on a tanker in Port Harcourt harbour.

Following Maersk’s announcement, the Nigerian

Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, moved to allay the

international community’s fears by restating the FG’s

determination to tackle militancy in the Niger Delta.

But despite his efforts, on February 12, the Internation8

al Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)—representing

186 maritime unions with a combined membership

of 700,000 people—formally petitioned the main employers

group, the International Maritime Employers

Committee (IMEC)—representing over 100 shipping

firms that together employ around 145,000 people—

for crews operating in Nigeria’s territorial waters to be

paid war-risk bonuses. These waters are now classified

as the world’s second most dangerous, after the Straits

of Malacca. Concerned by the economic and political

ramifications of being black-listed, President Yar’Adua

gave the GGGF his wholehearted support. Indeed, on

January 31, 2008, he and President Obiang Nguema

Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea called for the process of

establishing the force to be sped up.

Originally a EUCOM initiative, the feasibility of establishing

a GGGF is now the concern of the Gulf of

Guinea Commission (GGC), which is made up of representatives

from the United States, the United Kingdom

(UK), and various countries that border the Gulf,

although the final decision whether it will be created

or not still rests with each country’s government. The

main purpose of the GGGF will be to help these countries

protect their natural resources, the companies that

exploit them, and the flow of oil onto the world market.

If the force is created, the United States is likely

to provide it with boats, radar, and communications

equipment and help train the crews of the participating

African navies.

West African support for the proposal has been

built up over the past few years. In October 2004,

U.S. Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR) hosted a Gulf

of Guinea Maritime Security Conference in Naples at

which representatives from 17 navies sought to identify

the main security challenges confronting them, as


well as highlight issues of common interest. One of the

outcomes of the conference was a decision to hold a

joint training exercise some time during the following

year. On January 25, 2005, the USS Emory S. Land began

its Gulf of Guinea deployment with 20 foreign naval

officers onboard. As well as providing technical assistance

to the Cameroon navy and in-port navigation

and seamanship training, the men and officers of USS

Emory S. Land took part in search and rescue and force

protection exercises.

While such deployments by the U.S. Navy are not

new—it has been conducting training exercises in the

Gulf of Guinea since the late 1970s—the proposal to

establish the GGGF has given them added importance

and led to changes in the types of exercises it undertakes

with its regional partners. In the most recent exercise,

which began on February 22, 2008, codenamed

Exercise Maritime Safari, vessels and aircraft of the

Nigerian navy and air force and the U.S. Navy ran

maritime surveillance drills. These exercises are important,

as they help the United States gain a clearer

understanding of what capabilities its regional partners

actually posses. Moreover, they also help foster

understanding between the U.S. and Nigerian navies

and enhance the Nigerians’ ability to unilaterally conduct

such operations in the future.

Although the military and political benefits of undertaking

such exercises may not be profound, they

are real. So too are the reasons why the GGGF should

be created. The proposed force will benefit the United

States by making the Gulf more secure for maritime

traffic; better safeguarding the flow of oil from Nigeria

and Equatorial Guinea; helping the Nigerian government

extend its authority over the ungoverned space

of the Delta and curbing the illegal trade in bunkered


oil; strengthening its relations with the countries that

border the Gulf; and, increasing its military footprint

in a region that has traditionally lain outside its sphere

of influence. The GGGF will also benefit Nigeria by

helping it combat the pirates and water-borne militants

who terrorise shipping in its territorial waters.

More specific to the north are the U.S. efforts to limit

the area of operations of insurgent and terror groups

based in Algeria. The most significant of these is Al Qaeda

in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM). Known

previously as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

(GSPC), its link up with AQ has breathed new life into

its campaign against the Algerian government.9 Not

that this has significantly increased AQLIM’s chances

of achieving ultimate success. For Algeria’s security

forces are now adept at dealing with the threats posed

by insurgents and terrorists. Indeed, so effective are

their counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies

that they have forced the AQLIM and its fellow

travellers to seek refuge in Algeria’s vast hinterland.10

As a consequence, however, Algeria’s neighbours

to the south are now exposed to AQLIM as never before.

Episodes like the GSPC attack on a Mauritanian

army outpost on June 4, 2005, highlight the very real

threat this group poses to the governments and populations

of the Sahel and broader West Africa subregion.11

It now seems that AQLIM has made it a strategic objective

to become more active in these countries. Indeed,

it has recently emerged that the group sent agents into

Nigeria in June and July 2009 to assist the Boko Haram

group in its armed struggle against the country’s security


AQ’s growing influence in this corner of Africa is

naturally of great concern to the United States and its

allies. Nigeria is important both because it is one of the


countries the group is seeking to infiltrate, and because

it holds the key to the region’s stability. As home to

one-in-three sub-Saharan Africans and as a driving

force within the Economic Community of West African

States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU), what

happens there is of continent-wide significance. Indeed,

its sheer size means that it can project either stability

or volatility for many miles beyond its borders.

Helping its armed forces and police meet the challenges

posed by Islamist radicals, therefore, is absolutely

vital to Africa’s long-term security, especially given

that Nigeria’s immediate neighbours include some of

the continent’s most fragile and vulnerable states.12 In

fact, when two of them (Liberia and Sierra Leone) descended

into bloody civil war in the early 1990s, it was

Nigeria that led international efforts to contain the violence

and protect their civilian populations. It remains

one of the largest contributors of troops to the AU force

currently deployed in Sudan and is likely to commit a

significant number of personnel to the organization’s

proposed mission to Somalia. For the continent’s sake

then, it is essential that Nigeria continues to perform

these functions. And this means helping it protect itself

from AQ infiltration and internal instability.

So it was with the intention of restricting AQLIM’s

area of operations that the United States set up the

Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI) in December 2002. With an

initial budget of $7 million, the PSI’s primary purpose

was to help Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger better

protect their borders against Islamist insurgents and

terrorists operating out of Algeria. In addition to these

funds—which rose to $125 million in 2005—the U.S.

European Command (EUCOM) sent the 10th Special

Forces Group (Airborne) to Timbuktu, Mali, to establish

and operate a training center for units from all four


countries. The value of the PSI was confirmed during

the autumn of 2004 when these troops played a vital

role in helping kill and apprehend the members of a

GSPC warparty looking to kidnap competitors taking

part in that year’s Paris-Dakar rally.13

Indeed, this success helped persuade Washington

to launch a new program called the Trans-Sahara

Counter Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI) in June 2005.

With an annual budget of $100 million, it was more

ambitious in scope and involved Algeria, Chad, Mali,

Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and

Tunisia. Its goal remains to help the governments of

these countries stem the flow of money, people, and

weapons across the porous borders that divide them.

Nigeria’s inclusion in the TSCTI was an acknowledgement

by Washington of both AQLIM’s potential reach

and ambitions, and of the country’s importance to U. S.

efforts to contain and combat the group. This recognition

has been reinforced by the country’s receipt of a

significant portion of the military assistance fund managed

by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Defense

Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).14

Radical Islamic Groups in Northern Nigeria.

Helping preserve Nigeria’s domestic stability,

therefore, is a major concern for the United States.

Although the threat from Islamic radicals is concentrated

almost entirely in the north, the consequences of

their activities continue to ripple throughout the rest of

the country. Every army and Mobile Police (MOPOL)

unit sent to the region to contain a demonstration or

quell a riot orchestrated by Islamist youths cannot be

deployed in the Niger Delta to counter MEND or the

other insurgents. In addition to the strain this places


on the security forces, there are economic and social

costs, such as the financial outlay for deploying these

units, the loss of overseas investment, internal population

flight, and heightened intercommunal tensions in

other parts of the country, to name but a few.

Indeed, and as the heads of the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya

acknowledge, the challenge confronting them

and everyone else seeking to stem the tide of Islamist

radicalism is at once both ideological and practical. As

crucial to the religious arguments they marshal, are the

various community outreach programs they finance

and run. For not only do they help mitigate the shortcomings

of public services, they form alternatives to

those offered by the Islamists. Yet arguably, the Brotherhoods’

task is made all the more difficult by their desire

to work with the authorities whenever possible.

Unlike the Islamists who simply condemn the federal,

state, and local governments, the Brotherhoods try to

engage with them. Not that the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya

try to defend the indefensible, as any attempt to do

so would certainly serve them ill. Rather, they have to

funnel the discontent their members and wider community

still feel toward the government in a constructive


That the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya find themselves

both in this position and able to perform this balancing

act is due to their standing within northern Nigerian

society. The widespread respect they have come to

command has developed over the past 2 centuries and

is, at least in part, rooted in their links to the Sokoto

Caliphate. These ties give the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya

a legitimacy that is at once local and international, historic

and contemporary, religious and political. For although

the Caliphate is now not what it used to be, it

still has substance and its leaders, the Sultan and vari14

ous Emirs, continue to exert enormous influence.

Indeed, their present standing is testament to just

how important the Caliphate was. At its height in the

mid-19th century, it covered a huge area that included

northern Nigeria and parts of what is today southern

Niger and northern Benin. But it was more than

a political empire. It was also a religious community,

rendered distinct from its Islamic neighbours to the

north and west by its piety, and from the animist peoples

to the south, by its rejection of heathenism. And

at its summit—combining the roles of king and high

priest—was the Sultan. Based in Sokoto, he claimed

descent from the Prophet Muhammad, an assertion

that, rhetorically at least, made both him and his rule

beyond reproach. Yet even with this self-declared religious

authority, the Sultan still ruled through a series

of viceroys or Emirs.

Today’s Sultan and Emirs are descendants of the

men who originally seized power in the early 19th century.

Yet they do not command the political authority

that their forebearers once did. Its erosion began in

the late 19th century as a result of European colonial

expansion. In the wake of the soldiers, adventurers,

and missionaries who extended British and French influence

over the West Africa subregion, came colonial

administrators. Although not many in number, they

formed two impervious layers both above and below

those traditional rulers who were allowed to keep their

thrones. Although often obscured, theirs was the word

that really mattered, backed up as it was by the modern

gunboats of the British and French navies. So placed,

these bureaucrats set definite limits on what the traditional

rulers could and could not do.

Yet, arguably, the final nail in the coffin of the

Sultan’s and Emirs’ sweeping political powers was


Nigeria’s independence. Given its multiethnic and

multifaith citizenry, the country adopted a secular

constitution that placed power in the hands of elected

officials. Therefore, nominally at least, the Sultan was

relegated to the role of upstanding citizen, an aristocrat,

and religious leader. Yet, as Nigeria’s unhappy

history since independence shows, the constitution is

often worth little more than the paper it is printed on.

So although the Sultan has no formal political powers,

his influence is still considerable. Presidents continue

to seek both his opinions and his support, for his command

of the faithful means that he can make the government

of the north extremely difficult if he so chooses.

The Brotherhoods’ links to the Sultan extend back

to the very earliest days of the Caliphate. Indeed, the

first head of the Qadiriyya was Usman dan Fodio, the

main leader of the jihad that established the Caliphate

and the original Sultan of Sokoto.15 In the decades

following his death in 1817, both it and the Tijaniyya

worked hard to spread their influence and recruit new

members from right across the newly conquered territory.

That they were allowed and even encouraged to

do so highlights the high level patronage they enjoyed.

Far from being viewed as competitors to the royal authority

of the Sultan and the Emirs, the Brotherhoods

were seen as collaborators in the grand project of renewing

and spreading Islam in this corner of Africa.

Although Britain’s colonization of the Caliphate

helped trigger the long decline in the Sultan’s political

powers, it was arguably not as disastrous for either

him or the Brotherhoods as it might have been. For early

on, the British decided that they would rule the territory

indirectly. They therefore left the existing political

and social structures largely intact. Even though they


viewed the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya with some suspicion,

16 they still allowed them to continue pretty much

as before. It might be argued in fact, that this mild hostility

only strengthened the Brotherhoods’ credibility

among the local population, while Britain’s preservation

of the Caliphate structures ensured that they and

the Sultan retained their privileged positions within

northern Nigerian society.

Indeed, far from withering on the vine, both Brotherhoods

have prospered. Although there are no accurate

figures as to how many members they each have,

they are today counted in millions and can be found

the length and breadth of Islamic West Africa. This

places their current leaders—Qaribullahi Sheikh Nasir

Kabara (Qadiriyyia) and Sheikh Ismail Ibrahim Khalifa

(Tijaniyya)—at the head of two religious communities

that are as large as they are important. More precisely,

they are important because they are large. For when

Sheikhs Kabara and Khalifa speak, they do so, nominally

at least, on behalf of a great many people whose

actions they can influence through example, proclamations,

and religious edicts.

Major ingredients of the glue that binds their memberships

together are the values and histories both

Brotherhoods promote and embody. Sufi is an Arabic

word that—perhaps unsurprisingly, given its centuries

of use—has acquired a multitude of meanings. It is

also a value laden term that is employed both in praise

and condemnation of certain individuals, groups, sets

of ideas, and practices. By and large though, Sufis view

themselves as “Muslims who take seriously God’s call

to perceive his presence both in the world and in the

self . . . [and] stress inwardness over outwardness, contemplation

over action, spiritual development over legalism,

and cultivation of the soul over social interac17

tion.”17 It is this commitment to introspection and quiet

meditation that has sustained descriptions of Sufism as

being mystical and esoteric.

Each Brotherhood celebrates the efforts of a particular

individual to achieve spiritual self-enlightenment.

During their lives these saints, as they are usually referred

to, displayed a single-minded determination to

live piously that eventually led them closer to God. But

in addition to the example they set, the saints, through

their daily routines, marked out a path for the faithful

to follow. The goal of each Sufi therefore, is to emulate

their saint, to show the level of commitment and observe

the same rituals, practices, rites, and obligations

as the saint did. For if they do so, then eventually they

too might gain enlightenment and get to know their

Maker better.18

Usually, the Brotherhoods take their names from

the saint they revere. The Qadiriyya is named after Abdul-

Qadir Jilani, a scholar and jurisprudent who rose

to prominence in Baghdad in the late 11th and early

12th centuries. Similarly, the Tijaniyya is named after

Ahmad al-Tijani, who lived and worked mainly in the

western Maghreb between 1737 and 1815. As their origins

suggest, both Brotherhoods have spread and expanded

from their respective bases in the Arab world.

The communities in northern Nigeria and West Africa,

therefore, can be considered local chapters of what

are truly global movements. And there as elsewhere,

the histories of the two Brotherhoods are closely connected.

In fact, al-Tijani was at one time a member of

the Qadiriyya. Yet he left after growing frustrated with

what he saw as its rigid hierarchy and failure to provide

greater support to the poor. Arguably, his experiences

and disillusionment help explain the cool relations

that have historically existed between the two


Brotherhoods. Even today in Nigeria, they rarely work

together, viewing each other more as rivals than partners.


And in some ways they are, since both Brotherhoods

draw their members from the same pool of people.

Without doubt, this competition is an unnecessary

distraction, as it prevents greater cooperation between

them to the detriment of the outreach programs they

offer. These would surely be enhanced through the

sharing of resources, know-how, ideas, and personnel.

Moreover, by working together, the Brotherhoods

would better protect themselves from the vitriol and

machinations of the Islamists. For the Qadiriyya and

Tijaniyya remain, along with the secular authorities,

prime targets of Islamist hatred and anger. Indeed, the

Jama’atul Izalatul Bid’ah Wa’ikhamatul Sunnah (or Izala

for short)—one of the most important Islamist groups

currently operating in northern Nigeria—was established

in “reaction to the Sufi brotherhoods.”20

In fact, the very name confirms the group’s hostility

toward Sufism, as it means the “society for the removal

of innovation and reinstatement of tradition.”21

It is a salafist organization that embraces a legalist and

scripture centered understanding of Islam. Its goal,

like that of other such groups, is to strip the religion

of all impurities, of all foreign (and in particular Western)

ideas and practices. It seeks to do so by encouraging

the faithful to live by its quite literal interpretation

of the Qur’an, sunnah, and hadith; to emulate the salafs.

Its fervent belief in a true Islam means that it stresses

uniformity across the umma, and is therefore very concerned

with its members’ social roles and interactions.

Much of this stands in complete opposition to what

Sufis both believe and practice. For them innovation

is extremely important, as it provides the means by


which the individual undertakes his or her spiritual

journey toward enlightenment. Indeed, the paths set

down by the Brotherhoods are the very definition of

innovation, as they have been fashioned deliberately

to facilitate this passage. But it is not simply their rejection

of scriptural and legal specificity that outrages

the Izala; it is also their veneration of saints. To many

salafists, this verges on the heretical, as it seems to undermine

or contradict the Oneness of Allah. For there

can be no division of God’s glory or omnipotence and

neither, on any account, should the faithful worship

false idols.22

For the most part, then, the Izala’s grievances with

the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya are rooted in religion and

theology. Yet clearly, it would not be so distressed if

the Brotherhoods’ profiles in northern Nigeria were

lower. Indeed, if their memberships were small, their

influence insignificant, and their views of little consequence,

it would be less concerned with what their

followers thought and did. It is because they are important

that their perceived deviancy matters so much.

The Izala’s opposition to the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya,

then, is motivated, at least in part, by what are essentially

political considerations. Its concerns are kept

alive by the closeness of the Brotherhoods’ ties to the

Sultan and Emirs, as these links preserve their importance

and influence.

Indeed, the enduring strength of these relations

has helped cement their positions within northern

Nigeria’s establishment. While this has undoubtedly

brought great benefits to both Brotherhoods over the

years, it has also left them exposed to further criticism.

They are associated with a socio-political order, which,

in the very least, has failed to shield the northern Nige20

rian public from many of the burdens they now have

to bear. As a result, it has made them targets of those

Islamist groups seeking to enact revolutionary change.

Such organizations—which include Ahl al-Sunnah wal-

Jama’ah, Ja’amutu Tajidmul Islami (Movement for the

Islamic Revival [MIR]), and Boko Haram (or the Nigerian

Taliban)—are driven by both religious and political

considerations. Or rather, their political opposition

to the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya is less a consequence of

their theological grievances than it arguably is for the


Indeed, the Islamist movement in Nigeria is made

up of an assortment of groups that rarely, if at all ever,

coordinate their actions. Their reluctance to do so hints

at the profound differences that exist between both

their respective agendas and approaches to pursuing

them. This divergence is at its most stark between the

two oldest and best established organizations—the Izala

and Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement

in Nigeria (IMN).

The Izala first emerged in the early 1960s out of an

informal scholastic movement centred on the prominent

writer, jurisprudent, and preacher, Sheikh Abubakar

Gummi. Born in the early 1920s, he first made a

name for himself as a critic of British colonial rule. But

once Nigeria achieved its independence, he focused

his wrath on the Sultan and Emirs for allowing what he

argued to be the creeping westernization of northern

Nigerian society. His views reflected the traditional

education he received in Sokoto, Kano, and the Sudan.

Indeed, it was in Sokoto that he first befriended Ahmadu

Bello, Usman dan Fodio’s grandson and the first

Premier of Northern Nigeria, and Yahaya Gusau, his

fellow founder of the Izala.

In 1955, Gummi made his first hajj to Mecca. Trav21

elling with Bello, he was introduced to King Saud bin

Abdul Aziz, who encouraged his translation of Islamic

texts from Arabic into Hausa. This meeting, and the

other contacts Gummi made along the way, was to

have a profound impact on his thinking and the direction

the Izala took once it was founded. For while Gummi

did not embrace wahhabism in its entirety, many of

its values chimed with those he held. And over the

years, the Saudi Arabian government is reported to

have given the Izala significant material support and

encouragement. These provisions are allegedly made

through the Saudi Arabian embassy in Nigeria.23

Once Gummi returned from Saudi Arabia his links

to Bello helped him gain teaching berths in Kano and

Kaduna. He used these positions to continue his work

translating the Qur’an and sunnah into Hausa, and to

promote his salafist views. Then almost overnight, as

a result of Bello’s murder by Igbo army officers on

January 15, 1966, his animosity toward the Sultan and

Emirs, Qaidiriyya and Tijaniyya, hardened. Bello had

been a calming influence on Gummi. And out of respect

for his friend, who was a member of the family

that had done more than any other to make the Caliphate

of Sokoto what it was, Gummi toned down his

criticism. But with Bello’s death, any brake that had

been placed on what he said and did vanished. Indeed,

it was very soon after Bello’s death that he co-founded

the Izala. He did so in part in retaliation against the

politicians and religious leaders who seemed to either

benefit from or care little about Bello’s assassination.

Given Gummi’s centrality to the group, its membership

includes many of his former students and is

concentrated mainly in his home-town of Kaduna

and, to a lesser extent, in the near-by cities of Kano,

Jos, and Zaria. Its division between these urban centres


has prevented the creation of a tightly centralized organization.

Its disparateness only increased following

his death on September 11, 1992. Indeed, he had acted

as something of a lynchpin. And even though he was

quickly succeeded by his son, Dr. Ahmed Gummi, a

highly respected Islamic scholar in his own right, his

removal only increased the devolution of influence

and authority to local leaders and sheikhs.24

Yet even so, the group remains committed to much

the same agenda set down by Abubakar Gummi 40

years ago. It seeks to advance the agenda by many of

the means that Gummi pioneered. As well as being an

active teacher, Gummi made good use of the pulpit

to promote his beliefs. From the early 1970s onwards,

he appeared regularly on television to comment on

religious festivals and issues. Of course, some of this

national exposure came to an end when he died, as it

was tied to him personally and the result of his reputation

as an Islamic scholar. Yet, while it lasted, it helped

establish the Izala as a definite force within northern

Nigerian society. Izala members have not shied away

from confronting their rivals in the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya

head on. Numerous times throughout its existence,

its young men have clashed with the Sufis on the


Yet their methods are not as violent as those sometimes

used by Zakzaky’s followers. In truth, the IMN is

unique among those groups that make up the Islamist

movement in Nigeria, as it cannot rightly be described

as salafist. For while it has a few Sunni members—some

of whom undoubtedly harbour salafist sympathies—it

is in the main a Shiite organization. Zakzaky’s career as

an agitator and would-be revolutionary began when

he was at university. While a student at Ahmadu Bello

University (ABU) in the late 1970s, he became a leading


light in the Muslim Students Society (MSS) and helped

organize a series of events calling for the implementation

of sharia law. Eventually, after several bouts of

unrest on the Zaria campus, the university authorities

lost patience with him, and he was expelled on December

14, 1979.25

It was at this point that he dedicated himself full

time to promoting the cause of Islamic revolution. And

just like his hero, Ayatollah Khomeini, he recorded

sermons on cassette tapes that were widely distributed

throughout northern Nigeria’s major towns and cities.

Habitually, these fiery epistles attacked those in positions

of political and religious authority—the federal

and state governments, the Sultan, the Emirs and the

Brotherhoods. Indeed, it was the Qadiriyya’s and Tijaniyya’s

links to the northern establishment that marked

them as targets of Zakzaky’s wrath. His main argument

was that the secular authorities were not fit to

hold power, and that the traditional religious rulers,

either through cowardice or self-serving interest, facilitated

their abuses by refusing to stand up to them.26

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, therefore, he and his

followers petitioned for the implementation of sharia

law and sought to bring about an Islamic revolution

similar to that which happened in Iran in 1979.

As well as circulating recordings of his sermons,

Zakzaky and his followers, many of whom were students

from ABU and other northern universities, printed

newsletters and staged demonstrations. Then in the

early 1990s, shortly after the Kano riots of 1991, they

created the horas or guards. Modelled on the Revolutionary

Guards in Iran, these militants were tasked

with providing security at group meetings and other

events. As a result, they frequently clashed with the

police, Christian youths, and the members of rival


organizations, including the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya,

earning Zakzaky a reputation as someone quite willing

to use violence to further his aims. It was also over

this period, as the creation of the horas suggests, that

his admiration for both the Iranian model and Shiite

Islam grew. This was to have a profound effect on his

group and the Islamist movement as a whole. Indeed,

perhaps the most important consequence was that it

alienated many of his Sunni followers. So much so, that

in the late 1990s one of his most trusted lieutenants,

Abubakar Mujahid, left his entourage and founded the

MIR. Based primarily in Kano, it adopted many of the

tactics used by the horas and quickly developed a reputation

for causing and exploiting street level violence.

And of greater concern to the police and authorities

was the capacity of both groups to organize massive

protests. Collectively referred to as the Muslim Brothers,

they became a formidable grass roots force, “capable

of bringing out a half-million people into the streets

of Kano.”27 Both Zakzaky and Mujahid are noisy supporters

of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.28

Of the two, Zakzaky’s IMN, as it became known,

is the larger organization. His embrace of Shiite Islam

and admiration of Iran won him influential backers in

Tehran. Over the last 2 decades, it has provided him

and his group with financial and other support. Indeed,

without this help it is highly likely that the IMN

would have withered on the vine, given that the overwhelming

majority of Nigeria’s Muslims are Sunnis.

As it is, the IMN uses these funds to promote the Shiite

and Iranian causes through a series of activities including

ta’alim (study sessions that take place three times

a week), ijitima (more intensive study sessions), daura

(seminars and workshops), khutba (religious sermons),

and muzaharats (mass demonstrations).29


In fact, Zakzaky’s link up with the Iranians has

helped give him a new purpose following the northern

states’ adoption of sharia law.30 For once they did so,

one of the main planks of his agenda was removed.

Yet crucially, the IMN remains committed to “involving

itself in national or international issues that are of

concern to Muslims, as well as in solidarity with oppressed

sections of the Muslim Ummah such as the

Palestinians and Iraqis . . . [and] to mark certain events

such as Quds Day and Ashura Day.” And more worryingly,

it seems quite prepared for the violence that

often accompanies these rallies and “sometimes results

in heavy casualties on the part of the movement.”31

Just as the Izala does with the funds it gets from

Saudi Arabia, the IMN uses some of the money it receives

from Iran to build prayer rooms and offer free

education to the children of poor families. Indeed, it

is alleged that as well as teaching these children for

free, both organizations give them food and a little

spending money.32 In light of the widespread poverty

found throughout the north and the abject failure

of the federal and state authorities to maintain public

services, such acts of welfare are greatly appreciated

by the recipients. And the poverty of those receiving

it helps guarantee their loyalty to the group providing

it. Moreover, this investment in schools and education

is part of a deliberate strategy to target children and

young people.33

Unsurprisingly, the Izala, the IMN and the other

Muslim Brothers proclaimed the introduction of sharia

a victory for them and their respective causes. Long

had they campaigned for its implementation; and for

equally long had they seen their efforts thwarted. Its

sudden adoption, then, not only seemed to vindicate

their patience and persistence, but also represented—

so they argued—a first crucial step along the path to26

ward the creation of a truly Islamic society. To some

extent, they were justified in their self-congratulation.

Certainly their role or influence was not as great as

they often claim, but through their actions they have

helped bring about its introduction.

Yet, the northern states implementation of sharia

also presented the Izala and Muslim Brothers with

some new problems. For a start, it robbed them of an

issue they had long used to attack the secular authorities

and traditional religious leaders. For many years

sharia had given them a convenient stick with which

to beat their enemies, but now they needed something

else. More seriously, it led to the emergence of even

more radical Islamist groups, which soon developed

huge grassroots followings. The most prominent and

successful of these new movements was Boko Haram,

which in the space of just 7 years has managed to establish

itself as a major rival to the existing Islamist


The group, which often refers to itself as the Nigerian

Taliban, first emerged in 2002 in the northeastern

city of Maidugari, which is located close to the borders

with Chad and Cameroon. From the outset, and until

very recently, it was led by a charismatic young firebrand

called Mohammed Yusuf. It was established in

direct response to the introduction of sharia law. Its

implementation helped persuade the 3,000 or so men,

women, and children who became the group’s original

members to emulate the Prophet’s hijara or flight from

Mecca to Medina and withdraw to a remote part of Niger

State. They referred to the area they occupied as

“Afghanistan” and lived there peacefully for a number

of years.

Yet in Borno and Yobe States, groups of young

men, keen to either enter Afghanistan or to set up sim27

ilar communities elsewhere, clashed repeatedly with

the police. In the main, they were postgraduate students

who had recently returned from studying in the

Sudan and were eager to put what they had learned

into practice. Indeed, they quickly condemned the existing

religious authorities as corrupt and, therefore,

illegitimate.34 Such arguments found a receptive audience

among the young urban poor, who had few opportunities

open to them and little to look forward to.

So much so that the group quickly attracted, if not the

outright support, then sympathies of tens of thousands

of people in towns and cities across the north.

That Boko Haram was a force to be reckoned with

first truly became evident in 2004 after its members

clashed with police and members of the security services

in a series of bloody riots. Throughout the summer

of 2009, large parts of the north were plunged into

turmoil due to further violence that began in earnest

on July 26 when Boko Haram militants opened fire on

a police station in Bauchi. In response, the state governor

called in the army to restore order. Over the next

few days it fought running street battles with Boko

Haram gunmen until it finally surrounded Yusuf’s

compound. It took several more days of heavy fighting

before the insurrection was finally crushed. Latest

estimates place the final death toll at between 700 and

800 people.35

But even that, and Yusuf’s summary execution by

police, failed to put an end to the fighting. Even after

his death, or perhaps because of it, violence broke out

in towns and villages across the north. That it continues

to occur is of great concern to the authorities and

security forces. Yet even more worrying are the sophisticated

nature of the attacks, the use of firearms, and


the links Boko Haram has allegedly established with

AQLIM. Indeed, these attacks were a step up from the

riots and other religious violence that habitually grips

the north, as they were part of a coordinated strategy

to break the government’s authority in the region.

The grievances that gave rise to this violence and

the popularity of the services offered by the Izala and

IMN makes the community outreach programs financed

and run by the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya all the

more important. For they represent two of the few alternatives

for many poor people living in the north. In

both instances, these programs are built around education—

schools and colleges, lessons and courses. Today,

the Qadiriyya runs a nursery, a primary school,

a secondary school, and a college that is accredited

to award diplomas. Unusually for northern Nigeria,

all classes are co-educational. The Tijaniyya similarly

teaches children and youths of all ages, and also helps

adults study the Qur’an, and learn to read and write.

Both Brotherhoods are highly active throughout

Kano and the north in other ways. In fact, their programs

mirror that of the IMN and include sermons

and prayer sessions, workshops, seminars, meetings,

rallies, and events to celebrate important dates in the

religious calendar. But in addition, given their status

within Nigeria’s religious community, both Sheikh

Kabara and Sheikh Khalifa appear regularly on national

television and radio. This, arguably, gives them access

to a much broader audience than either Dr Gummi

or Zakzaky or Mujahid or the leaders of Boko Haram.

Ripe Conditions: The State of Northern Nigeria


According to most indices of human development,

Nigeria has made little progress over the past


49 years. Moreover, and of arguably greater concern

to its citizens and the international donor community,

the country has regressed in certain crucial areas. In

fact, since 1960, the year in which the country gained

its independence from Britain, the amount of people

who are functionally literate has fallen, the electricity

output of the country’s power stations has decreased,

the percentage of the population living in poverty has

increased, and the divide between rich and poor has


Of course, the rate of this decline has been neither

steady in tempo nor consistent in its consequences.

Rather, it has occurred in fits and starts, sometimes

quicker and more profound, at other times slower and

less dramatic. Yet, taken over the course of Nigeria’s

post-colonial history, it has been unremitting, especially

from the mid-1980s onwards. No part of the country

has been left unaffected. While some regions and their

inhabitants may not have suffered as badly as others—

Abuja in particular is a relatively privileged and protected

place—none have been spared entirely, let alone

bucked the trend of stagnation and degeneration. In

fact, nearly all but the wealthiest of Nigeria’s citizens

have had to endure growing hardships and falling

standards of living.

Yet even so, northern Nigeria has been one of the

regions hardest hit. Its decline started as early as January

1966 and was triggered by the collapse of the First

Republic. For many northerners of an age to remember

it, and some who cannot, the First Republic remains

the finest incarnation of the post-independence state.36

That they should still hold such a view is hardly surprising,

given the political dominance of the north

throughout its existence. Stretching all the way to the

southern borders of what are today the states of Kwara,


Kogi, and Benue, the north encompassed nearly twothirds

of Nigeria’s sovereign territory and was inhabited

by around half of all its citizens. And as a result, its

voters were allowed to fill one out of every two seats in

the National Assembly.

Indeed, it was the north’s large size that underpinned

its political preeminence. And the only way the

leaders of the other two (later three) regions could constrain

it, was by working together, which they seldom

did.37 But in the end, it was the very scale of the north’s

preponderance that proved to be the First Republic’s

undoing. Fearful of what they saw as the creeping

northernization of Nigeria— the steady spread of both

Islam and Hausa-Fulani cultural practices throughout

the country— a group of mainly Igbo army officers

overthrew the government on January 15, 1966. After

arresting and then executing Prime Minister Tafawa

Balewa and Premiers Ladoke Akintola and Ahmadu

Bello of the Western and Northern Regions respectively,

the conspirators handed power to the army’s most

senior officer and fellow Igbo, General John Aguiyi-


But if they hoped their actions would bring stability

and an end to the north’s political dominance,

they were soon proved to be mistaken. For just under 6

months later, on July 29, 1966, Aguiyi-Ironsi was himself

ousted in a coup d’état led this time by a cabal of

northern officers. They, in turn, installed the army’s

most senior northerner, General Yakubu Gowon, as

the country’s new head of state. And in so doing, they

helped solidify the process of political succession that

had begun with the overthrow of the First Republic, a

process that was as violent as it was undemocratic. Indeed,

since then, power has seldom been ceded peacefully,

and governments have rarely stood down vol31

untarily. Even during this current, supposedly golden

age of Nigerian democracy, former president Olusegun

Obasanjo tried to have the constitution amended

to allow him to serve a third term in a desperate bid to

remain in power.38

Although the coup d’état that destroyed the First

Republic weakened the north’s grip on power, it by

no means broke it entirely. In fact, of the 11 heads of

state who followed General Aguiyi-Ironsi, nine were

northerners including the present incumbent, Umaru

Yar’Adua. Yet even so, this power did not really benefit

ordinary people living in the north. They, like their

compatriots in other parts of the country, continued

to be largely excluded from the political process. This

was certainly the case throughout the long years of

military rule. For much of their time in office, Generals

Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Obasanjo,

Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

(IBB), and Sani Abacha used the extensive emergency

powers they granted themselves to rule by decree.

What limited consultation took place, seldom, if ever,

included ordinary people or their self-chosen representatives.

The situation has scarcely improved under the civilian

leaders who have held power continuously since

they reclaimed it in May 1999.39 All too quickly, in fact,

the hope and expectation that accompanied Obasanjo’s

election as president gave way first to alarm and then

dejection. The gloom was lifted slightly by his failure

to secure a third term in office and his eventual, albeit

reluctant, surrender of power to Yar’Adua, who noisily

declared his enthusiasm for the rule of law. But he

has since returned with a vengeance, and continues to

deepen the longer Yar’Adua’s presidency lasts, as he

stubbornly refuses to display any such commitment


to due process. Indeed, he has succeeded, along with

his predecessor, in transforming Nigeria into a de facto

one party state in which the electoral process is now

so compromised that anyone who hopes to hold office

cannot afford to allow elections to proceed unimpeded.

Today, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dominates

Nigerian politics in a way in which no other

party has in the past. Even under the First Republic—

the only other period in Nigeria’s history when civilians

held power for a comparable length of time— the

elected representatives were divided far more equitably

between the various parties. A majority were members

of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). But a

large minority belonged to the Action Group (AG), the

National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC),

the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), and

the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). Now

though, political life at the federal, state and local levels

is dominated by the PDP. In addition to both the

president and vice-president, 28 of the country’s 36

state governors are PDP men, as are most members of

the various state assemblies and local government areas.

This dominance would be less worrying, although

still far from ideal, if PDP membership was not now a

vital prerequisite for candidates seeking public office

and especially high office. Indeed, the PDP exploits its

large size to make sure, by both fair means and foul,

that its people “win.” For example, the violence that

gripped the city of Jos, in November 2008 was initially

triggered by the PDP’s rigging of the ballot in a local

election to ensure that its candidate (a Christian) won

in an exclusively Muslim ward.40 Time and again over

the past decade, in fact, it has rigged national, state and


local elections held all over the country.

This practice has become steadily more entrenched

in the months since the presidential election of May

2007. It, too, was rigged by the PDP to ensure that

Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s chosen successor, beat his two

main rivals, Atiku Abubakar (Obasanjo’s former vicepresident)

and Muhammadu Buhari (the former military

dictator). According to most accounts, the election

was anything but free and fair. During the build up to

the election, the U.S. State Department issued its annual

human rights report on Nigeria. It observed that

the Nigerian police routinely, and often violently, harassed

opposition candidates and their supporters; that

the authorities obstructed and illegally detained journalists;

that government agents were involved in politically

motivated murders; and that vigilante groups

were hired by incumbent politicians to intimidate their


Of the election itself, the European Union’s (EU)

observation mission noted that “polling procedures

were often poorly followed and the secrecy of the vote

was not guaranteed in the majority of . . . stations,” as

well as many instances “of fraud, including ballot box

stuffing, multiple voting, intimidation of voters, alteration

of official result forms, stealing of sensitive polling

materials, vote buying and under age voting.”42 These

criticisms were echoed by the United Nations (UN),

Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Indeed,

it “observed violence and intimidation . . . in an

electoral process that denied large numbers of voters

the opportunity to cast their votes.” And “where voting

did occur, it was marred by the late opening of polls, a

severe shortage of ballot papers, the widespread intimidation

of voters, the seizure of ballot boxes by gangs

of thugs, vote buying and other irregularities.”43


Not long after Yar’Adua’s victory was declared,

both Atiku and Buhari launched separate legal challenges

to have it overturned. To hear their cases, a

special tribunal of five judges was convened. As well

as deciding whether any fraud had been committed,

it was the panel’s task to determine what should be

done if it had. After months of deliberation, it finally

delivered its unanimous verdict on February 26, 2008,

and found against both plaintiffs. Within hours of the

announcement of its judgement, rumours began to circulate

of massive payments made to its members by

a third party close to Obasanjo. It was alleged that in

return for this money, which amounted to hundreds

of millions of naira, the five Justices were expected to

dismiss both cases.

Unexpectedly perhaps, given that Yar’Adua is

from Katsina, this outcome was only lukewarmly received

in the north. Prior to the election, he was largely

unknown throughout the region. And those who had

heard of him usually knew him as Shehu’s younger

brother.44 He was certainly far less high profile than

either Atiku or Buhari, who are also northerners.

Quite rightly, given their long involvement in national

politics, they are seen as two of Nigeria’s most senior

statesmen. And even though the PDP is the party of

the current northern-dominated administration, it

does not command universal support throughout the

region. Indeed, three of the eight states with non-PDP

governors, Borno, Kaduna, and Yobe, are in the north.

Their governors, Ali Modu Sheriff, Ibrahim Shekharau

and Ibrahim Geidam, belong to the All Nigeria Peoples

Party (ANPP), for which Buhari stood in the 2007

presidential election.

The north, therefore, is no more immune to the feelings

of political disenfranchisement that are currently


swirling around the country than anywhere else. In

fact, that a northern administration has failed so completely

to even begin to tackle the region’s many economic

and social problems only compounds the disappointment

felt by many of those who live there. For in

a clinentelist state such as Nigeria, ties of blood and

religion are supposed to matter. Yet seemingly they

do not, which makes the general inability of ordinary

voters to hold their political leaders to account, and if

necessary change them, all the more frustrating.

And this sense of marginalization continues to

be heightened by the state’s routine abuse of human

rights and the violence with which it often responds to

popular protests. The past 12 months have witnessed a

procession of bloody riots as Nigerians, usually young

men, take to the streets to make their displeasure

known. That there have been so many demonstrations

such as these speaks volumes about the limited opportunities

ordinary people have to make themselves

heard or get involved in the political process. The majority

of these disturbances occurred in the north, in

the cities of Jos (November 2008), Bauchi (February

2009), Zaria (June 2009), Kano (July 2009), Maidugiri

(July 2009), and Bauchi again (August 2009).

On each occasion, the state’s response was ferocious.

In Jos, the local governor ordered the police and

army to simply shoot suspected rioters on sight.45 According

to the most up-to-date estimates, some 700

people (most of them protestors) died during this

crackdown.46 More recently, the leader of the Boko

Haram group, Mohammed Yusuf, was summarily executed

by MOPOL officers for orchestrating violent

demonstrations in several northern cities.47 While his

death was warmly welcomed by President Yar’Adua’s

administration,48 it caused consternation among hu36

man rights groups and ordinary Nigerians. To them,

the state’s treatment of Yusuf and the Jos protestors

highlights both its absolute refusal to brook any dissent,

and its determination to close off the few remaining

avenues for the general public to make its views


That taking to the streets is now one of the only

ways ordinary people can hope to influence the political

debate helps explain the vehemence and violence

of so many demonstrations. Their protests are given

added urgency by the abject poverty in which the vast

majority of them live. It is with undiluted desperation

that these people call on their political leaders to help

them in their daily struggle for survival. They are, in

fact, emissaries for the masses with whom they share

the same problems and anxieties. In 2005, 92 percent

of all men, women, and children lived on $2 or less a

day, and 70 percent on $1 or less.49 This extremely high

rate of poverty has been brought about by three distinct

processes: Nigeria’s transformation into a rentier

state; the failure of its economic growth to keep pace

with demographic growth; and the increasing concentration

of the wealth that is generated in the hands of a


Nigeria’s evolution into a rentier state is directly

tied to the development of its oil industry. It has grown

rapidly over the past 40 years and has turned the country

into one of the world’s most important energy suppliers.

In 1960 Nigeria extracted around 20,000 barrels

of crude a day, which represented just 0.09 percent of

the total amount produced worldwide. By 1971, the

year in which it joined the OPEC, these figures had

jumped to 1.1 million and 2.25 percent, respectively.

And today, it produces something in the region of 2.2

million barrels a day, or 3 percent of the total amount


extracted worldwide.50

Yet even this remarkable growth pales in comparison

to the speed with which Nigeria now so completely

depends on its oil revenue. In 1960 the 2.4 billion

naira the country netted from its sale of oil abroad

represented just 2.7 percent of its total export earnings.

By 1980, such sales (which were worth 12,791.7 billion

naira) made up a staggering 96.1 percent of its export

income.51 Even today, these proceeds are the mainstay

of its export and foreign currency earnings. So much

so, that both its economy and the government’s spending

plans are totally reliant upon them. Nigeria’s future

prosperity and public services, therefore, depend

on a market that is notoriously volatile.

This exposure has been made all the more complete

by the federal and state governments’ failure to adequately

maintain their tax collection capabilities. Arguably,

this is one of the very few ways in which ordinary

Nigerians benefit from their country’s oil windfall. Using

such revenue to alleviate the popular tax burden,

is a well-established practice and has been adopted by

the governments of oil producing countries the world

over. Yet for Nigerians—just as for Saudi Arabians,

Kuwaitis, Bahrainis, and Bruneians—this arrangement

is something of a Faustian pact, for it makes their political

leaders even less inclined to pay them any heed.

Indeed, since the tax they pay is so inconsequential,

their governments are less beholden to them.

The rapid and massive expansion of Nigeria’s oil

industry has also stymied the growth of its economy.

For like many other countries that earn a significant

portion of their income from the sale of this or that

natural resource, Nigeria has succumbed to the Dutch

Disease. Coined in the late 1970s by the Economist magazine

to explain the collapse of manufacturing in the

Netherlands following its discovery of natural gas a


decade earlier, the term refers to those instances when

a country suffers from exchange rate problems resulting

from its sudden overdependence on the export of

a single commodity, usually an unrefined or unprocessed

natural resource of some description.52

In the case of Nigeria, the country was flooded with

foreign currency, which raised the value of the naira

to artificially high levels. As a result, imported goods

were much cheaper and were highly sought after by

the nouveaux riches because of the status attached to

them. This led to a decrease in demand for local agricultural

and manufactured products, sending these

sectors of the economy into decline. Their collapse has

been hastened by the flight of huge numbers of people

from the countryside to the cities as they seek to make

their fortunes on the back of the oil bonanza. As a result,

the country’s economy contracted by an average

of -0.1 percent per annum between 1975 and 2005.53

Unsurprisingly, this prolonged period of stagnation

has had a devastating effect on the livelihoods and

standards of living of many ordinary Nigerians. One

of the most pressing problems is perennial un- and underemployment.

As it is, there are no accurate statistics

as to what proportion of the labor force is either out

of work, working part-time, or working in the informal

economy. Sheikh Kabara estimates that between

70 and 80 percent of the workforce in northern Nigeria

is unemployed.54 While he has no hard data to back

this claim, his is an informed opinion based on what he

sees and hears daily. Moreover, it broadly tallies with

the best guesses of the UN, International Monetary

Fund (IMF), and World Bank, which suspect that the

rate of jobless in the region is extremely high.

One of the main reasons there is so much unemployment

in the north is because the number of people


looking for work keeps increasing. Needless to say,

the size of Nigeria’s labor pool is directly linked to the

rate at which its population continues to grow. And

over the past 25 years, Nigeria’s population has grown

exponentially. Indeed in 1975, it stood at 61.2 million

people. By 2005 though, it had more than doubled to

141.4 million people, and it is projected to rise to 175.7

million people by 2015. This means that between 1975

and 2005, the country’s population grew at a staggering

2.8 percent a year. And between 2005 and 2015, it

is set to grow by a similarly remarkable 2.2 percent annually.


Each and every year, then, hundreds of thousands

of young people join the labor market for the first time.

So many, in fact, that even a dynamic expanding economy

would struggle to find gainful employment for

them all, and Nigeria’s economy is anything but dynamic.

There are, in short, far too many people chasing

far too few jobs, and there is little prospect of this

high demographic growth rate slowing significantly

anytime soon. Indeed, for cultural and domestic and

international political reasons, Nigeria’s politicians are

ill inclined to even try to limit it.

The hardships imposed on the mass of ordinary

people by Nigeria’s poor economic performance continue

to be compounded by rampant corruption. Sadly,

Nigeria’s reputation as a den of iniquity is thoroughly

deserved. In its 2007 Global Corruption Barometer,

Transparency International placed Nigeria in the top

quintile of countries most affected by bribery.56 And in

its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, it ranked Nigeria

121st out of 180 countries (with the first placed country

being the least corrupt and the last the most).57 One

of the most devastating consequences of corruption is

the damage it inflicts on public services. To begin with,


right at the start of the funding chain, high level politicians

and officials siphon off huge sums of money to

line their own pockets and maintain the clientelist networks

that help keep them in power. From the outset,

therefore, the health, education, infrastructure, and

other budgets are reduced in size to the detriment of

those who depend on the services they are supposed

to fund.

The money that is spent is often poorly invested, as

these same politicians and officials use their privileged

positions to award lucrative public works contracts to

companies owned by friends and relations. As a result,

the public rarely gets good value for money, as it is

forced to pay over the odds for the work that is undertaken.

All too often, that which is carried out is substandard,

as middlemen and contractors cut corners in

order to reduce costs and maximize their profits. And,

finally, at the other end of the funding chain, the low

level officials and state employees, whose task it is to

deliver these services, habitually demand additional

payments from those requesting their help. Sometimes

these demands are motivated by greed, but on other

occasions they are driven by necessity, as these employees

are forced to supplement their meagre and erratically

paid salaries.

The ineffectiveness of Nigeria’s public services is

highlighted by their continued failure to adequately

meet the needs of ordinary people. This accusation is

not unusual and is frequently levelled against service

providers the world over. Yet it is the degree of shortfall

between what those in Nigeria offer and what is

actually needed that, in this case, makes this criticism

both legitimate and so concerning. Indeed, the latest

data on the state of the Nigerian nation’s health and

education is extremely worrying. First and foremost,


the average life expectancy of its members currently

stands at just 46.5 years, and is only slightly higher

than it was in 1970 after 3 years of brutal civil war.58

This average continues to be dragged down by the

high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Out of every

1,000 children born in the country, 201 will not live

to see their 5th birthday. Out of every 100,000 expectant

mothers, 800 will die giving birth.59

But more broadly, tens of millions of Nigerians

continue to endure general ill health brought on by a

lack of access to clean drinking water, adequate medical

care, and food that is sufficiently nutritious. Indeed,

one-in-two (52 percent) is forced to drink water that

is not safe, while one-in-three (34 percent) cannot attain

sufficient calories each day even when all income

is spent on food alone.60 As of 2004, for every 100,000

people there were just 28 doctors,61 most of whom were

clustered in the major towns and cities, far removed

from the rural masses. Indeed, in the remoter districts

of the Niger Delta and the far north, health care provision

is virtually nonexistent.

The failure of the federal, state, and local authorities

to maintain these services gives rise to feelings of

both anger and resignation among ordinary Nigerians.

Many are outraged by the authorities’ disinterested incompetence

and their seeming total inability to get anything

to work properly. Their fury is stoked by the corruption

that continues to deprive the public sector of

millions of dollars of much needed funding. But many

others have simply given up. For as long as they can

remember, these services have never really worked; so

long in fact, they have renounced all hope that someday

such services might work. In different ways, both

these emotions help make the propagation of radical

Islamist ideas easier. Those who are angry are suscep42

tible because the Islamist groups who propagate these

ideas seem to share their indignation, while promising

to punish the guilty. And those who are resigned are

grateful to anyone for whatever help and hope they

can offer. In Nigeria as elsewhere, salafist groups have

shown themselves adept at adapting their arguments

and methods when courting different constituencies.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

The challenges the Izala, IMN, MIR, and Boko Haram

present the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya have led them to

add another dimension to the various community outreach

programs they each run. There is little doubt

that these programs are central to the Brotherhoods’

efforts to attract new followers and to improve the

lives of existing members and the wider community.

Yet unavoidably (although not unintentionally) they

have assumed another purpose; to stop individuals

from joining or supporting one of the radical Islamic

groups. This suggests that the rivalry between the Qadiriyya

and Tijaniyya and the Islamist groups is mostly

zero-sum. A triumph for one represents a defeat for

the other; the recruitment of an individual means there

is one less person who can support their adversary. On

no account can there be mutually assisted growth.

That it is this way is mainly the result of the antagonistic

positions they have each adopted in relation

to the other. Indeed, part of the Izala’s raison d’être is to

confront Sufism. Yet the collision this invites is made

all the more certain by the fragility of what can be

termed the middle ground. To claim that there is no

third way would be untrue. In fact, there are various

alternatives to siding with either the Brotherhoods or

Islamist groups. These include supporting the Sultan,


Emirs, and other traditional rulers, following a different

religion, or simply remaining neutral. It is possible

to pursue several of these paths consecutively. Rare is

the member of the Tijaniyya who does not also recognize

the authority of the Sultan or Emirs of Kano, Zaria

Katsina, and so on. Many Christians in the north still

acknowledge the historic roles performed by these rulers

and their continued politico-religious importance.

Yet even so, the weakness of the north’s economy

allied to the failure of the federal, state, and local authorities

to provide meaningful social services and the

persistence of corruption, often forces people to take

sides. Indeed, they frequently do so for no other reason

than to gain access to the welfare provisions made

by the various organizations. This makes no mention

of those who actually agree with what these groups

argue and seek to achieve, or their explanations of

what measures need to be taken to make the lives of

northern Nigeria’s inhabitants better. Moreover, the

failings of the federal, state, and local governments do

little but destroy popular confidence in both secularism

and democracy. Why support a political system

that has failed so completely to improve peoples’ lives

and has now become so corrupted that it is arguably

an obstacle to progress?

Given, then, that the political, economic, and social

conditions in northern Nigeria are currently so conducive

of Islamic radicalism, the challenge confronting

the United States and the broader international community

is as great as it is urgent. Without doubt, its

ultimate goal must be to encourage the implementation

of reforms to eliminate these conditions. As elsewhere

throughout the Islamic world, the promotion of

good governance and economic prosperity holds the

key to achieving a lasting solution. Yet as past experi44

ence shows, this is often difficult to accomplish. Not

least, because the political leaders and governing elites

the international community has to engage with are

frequently the very people who have the most to gain

from perpetuating the status quo.

In the meantime, help must be granted to those organizations,

like the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya, which are

working to counteract the Islamists’ siren call. This not

only helps strengthen civil society— so vital to creating

a well governed state and vibrant democracy— but

also acts as a bulwark against the further spread of Islamist

ideals and groups. The first and most obvious

observation that can be made of these short- and longterm

measures is that they require the United States

and its allies—most notably Britain, France and the

EU—to become far more actively engaged in and with

Nigeria. For quite clearly the diplomatic, economic,

and military investment that is currently being made

is insufficient (even if it has steadily increased since the

restoration of civilian rule). Indeed, the failure of this

support is reinforced by the Fund for Peace research

institute’s recent forecast that Nigeria will become a

failed state sometime during the next decade.62

Yet how can the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya best be supported?

And more broadly, how can the United States

engage in and with Nigeria more effectively? One potential

course of action, which has the added benefit

of raising the U.S. profile in the north, is to establish a

permanent consular presence in a major northern urban

center (preferably Kano). For a start, this building

and its staff would serve as a constant reminder of the

U.S. commitment to both the country and the region.

In addition, it would provide a focal point through

which aid, development assistance, and military training

could be channelled. In this way, the United States


could extend its influence throughout the region and

into the southern Sahel.

The consul therefore, would be able to complement

the activities of the U.S. Ambassador in Abuja and assist

the MPRI contractors working at the Armed Forces

Command and Staff College in Jaji. It could also support

the activities of the TSCTI team operating out of

Timbuktu in neighbouring Mali. Indeed, the establishment

of a permanent consular presence in the north

would fill an increasingly significant gap in the U.S.

capabilities in the region. It would make up for the

declining influence of its close ally, Britain. Its official

residence in Kaduna is a useful base but is not permanently

manned by consular staff. It is gradually winding

down its Defence Advisory Team (BDAT), and is

still debating whether or not to replace its Honorary

Consul, who died in early 2009.

In addition to setting up a permanent mission in the

north, there are other useful measures the U.S. Government

can take to assist the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya.

These include: providing both Brotherhoods with economic

assistance to finance their education programs;

providing them with up-to-date learning materials;

encouraging U.S. schools and colleges to set up staff

and student exchange programs; encouraging them

to cooperate more frequently, and to a greater extent,

with one another; and encouraging them to strengthen

their ties with the Sultan and Emirs. Yet important

questions still remain as to how this assistance can best

be delivered. Why, for example, would the Nigerian

government allow the United States to deal directly

with the Brotherhoods? If it refuses to grant such access,

how should the United States respond? Should it

try to provide this help covertly? If so, how?

Of course, it is in everyone’s best interests for the


United States to operate openly. That way, it avoids

upsetting the Nigerian government, is able to provide

the Brotherhoods with greater assistance, and

can incorporate its provision within a public relations

campaign aimed at improving the U.S. image within

the Islamic world. Yet this openness should not be attempted

at all costs. Clearly, if this means funnelling

yet more money to Nigerian state institutions, which

are hopelessly corrupt, then it should be avoided, for

that would simply be a waste of U.S. tax dollars. Rather,

the United States should strive to forge a direct relationship

with the Brotherhoods, one that bypasses the

Nigerian state’s ineffective and unreliable organs.

Given the FG’s seeming disinterest in the well-being

of its citizens, this may well be possible. Certainly

its officials have yet to complain about the money spent

by the British government on the Sultan of Sokoto and

Sheikh Kabara, and given to the Emir of Zaria. Indeed,

over the past 2 or 3 years, it has paid for both the Sultan

and the Sheikh to visit the UK on at least two separate

occasions each. It is helping to finance the restoration

of the ornate gatehouse that formed part of the ancient

city walls of Zaria. And it has also paid for various conferences

and other civic events to which the north’s religious

leaders have been invited as guests of honor.

The funding for these initiatives came from schemes

organized by the High Commission, and are separate

from the much larger programs managed by the UK’s

Department for International Development (DFID). As

a result, the sums involved are not that great. Arguably,

this may explain why the Nigerian government

appears so unconcerned. Yet there are still important

lessons to draw. For a start, there is the precedent these

initiatives help establish. Even though they are small,

they establish a pattern by which the British govern47

ment deals directly with the Brotherhoods to pursue

its socio-political objectives. Then, there is the example

they set. By dividing funding between various schemes

so that none is very large, the U.S. Government might

be able to give significant assistance to the Brotherhoods

without drawing too much attention to the fact

that it is doing so.

Any such attempts to deal directly with the Qadiriyya

and Tijaniyya are also likely to benefit from the

high standing both Brotherhoods enjoy within northern

Nigerian society. Indeed, the wide respect they

command means that Nigeria’s political leaders are

unlikely to complain about any assistance given them.

To a certain degree, these politicians are keen both to

keep the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya on side and be associated

with them. In fact, perhaps the most significant

obstacle that would need to be negotiated is Nigeria’s

Christian community. For it mostly sees itself as being

in competition with its Muslim counterpart and

would, in all likelihood, be upset if it felt that the other

was being given preferential treatment by the United


Questions still remain as to whether the Qadiriyya

and Tijaniyya would accept any help offered by the

United States. It is not inconceivable that they might

reject it for fear of undermining the loyalty of their

members and standing within the wider community. It

must be acknowledged that the United States is viewed

with considerable suspicion by many throughout the

Islamic world. Invariably, this opposition is justified

on the grounds that the United States is purportedly

hostile toward Muslims, their governments, and even

Islam. Those making such claims substantiate them by

pointing to the difficult relations the United States has

with Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Iran; its recent invasions


of Afghanistan and Iraq; and its strong support of Israel.

Certainly, some Nigerian Muslims are critical of

the United States and its foreign policy for these very


Yet on the whole, northern Nigerians are not as

opposed to the United States as some of their co-religionists

elsewhere in the Islamic world.63 That this is so

should not come as a surprise, given the affection the

Sultan, Emirs, Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya still feel toward

Britain, one of the closest allies of the United States.

In fact, both Sheikh Kabara and Sheikh Khalifa have

appeared in public with members of the British High

Commission numerous times to thank them for the assistance

they periodically provide and to call on London

to offer more. Sheikh Kabara makes no secret of

the fact that his son is currently studying in the UK. Indeed,

the Brotherhoods’ willingness to receive this assistance,

and their openness when doing so, is encouraging,

as it suggests that they are likely to be receptive

to any help the United States might want to offer.

Britain’s efforts to maintain and strengthen its relationships

with the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya are led by

its High Commission in Abuja. In turn, the High Commission

looks to its Northern Affairs officer to take

primary responsibility for this task. Their duties, like

those of their counterpart in the U.S. Embassy, are extremely

broad. They have to monitor and report on all

major political, economic, social, and cultural developments

in the north. Unsurprisingly, these responsibilities

require the officer to travel extensively throughout

the region and meet with key local figures including

Sheikh Kabara and Sheikh Khalifa. In this way, the

British government is able to retain contact and remain

on good relations with both Brotherhoods.

The Northern Officer’s efforts are supplemented


by other measures. To begin with, the High Commissioner

and other senior members of the British mission

periodically travel to Kano and meet with both

Sheikhs. Often when they do, they are accompanied by

important visitors from London, including Members

of Parliament and government ministers. That these

high ranking officials take the time and effort to meet

with them is greatly appreciated by Sheikh Kabara and

Sheikh Khalifa, as are the official visits to the UK that

the High Commission organizes on their behalf. During

the course of these trips, both Sheikhs meet with

political and religious leaders. Such meetings not only

help strengthen Britain’s relations with both men, but

also enable the British government to discuss more

carefully with them what it wants to achieve in northern


Of course, the British High Commission is not

alone in pursuing such initiatives. Other missions, including

the U.S. Embassy, adopt similar practices. And

for good reason, as the diplomatic value of direct and

frequent contact cannot be overemphasised. As well as

demonstrating both the U.S. commitment to the Brotherhoods

and desire to work them, such cooperation

also bestows on them a degree of prestige as a partner

of choice of the U.S. Government. Arguably, it is in

the area of diplomacy that the U.S. military can make

its greatest contributions, as the defense attaché and

staff have an important role to play in maintaining and

strengthening the U.S. Embassy’s relations with the


In addition to this political function, the U.S. military

can also help by offering to reform Nigeria’s security

sector. Without a doubt, the actions of its armed

forces and police continue to drive northern Muslims

into the open arms of radical Islamic groups. To begin,


the brutality with which the army and MOPOL invariably

respond to demonstrations and protests causes

both outrage and consternation among ordinary Nigerians.

So much so, that it leaves some sections of society,

unemployed young men in particular, vulnerable

and exposed to the Islamists’ siren calls. Even more

fundamentally, the army should not be required to

provide everyday policing on the scale that it does. It

does not possess the necessary skills to properly investigate

and monitor such groups.


1. Daniel Jordan Smith, A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deceit

and Popular Discontent in Nigeria, Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, UK:

Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 5.

2. These churches are so-called because that is what those

who preach in them offer their congregations.

3. John N. Paden, Faith and Politics in Nigeria, Washington DC:

United States Institute of Peace Press, 2008, p. 3.

4. So-called radical Islamic groups have been identified in

northern Nigeria for much of the past century. This description

was first applied to selected bodies and organizations by the

British, who governed the region from 1900 to 1960. Yet the

criteria used by British officials to determine whether a group

was radical or not were markedly different from those employed

today. Whereas now individuals and groups are labelled radical

because of their views on democracy, human rights, and the use

of violence to achieve socio-political ends, during the colonial era

factions were categorized as radical on the basis of their attitude

toward British rule.

5. Salafism’s emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy contrasts

“markedly with the strong elements of mysticism and doctrinal

eclecticism found within traditional . . . Islam of the Marabouts

and the Sufi Brotherhoods. Salafists believe that Sufi ‘practices


and traditions [are] alien to Islam primarily because of their

emphasis on intermediaries between God and Man, and [lead]

to decadence and superstition.” Michael Willis, The Islamist

Challenge in Algeria: A Political History, Reading, NY: Ithaca Press,

1996, pp. 12 -13.

6. The continent’s other major oil producers are Algeria,

Angola, and Libya.

7. Sonia Shah, Crude: The Story of Oil, New York: Seven Stories

Press, 2004, p. 94.

8. U.S. Department of States, “Background Note: Nigeria,”

September 2009, available from www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2836.


9. J. N. C Hill, Identity in Algerian Politics: The Legacy of Colonial

Rule, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009, p. 180.

10. Ibid., p. 176.

11. By this time, the GSPC was already making overtures

to Al Qaeda. These links were made more formal in September

2006 when Abdelmalek Droukdel, the GSPC’s emir, announced

an alliance between the two groups. Finally, in January 2007,

he announced that, in recognition of this new union, the GSPC

would forthwith be known as Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic


12. These neighbors include Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote

d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

13. Martin Evans and John Philips, Algeria: The Anger of the

Dispossessed, New Haven, CT, and London, UK: 2007, p. 287.

14. The DSCA’s budget for 2009 was $750 million. Department

of Defense, “Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Budget Estimates Defense

Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA),” 2009, available from www.





15. John N. Paden, Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict

Resolution: The Challenge of Democratic Federalism in Nigeria,

Washington DC, Brookings Institution Press: 2005, p. 253 n 5.

16. Indeed, according to intelligence reports drafted by the

colonial authorities in the early 20th century, the Brotherhoods

were viewed as focal points for opposition and resistance to

British rule.

17. John Esposito, ed., The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern

Islamic World, 4th Ed., Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995,

p. 105.

18. A.J. Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam,

New York: Dover Publications Inc., p. 35.

19. This coolness in the relations between the Qadiriyya and

Tijaniyya became apparent during the course of my interviews

with Sheikh Kabara and Sheikh Khalifa.

20. Paden, Faith and Politics in Nigeria, p. 28.

21. Ousmane Kane, Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria: A

Study of the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of

Tradition, Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2003, p. 232.

22. John L. Esposito, Islam and Politics, 4th Ed., New York:

Syracuse University Press, 1984, p. 37.

23. Qaribullahi Sheikh Nasir Kabara, Leader of Qadiriyya in

Nigeria and West Africa, interview by author, Sheikh Kabara’s

home in Kano Nigeria, February 26, 2009; and Sheikh Ismail

Ibrahim Khalifa, Leader of Tijaniyya in Nigeria and West Africa,

interview by author, Sheikh Khalifa’s home in Kano, Nigeria,

June 11, 2009.

24. Paden, Faith and Politics in Nigeria, p. 30.

25. Toyin Falola, Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious

Politics and Secular Ideologies, Rochester, NY: Rochester University

Press, 1998, p. 195.


26. Karl Maier, This House Has Fallen, London, UK: Penguin

Books, 2000, p. 175.

27. Ibid., p. 166.

28. See for example, Zakzaky’s long defense of Bin Laden.

Mallam Ibraheem Zakzaky, “Terrorism in the World Today, What

is Terrorism? Who are the Terrorists?” 2009, available from www.


29. Islamic Movement in Nigeria, “Activities,” 2009, available

from www.islamicmovement.org/activities.htm.

30. Indeed one after another from 1999 onwards, the 12 states

that make up the north adopted sharia law.

31. Islamic Movement in Nigeria, “Activities,” p. 1.

32. Kabara, interview by author; and Khalifa, interview by


33. Khalifa, interview by author.

34. Paden, Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution, p. 188.

35. This Day, “Boko Haram—Death Toll Now 700, Says

Security Commander,” August 2, 2009, available from allafrica.

com/stories/200908020001.html, p. 1.

36. This is certainly the view of Ahmed Nuhu, a descendent

of a former Emir of Zaria and possible successor to the current

incumbent. Ahmed Nuhu, interview by author Abuja, Nigeria,

December 5, 2008.

37. From October 1, 1960, to August 16, 1963, Nigeria had

three regions—Northern, Western, and Eastern. Following

a referendum held on July 13, 1963, a fourth region—Mid-

Western—was created out of the Western region. Benjamin Obi

Nwabueze, A Constitutional History of Nigeria, London, UK: Hurst,

1982, pp. 136-137.

38. Jean Herskovits, “Nigeria’s Rigged Democracy,” Foreign

Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 4, July/August 2007, p. 120.


39. Indeed, in 2007 Human Rights Watch stated that “Nigeria

has not held a free and fair general election since the end of

military rule.” Human Rights Watch, “Election or ‘Selection’?

Human Rights Abuses and Threats to Free and Fair Elections in

Nigeria,” April 4, 2007, available from www.unhcr.org/refworld/


40. BBC, “Nigeria Riot Victims Swamp Medics,” December 1,

2008, p. 1, available from news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7758098.


41. U.S. State Department, “Nigeria,” Country Report on

Human Rights Practices 2006.

42. European Election Observation Mission, “Nigeria Final

Report: Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly Elections

14 April 2007 and Presidential and National Assembly Elections

21 April 2007,” August 23, 2007, p. 4, available from ec.europa.



43. Human Rights Watch, “Nigeria: Presidential Election

Marred by Fraud, Violence,” April 25, 2007, p. 1, available from



44. Shehu Yar’Adua had been an army officer before moving

into politics. Unlike his brother, he was both charismatic and

gregarious until his untimely death in one of Sani Abacha’s


45. Human Rights Watch, “Nigeria: Arbitrary Killings by

Security Forces in Jos,” December 19, 2008, p. 1, available from



46. Human Rights Watch, “Arbitrary Killings by Security

Forces Submission to the Investigative Bodies on the November

28-29, 2008 Violence in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria,” July 2009, p. 1,

available from www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4a641c0e2.pdf.

47. He was shot and killed while in police custody on July 30,



48. Indeed, his Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, went

so far as to describe Yusuf’s death as “the best thing that could

have happened to Nigeria.” Agence France-Presse, “Sect Leader’s

Death Best Thing for Nigeria: Minister,” July 31, 2009.

49. United Nations, “2007/2008 Human Development

Report,” 2008, p. 1, available from hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_


50. Andy Rowell, James Marriott, and Lorne Stockman, The

Next Gulf, London, UK: Constable, 2005, p. 105.

51. Olayiwola Abegunrin, Nigerian Foreign Policy under

Military Rule, 1966-1999, Westport, CT, and London, UK: Praeger,

2003, p. 169.

52. John Ghazvinian, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil,

London, UK: Harcourt, 2007, pp. 96-98.

53. United Nations, “2007/2008 Human Development Report,”

p. 1.

54. Kabara, interview by author.

55. United Nations, “2007/2008 Human Development Report,”

p. 1.

56. Transparency International,” Global Corruption Barometer,”

2007, available from www.transparency.org.

57. Transparency International, “2008 Corruption Perceptions

Index,” 2008, available from www.transparency.org/news_room/in_


58. Then it stood at 42.8 years. United Nations, “2007/2008

Human Development Report,” 2008, p. 1, available from hdrstats.


59. Department for International Development, “Nigeria,”

June 2008, p. 1, available from www.dfid.giv.uk/countries/africa/


60. Ibid.


61. United Nations, “2007/2008 Human Development

Report,” p. 2.

62. Fund for Peace, “Failed States Index 2009,” 2009, p. 1,

available from www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/06/22/2009_


63. Kabara, interview by author.


Major General Robert M. Williams





Professor Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr.

Director of Research

Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II


Dr. J. N. C. Hill

Director of Publications

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Publications Assistant

Ms. Rita A. Rummel



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