Jim Jones, from the famous Guyana Tragedy of 1978, had told his followers just before they took their cyanide-laced drink: “Don’t be afraid to die, death is just stepping over into another plane.” He later said: “We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

Was Muhammad Yusuf another Jim Jones? Did he deliberately coax his followers into the seemingly foolhardy way of mass ‘suicide’? To recap what happened in Jonestown, Guyana, would be appropriate here. The so-called People’s Temple, according to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, “was an American cult from California, led by Jim Jones, which became internationally notorious when, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby airstrip and in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.

“The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations. 909 Temple members died in Jonestown, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning in an event termed ‘revolutionary suicide’ by Jones. The poisonings in Jonestown followed the murder of five others by Temple members at a nearby Port Kaituma airstrip. The victims included US Congressman Leo Ryan. To the extent the actions in Jonestown were viewed as a mass suicide, it is the largest such event in modern history…”


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Perhaps until this Maiduguri Tragedy.

A debate is raging right now on a discussion group this writer happens to be a member of. A commentator said: “[What happened in Maiduguri] is extra judicial execution. Pure and simple. The Niger Delta militants have received ‘state pardon’ and amnesty, and will be paid Twenty Thousand Naira (N20,000) each for all their crimes against Nigeria. OPC [Yoruba militant group O’dua People’s Congress] militants received almost a ‘standing ovation’ for fighting the police and burning down several police stations and murdering police men and officers in Lagos some years ago. Where are the lovers of peace and justice? Will they stand up for justice on this [Maiduguri] case?”

Another commentator responded to the first: “Why are we not blaming them for starting the ‘fitna’. Read the Qur’an; you will know that whenever a ‘fitna’ which is sleeping is woken up, it will never spare the innocent among us. Therefore, we should blame ourselves. You have to understand that these people have been terrorising the people of Borno…and we are now blaming the Federal Government for taking immediate action. If this highhandedness is not taken, what do you think will happen in Maiduguri…?”

A third commentator countered this second: “Without mincing words, the claim that Muhammad Yusuf and his followers have been terrorising Maiduguri people is a blatant lie! I am a resident Maiduguri for over three years now and have been following the group’s actions since their encounter with the Police in Yobe State back in 2004. I decided to contribute on this issue seeing how some Muslims are ignorantly talking about this group…These brothers never terrorised anybody in Maiduguri. They do their preaching to whosoever wants to listen. We should not allow our hatred for what they stood for to lead us to make the wrong judgement about them…”

The fourth commentator had this to say: “The killing of Muhammad Yusuf after his apparent capture is extrajudicial killing. It goes against the laws of any civilised society. Whatever his crime, he should have been brought before a court of law, prosecuted and judged according to the laws of the land. But to capture him and shoot him dead, if that is what happened, may mean that the authorities have something to cover up. More so during an Administration that has been crying ‘rule of law’…”

And somewhat asked: Where was the Ruler of Law during all this time? Well, it may interest readers to read history, especially the famous Great Fire of Rome (in Latin: Magnum Incendium Romae) of AD 64 and Rome’s infamous Emperor Nero. According to popular lore, Nero was so unconcerned about the fire or the well-being of his citizens that he was recorded to have been playing the fiddle (a musical instrument) while the city burned. (Revisionist history, however, shows that indeed Nero was concerned, and he even led the effort to put out the fire). Whatever the truth was, ‘Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned’ has entered the annals of history and politics to describe the action and inaction of leaders during times of crises.

Many commentators have blamed ‘failure of intelligence’ for the Maiduguri Tragedy. Countering this argument, the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS) Afakriya Gadzama blamed politicians and action agencies for failing to pre-empt the Boko Haram uprising. He dismissed allegations of intelligence failure in the country, saying his agency had provided adequate security intelligence, but that the people who should have acted on it failed to do so.

To quote Gadzama: “Nobody was taken by surprise; it was something that was adequately covered; that was adequately reported, but to have the will to take action on this, people felt reluctant and, of course, a lot of sentiments…” Gadzama also said that there was no synergy among the various security agencies, noting that this was partly responsible for their inability to act rapidly on any crisis. And then he sounded this stern warning: Nigeria is at the risk of a serious crisis in 2011 if adequate security measures are not taken.

In another interesting testimony, Acting Inspector General of Police Ogbonnaya Onovo was quoted to have identified poverty and perceived injustice as the cause of crisis in the country.

Echoing the Acting IGP, another commentator on that earlier discussion group had stated: “Elite failure…is central to the crises bedevilling northern Nigeria. The care-free attitude of the Northern elite is at the root of the political and civil disturbances that symbolise the region. The elite must wake up and understand that the more they flourish in affluence while the children of their neighbours wallow in poverty and ignorance…the more we see deviant groups like Boko Haram emerging…”

The truth about Boko Haram may never be known. But their mass killing would not make Boko ‘Halal’ either. And we end with Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un! (From Allah we come and to Him we shall return!)

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