The prominent and frequent use of the phrase “Islamic State” as part of the headlines of many Nigerian newspapers on January 22, 2018 left me very uncomfortable, as they gleefully reported the alleged infiltration of foreign terrorist groups into Nigeria. However, can one really blame The Nation, The Guardian, Vanguard and other newspapers for flaunting the phrase on their front cover?
Obviously not! Yet, one may then ask; why? This is because those extremists have indeed unfortunately ascribed the term “Islamic State” to themselves, with their bases located in Iraq and Syria and of recent, Nigeria’s Boko Haram evolving into their West African branch. Interestingly, in today’s world, anybody or group can call itself any name, just like those who ascribe “holiness” to themselves as the only perfect and “saved group” of the Muslim Ummah.
Little wonder many of the top Nigerian newspapers featured the Department of State Service (DSS) report about the activities of the deadly group in some North Central and South-South states of the country with different headlines, such as: Security agents: Islamic State fighters in Nigeria – The Nation; IS infiltrates Benue, Edo, Kogi States, Presidency raises the alarm – Vanguard; and Government uncovers Islamic State network in Nigeria – The Guardian, among others.
Some newspapers such as The Sun and New Telegraph chose to use “Foreign Terrorists” instead, with the latter adding the tags “Mercenaries” and “Islamic fighters,” whom according to the statement attributed to the Presidency, are planning to Islamise Nigeria, which contradicted Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s earlier statement that nobody can Islamise Nigeria.
Irrespective of the tag and the intent, Islam, the religion of Allah, sent through our beloved leader, Muhammad (peace be upon him) is free from whatever evils perpetrated by anyone or group in its lofty name. Hence, nobody, not even the media institutions, can force or coerce the global 1.6 billion Muslim population into accepting what is not part of Islam.
That is why the Arabs and some world leaders like Barrack Obama, Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Tony Abbott and a handful of international media as well as western writers like Jen Percy and Zeba Khan would rather call the Tekfeer-terrorist group “Daesh”, an acronym for the Arabic phrase; “al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham”, meaning “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”. The BBC, often imitated by most Nigerian media, sometimes uses the tag “the so-called Islamic state”.
The continuous use of the name “Daesh” globally angered the group, and it threatened in 2015 to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym “Daesh”, which is similar to the Arabic word “Da’asa” (verb), meaning “to trample” or “crush”. The present participle “Da’es”, meaning “crusher” sounds similar to “Da’esh” or better still, “Dahes”, translated as “one who sows discord”.
Dear Nigerian media, is it possible we stop calling them what they are not and the honourable title they do not deserve – “Islamic State”? They are not a State, not to even talk of representing Islam. I am joining millions of Nigerian Muslims to propose a different name in accordance with global yearnings. Please call them Daesh, Da’es or Dahes.
Addressing the root cause
Away from the name tagging, the Nigerian media need to address another mind-boggling issue. It is important to address the root cause of instability and incessant clashes affecting the North Central region of Nigeria between herdsmen and farmers, leading to the deaths of several innocent Nigerians. There is no gainsaying that the media have been criminally biased in their coverage of the alleged massacre of 800 Fulani herdsmen, their families and the burning of their abodes on the Mambila Plateau in Taraba State by the local militia in 2017, and the reportage of the recent gruesome murder of 73 non-Fulanis in Benue State.
The politicisation of the massacres and comparisons over the number of deaths on both sides would not have sparked controversies if the Nigerian media had embarked on independent investigations into all the killings, particularly the Taraba/Benue pogroms, and exposed the perpetrators and their sponsors. There would not have been lamentations of media bias from the Muslims who believe the Nigerian media deliberately underreported the Taraba killings because the victims were Fulani-Muslims, and gave prominence to the Benue killings because the victims were Benue-Christians.
It is sad that the Nigerian media, otherwise called the champions of Nigeria’s democracy (because of the veritable role media professionals played during the military era), have not invested or deliberately refused to venture into investigative journalism after all their years of “enormous successes”. Rather, they have continued to spread fake news and verbatim news reports with screaming and sensationalised headlines on the cyber space, a practice which has created more fear than hope for Nigerians.
It all began with the indiscriminate and careless use of online images of foreign herdsmen brandishing different assorted arms to depict the Nigerian scenario. Many of the Nigerian print and online media are culprits here, although some are beginning to be more pseudo-circumspect by writing “for illustration only” on such images, after they must have used those images and got the undiscerning or innocent readers confused and wrongly indoctrinated.
What I (as an individual) have read about the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes are more of press releases of what happened from the Federal Government or State Government stables, with accusations and counter-accusations from the pro and anti-Fulani herdsmen. I have also seen buck passing between the interest groups, particularly the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); which has continuously raised false alarms over a phantom-false plot to Islamise Nigeria by the so-called Jihadists, and Jama’atu Nasrul Islami (JNI) and Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)’s rejoinders.
As the killing of innocent souls continues on both sides, some prominent Nigerian Pastors are promoting hate speeches, instigating their members to “kill” and “crush” the Fulani-Muslims in self-defence. I have also read in the media several anti-Fulani herdsmen organisations and personalities calling on the Federal Government to declare Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) a terrorist organisation, claiming that “they are a trans-border army conducting attacks all over Nigeria”. Of course, without independent investigations, all these parties would defend the interests they represent in the crisis, as recently done by one of MACBAN’s patrons, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, who affirmed that the group is non-violent, and unearthed alleged proofs of massacres and pogroms by the anti-Fulanis in North-Central Nigeria.
Sometimes, I keep asking myself anytime I read news of Fulani killings on the pages of newspapers; what could make a Fulani man leave his beloved cows untended and run after the lives of innocent people? What could make him become a killer of men rather than the herder of cattle he is? It became clear to me that the killers might not be real Fulani herdsmen, following the security operatives’ reports about the infiltration of mercenaries into some of the troubled regions of Benue, Taraba, Kogi and Edo States as stated earlier in this piece.
According to the report, many of the arrested suspects, consisting of herdsmen, government-sponsored militias, militants and other miscreants in the Benue valley, Akoko Edo, Okpella and Benin in Edo State and Okene in Kogi State spoke only the French language, and were unable to communicate in any of the Nigerian dialects, which suggests that they are foreigners with a mission to destabilize Nigeria with their false “Islamisation agenda” – a mere propaganda against Islam and Nigerian Muslims.
Reports like this show how insecure our borders are. Of course, these foreign mercenaries would have infiltrated the country through any of the 1400 illegal border routes identified by Prof. Oshita Oshita, during a roundtable discussion in Abuja at the weekend, which was aimed at finding solutions to the herdsmen-farmers attacks in Benue, Plateau, Taraba and Nasarawa states. Prof. Oshita, the Director General, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) said that out of the 1400 illegal border routes, Adamawa state alone has over 80. Is that not worrisome?
The blame game must stop now. All hands must be on deck to protect lives and property of all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe and religion. It is not too late for the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to right its wrongs by working closely with the Governors of the affected States to put an end to the incessant killings. We must do everything possible not to create another deadly monster from the Fulani-farmer clashes. The Federal and State Governments should embrace ranching, which many Nigerians believe will end the herdsmen/farmers clashes. The role of the media in conflict resolution cannot be over-emphasised. Nigerian media must see themselves as partners in progress with government, and do their best to be more responsible than being responsive.
The life of every Nigerian is sacred and must not be taken unjustly. As it has been said earlier in this column times without number, in Islam, the killing of even a soul is strongly forbidden. Complete disregard for human life is one of the major reasons why terrorist groups like Daesh and Boko Haram are not considered Islamic, because they act contrary to the Noble Qur’an 5: 32, where Allah warns: “Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he had slain the entire mankind. And whoever saves one life, it is as if he had saved the entire mankind”.
Lastly, you and I have a role to play by providing security agencies with relevant information about any suspicious people, movement or activities in our immediate environment or on our cyber space.
Imagine a crime-free world where we all live in peace? It begins with you. Islam is peace, it preaches peace and enjoins peace.
– Rasheed Abubakar is a journalist and the author of “Hijab and the Nigerian Press”. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org