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Masari and Mailafia And The Web of Disinformation On Boko Haram Insurgency

Obadiah Mailafia, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) educated at the Oxford University, London, backtracked his claim that a serving northern governor is a leader of Boko Haram.

Mailafia, in an interview with a local radio station, claimed that he obtained his information from high ranking former members of the jihadist terror group officially categorized as ‘repentant members of Boko Haram.’

He has since recanted his claims and apologised for disinforming Nigerians, following his interrogation by the State Security Service.

“I should have taken more care to corroborate some of the information that I received, but perhaps some of it was uncorroborated,” he said.

In an interview with the BBC Hausa Service on Thursday, Mailafia added that the actual source of his information was not what he claimed earlier, but some random people he met in the market.

“I went (to a) market to buy some grains when I met some Fulani,… they greeted me and we joyfully chatted. They said I am a kind person and they ought to tell us what is happening and what will happen in this country if proper care is not taken,” he said.

Mailafia’s case is a typical example of how many Nigerians uncritically receive and spread specious information across platforms and communities.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time that a public official or a highly placed member of the public is found spreading unsubstantiated information to deceive the people. It has been a hot topic of disinformation on issues of who the trustees of terrorism in Northern Nigeria might be.

On July 20, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State was reported to assert that Boko Haram terrorism and insurgency in the North West was receiving steady sponsorship from the enemies of his ruling political party, the All Political Congress, (APC).

Masari said, “Most of the bandits and Boko Haram attacks facing the Northern part of the country are sponsored by some politicians who are enemies of the present APC government at both federal and state.”

Not only Nigerians, foreigners contributed to the accusations of sponsorship too. In 2014, an Australian member of parliament, Franz Obermays, claimed that leading figures of APC are “always associated with radical Islam and its terrorists groups”.

Mr. Obermays, according to a report by The Cable, named states under the APC in the North East and accused them of financing terror.

In 2014, another member of UK parliament also called for an inquiry into the relationship between members of the APC and Boko Haram.

Other rumours related to this terror trusteeship have spread widely, including the enduring tale about Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State, being a financier of Boko Haram between 2014-2015.

Misinformation or Knowledge Gap?

The belief that politicians or governments at different levels might be working with Boko Haram originates from the erroneous assumption that a terrorist group such as Boko Haram would compromise its ideology to work under any guise with elements in a secular democracy.

All factions of Boko Haram are indeed hostile to democracy and are intolerant of any form of political participation or affiliations. The Islamic State West Africa Province, (ISWAP) executed one of its commanders on account that he offered a ‘negotiation’ with officials of the government in Nigeria.

In several videos released by the Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad, Boko Haram, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has described democracy as “taghut”- an Arabic word for “ungodly” or “satanic”.

In a rebuttal against the late Ja’afar Mahmud Adam, a popular and charismatic religious leader in Northern Nigeria, Shekau said all forms of political participation are satanic and members of political parties are infidels.

In a recent audio in which Shekau condemned Kano blasphemy death sentence, he said the whole people of the state are infidels and should be killed for practicing democracy.

“Like other Salafi-jihadi groups, Boko Haram rejects every system perceived to have originated from a Judaeo-Christian Europe, from Western-style education to secular government to democracy,” wrote Audu Bulama Bukarti, analyst with Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

“The group brands democracy as taghut (an idol worshipped other than Allah) and treats Muslims who participate in elections and electioneering activities as infidels.

“It treats every person who takes part in democracy by casting ballots or vying for elective posts as a viable target. The group justifies attacking Muslims by citing their participation in democratic elections.

“For example, in claiming responsibility for a January 2017 mosque bombing that killed a professor and three others, a factional leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, said it carried out the attack because the university was mixing “Islam with democracy”.

Knowledge Gap Derailing the War on Terrorism

Sources familiar with the war on insurgency in Nigeria told HumAngle that there is a huge knowledge gap about Boko Haram in official quarters including among the Military.

According to the source, baseless disinformation and politicisation of the war by politicians were likely to hamper any meaningful and sustained dent on the decade long insurgency.

“Understanding a problem is halfway to solving it,” the source said. “Many politicians don’t understand the root cause of terrorism in Nigeria and prefer a short route to solving the crisis which may help them stay in office.”

Other sources stated that the types of solutions politicians prefer to implement in respect of the insurgency in Northern Nigeria would not bring any lasting solution to the problem.

According to the sources, several sustainable measures would have ushered in an end to the insurgency from day one before it evolved intoto the monstrous crisis it had become today.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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