The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, has accused the Nigerian military of cowardice and of terrorizing the civilian population in the northeast part of the country.
Abubakar is Nigeria’s highest ranking Muslim leader, and his stinging words, spoken at a press conference in Kaduna Sunday, presented a direct challenge to the federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian.
Abubakar’s words came through a statement from the country’s top Muslim body, the JNI, which speaks for Nigeria’s top cleric.
To the perilous threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty by Boko Haram insurgents, said Abubakar, an “unfortunate, worrisome and embarrassing dimension” has been added, namely “the way soldiers take to their heels and abandon their bases, arms, ammunition and other military hardware on the approach of the insurgents.”
“Nigerian security forces,” added Abubakar, “terrorize an already terrorized people by installing road blocks and searching homes and business premises.”
“Where are the heroes of international peace keeping? When will the government bring an end to this scourge?” Abubakar asked. He furthermore condemned “these unabated acts of terror being unleashed on innocent citizens” and called for “concerted introspection and sincere commitment by Government to take proactive and effective measures in addressing this pernicious problem.”
A further attack occurred on Monday, when Boko Haram militants allegedly entered a market in the northeast border town of Damasak, and opened fire on unarmed traders, a military officer and a local government official.
The gunmen themselves were disguised as traders, carrying containers they claimed housed goods for sale but which in reality were filled with AK-47 rifles, according to a local official.
The gunmen “inflicted horror,” said the official. “Many traders escaped with bullet wounds while many are lying dead at the market.”
Tuesday morning saw further Boko Haram atrocities, this time in the form of twin bomb attacks, one of which was carried out by a female suicide bomber, which killed more than 45 people in at a packed market in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri.
In a speech released this weekend, defense spokesman Chris Olukolade accused the media and other “campaigners” of misrepresenting the military effort against Boko Haram, tarnishing Nigeria’s global image and hurting troop morale.
The main opposition to Jonathan’s government, the “All Progressives Congress,” is expected to nominate a candidate from the mainly Muslim north against Jonathan, who is a southern Christian, and Nigeria’s Muslim-Christian split will be a critical factor in the vote.
President Goodluck Jonathan has cautioned Nigerians, irrespective of their creed, to avoid making provocative statements that could create further disaffection and breach of the peace in the country.
On Monday, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, urged the Sultan to write to Boko Haram as he had written earlier to ISIS, saying that Boko Haram “is worse than ISIS.”
“They have killed more people than ISIS,” said Oritsejafor, “they have caused more atrocities than ISIS; they need to be written to as well, it is very important it will help.”
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome