ABUJA - Attacks by the militant Boko Haram is prompting the Nigerian government to place Muslim groups in the country under security scrutiny, a move seen by analysts as counterproductive.
"As part of the measures to forestall future occurrence, we have the mandate across the security lines to watch any religious groups believed to favor this ideology," a source at the State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police, told OnIslam.net on condition of anonymity.
He said the move followed a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), which warns of the rising influence of violent groups in Nigeria.
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In 2005, there was a report by the ICG that pointed to the danger of spread of what it called violent Jihadi movement fuelled by social inequality, corruption and poverty," the source said.
"But the security agencies clearly did not heed this warning and it is believed that Boko Haram falls in this category."
Another security source confirmed that some Muslim groups are being put under close watch.
"Our findings showed that the Boko Haram sect is a manifestation of a Jihadi Salafism ideology," the source at the Joint Military Task Force, said.
He acknowledges that this ideology is not a mainstream conception among Muslims in northern Nigeria.
"The major cities of the North Kano, Maiduguri and Sokoto are dominated by non-Salafi Muslim elite. The same scenario applies to the ancient cities of Katsina, Zaria and Bauchi."
"Interestingly, Salafism or Wahabism is not only restricted to Northern Nigeria like many commentators are affirming. Whereas Jihadi Salafism has not manifested in any area of Southern Nigeria, checks showed that the domineering push of that ideology is manifesting on daily basis across the South-West and Middle Belt in particular.
"The zeal is flourishing among the more educated Southern Muslims who see the broader preaching of Islamic revival as acceptable," he said.
Quoting from a security log book on the issue, the source cites the active role of the Tabligha Dawa group, especially in the south-west.
"So far, the scholarly missionary zeal is the predominant manifestation with no report yet of any violent uprising," he said.
"Other Wahabi-related groups are active all over South with building of mosques and Qur'anic schools as their main thrust."
The source said that Wahabism, a strict interpretation of Islam common in Saudi Arabia, is having an increasing influence in south-western Nigeria.
"It is also discovered that a large pool of Wahabi scholars are emerging from the South-West, following the generous university scholarships operated by the Saudi government," the source said.
"With each town in Yorubaland having two to three student scholars every year, the zone may, in the next few years, be a bastion of Wahabism.
"Even while there may be non-violent uprising in the zone, there may be a pattern of increasing assertiveness on the part of Muslim groups in the zone as was witnessed in the recent case of hijab crisis in Osun State schools where some people wanted hijab to be worn by pupils in non-Muslim schools.
The source believes that there are already signs of the growing role of these Wahabi groups in the south-west.
"The manifestation of the strength of the group is already showing in the South-West as there is now struggles in mosques about how an Imam, prayer leaders should be chosen.
"The Sufi traditionalists are being challenged by the emerging Wahabi Salafis for the control of mosques across Yorubaland," the source said.
"Whoever control the mosques is likely to be successful in selling and marketing its ideology to the adherents. This raging battle across the South-West may eventually upstage the traditionalists who are credited with the near low profile of the Muslim majority of the South-West.
The source said this has given rise to concern among security circles in Nigeria.
"One of the strategies, although open to review, is to check the funding accruing to this group as well as keep them under close watch without necessarily raising any red alert which could be counterproductive, especially in the South-West where the level of education is relatively high."
But analysts warn that any security strategy that fails to tackle the root causes of anger among Muslims would be counterproductive.
"I have heard people discussing the need to place every suspicious groups under surveillance," Dr. Abubakar Momoh, a prominent political scientist, told OnIslam.net.
"But this strategy is certain to cause more anger in the land.
"There is freedom of religion in our society and any measures that impinge on this right can only fuel anger and dwindling cooperation.
"To me, the best strategy is to address the basic cause of this crisis: poverty and perceived oppression by the ruling elite. Once you address this, you have almost addressed the whole crisis.
Hakeem Ogunmuyiwa, former spokesman of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) in Lagos in south-western Nigeria, agrees.
The MSSN is monitoring the situation and would soon make public its observations and position," he told OnIslam.net.
"But for us, any policy targeted at profiling Muslims of any stripe will be counterproductive.
"We do not trust the security agents because they easily stray. We will like to state here that the Muslim community will resist any attempt to limit Islamic dawah so long it does not invite to violence and anarchy.
"It is on this basis that we reject outright any steps capable of suppressing the rights of freedom of worship guaranteed Muslims under the constitution of Nigeria."
Ms Joe Okei-Odumakin, President of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), a nongovernmental group, sees the profiling would widen the gulf between Muslims and the government.
"Profiling of any group of people amounts to unnecessary diversion from the main issue of good governance and fight against corruption and the wide gulf between the rich and the poor in our society," he said.
"Except these issues are addressed and seen to have been addressed, every other step is a cheap diversion from the main issues and that could be costly."
He warned profiling of Muslim groups would have very negative consequences.
"Once they start spying on any group, it is natural that Muslims generally will feel unwanted by the government," he said."This is not helped by the delicate issues of zoning of public office which a Southern Christian has willingly violated.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net