Nigeria’s top Islamic leader on Monday accused the military of fleeing when Boko Haram attacks and terrorizing civilians, in the
harshest ever criticism from the key cleric, as violence persisted in
A statement from the country’s top Muslim body, the
JNI, described the military’s handling of the five-year Islamist
uprising as “unfortunate, worrisome and embarrassing”.
The JNI speaks for Nigeria’s top cleric, the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar.
take to their heels and abandon their bases, arms, ammunition and other
military hardware on the approach of the insurgents!” the statement
“Nigerian Security Forces only surface after the deadly
attacks and terrorise an already terrorised people by installing road
blocks and searching homes,” it added.
The condemnation came after
similar remarks last week from Nigeria’s number two Islamic cleric, the
Emir of Kano, and will likely infuriate President Goodluck Jonathan’s
government, which expects traditional monarchs to abstain from political
In a speech released at the weekend, defence
spokesman Chris Olukolade meanwhile accused the media and other
“campaigners” of distorting the military effort against Boko Haram,
tarnishing Nigeria’s global image and hurting troop morale.
– Market attack ‘horror’ –
attack occurred Monday, when suspected Boko Haram gunmen entered a
market in the northeast town of Damasak at about 11:00 am (1000 GMT) and
opened fire on unarmed traders, a military officer and a local
government official told AFP.
The militants were disguised as
traders, carrying containers they claimed were full of goods for sale
but which in fact were stuffed with AK-47 rifles, the official, Mohammed
The gunmen “inflicted horror”, he said, adding:
“Many traders escaped with bullet wounds while many are lying dead at
A military officer with direct knowledge of the
attack but who requested anonymity said soldiers had deployed to the
market and were battling the militants “for control of the town”.
Damasak, in northeast Borno state, is close to the Niger border, a remote region with a poor telephone network.
It was not immediately possible to establish a death toll or whether the Islamists had chased out the military.
Haram is believed to have taken over more than two dozen towns in
recent weeks as part of a campaign to establish a strict Islamic state
in the northeast.
– Government should ‘wake up’ –
The tough JNI statement will likely ratchet up tensions ahead of Nigeria’s general elections in February.
main opposition All Progressives Congress is widely expected to
nominate a candidate from the mainly Muslim north against Jonathan, who
is a southern Christian, and Nigeria’s religious divide will be a key
factor in the vote.
The JNI, speaking on behalf the Sultan,
condemned the recent Boko Haram violence while urging the government
“with the loudest voice, to wake up to its fundamental and obligatory
responsibility of protecting lives”.
It accused the government of
“wallowing in diatribe” against a growing number of critics who say the
military response to Boko Haram’s five-year uprising has been woefully
Also on Monday, the Sultan met the head of Nigeria’s
main Christian organisation at a roundtable in Abuja, the nation’s
capital that sits between the mainly Muslim north and predominately
Christian leader Ayo Oritsejafor sought to draw
attention to attacks on churches, though Muslims have repeatedly been
targeted as well in Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency.
“It will be
wrong to say they don’t kill Muslims, please don’t misunderstand me,”
said Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
if you go to a city like Mubi (northeastern Nigeria), no church is
standing as I speak. Every church in that city has been levelled.”
Sultan said recommendations put to President Jonathan on how to end the
violence in a letter from him and Oritsejafor two years ago seemed to
have been ignored.
“We can only advise. We do not have constitutional powers to implement,” he said.
on a visit to Chad, had not reacted to the comments, but said in a
statement that Nigeria needed help from its neighbours in battling the