The spiritual solution to Boko Haram


Reuben Abati

No one is in any doubt that terrorism poses one of the gravest threats to humanity in today’s world. Here in Nigeria, within a decade and a little, unconscionable acts of violence by persons pursuing heinous ideological, religious, and political objectives has resulted in wanton destruction of lives and property, making Nigeria one of the most difficult places to be in the world, especially in the North Eastern part of the country where a notorious group known as Boko Haram holds sway as a local terror group and as a wing of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP). The Nigerian government has since adopted a military option to stop the Boko Haram in its tracks and to prevent it from seizing Nigerian territory.

Boko Haram has indeed proven to be a threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria and the integrity of the state itself. The Nigerian Government argues that it has been able to “defeat” the group “technically” or “degrade” it but all of that is no more than mere rhetoric. The reality is different and that includes the Boko Haram attacking an Emir’s palace in broad daylight reprisal attack. It includes brazen assault on Nigerian military camps, with Nigerian soldiers, ill-equipped, poorly motivated, war-weary troops, taking to their heels or putting up feeble resistance. Since the crisis began, more than 2,000 lives have been lost and it has been more than 2,000 days since 276 girls were abducted from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State.

Terrorism being an asymmetrical war, not even the smartest Generals know when or how any war against terror will end. What we know is that Nigeria has a terrible task on its hands, it is like fighting the Devil, in an unknown space, where there are no rules, and the enemy wears a mask. The worst part is the creeping mutation of the security crisis in the country: the crisis keeps spreading like cancer as if the terrorists have engaged independent contractors of their own: bandits in Zamfara, kidnappers in Kaduna, pipeline vandals in the South South, killer-herdsmen from the Middle Belt to Osun and Eastern Nigeria, ritualists, rapists, yahoo yahoo boys in the South West and everywhere else… in one word, we live in a country where the population of rogues appears to be rising and the unusual has become the norm. No serious government will fold its arms and allow a country such as we have to collapse. To that extent, I am in total agreement with our compatriots who argue that the government must adopt multiple approaches in dealing with the country’s security challenge. It may be true after all that intractable problems require desperate solutions, but what is now of interest, in my view, is the latest recourse to a spiritual solution to terrorism and the seriousness with which some highly placed persons are promoting that metaphysical option.

It all started with Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai who around September 30, 2019 said at a seminar in Abuja, that clerics within the Nigerian military and religious leaders across the country would need to help the military win the war against terror with the aid of spiritual warfare. The Seminar organized by the Nigeria Army Resource Centre was reportedly titled: “Countering Insurgency and Violent Extremism in Nigeria through spiritual warfare.” Buratai said: “It is easier to defeat Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists than their ideology because while we degrade the terrorists and their havens, the ideology grows the group. Therefore, communities, families, and groups should join in the fight and narratives to reject and prevent the ideologies of the terrorists and extremist groups. Religious bodies and organizations in particular who interface regularly with the grassroots should be at the forefront of the spiritual battle and fashion out ways of stepping up their roles. The fight against terrorism, Boko Haram and ISWAP as well as other security threats, cannot be left to the troops in the battle field alone.”

This statement drew all kinds of interpretations with the general public wondering why the military would be asking for spiritual warfare. Does it mean that the Nigerian military with all the weapons at their disposal now want to fight terrorists with anointing oil and holy water and amulets and charms? Is Buratai suggesting that we should withdraw military Generals from the frontlines and send the likes of Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Pastor David Oyedepo, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, Pastor Chris Okotie, Guru Maharaji and all the big Islamic clerics that we can deploy from Agege to Kano to Mali and Senegal? One lawyer has since said Buratai was misinterpreted in what I consider a needless revision.

It will be recalled that the same Chief of Army Staff was reported as having said at the commissioning of a remodeled All Saints Military Church at the Maxwell Khobe Cantonment, Rukuba Barracks, near Jos in June, that the military also have spiritual needs! I suspect very strongly that if Buratai were not a soldier, he would probably be a cleric, given the consistency with which he apparently draws attention to the spiritual side of warfare. In a superstitious country such as Nigeria, I do not imagine that there will be too many who will disagree with his views, and it should not be surprising that his focus on spirituality resonates with the people. Nigerians in the 21st Century are basically still living in the Medieval era. Their worldview is dominated by a daily conception of saints and enemies who are trying to do harm, evil spirits lurking in the air, and animism as the sole explanation for natural phenomena.

When the head of the country’s military tells them that a particular war is beyond the capacity of his men and that spiritual warfare will be required, what comes to their mind is the kind of warfare that their ancestors fought, or the type that Christian and Islamic evangelicals introduced, resulting in a syncretic religious order in colonial and post-colonial Africa.

Buratai, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff is obviously frustrated, tired and exasperated. He used the words: spiritual and ideology. Boko Haram is a spiritual and ideological force. Its soldiers seek to create an Islamic State and impose a Sharia orthodoxy on Nigeria. Boko Haram is not just a religious war; it is a spiritual violation of Nigeria. Boko Haram adherents do not believe in Western civilization. They regard it as sin. That is an ideological war. To mobilise recruits and sustain the battle, Boko Haram leaders indoctrinate young people. They attack their minds. They get them to buy into an ideology of hate and violence. Every revolution starts in the mind of men.

Buratai is certainly right when he says the war against terror cannot be won by the military alone, or that it should be a collaborative effort. Is there a role for religious groups in the matter? The Nigerian military is more or less giving up, so, I think, yes. The religious mind in Nigeria is stronger than the political mind, even if there is a gap between private and public attitudes. Nigerians troop to churches, mosques and shrines, some do so every day, claiming to know the mind of God, but when it comes to public attitudes, they act differently.

Buratai in calling for a religious solution may have heard a little about the concept of the psychology of terrorism. Terrorists are first and foremost human beings and there is a science to their behaviour as is the case with every other human being.

Is there a way in which religion can moderate that behaviour? Can our priests and alfas use the pulpit to change the behaviour of persons and communities? Can ritualists and shamanists call on the elements to turn Sambisa forest into a place of value rather than a forest of evil? Can the clerics use holy water, fasting, days of prayer to turn the eyes of the Evil One away from Nigeria and bring peace and happiness? In seeking such meta-solutions, the religious-minded is apparently proclaiming the failure of the state, but with state officials themselves saying the war against terror requires a metaphysical approach, this may well be a subject for further interrogation. A failed state yes, but may be not yet.

What is required is a translation of the proposal into a strategy, with proper co-ordination and management. What kind of spiritual warfare is the Nigerian military asking for? How can we deploy all the spiritual resources, agents and organizations in the country to achieve results and defeat Boko Haram? In the absence of proper strategy and co-ordination, we could have all kinds of persons doing their own thing in their own corner. Already, perhaps in response to the call by the Chief of Army Staff, a spiritual warfare against Boko Haram has begun in Borno State, where the Governor, Babagana Zulum, a Professor of Engineering, has chosen to recruit 1,000 traditional hunters to face the Boko Haram terrorists. These hunters we are told, have supernatural powers. They can resist gun shots. They can appear and disappear at will. They can kill thousands in a minute. The hunters have been reportedly provided with dane guns, and swords, and they have sworn to an oath to defeat Boko Haram. In addition, Governor Zulum has engaged 30 prayer warriors for daily supplication around the Ka’aba to pray for peace in Borno State. He has thus recruited a group to report Boko Haram directly to God, in Mecca, the holy land.

The Nigerian military cannot afford to have every state Governor running with their own script of spiritual warfare. To save Nigeria from Boko Haram, we must all work and pray together. This is why I recommend strategy and synergy. The Chief of Army Staff should appoint a Boko Haram Counter-Spiritual Warfare Co-Ordinator or Adviser. The person should be a very senior statesman, preferably an old, retired soldier, who once upon a time in his life understood the value and application of the “Juju option” to military warfare/international diplomacy and who at the same time is very knowledgeable in Christian theology, and has a good relationship with Muslims and Nigerians across ethnic, religious and geographical boundaries. He must have enough influence and gravitas to be able to reach out to the spiritual leaders of Nigeria, across various persuasions. He must be an elderly man whose only interest is the survival of Nigeria as a sovereign entity. He will not be paid for the assignment. He should have a military background. His team should be treated like a battalion of the Nigerian Army to be known as the Spiritual Counter-Insurgency Rapid Response Division.

No member of this proposed team will receive any form of compensation. But whatever they may need for their purpose should be provided directly by the Presidency. The team should be organized as follows: all Muslim clerics should work together as one division. They should all storm Sambisa forest and hold prayers there non-stop for 40 days and 40 nights to exorcise the spirit of evil from the forest. Leaders of white garment churches should lead another division. They should be deployed to every part of the country to cleanse Nigeria with prayers, anointed oil, lit candles, and holy water. They should fast and pray and call on the Lord of Hosts, the I am that I am, Jehovah Jireh. Sat Guru Maharaji, the Living Master, should lead all children of Light in prayer. Nigeria needs the touch of all Masters, Living and Ethereal, to envelope Nigeria with Light and banish darkness. Leaders of the Pentecostal Churches led by GO Enoch Adeboye can organize a 100-day Marathon prayer and fasting session to take this country’s case to God, to plead for Divine Favour and forgiveness.

Animists should not be left out. Every ethnic nationality should be asked to visit every shrine or grove in every community in Nigeria and place curses on anybody who commits any evil on the soil that is known as Nigeria. In calling for national spiritual warfare, Buratai may have heard of what happened in the city of Benin not too long ago. When criminals began to seize control of that city, the Oba of Benin called out his priests and in broad daylight, all the priests wearing blazing and frightening red colour cursed the criminals and warned them to stop or face the wrath of the gods of Benin. There has been peace and security in Benin since then. The same criminals who do not respect Nigerian Police and Army or the Nigerian Constitution have been very careful with the gods and ancestors! There must be something that the Benin palace knows that the Nigerian military probably needs. How about asking the Oba of Benin to co-ordinate an anti-Boko Haram operation?

There is also the recent case of Oke Owa community in Ondo State. Some Fulani cattle herders took their cows to a sacred hill in that community in defiance of the community’s traditions and rules. The cows, 36 of them were struck dead mysteriously by lightning and thunder. The traditional ruler of the Oke Owa community usually spends a night alone in the sacred grove where that incident occurred. He should be taken by the Federal Government to Sambisa forest. Let him spend a night there and summon whatever spirits are protecting his village on a sabbatical in the North West and North East of Nigeria. The Governor of Borno State has mobilized some hunters who we are told have bullet-proof bodies.

The Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Ganiyu Adams should also be recruited to lead the Yoruba Agbekoya to support the Nigerian military in the war against terror. The Egbesu of the Niger Delta should also come to the rescue of the Nigerian military.

I commend the Chief of Army Staff for his humility. It is not easy for a General to admit that what he and his men are facing at the war-front is rather daunting and that they need spiritual help. It is not easy to accept DEFEAT. Where are all those pastors who claim that they can make the lame walk and the blind see? Nigeria needs HELP right now! If we defeat the Boko Haram through spiritual warfare, Nigeria would have made a very original contribution to the science of modern warfare.


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