Leo Igwe and a Fresh Look at Boko Haram in Nigeria
By Dr. Terry Simmons
I recently had the privilege of attending a remarkable presentation by Leo Igwe, a Nigerian activist and humanist who is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. Leo granted me an interview conducted after the presentation. It was provocative and enlightening on many levels.
As a western-educated political scientist in international relations, Igwe started life as a SOVA in the Day and remade himself as a terrorism-counterterrorism specialist by recently graduating with a second master’s degree in intelligence studies with a terrorism focus from American Military University. I have traveled internationally but never to Africa. An African interpretation of the terrorist group Boko Haram is uniquely different from a western view; a Nigerian description more unique and yet illuminating.
Igwe has repeatedly risked life and limb as an advocate of not only challenging radical Islam itself, but Boko Haram up close and personal, in his own native Nigeria. Assaulted many times, arrested repeatedly, threatened by militant Islamic extremists within Nigeria and during his worldwide speaking tour, his convictions and extensive knowledge of Islam and Boko Haram specifically, makes him an unimpeachable witness who describes the group as a radical false front for jihadists around the world.
Igwe discussed the emotional issue of repeatedly kidnapped school girls, which has incited such fierce emotional responses around the world, particularly in the West. He is actively involved with the international task force, including the United States, in attempting to locate those children. An expert on the politics of Nigeria and the psychology of Boko Haram in terms of their ruling hierarchies, his insights are invaluable in understanding terrorism in Africa and particularly in oil rich Nigeria.
I asked Leo a few prepared interview questions which he graciously suffered through. We quickly, however, departed from the protocol script and engaged in social and behavioral science jargon and mutual scholarship and expertise. This is where the learning started for me. I came away with the following impressions and new understanding:
- The western understanding of radical Islam is impeded by the imperatives and orthodoxy of American foreign policy. This was a re-visitation of an object lesson taught by the excellent professors at AMU, namely the mirror imaging problem. We cannot expect the radical Islamists to behave along a western behavioral curve; their culture and religious history is rooted in Madrassa-inspired indoctrination from their early childhood. Indeed, Igwe explained, their collective thinking is so concrete that it is inconceivable to them that there is any valid experience outside of the Koranic teachings of their fundamentalist teachers; all else is heresy and must be confronted. The transliteration of Boko Haram itself is Western Education is sin!
- The objectives of American foreign policy are irrelevant to the average Nigerian. The larger non-Islamic world outside of their experience is foreign, indeed surreal, to them, therefore constituting apostate thinking. It must also be confronted and its perpetrators attacked and killed. This is prescribed in the Hadith.
- Asked if there is linkage between the beliefs of Boko Haram and al-Qaida, Igwe stated that the informational level in the villages, especially the isolated northern Nigerian provinces such as Borno State, are essentially non-existent and any common beliefs are based only in orthodox pan-Islam. Nigeria is an animist state first. The infamous brutality of Boko Haram is reflected in animist beliefs in witchcraft.
- Igwe repeated a theme that basically states that the most effective antidote to Boko Haram is to challenge them as hypocrites to Islam and to energetically challenge Boko Haram as frauds and imposters to enlightened Islam. Though a dangerous frontal confrontation tactic for sure, he is convinced that aggressive military tactics and repeated counter terrorism efforts will continue to fail without his campaign of exposure of the true nature of Boko Haram to the Nigerian people. Essentially it is a hearts and minds approach but with a definite African twist and a uniquely Nigerian application.
If one follows the conviction that jihad is an asymmetrical political tactic to confront and immobilize a superior military opponent, this counter-psychology is refreshing and educational. Igwe is a pioneer in this unique application in Nigeria.
Igwe is in pursuit of a doctorate. His field work and commitment are impressive indeed. I believe he is not only on his way to achieving this academic goal but is rapidly becoming a world authority on Boko Haram and the psychology of aberrational reactive radical Islam itself. It was an interesting night and I wish him continued good fortune and international support in this vital mission.