One of Nigeria’s most powerful Muslim leaders, the emir of Kano, has voiced support for vigilantes fighting Boko Haram, urging others to form civilian militias and questioning the competence of the military.
The comments were made by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who became emir earlier this year after being sacked from his post as the central bank governor, where he was one of the government’s most high-profile critics.
It is extremely rare for Nigeria’s clerics to speak explicitly about political and military affairs, but many expected Sanusi to defy convention and inject himself into public debate after assuming the highly influential post.
“People should be sensitised on the importance of being on the alert. And they should prepare, they should acquire what they will defend themselves with,” Sanusi said during Friday prayers at the central mosque in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.
AFP obtained a copy of the transcript of the recording on Monday. While Sanusi did not mention Boko Haram by name, it was clear he was discussing efforts to resist the Islamist rebels.
“Those that are endowed as hunters and vigilantes should apply this endowment given to them by Allah as an avenue of earning divine reward in defending their nation,” he said.
Nigeria’s military has been cooperating with various vigilante forces in the northeast for more than a year, often relying on civilians to do the bulk of the fighting against the insurgents.
Witnesses said it was vigilantes who recaptured the symbolically important northeast town of Chibok from Boko Haram at the weekend, with troops staying clear of the heavy fighting.
Chibok was where the Islamists kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April. Fifty-seven have escaped.
“We should not wait for soldiers to come, before they come the carnage will have been done,” Sanusi told the congregation. “Some of them drop their guns and flee.”
The military has repeatedly been accused of leaving civilians defenceless against Boko Haram attacks and failing to respond to distress calls made in advance of raids.
While Sanusi’s comments were similar to those made by President Goodluck Jonathan’s critics, they may feed added resentment towards the government because the emir of Kano is expected to stay above the political fray.
Days after Jonathan sacked him from the central bank, Sanusi told AFP that the president was a “simple” man who had been misled and manipulated by incompetent advisors.
Officially, Sanusi is the number two Islamic cleric in Nigeria, home to more than 80 million Muslims.
But many consider the emir of Kano to be more influential than the sultan of Sokoto, who is the country’s top Islamic leader.