LAGOS – Concerned by the recent arrests targeting northern Nigerians, analysts and Muslim leaders have warned that the security agencies moves in Nigeria's south were threatening radicalizing more northern young Muslims who reject ethnic profiling.
"The current trend is very dangerous," Moses Olayiwola, a retired senior Naval officer, told OnIslam.net.
“We should not create an impression that every Hausa-Fulani person is a potential Boko Haram. That in itself defeats the fight against extremism because we would be radicalizing many people who are otherwise peaceful.”
Police in Nigeria's oil rich Rivers state recently arrested 320 mainly northerners believed to have links with Boko Haram, the extremist sect blamed for the insurgency in the country's northeastern region.
Also, about 18 young men attending a vocational school in southeastern Imo state were reportedly deported back to Katsina, their state of origin, in Nigeria's northwest.
Both incidents sparked outrage in the North and in the country's Parliament. Police later released the 320 suspects except 19 of them still "being interrogated".
Olayiwola warned that the new unjustified arrests threatened a looming ethno-religious war in the western African country.
"Such altitude may result in a tit-for-tat with grave consequences for the southerners residing in the north,” he said.
“The greatest worry is for this not to result in ethno-religious war in the country."
Sulaiman Alamutu, a prominent chieftain of the Muslim Society of Nigeria and a public analyst, said the incident portends grave danger for the country especially if the Northern government considers a retaliation.
"The case in Imo is unfortunate because if the government in the native states of those youths decide to do same, then we will have problem in this country,” Alamutu told OnIslam.net.
“A lot of Igbos live in the north, in fact you have more of southerners living in the north than northerners in the south. So, the action of the Imo state government does not help national integration. It will further deepen the growing enmity among various ethnic nationalities in the country," he added.
"The whole scenario may look like an ethnic profiling in the sense that only a particular ethnic group is being targeted for this action. Such should not be happening, especially at this time that the country is struggling to sustain its unity.”
For many analysts, the arrests sent a wrong signal that the insurgency is now also in the south region to militarize it, sensing some "political plots" ahead the 2015 general elections in Africa's top oil producers.
"The news of the arrest in Rivers State came to me as no surprise! You know, there had been several attempts by the enemies of this region, I mean southern part of Nigeria, to create an impression that the Boko Haram has a base here," Alamutu told OnIslam.net.
"From fictitious newspaper headlines to government anti-Islam actions in recent times, one will not doubt the existence of a plot to militarize the south a la boko haram style."
Alamutu added that Boko Haram has no roots in the south, pointing to other social ills affecting the south, including kidnapping, armed robbery and gang-war.
"Again, if the government of Imo and the police commissioner in Rivers think their action would help curb insurgency, I think they are mistaken,” he told OnIslam.net.
“Our own insurgency in the south here is not Boko Haram except we want to deceive ourselves. The real insurgency here is kidnapping, armed robbery and gang-war.
“They should rather focus on fighting these social problems than embarking on fruitless efforts that will yield nothing but create more enmity in the polity.”
Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning "Western education is sinful", is loosely modeled on Afghanistan's Taliban.
The militant group says it is fighting enemies who have wronged its members through violence, arrests or economic neglect and corruption.
It has been blamed for a campaign of shootings and bombings against security forces and authorities in the north since 2009.
But recently, the sect has carried out attacks against Christians.
For Onche Bishop Odeh, another public commentator, police's action in both instances show that no lesson has been learnt in what gave birth to the now dreaded Boko Haram insurgency that has killed thousands, Muslims and Christians alike.
"What happened (in Rivers and Imo) was typical of ethnic profiling, especially in light of the explanations advanced by the group," Odeh said.
“They have insisted that their identity is well known to the same people who arrested them, and the fact that there was no resistance (which is typical of BH) shows that the security agencies are still struggling to get a perfect hold on the loopholes that have given rise to Boko Haram.”
“From the foregoing, the fight against insurgencies, which has been limited to mean Boko Haram now, still lies ahead. Whether it would be won soon or not also remains unclear. Victory against these incidences lies with the people, unfortunately, the people of Nigeria are so disenchanted that their hopes are being flared.
Imagine a man who is made to pay twice the amount he ever earns in a month on electricity that he does not get, pay for his own water for drinking or other use, is unaware of what benefit their representatives could bring among the dysfunctionality that they witness coming out to stake his life. No way. We need to get down to business.
“Boko Haram are humans. There may be something the bearers of power in Nigeria are doing that is aggravating their anger. Let them find out and deal with such. Period!” he added.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.
But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
Related Links:Boko Haram Attacks Enrage Nigeria Muslims
Nigeria Muslims Reject Boko Haram: Poll
Nigeria Muslims Pray to Uproot Boko Haram
Boko Haram..Islamist Threat or Interest Group
Boko Haram Remains Nigerian, not Al-Qaeda