BY USMAN MOHAMMED | YUNUSA BUNU ZANNAH, MARCH 02, 2022, 5:08 PM
In 2013, one photograph became very popular.
It summarizes the situation the country was in then: the times of Boko Haram’s growing notoriety—from Maiduguri to Kano; from Kano to Kaduna and Kaduna to Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power, among others.
The photograph was of a collection of shoes, caps and prayer mats left behind by their owners at a Jumma’at mosque in Kano. Not by their choice. No, the owners had something more precious to worry about: their lives.
All they were concerned about was to leave the mosque in one piece. Because someone was bent on tearing them into shreds with explosives.
Ever since, mosques, and more so Jumma’at mosques, seized being the hosting grounds for thousands of worshippers. Such things as exchange of pleasantries with family and friends or sale of religious items after the weekly prayers were pushed to the parenthesis.
That picture was in Kano; but it even more aptly depicts the situation in Borno.
Congregational prayers were closed, where they hold, with caps, flowing gowns and prayer mats flung away, as people scampered for safety. Explosions or sounds of heavy military equipment could cut everything short.
There were areas where the five daily congregational prayers only held spontaneously, as they could go many days without holding.
In the northern part of Nigeria, and even more so Borno, Islam is deep-seated; for, were it to be elsewhere, it is highly probable if people still prayed in mosques given the tensed situation.
Since prayers must hold, thanks to the people’s faith, a product of their heritage, a lot of local solutions were devised so that the mosques could be relatively safe.
People joined voluntary community initiatives to guard mosques. Others contributed money for purchase of bomb detectors. Others volunteered vital information.
Governments deployed more troops, including those in plainclothes and secret services.
A regular scene in mosques then was of people queued up, undergoing security checks before they were allowed in. That itself was a security risk—but everything, even those really banal went on those days—in seeking safety.
The checks were everything but rigorous, but everyone was ready to submit his or herself. It had to be so; suicide bombers were everywhere, they were in a prowl.
Boko Haram’s desecration of worship centers started in 2009 when they waged a deadly war against the Nigerian state.
They targeted and attacked many mosques, killing several worshippers with explosives.
In 2012, they targeted Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai, the Shehu of Borno, at a Jumma’at mosque, in his palace. The attack claimed several lives, with the traditional leader escaping death by the whiskers.
It was therefore clear to everyone that the terrorists were not ready to spare anyone, even though they ride on the back of a false claim of championing the cause of ‘Muslims’.
But those days are almost gone—for good.
These reporters went into the mosque with a big backpack, in which they carried their cameras, microphones and lights, among others.
Nothing emphasizes that these days are put behind, other than that!
There were no longer security checks, other than a set of highly vigilant local vigilantes, who are already to jump up against any attempt to plunge us to the days already gone by.
‘The dark days are gone, but, I cannot forget one of the most challenging moments we had faced in Maiduguri.
‘Sometimes we come to the mosque with our hands held up over our heads. We removed our caps to be searched,’ Usman Ibrahim a resident of Mairi Ward said after a jumma’at prayer at Masallacin Sheikh Abba Aji.
‘At that time, we cannot go out with long beard and Jallabiya for fair of intimidation by solders,’ he added.
‘Alhamdulillah (all thanks be to God), we sometimes prayed at our home, we cannot come to the mosque, we are too skeptical of one another.
‘But now our mosque is full with worshipers, we moved in freely without any fear,’ another worshiper identified as Muhammad Ali at the mosque said.
Umar Muhammad Makama, a ‘private’ security personnel at another mosque said he is now happy that he does not have to conduct search on every worshipper who comes for prayer.
‘Before the full deployment of the Nigerian Army and other security personnel, we used to close all roads to the mosque by 12:00 am every Friday to commence searching and screening worshipers, using scanning machines.
‘With the help of Nigerian soldiers, DSS, police and Civilian Joint Task Force, the story has changed today.
‘As you can see, I don’t even have my scanner and we allow people to move freely even though we still stay alert,’ Makama said.
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15 June 2022