News / Africa

Boko Haram's Rise in Nigeria Sparks Civil War Fears

A survivor of a bomb attack rests at a hospital bed in Nigeria's northern city of Kano, January 21, 2012.
A survivor of a bomb attack rests at a hospital bed in Nigeria's northern city of Kano, January 21, 2012.

Friday's deadly bomb attacks in Nigeria's second largest city, Kano, are the latest in a series of spectacular strikes by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram. The coordinated series of assaults on police stations and other government offices killed at least 200 people. The rise of Boko Haram is sparking concerns that Africa's most populous country may be edging closer to civil war.

Nigeria's Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka predicted it; political analysts are regularly asked about it; and the Kano attacks prompted the Leadership newspaper to run as its weekend edition headline, “Finally, Boko Haram Launches War.”

The radical Islamist Boko Haram has made headlines with increasing frequency lately for a series of audacious terrorist strikes. Among them, a Christmas Day bomb blast that killed worshippers at a Catholic Church and a deadly suicide bomb last August at a U.N. headquarters in Abuja.

Nigeria's 160 million people are roughly divided between a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

The Christmas Day church attack, and the name Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language spoken in the north means “Western education is sacrilegious,” are seen as signs of the group's Islamic radicalism.

But nearly all experts and scholars interviewed for this report agreed the Boko Haram phenomenon is not mainly fueled by religious extremism. Rights activist and expert on the causes of political violence Damian Ugwu says Boko Haram's support base is mostly unemployed northern youth who see a corruption-riddled government stealing the country's vast oil wealth.

“I see Boko Haram as the end result of manifestation of bad policies and impunity in Nigeria," said Ugwu. "For me it is a society where the wealth of the country is being cornered by the elite who do not care what happens to the rest of the country.  You are bound to see a lot of people who are angry with the system.”

President Goodluck Jonathan's government has portrayed Boko Haram as a Muslim fundamentalist group bent on establishing an Islamist state in the north. They have appealed to the international community for financial assistance in fighting terrorism.

Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, now with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, says there is undoubtedly a criminal element within the Islamist group. But in a telephone interview, Campbell said the government's counter-terrorism strategy could backfire.

“What the Nigerian government is doing is treating Boko Haram as a security problem," he said. "I see it more as a political problem, and rather than focusing so much on police methods, I would try political initiatives that might have the potential for sucking the oxygen out of Boko Haram.”

Campbell suspects the number of hard-core Boko Haram operatives is small.  It is likely to have been made smaller by losses suffered in the Kano attacks.

Among politicians in Nigeria's north, the concept of Boko Haram as radical Islamists seems peculiar. National Secretary of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change, Buba Galadima, says what is really a group engaged in class warfare is being portrayed in government propaganda as terrorists in order to win counter-terrorism assistance from the West.

“It is a class war born out of poverty," Galadima. "They are attacking their oppressors. I want you to buy this rather than those propaganda that government is churning out because they want Western support, because it is what the West will not want to hear.  Jihad.”

Galadima denies any connection with Boko Haram, but he argues that the name “Western education is sacrilegious” is widely misunderstood. He says it is really a rallying cry against Nigeria's corrupt Western-educated elite.

"What the Boko Haram people are saying is it is sacrilegious to acquire Western education and use it to cheat, shortchange your fellow human being," he said. "If that is all Western education is about, for you to get into a position of authority and steal from the public treasury, then it is bad."

Galadima and others accept that Boko Haram is both radical and Islamist. It has also used terrorist tactics against Christians. But they point out that in the Kano attacks, the targets were police officers, who in a predominantly Muslim city are likely to be mostly Muslims.

They also note that a week earlier, the story from Kano was about Muslims and Christians protecting each other as they conducted prayers during the national strike against gasoline price increases.

Nigeria has a long and proud history of religious tolerance.

So while Nigerians worry about the potential for civil war and disintegration, the fault lines of greatest concern are more economic than sectarian. Poverty, and the disgust with a government perceived as corrupt and inefficient, transcend religious differences.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid