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

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs