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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs