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In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 09:05

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In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 10:36

On Friday a car bomb exploded at the United Nations compound, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, killing at least 18 people and injuring several others. It is the latest, and most ambitious in a series of bomb explosions that have hit the city in the last year.

The last one, in June, targeted the police headquarters in Abuja, killing two people.

Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group (sometimes referred to as “the Nigerian Taliban”) has been claiming responsibility for these bombings. “Boko Haram” translates loosely as “Western education is forbidden/sinful.”

The group holds all government authority in contempt and wants to establish a Sharia state in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has been in existence for several years, proselytising, and running a mosque and religious school, but did not rise to national prominence until it attacked police stations and prisons in parts of Northern Nigeria in July, 2009.

In retaliation, Nigerian security forces launched a ruthless crackdown. Hundreds of people were killed; the Boko Haram camp destroyed, and its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, arrested. He would later die in police custody, and a number of officers are currently facing trial. (Some of the group’s anger is traceable to what it claims is the highhandedness of the Nigerian police and military).

The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram is typically cast by the international media as evidence of tensions between Nigeria’s “predominantly Christian South” and its “predominantly Muslim North.” There have also been suggestions that the Muslim North is unhappy that a Southern Christian is president, at a time when, according to the terms of an informal North-South power-rotating pact in the ruling party, a Northerner ought to be president; and that Boko Haram’s activities are a manifestation of that unhappiness.

At best this is an oversimplification of issues, and at worst dangerously misleading. The Boko Haram violence cannot sensibly be narrowed into a North versus South crisis. When it flared up in 2009, the late Umar Yar’Adua, a Northern Muslim, was president. A similar crisis erupted in Kano State, involving a sect known as ‘Maitatsine’ (“one who curses,”) in December 1980, when Shehu Shagari, also a Northern Muslim, was in power.

Religion certainly plays a huge role in the crisis, as it does in everyday Nigerian life. But reducing extremist Islamic sects to “anti-Christian” movements hardly aids a better understanding of the issue.

In their choice of enemies and targets, extremist Islamic sects will generally not discriminate between non-Muslims and moderate Muslims (the category to which one may safely say the majority of Nigeria’s Muslims belong.) Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the assassinations of a number of influential Muslim politicians in Northern Nigeria. At least two Northern Muslim Governors have, under threat of attack, apologized to the group.

The role of social factors — poverty and illiteracy — cannot also be ignored. There are millions of economically-deprived youth in Northern Nigeria for whom the only education available, and encouraged, is an itinerant Islamic one. They are a ready army for purveyors of radical teachings.

CNN, By Tolu Ogunlesi

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