Boko Haram and Religious Minorities in Northern Nigeria

The radical Islamic sect Boko Haram appears to have taken its ‘jihad’ to religious minorities in Northern Nigeria, and there are clear signs of danger ahead in terms of inter-religious peace and harmony in the country. Today a suicide bomber reportedly drove a car full of explosives into a church in Yalwa, which is on the outskirts of Bauchi state. At least 12 people are said to have died in the attack. Though there is no confirmation yet of those who carried out the attack, Boko Haram militants are suspected to be behind it.

This suicide attack has occurred just a day after the representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria met with President Goodluck Jonathan drawing his attention to the fate and problems of christian minorities in Northern Nigeria. But will this make any difference in the way the Federal Government is handing the violent campaign of this militant group? I do not think so.

In April, an attack on Christian worshippers at a university theatre in Kano left at least 15 people dead, including university professors, and many more injured. Similar attacks have been carried out on churches in Niger, Abuja, Plateau, and more. It is important to underscore the dangerous possibilities of attacks on religious minorities in Northern Nigeria. First of all, the implications for inter-religious relations are enormous. Both Christianity and Islam are dominant faiths in the country and exist as majorities and minorities in different states. Nigeria cannot afford a religious war, particularly at a time mostly western nations are pitched in ‘battle’ against Islamic terrorists with connections in Arab and Middle East countries. Even without a war, Nigeria is divided into an Islamic North and a Christian South. Since independence, attempts to steer the state away from religion, erect a wall separating church/mosque and state, and guarantee equal rights of Nigerians of all faiths and none anywhere in the country, have yielded limited results. Following a return to democratic rule in 1999, the Muslim majority states in Northern Nigeria adopted sharia law as state law.

Internationally, Nigeria, with its Christian-dominated South and Muslim-dominated North, risks being turned into a battle front for the war on terror or jihad as the case may be. With the recent kidnapping and killing of European nationals by groups and militants linked to al-Qeada Northern Nigeria, this painful and gory reality stares Nigeria in the face.

Locally, many Christians in the North hail from the South, and many Muslims from the North live in the Christian-dominated South. Attacks on religious minorities could spark reprisal killings as has often been the case in the past, particularly in Southern Nigeria where Muslims are in the minority. In this way Nigeria is edging towards religious cleansing. Boko Haram attacks could provoke the cleansing of Christians in the Muslim majority states and of Muslims in the Christian majority communities. Already there are reports of Christians leaving Muslim majority communities for fear of being attacked and killed by militants. Sadly the authorities in Northern Nigeria, including the leaders and politicians, have refused to acknowledge the religious agenda of Boko Haram attacks. A few who have spoken out attribute the violent campaign of this Islamist group to the abject poverty and marginalization in Northern Nigeria. They claim that the attacks are attempts by this group to draw the attention of the government to the poverty and underdevelopment in the region. Really? So Boko Haram militants who are opposed to western education are carrying out suicide bombing to get the government to create jobs and invest in the region? In other words, Boko Haram militants do not really mean what they say – that western education is sin or that they want to implement sharia and enthrone Islamic state. According to these analysts, the militants are saying so in order to attract more federal allocation, funding and development programs to the region. This is an obvious attempt to shy away from the truth and turn a blind eye on the unfortunate reality of Islamic fanaticism in the North. And if we cannot muster the courage to acknowledge this fact now and address it, when are we going to do that? Is it when all the non-Muslims in Muslim majority states have been bombed out of existence by these militants?

Attacks on Christians and Christian worship centers in Northern Nigeria did not start today, did they? In fact jihadist campaigning by Islamic militants predates the creation of Nigeria and of Nigeria’s independence. When Uthman Dan Fodio launched his jihad in 1804, has it anything to do with poverty or piety? Did his jihad bring wealth and prosperity to what was later to become Northern Nigeria? What about the attacks by the maitatsine sect and of other Islamist groups? They also had nothing to do with religion? What has poverty to do with Islamic militants throwing bombs at christian worshippers in Kano and slaughtering innocent citizens? What has marginalization got to do with bombing of churches in Jos, Abuja, Niger, or Bauchi? If there is one thing that is clear in the attacks and killings going on in different parts of Northern Nigeria, it is the sworn mission of Boko Haram to impose sharia law and turn Nigeria into an Islamic state by force. We should take them at their word and not label them ‘heroes’ and champions of justice and development for Northern Nigeria. We should take measures to forestall the breakdown of peace and harmony among adherents of different faiths and none. We should strive to rebuild trust and to defend the rights of religious minorities to exist and practice their faiths or beliefs anywhere in the country.

June 3, 2012

3 Responses to “Boko Haram and Religious Minorities in Northern Nigeria”

  • #1

    […] yesterday I published an article by Leo Igwe on Boko Haram and religious minorities in Northern Nigeria, in which he talks about some of the ways Boko Haram’s attacks will not make the world a […]

  • #2
    John Q. Public

    I cannot believe an article on this website uses the following figure of speech: ” Nigeria is edging towards religious cleansing.” Why do you see fit to use this euphemism? Surely you don’t assume that Nigeria will become a “cleaner” place when a certain number of people are murdered. Use words that mean something concrete–mass murder, widespread killing, a systematic program of violence and murder. I can understand why journalists fall back on prefabricated expressions; we will probably have to live with atrocities like “ethnic cleansing” for far too long, but presumably “Butterflies and Wheels” should be held to a higher standard of usage.

  • #3

    Golly, that’s a very strange complaint. It’s obviously not a euphemism – surely it’s well-known that that use of the word “cleansing” is a horror. Of course Leo isn’t using it literally; that’s obvious from the entire article. It’s like referring to the Final Solution. The phrase is used by people who don’t think it was a “solution”!