At War against Itself: Religious Identity, Militancy and Growing Insecurity in Northern Nigeria

JCTS (Journal of Conflict Transformation and Security) | Vol. 4 | No. 1-2 | April-October 2014


This paper critically examines the uneasy nexus between religious identity and spiralling violence in contemporary northern Nigeria. This nexus is illustrated with the ongoing militancy of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group from north-eastern Nigeria whose avowed aim is to rid the country of its corrupt government and create an Islamic state governed by Sharia. The paper shows how a spate of increasingly sophisticated attacks against churches and state security forces (since 2009) suggests not only growing foreign support, but also indicates a strategy of provocation through which Boko Haram seeks to spark large scale sectarian conflict that will strike at the foundations of Nigeria. This paper attributes the failure of the Nigerian state to deal effectively with religious militancy to its overdependence on coercion for compliance in lieu of authority. The conclusion offers recommendations on how to mitigate the ongoing problem of religious militancy and sectarianism in (Northern) Nigeria.

Key words:  Religion; Identity; Violence; Northern Nigeria; Boko Haram.


Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, makes an interesting case study of the uneasy nexus between religion, identity and violence. This is largely because of its complex web of politically salient identities and history of chronic and seemingly intractable conflicts which qualify her as one of the most deeply divided countries in Africa.[1] To be sure, Nigeria’s vast heterogeneity, specifically its ethnic and religious diversity, remains an abiding source of her societal tensions and political instability. The mixture serves not only as a source of national strength and potential but also as a seam interminably threatening to tear at the core of national peace, unity and posterity. In particular, political mobilisations along ethno-religious lines increasingly put ethno-religious groups at daggers drawn. This has not only triggered conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives and properties, but ultimately precluded the emergence of a true national identity.[2] Individually and (or) collectively, the disparate and often warring groups in Nigeria subscribe to a model of conduct that elevates religion over and above the broader interests of the national state. Indeed, since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999, religious identity politics and attendant violence have assumed historically unprecedented proportions.[3] According to Ake, ‘religion in Nigeria is politicised, politics is religionised and religious groups tend toward becoming political formations whose struggles with each other and competing interests may be more conflictual due to the exclusivity of religious group membership.’[4] However, Ehusani draws a useful distinction between the politics of religion and the actual practice of religion in Nigeria, arguing that ‘Nigerians have hardly had to fight over the practice of religion.[5] It is the politics of religion that has brought upon us so much trouble.’ But why does religion seem to need violence, and violence religion?[6]

This paper critically examines the uneasy nexus between religious identity and spiralling violence in northern Nigeria. This uneasy nexus is then illustrated with the ongoing militancy of Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group from north-eastern Nigeria whose avowed aim is to rid the country of its corrupt government and create a fully Islamic state governed by Sharia law. The paper shows how a spate of increasingly coordinated and sophisticated attacks against churches and state security forces (since 2009) suggests not only growing foreign support, but also indicates a strategy of provocation through which Boko Haram seeks to spark large scale sectarian conflict that will strike at the foundations of Nigeria. The paper attributes the failure of the Nigerian state to deal effectively with religious militancy to the militarised nature of its responses and its historical reliance on coercion for compliance rather than authority. The conclusion offers some practical recommendations on how to mitigate the ongoing problem of religious militancy and sectarianism in Nigeria.

Conceptual Analysis and Theoretical Perspective

Since the epochal terrorist attacks of 9/11 it has become commonplace to say that ‘more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetuated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history’.[7] But what is religion? According to McGuire, ‘Religion is one of the most powerful, deeply felt, and influential forces in human society. It has shaped people’s relationships with each other, influencing family, community, economic, and political life… Religious values influence their actions, and religious meanings help them interpret their experiences.’[8] For Geertz, religion is essentially a ‘cultural system of meaning’; ‘(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.’[9] Eitzen and Zinn identify three core aspects of religion. First, religion is a social construction—that is, it is created by people and is a part of culture. Second, religion is an integrated set of ideas by which a group attempts to explain the meaning of life and death. Third, religion is a normative system defining immorality and sin as well as morality and righteousness.[10] Sociological explanations offer two basic reasons why the study of religion is vital: (1) religion is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has a profound impact on human behaviour, and (2) religion influences society and society impacts on religion.[11]

Conflicts motivated by religious identity are the most severe because they are characteristically tied to absolutist or dogmatic views.[12] While devotion to belief systems can create and nurture a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging, they can easily lead to intolerance, discrimination, and violent intergroup identity conflicts.[13] According to Erikson, identity refers to ‘some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image.’[14] Identity may also be defined as a combination of socio-cultural characteristics which individuals share, or are presumed to share, with others on the basis of which one group may be distinguished from others.[15] In this sense, identity is not only circumscribed to how I see myself, it is simultaneously a fusion of how I see myself and how I am perceived by others. Fundamentally, identity is a group concept in the sense that it is based on traits which make individuals members (or non-members) of a group; such traits also provide responses to the question: ‘Who am I?’.[16]

Religious identity can be both an integrative and divisive force in any society; it may not only foment and perpetuate violence but may contribute to peace.[17] This ‘ambivalence of the sacred’ was clearly captured by Appleby’s probing question: Why is religion a source of ‘intolerance, human rights violations, and extremist violence, but also of nonviolent conflict transformation, the defence of human rights, integrity in government, and reconciliation and stability in divided societies?’[18] Parekh similarly argues that ‘Although religion can make a valuable contribution to political life, it often breeds intolerance of other religions as well as of internal dissent, and has a propensity towards violence.’[19] In Nigeria, for instance, there is little doubt that religion has had a largely disruptive influence: it has divided more than it has ever united, deformed more than it has ever transformed and decimated more than it has ever animated. According to Agi, ‘Religion has contributed in no small measure to the social anomie which has characterised Nigerian national life for so long without an end in sight. Religious fanaticism, bigotry and violence have become an obstacle to the achievement of social harmony and interaction. It is gradually destroying the country’s social fabric: the basis of trust and mutual respect. It has weakened the very foundation of Nigeria’s socio-cultural existence.’[20]

At the theoretical level, a number of hypotheses have connected religious variables to violent conflict. First, from a socio-psychological angle, diverse religious identities, similar to ethnic and other social identities, form a group identity and can result in escalating inter-group dynamics. Research has demonstrated that people often privilege in-group members over out-group members.[21] As such, there is a greater chance of violent escalation. Second, religious identities are specially connected to particular religious ideas that are transcendental in source and, as a result, hardly subject to negotiation and compromise given their accepted divine origin.[22] Conflicts over the role of religion in society or the state are likely to emerge between different religious groups, especially if the religion in question claims universal validity. In addition, combatants might be motivated through specific religious incentives/rewards for participation in dastardly acts of violence.[23] Third, religious factors might be understood as a possible mobilisation resource for and in conflicts. This idea is not unrelated to the foregoing two ideas, but this theoretical branch stresses the role of leaders in the organisation of collective action.[24] For instance, the political instrumentality of religion might increase the risk of a violent escalation of a conflict, which is principally embedded in political or socioeconomic problems.[25]

Another school of thought connects religion to the onset of terrorism. To be sure, the proposed nexus between religion and terrorism has a long genealogy in Western scholarship, going back to David Rapoport’s 1984 seminal paper analysing the use of terror in three religious traditions: Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.[26] In this strand of literature, religious terrorism has been elevated above a simple label to a set of descriptive characteristics and substantive claims which appear to delineate it as a special ‘type’ of violence, fundamentally different to secular forms of terrorism.[27] The claim about the special nature of religious terrorism rests on three key hypotheses which are briefly considered below.

The first states that religious terrorists have anti-modern goals of returning society to an idealised version of the past and are therefore necessarily anti-democratic and anti-progressive.[28] The second hypothesis states that religious terrorists employ a different kind of violence compared to secular terrorists.[29] Bruce Hoffman, for example, argues that for the religious terrorist, ‘violence is… a sacramental act or divine duty executed in direct response to some theological demand,’ as opposed to a tactical means to a political end.[30] As such, religious terrorists often aim for maximum casualties; they are ‘relatively unconstrained in the lethality and the indiscriminate nature of violence used…’.[31]

The third and final hypothesis states that religious terrorists have the capacity to evoke total commitment and fanaticism from their members. It is argued that religious terrorist are characterised by the suspension of doubt and an end-justifies-the-means worldview – in contrast to the supposedly more measured attitudes of secular groups.[32] Moreover, it is suggested that in some cases the certainties of the religious viewpoint and the promises of the next world are key motivating factors in driving insecure, alienated and marginalised youths to join religious terrorist groups as a means of psychological, even physical, empowerment. It is further argued that such impressionable and disempowered young people are vulnerable to forms of brainwashing and undue influence by recruiters, extremist preachers or internet materials.[33] Romero, for example, argues that Islamist terrorist connections can provide ‘social backing, meaning to life (to compensate for the spiritual emptiness felt), and a social or collective identity mainly based on the pride of forming part of the jihad as the only way of reaching the power and glory of Islam.’[34]

It is important to note that the seismic rise of radical Islamist terrorism starting in the 1980s and 1990s has significantly contributed to the lethal nature of attacks perpetrated by religious terrorist groups.[35] Available empirical data shows that over the period 1968 to 2005, Islamists groups (especially groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) were responsible for 93.6 percent of all terrorist attacks and 86.9 percent of all casualties inflicted by religiously-oriented terrorist groups.[36] Piazza  explains the higher frequency and intensity of terrorist activity among Islamists in the light of the (mis)interpretation of certain doctrine and practice within Islam, including the concept of ‘lesser jihad,’ the practice of militant struggle to defend Islam from its perceived enemies, or the Muslim reverence for ‘Itishhad’ (the practice of martyrdom).[37]

Based on Piazza’s article, the rise in Islamic terrorism would also be about how Al-Qaeda type group fit a typology defined as ‘universal/abstract’ while other Islamist terrorist groups are more properly categorized as ‘strategic’.[38] For Piazza, ‘the primary difference between universal/abstract groups and strategic groups is that the former are distinguished by highly ambitious, abstract, complex, and nebulous goals that are driven primarily by ideology… in contrast, strategic groups have much limited and discrete goals: the liberation of specific territory, the creation of an independent homeland for a specific ethnic group, or the overthrow of a specific government’.[39] According to this perspective, extremist Islamist groups like Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Ansaru, among others, fall into the universal/abstract category on account of their global jihadist appeal and their ideological stance against Western missions and perceived (or real) enemies of Islam.

Mapping the Conflict Scenario

Northern Nigeria has a long and well documented history of militant Islam,[40] going back to the successful jihad[41] of Sheik Usman Dan Fodio of Sokoto (1754-1817) in the first decade of the 19th century.[42] Dan Fodio launched a holy war against what he saw as a hopelessly corrupt and ‘apostate’ Hausa ruling elite of his time and established the Sokoto Caliphate (formed in 1804-1808), under the supreme law of Sharia, across much of what is today Northern Nigeria.[43] For some authors, the defeat of the caliphate by the British in 1903 and subsequent dealings with colonial and post-colonial states opened the caliphate to the corrupting influence of secular political power.[44] What began with Usman Dan Fodio as a search for religious purification soon metamorphosed into a quest for a political kingdom.[45] The outcome is that ‘Islam has remained the focal veneer for the legitimacy of the northern ruling class,’ and consequently, ‘its politicians have always prided themselves as soldiers for the defence of the faith’.[46]

The general assumption is that there has been an exponential rise in religious violence since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.[47] However, statistics on religious violence across the country show that at least 95 per cent of these violent conflicts occurred in Northern Nigeria.[48] Tellingly, out of the 178 conflicts that took place in the Muslim region between 1980 and 2004, 104 were related to religion.[49] Violence in northern Nigeria has flared up at regular intervals. Mainly in the form of urban riots, it has pitted Muslims against Christians and has seen confrontations between different Islamic sects.[50] Violent conflicts, whether riots or fighting between insurrectional groups and the police, tends to occur at specific flashpoints. Examples are the northern cities of Kaduna and Zaria, whose populations are religiously and ethnically very mixed, and the very poor states of the far northeast, where anti-establishment groups have flourished. Many factors fuelling these conflicts are common across Nigeria: in particular, the political manipulation of religion and ethnicity and disputes between supposed local groups and ‘settlers’ over distribution of public resources.[51] The failure of the government to assure public order, to contribute to dispute settlement and to implement post-conflict peace-building measures is also a contributing factor. Likewise, the absence of economic opportunities and gainful employment, especially as inequality grows, fuels violent conflict in the region.[52]

The Politicisation and Militarisation of Religion

Since gaining political independence on 1 October 1960, Nigeria has suffered a series of civil unrests, ethno-religious bloodshed, resource conflicts, and endless riots. In particular, the violence that has punctuated the history of the country’s return to civil rule in 1999 underscores the potent, and often disruptive, role of religion in the politics and identity of Nigerian citizenship. Historically, Christians living in the north were seen as infidels and they were treated as such in earlier years.[53] During the 1950s and 60s, when Christian people from the predominantly Christian South immigrated to the north, they were compelled to place their children in separate schools and forced to live in segregated areas. In addition, any form of interaction between the Muslim northerners and the Christian southerners was forbidden.[54] According to Meredith, a section of the non-Muslim minorities who lived in the north had long been trying to depose the Muslim leaders of the region. This set the scene for the Tiv resistance that exploded in the 1960s.[55] Since this event, thousands of Nigerians (mainly in the north) have lost their lives, buildings and properties as the country teetered precariously on the brink of a religious war between Muslim and Christians.[56]

The encroachment of religion into the political realm in Nigeria portends a grave danger for the peace and unity of the country.[57] For one thing, the close relationship between religion and social life in Nigeria creates deep suspicion when it is perceived that one religious group is dominating (or trying to dominate) the political affairs of the country. The subsequent jostling for ascendancy puts the major religions – Christianity and Islam – at loggerheads. Unfortunately, the actions of past Nigerian leaders have often fanned the flames of conflict by suggesting that the country was under a single religion. For example, during his tenure in office (1985-1993), President Ibrahim Babangida registered Nigeria as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). Premised on the values of OIC, membership of the organisation is underpinned by a commitment to the advancement of Islam.[58]

Babangida’s military successor, General Sani Abacha, again unilaterally registered the country as a member of the D-8 (Developing-8), an organisation for development cooperation among major Muslim developing countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. These leadership decisions caused much anxiety among Nigerian Christians many of who saw the government move as an attempt toward Islamisation of Nigeria.[59] Following a chorus of disapproval from Christians, the issue of Nigerian membership in the OIC was suspended. This decision, however, fomented religious riots in northern Nigeria, beginning with the March 1986 violent clash in Ilorin between Muslims and Christians[60]  and the May 1986 clash between Christian and Muslim students at Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto.[61]

From the 1980s and beyond, religious violence became one of the biggest crises facing Nigeria.[62] Falola attributes the religious violence of the 1980s to internal economic and political decay. Many religious organisations felt that the society and its political leaders had degenerated, so they rejected the constitution and called for a theocratic state whose leaders would have better moral values.[63] As the religious crisis of the 1980s deepened, Muhammad Marwa (popularly known as Maitatsine[64]) became the central figure around which Islam’s struggle in Nigeria revolved. Originally from Marwa in northeastern Nigeria, Maitatsine moved to Kano, Nigeria in about 1945 where he became known for his controversial preaching[65] on the Qur’an. Maitatsine claimed to be a prophet, and saw himself as a mujaddid[66] in the image of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio.[67] Maitatsine attracted the urban poor in the northern city of Kano with its message that ‘denounced the affluent elites as infidels, opposed Western Influence, and refused to recognize secular authorities’.[68] The urban Muslim poor were attracted to Maitatsine because ‘he condemned the hypocrisy and ostentation of the nouveau riche and promised redemption and salvation to God’s righteous people’.[69] Another notable group that was drawn to Maitatsine were the ‘Almajirai,’ described as young itinerant students of the Koran who had a very poor and simple life-style and eked out a living on the streets by begging.[70]

Maitatsine extremists, rejecting Muslims who had, in their eyes, gone astray, lived in secluded areas to avoid mixing with mainstream Muslims, and rejected material wealth on the grounds that it was associated with Western values.[71] The Maitatsine uprising led to eleven days of violent clashes with state security forces in Kano in December 1980. A tribunal of inquiry set up by the federal government in 1981 found that 4,177 people were killed in the violence, excluding members of the police force who lost their lives.[72] In addition, state security forces were implicated in extrajudicial killings and torture of Maitatsine members in their custody.[73] Although the Nigerian military crushed the uprisings and killed its leader, over the next five years hundreds of people were killed in reprisal attacks between remnants of Maitatsine in the north and government security forces.[74]

At the dawn of democracy in 1999, the pseudo-harmony forged during the protracted military rule in Nigeria was exposed as different religious groups began a systematic campaign for the recognition of their rights.[75] Civil rule acted like the release of a pressure valve, enabling people to vent their pent-up anger and express themselves more freely.[76] As Duruji aptly argues, Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 ‘opened up the space for expression of suppressed ethno-religious demands bottled up by years of repressive military rule.’[77] Within the Muslim society in Nigeria, there was a move for the institutionalisation of the Sharia legal codes in predominantly Muslim states. Proponents of the movement contend that it is their constitutional right to practice their religion within the tenets of the Sharia legal code. The agitation for the implementation of Sharia code was laced with ‘human rights language’ as it sought to justify its implementation through a constitution that protects religious freedom.[78] Through the campaign for the implementation of the Sharia, the battle line was drawn between the majority Muslims and the minority Christians in northern Nigeria. The agitation crystallized on 27 October 1999 when Zamfara became the first state to implement Sharia legal code in the country. The then governor of Zamfara, Ahmed Sani, announced that the state will adopt Sharia law as its only legal system with effect from January 2000. Sani argued that Sharia will restore morals and values to an immoral state. Although Sani maintained that only Muslims would be affected by Sharia law, he proposed a ban on alcohol and prostitution for the entire state.[79]

Between 1999 and 2000, 12 northern states implemented Sharia and set up the hizbah groups to enforce the code.[80] While Muslims interpreted Sharia as a legitimate application of their religious faith to their daily lives; many Christians read it as part of a plan to transform Nigeria into an Islamic state, in which they would be reduced to second-class status, with consequences, for example, concerning access to land to build churches.[81] In response, some Christian leaders under the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) began clamouring for the implementation of the Canon Law in predominantly Christian states. The consequences of this religious difference, laced at times with intolerance, degenerated into major religiously inspired violence. In 2001, Nigeria was embroiled in ethno-religious conflicts which occurred in Kano, Kaduna and Plateau states. This sectarian violence came in the wake of the implementation of Sharia in some northern states of Nigeria. In particular, the ‘indigene’ versus ‘settler’ problem[82] has raged on in Jos metropolis, the capital of Plateau state. Ostein  explains how local conflicts in Jos have arisen ‘primarily out of ethnic differences, pitting Hausa ‘settlers’ against the Plateau ‘indigene’ groups of Afizere, Anaguta and Berom.’[83] He argues that the underlying problem is ‘the alleged rights of indigenes… to control particular locations’.[84]

Jos registered a major crises beginning on 7 September 2001 and again on 2 May 2012. The crises claimed hundreds of lives, first in Yelwa in February 2004 with the massacre of about 100 Christians, 67 of them in COCIN Church Yelwa, and reprisal killings by Christians who massacred between 650 and 700 Muslims in May 2004.[85] According to a report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in February 2004, more than 250,000 people were internally displaced due to religious violence in Plateau state.[86] The spiralling violence only experienced a lull in 2004 following a declaration of a state of emergency and the suspension of the government by President Obasanjo. Between 1999 and 2010, up to 10,000 Nigerians were killed in religious violence.[87] It is important to note that these violent conflicts are often disguised ethnic struggle for ascendancy between the various ethnic groups in the region. As articulated by Ojie and Ewhrudjakpor: ‘From the Jos city tragedy to the recent killings in the adjoining towns and villages, the state has been engulfed for just one reason: the battle for supremacy between Hausa and Fulani settlers and the indigenes. And this has been largely exploited by religious bigots and political jobbers.’[88] The net effect of this sectarian violence lies in the bringing about of further homogenisation of societal lines of segmentation.

Case Study: Boko Haram and Militant Religiosity

In recent years, no religious group has posed greater threat to Nigeria’s peace and unity than Boko Haram or, as the group officially calls itself, Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’Wati wal Jihad (‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’). Since July 2009, this  radical Islamist group based in northern Nigeria has been responsible for more terrorist attacks and casualties in Nigeria than all other militant groups combined.[89] Human rights organisations report that attacks by the group has claimed over 5,000 lives in the past three years, with the death toll rising almost daily.[90] The group’s increasingly coordinated attacks are specifically targeted at Nigeria’s ethno-religious fault-lines in an escalating bid to hurt the nation’s stability. In particular, a spate of attacks against churches from December 2011 through July 2012 suggests ‘a strategy of provocation’ through which the group seeks to ‘spark a large scale of sectarian conflict that will destabilize the country’.[91] But who is Boko Haram?

The concept of Boko Haram is etymologically derived from a combination of the Hausa word for book, ‘boko,’ and the Arabic word for forbidden, ‘haram.’ Thus, Boko Haram means ‘Western education is forbidden.’ It is important to clarify that in Hausa the word ‘boko’ originally had the sense of ‘false’ and ‘duplicitous.’ It certainly has come to mean ‘book’ in recent times but only with regard to books of Western provenance as they contain material that runs contrary to Islam and, therefore, ‘boko.’ The group itself rejects the designation ‘Western education is forbidden.’ Instead, it prefers ‘Western culture is forbidden.’ The difference, according to one of its senior leaders, is that ‘while the first gives the impression that we are opposed to formal education coming from the West… which is not true, the second affirms our belief in the supremacy of Islamic culture (not education), for culture is broader, it includes education but not determined by Western education’.[92] According to Isa, Boko Haram implies a ‘sense of rejection’ and ‘resistance to imposition of Western [culture] and its system of colonial social organisation, which replaced and degraded the earlier Islamic order of the jihadist state.’[93]

Boko Haram was first led by Mohammed Yusuf until he was killed by state security forces just after the sectarian violence in Nigeria in July 2009 which claimed over 1000 lives.[94] Yusuf was born on 29 January 1970 in Girgir village, Yobe State, Nigeria. Yusuf established a religious complex in his hometown that included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria and from neighbouring countries enrolled their children. However, the centre had ulterior political goals and soon it was also working as a recruiting ground for future jihadists to fight the state. The group includes members who came from neighbouring Chad and Niger and speak only Arabic. Boko Haram was able to attract more than 280,000 members across northern Nigeria as well as in Chad and Niger Republic. Members of Boko Haram comprise university lecturers, bankers, political elites, drug addicts, unemployed graduates, almajiris, and migrants from neighbouring countries.[95] The group’s members are also predominantly drawn from the Kanuri tribe – roughly 4 percent of the population – who are located in the north-eastern states of Nigeria like Bauchi and Borno, and the Hausa-Fulani (29 percent of the population), spread more generally throughout most of the northern states.[96] In 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan warned that Boko Haram members were present at all levels of government.[97]

As early as 2004, the first followers of Mohammed Yusuf adduced corruption and poor governance as motivation for their actions.[98] One of Yusuf’s followers, arrested in January 2004, told a journalist: ‘Our group has definitely suffered a setback, but our objective of fighting corruption by institutionalizing Islamic government must be achieved very soon’.[99] In addition, Boko Haram leaders blame Western influence in Nigeria for corrupting the country’s leaders and corroding the criminal justice system.[100] Embedded in deep tradition of Islamism, the Boko Haram ideology is but one of several variants of radical Islamism to have emerged in Northern Nigeria.  Its adherents are purportedly influenced by the scriptural phrase:  ‘Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors’.[101] Boko Haram is vehemently opposed to what it sees as Western-based incursion that erodes traditional values, beliefs, and customs among Muslim communities in northern Nigeria. Mohammed Yusuf, told the BBC in 2009: ‘Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam’.[102] Elsewhere, the charismatic leader declared: ‘Our land was an Islamic state before the colonial masters turned it to a kafir [infidel] land.  The current system is contrary to true Islamic beliefs’.[103]

Boko Haram became a full-fledged insurgency following violent clashes in 2009 between the Islamist group and the state’s security agency in Bauchi charged with the responsibility of enforcing a new law of wearing crash-helmets by motorcyclists in the country. The confrontation began on June 11 in Maiduguri when the security agency and participants in a Boko Haram funeral procession clashed over mourners’ refusal to wear motorcycle helmets. Members of an anti-robbery task force comprised of military and police personnel opened fire on the procession, killing 17 Boko Haram members.[104] Mohammed Yusuf demanded justice, but ‘the authorities neither investigated the alleged excessive use of force nor apologized for the shooting’.[105] On 21 July, the group’s hideout in Bauchi was also ransacked by the state security forces and materials for making explosives were confiscated.[106] Following this crackdown, the group mobilized its members for reprisal attacks. On 26 July, Boko Haram members burned down a police station in Dutsen Tanshi, on the outskirts of Bauchi, resulting in the death of five Boko Haram members and several police officers were injured.[107]

In response, the military and police raided a mosque and home in Bauchi where Boko Haram members had regrouped, killing dozens of the group’s members. The police reported that 52 Boko Haram members, two police officers, and a solider were killed in the violence in Bauchi.[108] Boko Haram retaliated by launching coordinated attacks across Maiduguri that night, attacking the police stations and homes of police officers (including retired officers). They torched churches and raided the main prison—freeing inmates and killing prison guards.[109] In response, on July 28 and 29 Yusuf’s compound was shelled by the Nigerian army and many of his followers were arrested, with at least several dozen killed in police custody.[110] On July 29, in Postiskum, state security forces also raided the group’s hideout on the outskirts of town, killing at least 43 of Yusuf’s followers.[111] The riot was temporarily quelled on July 30 after Nigerian forces captured, and later killed, Mohammed Yusuf who was found hiding in his father-in-law’s goat pen .[112] Following Yusuf’s death, and the arrest of several of his followers, the group went underground for a while.

For many Boko Haram members, the extrajudicial killing of their founder was the catalyst event that served to foment pre-existing animosities toward state security forces. In a video that was released in June 2010, Abubakar Shekau – Yusuf’s second-in-command – announced that he had taken over leadership of the group and vowed to avenge the deaths of its members.[113] In September 2010, a Boko Haram member told the BBC’s Hausa radio service that ‘we are on a revenge mission as most of our members were killed by the police’.[114] In November 2011, during the trial of six Boko Haram suspects, one of the group members told the court that their mission was to avenge Yusuf’s death.[115]  Boko Haram followed through on its revenge mission by bombing the police headquarters and the United Nations Headquarters (Abuja) in June 2011 and August 2011 respectively.[116] The group used petrol bombs, improvised explosive devices, car suicide bombing, and armed assaults in these renewed violent attacks.[117] Notably, between January and September 2012, at least 119 police officers were killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks, more than in all of 2010 and 2011 combined.[118] According to Boko Haram leaders, these wave of attacks are a direct response to the extrajudicial killings by the police of Mohammed Yusuf and Boko Haram members, as well as for ongoing police abuses including ‘arbitrary arrest,’ ‘torture,’ and the ‘persecution’ of its members.[119] In a video message posted online in January 2012, Shekau stated: ‘Everyone has seen what the security personnel have done to us. Everyone has seen why we are fighting with them’.[120] The violent attacks are also connected to the overriding demands of Boko Haram which includes the immediate release of all its prisoners and the prosecution of those responsible for the killing of their leader. Most importantly, the group wants the Sharia law to become the supreme law of the land.[121] On December 26, 2011, the day after Boko Haram’s bombing of a church in Madalla, Niger State, the group’s spokesperson Abu Qaqa avowed: ‘There will never be peace until our demands are met’.[122]

It is instructive to note that Boko Haram is not a monolithic entity with a unified purpose. There are separate factions within the movement who disagree about tactics and strategic directions; jostling at times for attention and followers.[123] A recent U.S. House of Representatives report suggested that one faction of the group may be focused on domestic issues and another on violent international extremism. Another report indicated that the group may have even split into three factions: one that remains moderate and welcomes an end to the violence; another that wants a peace agreement; and a third that refuses to negotiate and wants to implement strict Sharia law across Nigeria.[124] In July 2011, a group calling itself the Yusufiyya Islamic Movement distributed leaflets widely in Maiduguri denouncing other Boko Haram factions as ‘evil.’[125]

In 2012, a splinter group of Boko Haram, known as Jama’at Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilad al-Sudan, or ‘Supporters of Islam in the Land of Sudan,’ emerged in northern Nigeria, led by a man that goes by the pseudonym Abu Usamatul Ansar. The group, commonly known as Ansaru, announced that it had split from Boko Haram in January 26, 2012, claiming that Boko Haram was ‘inhuman’ for killing innocent Muslims as well as for targeting defectors.[126] This announcement came six days after Boko Haram attacked government officers in Kano, leaving more than 150 civilians dead, mostly Muslims.[127] Ansaru has pledged to defend the interests of Muslims in Africa, claiming a different understanding of Jihad. In a video posted on the internet, the jihadist splinter group announced that they will not target non-Muslims except ‘in self-defence or if they attack Muslims’.[128] Ansaru’s faceless leader noted that one of the group’s main goals is ‘restoring the dignity of the Muslims as it was in the time of the Caliphate… [and] the method of achieving these aims and goals is “jihad”’.[129] In 2012, Ansaru kidnapped, and later killed, seven foreigners from Britain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, and the Philippines. According to a statement allegedly released by the group, the kidnappings were a response to alleged attacks against Islam by European countries in “many places such as Afghanistan and Mali etc’.[130]

Given their large-scale attacks that have spread serious ripples beyond the shores of Nigeria, there is no doubt that Boko Haram’s activities have generated a psychological impact that transcends the actual physical damage caused. The group’s increasing sophistication of attacks and its adoption of suicide car bombings may be a sign that Boko Haram is receiving tactical and operational assistance from global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Somali-based al-Shabaab. Indeed, on 24 November a spokesman for Boko Haram, Abul Qaqa, confirmed what many had long suspected: ‘It is true that we have links with al-Qaeda. They assist us and we assist them’.[131] Boko Haram has also admitted to establishing links in Somali. A statement allegedly released by the group read: ‘very soon, we will wage jihad…We want to make it known that our jihadists have arrived in Nigeria from Somalia where they received real training on warfare from our brethren who made that country ungovernable…This time round, our attacks will be fiercer and wider than they have been’.[132] Members of Boko Haram are known to have fought in Mali alongside groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. Boko Haram members were reported to have been significantly involved in an April 2012 invasion of the Algerian embassy in the Malian city of Gao, which resulted in the hostage-taking of seven Algerian diplomats.[133] A local official in Mali confirmed that ‘there are a good 100 Boko Haram fighters in Gao. They are Nigerians and from Nigeria… they’re not hiding. Some are even able to speak in the local tongue, explaining that they are Boko Haram’ [134] In August 2011 General Carter Ham, Commander of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), claimed that al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab are financing Boko Haram and also said both global Jihadist-terrorist groups shared training and fighters with Boko Haram. He described that as ‘the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well’.[135] In November of that year, Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said he had ‘no doubts that coordination exists between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda,’ citing intelligence reports and common operating methods (ibid).

In association with Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram could pose a major threat not only to Nigeria, but also transnationally since Nigeria is the world’s eighth largest oil producer. Since AQIM has attacked UN targets in Algeria, and al-Shabaab has attacked UN targets in Somalia, Boko Haram’s decision to attack the UN building in Abuja is unlikely to be a coincidence. This attack on a distinctly non-Nigerian target was a first for Boko Haram, and may indicate ‘a major shift in its ideology and strategic goals’ (Forest, 2012: 81). Mindful of this transnational threat, on June 21, 2012, the US State Department added the group’s most visible leader, Abubakar Shekau, to the list of specially designated global terrorists. Khalid al Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kamba were also included in the list because of their ties to Boko Haram and close links with Al-Qaeda. The designation ‘blocks all of Shekau’s, Kambar’s and al-Barnawi’s property interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals’ (US Department of State, June 21, 2012). The media note also reads: ‘These designations demonstrate the United States’ resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks’ (ibid). The Obama administration also announced a $7 million bounty for the capture of BH leader Abubakar Shekau, putting him in the top echelon of wanted jihadist commanders (ibid). Four other al-Qaeda leaders in Africa where also included in the ‘Rewards for Justice’ list. The US State Department noted that that BH and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are cooperating to ‘strengthen Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks’.[136] On November 13, 2013, the US Department of State, following the examples of Nigeria and the UK, finally designated Boko Haram and its splinter group Ansaru as ‘Foreign Terrorist Organisation’ and ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’.[137]

While the overriding goal of Boko Haram is to create a fully Islamic state of Nigeria under a strict form of sharia law, the cocktail of corruption, poverty, inequality, and unemployment in northern Nigeria continues to fuel members of the group.[138] According to Isa, Boko Haram communities have been wrecked by ‘poverty, deteriorating social services and infrastructure, educational backwardness, rising numbers of unemployed graduates, massive numbers of unemployed youths, dwindling fortunes in agriculture… and the weak and dwindling productive base of the northern economy.’[139] According to a recent report on northern Nigeria by Human Rights Watch, unemployment, lack of economic opportunities and wealth inequalities are a source of deep frustration in many parts of the restive region.[140] According to the National Bureau Statistics report, the highest poverty rate of 64.8 percent is recorded in the northeast, followed by 61.2 percent in the northwest. On the other hand, the lowest rate of 31.2 percent is recorded in the southeast, followed by 40.2 percent in the southwest.[141] The report further shows that 70 percent of Nigerians in northeast Nigeria survive on less than one dollar a day, vis-à-vis 50 and 59 percent in southwest and southeast Nigeria.[142] Thus, Sope Williams Elegbe, Research Director of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), argues that:

The increasing poverty in Nigeria is accompanied by increasing unemployment. Unemployment is higher in the north than in the south. Mix this situation with radical Islam, which promises a better life for martyrs, and you can understand the growing violence in the north. Government statistics show that the northern states have the highest proportion of uneducated persons. If you link a lack of education and attendant lack of opportunities to a high male youth population, you can imagine that some areas are actually a breeding ground for terrorism [143]

The link between the rise of terrorism and socio-economic underdevelopment has been criticised as simplistic because it fails to explain why some poor places do not engage in collective violence. Another criticism is submitted by Tim Krieger and Daniel Meierriek in their recent empirical research. In their work entitled ‘What Causes Terrorism?’ the duo examines a host of possible influences on terrorism including global order, contagion, modernization, institutional order, identity conflict, inter alia.[144] Following a detailed review of the relevant empirical literature on terrorism causes they conclude that ‘there is only limited evidence to support the hypothesis that economic deprivation causes terrorism… poor economic conditions matter less to terrorism once it is controlled for institutional and political factors’.[145] Instead, they argue that terrorism is closely linked to political instability, sharp divides within the populace, country size and further demographic, institutional and international factors.[146]

While acknowledging the skilful way in which Boko Haram has exploited and harnessed the extant circumstances of relative deprivation and political grievance in northern Nigeria to promote its vision to turn Nigeria into a fully Islamic state, this paper argues that the ultra-violent turn of Boko Haram must be traced back to the extrajudicial killing of its leader, Muhammed Yusuf, and the ongoing arbitrary arrest, torture and bloodletting of its members. Until 2009 Boko Haram was seen as radical, but not ultra-violent.[147] The killing of Yusuf while in police custody ‘provoked a staunch reaction from Boko Haram members who primarily want to settle their scores with the police and army’.[148] In a video that was released in June 2010, Abubakar Shekau – the group’s current leader – vowed to avenge the deaths of its members. In a typical Al-Qaeda-style video, Shekau said: ‘Do not think Jihad is over: Rather Jihad has just began’.[149]

Conclusion: The Dynamics of State Response

Since the early 1980s, the Nigerian government has taken a number of constitutional, legislative and policy measures to manage the incidence of religious identity conflict and sectarian violence. These measures include: (1) the exclusion of religion as an index in the design, conduct and reporting of national population census; (2) the promotion of inter-faith cooperation and dialogue through the establishment of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in 2000; (3) the constitutional establishment of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) to prevent the predominance of one religious group in all government institutions; (4) the political application of the principle of power sharing between the north and south as well as Christian and Muslims; (5) non-registration of political parties with ethnic or religious overtones; and (6) prohibition of registration of banks with religious appellations.[150] Despite these measures, religiously inspired violence has raged on especially in northern Nigeria and remains arguably one of the biggest security challenges facing Nigeria today. One of the key reasons why management measures have emphatically failed to rein in religious identity conflict is due to the highly militarised nature of the Nigerian state. The military ruled Nigeria for nearly 30 of its first 40 years of independence. According to Ekineh, ‘No other country in Africa has been coercively dominated for so long a period by their own military as the people of Nigeria.’[151] According to the late Nigerian scholar Claude Ake, ‘More often than not, the post-colonial state in Nigeria presented itself as an apparatus of violence, and while its base in social forces remained extremely narrow it relied unduly on coercion for compliance, rather than authority.’[152] The culture of militarism implanted by the Nigerian state has been reproduced by virtually all resistant groups in the country.[153]

Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that the Nigerian state seems to favour short-term measures aimed at repressing violent religious tendencies in lieu of a non-killing conflict management approach that is open to political dialogue or manoeuvre.[154] Hence state responses have remained inchoate, uncoordinated, incendiary and ultimately counterproductive. In the name of restoring order and eliminating the security threat of Boko Haram, for example, the Nigerian state established a special Joint Military Task Force (JTF) which has been implicated in horrific human rights violations in northern communities. According to Human Rights Watch:

During raids in communities, often in the aftermath of Boko Haram attacks, members of the security forces have executed men in front of their families; arbitrarily arrested or beaten members of the community; burned houses, shops, and cars; stolen money while searching homes; and, in at least one case, raped a woman. [In addition] Government security agencies routinely hold suspects incommunicado without charge or trial in secret detention facilities and have subjected detainees to torture or other physical abuse’.[155]

In Bornu State, for example, JTF resorted to extra-legal killings, dragnet arrests and intimidation of hapless residents. According to Hussein, ‘Far from conducting intelligence-driven operations, the JTF simply cordoned off areas and carried out house-to-house searches, at times shooting young men in these homes.’ [156] In Maiduguri, residents complain that: ‘During raids into communities soldiers have set fire to houses, shops, and cars, randomly arrested men from the neighbourhood, and in some cases executed them in front of their shops or houses’.[157] In the most recent crossfire between members of the JTF and BH in Baga, a village on Lake Chad near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, up to 187 people were killed and 77 others injured. But Baga residents have accused the JTF, not Boko Haram, of firing indiscriminately at civilians and setting fire on much of the historically fishing town.[158] The Nigerian authorities have rarely brought any to justice for these crimes against civilians. According to Keller, ‘An overreliance on intimidatory techniques not only present the image of a state which is low in legitimacy and desperately struggling to survive, but also in the long run can do more to threaten state coherence than to aid it.’[159]

As fighting intensifies between the JTF and Boko Haram, the indiscriminate use of force by both sides is contributing to a rising number of deaths as civilians in northern Nigeria continue to face potential mass atrocity crimes. Already, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have announced that over 6,200 refugees have arrived in Niger from northern Nigeria fearing retaliatory attacks and general insecurity as a result of intensified state offensive against Boko Haram.[160] Unfortunately, the few attempts at negotiating with Boko Haram, including the recent amnesty offer extended to its members, have stalled due to distrust on both sides, and the factionalized leadership of Boko Haram’s different cells. The growing frustration of the Nigerian government with the deteriorating security situation in northern Nigeria is evident in its carrot and stick approach, from amnesty talks to the deployment of troops and the declaration of outright war on Boko Haram.[161] According to one leading human rights activist in northern Nigeria, ‘You can’t talk of peace on one hand and be deploying troops on the other’.[162]

The militarised approach of the Nigerian government appears to be further radicalising Boko Haram members. In recent attacks, alleged Boko Haram extremists attacked a boarding school in Potiskum (northeastern Nigeria) before dawn, killing 41 people (29 students were burned alive) and torching university administrative blocks and hostels. Following the violent attacks, Abubakar Shekau, the group’s current leader, released a 15-minute video on Youtube calling for more similar attacks. Shekau warned: ‘School teachers who are teaching Western education: We will kill them! We will kill them!’.[163] Shekau also denied he is negotiating a ceasefire with the Nigerian government: ‘We will not enter into any agreement with non-believers or the Nigerian government,’ he said, adding that ‘The Quran teaches that we must shun democracy, we must shun Western education, and we must shun the constitution’.[164] October 2014 marks six months since Boko Haram abducted over two hundred schoolgirls from Chibok, in Borno State. The Chibok girls, kidnapped on April 14, have not been rescued yet. This is despite efforts by the US, the UK, France, China and Israel to support Nigeria’s efforts to turn the tide of the insurgency and rescue the Chibok girls being held hostage in the forest of Sambisa.[165]

If the Nigerian government is to leave a dent on the solid walls of sectarianism and militant religiosity in the country, it must invest in inter-religious dialogues between leaders and followers of the two predominant religions in the country, namely Islam and Christianity. Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is vital because it will help clear the cloud of misunderstanding and create a better ambience of mutual enrichment. Moreover, all religious communities must understand that there is no alternative to inter-faith dialogue, as there can never be a universal religion or an exclusive society for adherents of a particular religion. Also, Christian and Muslim religious education should be tailored in such a way as to eschew the exclusive teaching of dogmatic Christian and Islamic doctrines and foster mutual respect, tolerance and amity.

In addition, there is an urgent need for Christian and Muslim leaders in Nigeria to join together to publicly denounce all forms of religious intolerance and sectarian violence and encourage, through their sermons, the need for religious harmony and tolerance of other faiths. Also, the Nigerian state should establish a comprehensive ‘Religious Conflicts and Early Warning System’ that would configure an intelligence gathering and evaluation system on religious identity violence, and also design the means to its timely containment through preventive dialogue. Finally, to achieve sustainable peace in northern Nigeria, the government should devise a sound socio-economic strategy that not only meaningfully addresses the problem of political corruption stemming from interreligious and interethnic rivalry aimed at the control of the state machinery for private or sectarian interests, but also incorporates development, security, and respect of the human rights of the citizenry, including those of alleged Boko Haram members. Unless the physical and social wellbeing of the individual is sufficiently protected within the state, and unless the state refrains from the unjust use of hard power, national peace and unity will continue to hang by a thread, with grave ramifications for Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Daniel E. Agbiboa is a Doctoral Scholar in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK. He works as a Senior Consultant for the African Union Commission (AUC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Transparency International, UK. His research interests are in the field of corruption, security and development in sub-Saharan Africa. His writings have appeared in over 40 major peer-reviewed journals, including Third World Quarterly, Review of African Political Economy; Australian Journal of International Affairs, Conflict, Security and Development, Peace Research, and Journal of Asian and African Studies.

[1] Osaghae and Suberu, “A History of Identities”, 9.

[2] Oyediran and Agbaje, Nigeria: Politics of Transition and Governance; Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus”.

[3] Agbiboa, “Ethno-Religious Conflict and the Elusive Quest”, 3-30.

[4] Ake, “The State in Contemporary Africa”, 16.

[5] Ehusani, Inter-Religious Dialogues in Nigeria, 1.

[6] Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, 7.

[7] Kimball, When Religion becomes Evil, 1.

[8] McGuire, Religion: The Social Context, 3.

[9] Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”, 436

[10] Eitzen and Zinn, “Religion”, 487.

[11] See Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Exploring the Nexus”; Agbiboa,  “Ethno-Religious Conflict and the Elusive Quest”.

[12] Barnard, “The Role of Religion in African Conflicts”.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis, 18.

[15] Alubo, Citizenship and Identity Politics in Nigeria.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred; Parekh, “The Voice of Religion”.

[18] Appleby, “Religion as an Agent of Conflict Transformation”, 821.

[19] Parekh, “The Voice of Religion”, 72.

[20] Agi, “Religion and the Consolidation of Democracy”, 132.

[21] Seul, “Ours is the Way of God”, 565.

[22] Svensson and Harding, “How Holy Wars End”, 135; Horowitz, “Long Time Going”, 172.

[23] Anderson, “Religion and Violence”.

[24] Fearon and Laitin, “Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity”.

[25] Keddie, “The New Religious Politics”.

[26] Rapoport, “Fear and Trembling”, 658-677.

[27] Gunning and Jackson, “What’s so ‘Religious’ about ‘Religious Conflicts’”.

[28] Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God; Cronin, “Behind the Curve”; Byman, “AL-Qaeda as an Adversary”; Benjamin, “Strategic Counterterrorism”.

[29] Berman and Laitin, “Hard Targets”; Ranstorp, “Terrorism in the Name of Religion”; Piazza, “Is Islamist Terrorism more Dangerous”.

[30] Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 88.

[31] Ranstorp, “Terrorism in the Name of Religion”, 54.

[32] Gunning and Jackson, “What’s so ‘Religious’ about ‘Religious Conflicts’”.

[33] Hoffman, Inside Terrorism.

[34] Romero, “The Different Faces of Islamic Terrorism”, 445.

[35] Rapoport, “Sacred Terror”; Juergensmeyer, “Terror in the Mind of God”; Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”.

[36] Terrorism Knowledge Base, (accessed 10 April 2014).

[37] Piazza, “Is Islamic Terrorism more Dangerous”, 66.

[38] Ibid, 65.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Crowder, The Story of Nigeria; Falola, Violence in Nigeria; Meredith, The State of Africa.

[41] The concept of jihad is a central tenet in Islam. Contrary to misinterpretations common in the West, the term literally means a sacred struggle or effort rather than an armed conflict or fanatical holy war.

[42] Hickey, “The 1982 Maitatsine Uprising”;  Adesoji, “Between Maitatsine and Boko Haram”.

[43] Hiskett, The Sword of Truth.

[44] Isa, “Militant Islamist Groups in Northern Nigeria”; Ekot, “Conflict, Religion and Ethnicity”.

[45] Crowder, The Story of Nigeria.

[46] Udoidem, “Religion in the Political Life of Nigeria”, 156.

[47] Agbiboa, “Ethno-Religious Conflicts and the Elusive Quest”.

[48] Ezeanokwasa, “Islamic Banking”.

[49] Agbiboa, “Ethno-Religious Conflicts and the Elusive Quest”, 21.

[50] International Crisis Group (ICG), “Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict”.

[51] Falola, Violence in Nigeria; Adesoji, “Between Maitatsine and Boko Haram”.

[52] Agbiboa, “Why Boko Haram Exists”.

[53] Meredith, The State of Africa, 76.

[54] ICG, “Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict”; Falola, Violence in Nigeria.

[55] Meredith, The Story of Nigeria.

[56] Falola, Violence in Nigeria.

[57] Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus”.

[58] Kenny, “Sharia and Christianity in Nigeria”; Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus”.

[59] Ekot, “Conflict, Religion and Ethnicity”, 57.

[60] Udoidem, “Religion in the Political Life of Nigeria.”

[61] Ekot, “Conflict, Religion and Ethnicity”, 57.

[62] Kenny, “Sharia and Christianity in Nigeria”; Meredith, The Story of Nigeria.

[63] Falola, Violence in Nigeria.

[64] Maitatsine is a Hausa word meaning ‘the one who curses’ and refers to his curse-laden public speeches against the Nigerian state. See Adesoji, “Between Boko Haram and Maitatsine”.

[65] Although a Koranic scholar, he seemingly rejected the hadith and the sunnah and regarded the reading of any other book but the Koran as paganism. Maitatsine spoke against the use of radios, watches, bicycles, cars and the possession of more money than necessary. In 1979, he even rejected the prophethood of Mohammed and portrayed himself as an annabi (Hausa for ‘prophet’).

[66] A mujaddid according to the popular Muslim tradition, refers to a person who appears at the turn of every century of the Islamic calendar to revive Islam, remove from it any extraneous elements and restore it to its pristine purity. A mujaddid might be a caliph, a saint (wali), a prominent teacher, a scholar or some other kind of influential person.

[67] Adesoji, “Between Boko Haram and Maitatsine”.

[68] Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Spiralling Violence”, 22.

[69] Hickey, “The 1982 Maitatsine Uprising”, 253.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”.

[72] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”.

[73] Ibid.

[74] ICG, “Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict”.

[75] Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus”.

[76] Agbiboa, “Why Boko Haram Exists”.

[77] Duruji, “Democracy and the Challenge of Ethno-Nationalism”, 92.

[78] Ilesanmi, “Constitutional Treatment of Religion”.

[79] Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus.”

[80] Ibid.

[81] Kenny, “Sharia and Christianity in Nigeria”.

[82] Officials in Nigeria tend to use the slippery term ‘indigene’ to limit access to public resources, such as land, schools, and government jobs. In effect, the population of every state and Local Government Area (LGA) in Nigeria is divided into indigenes (defined as earliest extant occupiers or the recognised original inhabitants) and settlers (people who cannot trace their roots back to earlier times). Settlers can still be Nigerian citizens, and thus are not completely stateless. But discrimination against them can provoke major violence.

[83] Ostein, “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa”, 1.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Agbiboa, “Why Boko Exists”.

[86] Cited in Meredith, The Story of Nigeria, 187.

[87] Agbiboa and Okem, “Unholy Trinity: Assessing the Nexus”.

[88] Ojie and Ewhrudjakpor, “Ethnic Diversity and Public Policies”, 7.

[89] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”; HRW, “Spiralling Violence”.

[90] Agbiboa, “No Retreat, No Surrender”.

[91] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”, 15.

[92] Cited in Onuoha, “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Extremist Islamist Sect”, 1-2.

[93] Isa, “Militant Islamist Groups in Northern Nigeria”, 322.

[94] Umar, The Discourses of Salafi Radicalism.

[95] Uzodike and Maiangwa, “Boko Haram Terrorism in Nigeria”.

[96] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”.

[97] Agbiboa, “No Retreat, No Surrender”.

[98] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”; Mustapha, “Boko Haram: Killing in God’s Name”.

[99] “Detained Nigeria Militant Pledges Islamic Struggle”, Reuters, 13 January, 2004.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Thurston, “A Threat of Militancy in Nigeria”.

[102] “Nigeria’s Taliban Enigma”, BBC News Online, 31 July 2009. (last accessed 11 April 2014).

[103] “Nigeria: Boko Haram Sect Leader Ustaz Mohammed Vows Revenge”. Daily Trust, 27 July 2009.

[104] Kwaru and Salkida, “Funeral Procession Tragedy”.

[105] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”, 33.

[106] Uzodike and Maiangwa, “Boko Haram Terrorism in Nigeria”.

[107] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”; HRW, “Spiralling Violence”.

[108] Abubakar, “Forty-two Dead as ‘Taliban Sect’, Police Clash in Nigeria”, AFP, 26 July 2009.

[109] Salkida, “Sect Leader Vows Revenge”, Daily Trust (Abuja), July 27 2009.

[110] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”.

[111] Mukairu and Muhammad, “Another 43 Islamic Fanatics Killed in Yobe”, Vanguard (Lagos). 30 July 2009.

[112] Houreld, “Muslim Clerics say Authorities Ignored Warnings before Nigeria Clashes Killed 700”, The Associated Press, 2 August 2009.

[113] Pindiga and Gusau, “Dead Boko Haram Leader Re-Emerges in New Video”, Daily Trust (Abuja), 1 July 2010.

[114] Olugbode, “Boko Haram Claims Killings in Borno”, This Day (Lagos), 22 September 2010.

[115] Nwochiri, “We are on a Revenge Mission: Boko Haram Suspects Tells Court”, Vanguard (Lagos), 25 November 2011.

[116] Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”.

[117] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Idris, “Boko Haram Claims Responsibility”, Weekly Trust (Abuja), 21 January 2012.

[120] “Video: Boko Haram Leader ‘Imam Abubakar Shekau’ Message to President Jonathan”, Sahara Reporters, 12 January 2012. (last accessed 11 April 2014).

[121] Onuoha, “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Extremist Islamic Sect”.

[122] Jimoh, Olaniyi Agbese, and Idris, “Suicide Bombers Spoil Christmas”, Daily Trust (Abuja), 26 December 2011.

[123] Agbiboa, “Why Boko Haram Exists”.

[124] Forest, “Confronting the Terrorism of Boko Haram”.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Agbiboa, “No Retreat, No Surrender”.

[127] Ibid.

[128] “New Islamic Group Emerges in Nigeria: Claims Different ‘Understanding’ of Jihad”. Al Arabiya News, 27 May 2013.

[129] Ibid.

[130] Roggio, “Boko Haram Leader Praises Al-Qaeda’s Leaders”.

[131] Chothia, “Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram?” BBC News, 26 August 2011.

[132] Zimmerman, “From Somalia to Nigeria”.

[133] Agbiboa, “No Retreat, No Surrender.”

[134] Ibid.

[135] IISS, “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Growing New Headache”, 1-3.

[136] Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”, 6.

[137] Agbiboa, “Boko-Haram and the Global Jihad”.

[138] Mustapha, “Boko Haram: Killing in God’s Name”.

[139] Isa, “Militant Islamists Groups  in Northern Nigeria”, 329.

[140] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”.

[141] National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), “Nigeria’s Poverty Profile, 2010”.

[142] Ibid.

[143] Cited in Oxford Research Group, “Nigeria: The Generic Context”, 4.

[144] Krieger and Meierriek, “What Causes Terrorism?” 3. It is important to note that the focus of Krieger and Meierriek was essentially on global (or transnational) terrorism in lieu of domestic (or sub-state) terrorism.

[145] Ibid.

[146] Ibid.

[147] Onuoha, “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Extremist Islamic Sect”.

[148] Marchal, “Boko Haram and the Resilience of Militant Islam”, 2.

[149] Agbiboa, “Boko-Haram and the Global Jihad”.

[150] Kwaja, “Strategies for [Re]Building State Capacity”, 112.

[151] Ekineh, Nigeria: Foundations of Disintegration, 272.

[152] Ake, “The State in Contemporary Africa”, 155

[153] Adejumobi, “Ethnic Militia Groups and the National Question”.

[154] Agbiboa and Maiangwa, “Boko Haram and Current Religious Violence in Nigeria”.

[155] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”, 58.

[156] Hussein, “Counter-Terrorism in Nigeria”, 9.

[157] HRW, “Spiralling Violence”, 60.

[158] Chilles, “After Rejecting Nigeria’s Amnesty Offer: Boko Haram Continues to Kill”, Blackstar, 23 March 2013.

[159] Keller, “The State, Public Policy and the Mediation of Ethnic Conflict”, 274.

[160] Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”.

[161] Thurston, “Amnesty for Boko Haram”.

[162] Agbiboa, “Sacrilege of the Sacred”, 6.

[163] Ibid.

[164] Ibid.

[165] Agbiboa, “Silencing the Guns”.


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