When I decided to move to Nigeria I knew that it wasn’t the ‘safest’ of destinations. I know my family and friends worry about my safety here but in all reality I deal very little with the threat of violence and danger. This is part of the beauty of working in one of the safest states as well as living in a village ruled by Chiefs.
Though my particular situation is very safe, there are many places in Nigeria that are unstable and threatened. It doesn’t help that the country is basically divided into two: Christian/developed south and the Muslim/poor north. Although I have never gone to the north, the differences are apparent even by the attitude and customs of those who have emigrated to the south. My trip to Abuja gave me a different perspective as well. It was the first place I visited here with distinct Islamic flavor though there was still a balance of Christian influence). People’s long gowns, elegant mosques and Arabic script all indicated that I was far from home. From what I have heard, the north is severely more impoverished than the south and historically they have felt like the government neglected the region.
In 2002, Usatz Mohammed Yusuf founded Boko Haram. Boko Haram is is a Nigerian Islamist group that seeks the imposition of Shariah law in all of Nigeria. The name ‘Boko Haram’ is a fusion of the native Hausa language (Boko, meaning Animist, western or otherwise non-Islamic education) and Arabic (Haram, meaning sin). It should be noted that most of the northern states already enforce Shariah law. This group rejects modern ‘western’ technology, western education, voting in elections and even pants and t-shirts. Although the northern states enforce Shariah law, this is not enough for Boko Haram because they believe Nigeria is run by ‘non believers’. Obviously this group is pretty extreme.
Although the group was formed in 2002, it was not very active until recently. In 2009 there was a clash with police forces that killed over 700 people. Since then there has been a steady stream of bombings, assassinations and threats throughout the northern states. Boko Haram’s activities really picked up steam during the presidential elections this year resulting in the bombing of several polling stations. They seem particularly fond of bombing police stations, freeing prisoners and bombing political events. The majority of these attacks take place in the city of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State (the most north eastern of Nigerian states). Most of you readers probably became familiar with Boko Haram when they bombed the UN headquarters in Abuja in August. This attack was the furthest south the attacks had reached. It does concern me a bit because most of the attacks before the UN bombing tended to be ‘inhouse’, dealing with the internal politics of Nigeria. This last weekend, another series of attacks resulted in about 70 people dead in Borno and Yobe state.
It is quite difficult to deal with Boko Haram because they don’t currently have any central leadership. I often feel that any attack in the north gets credited to Boko Haram though it’s becoming apparent that they increasingly unifying themselves. I have heard that members of Boko Haram receive training from Al Qaeda, that Nigerian government officials sponsor them, that they don’t represent the majority of Muslims in the north, etc. It’s hard for me to comment on the situation as a whole because I have no experience with the culture in the north and Islamic culture. What I do know is that religion can be used to manipulate people who are very poor. I think that if Nigeria had properly developed the north in the first place (education, health centers, etc) they wouldn’t be receiving so much resistance. But because they have provided very little, young and desperate youths are taking up with religious fanaticism and extremism. It will be interesting to see how the government responds to all of this. I think pre-election times they were a bit unconcerned because it seemed to be isolated to the north east of Nigeria. But now that the international audience is taking note and links to Al Qaeda are being established, it will force the government to show some type of competency dealing with this issue.