The history of Nigeria is replete with incidents of religious-related violence meted out on Christians and non-muslims through well coordinated attacks sponsored by unseen northern elements. Such violent Islamic jihadist activities which are nothing short of unbridled acts of terrorism have continued to escalate in recent times. There is hardly any year that passes without heralding one form of mayhem or the other unleashed against helpless Christians who reside in the Muslim-dominated northern parts of the country. This tendency is now exacerbated by a recent
trend where so called Fulani herdsmen wipe out entire communities and commit other heinous acts of violence, not only in the northern parts of Nigeria, but also nationwide. This new trend is a very efficient mechanism for actualizing the long-held ambition of the core north to Islamize the whole of Nigeria.
The two major religions in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam, were both introduced into the country by foreign colonialists and invaders – mainly the British, the Irish and Islamic invaders from other parts of West Africa and across the Sahara Desert . There are, however, some Nigerians who still retain their traditional faith : these are in the minority when compared with adherents of the two major religions, but they nevertheless suffer the same fate when the Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram and similar elements carry out their destructive campaigns. Most incidents of religious violence in Nigeria occur between members of the Islamic faith, also known as Muslims and members of the Christian faith. Such incidents usually take place in the Muslim-dominated northern parts of the country with reprisal attacks taking place in the Christian-dominated south-eastern parts of the country .
Many factors have been adduced to be responsible for the high spate of these violent attacks on Christians. First among these factors is the relatively low level of literacy among many northern Muslims, especially the peasant category popularly referred to as the Almajiri. These people are systematically indoctrinated to believe that there is a place reserved in heaven for them when they die while fighting for their religion. Against this backdrop and consequent upon their avowed mission, they do not tolerate any form of religious dissent. Another major factor that lies at the heart of religious violence in Nigeria is the inability of northern Muslims to separate religion from politics – a tendency that has culminated in the belief that the northern oligarchs have it as their exclusive birthright to perpetually rule Nigeria. Meanwhile under northern leadership, the country has gradually slid into the abyss of political deformity and economic antithesis, amid continued violence against Christians in the north of Nigeria.
Many religious violent attacks against Christians in Nigeria have been documented, but most of these events are usually not properly investigated and as such are gradually fade into oblivion. Over the space of a decade, between 2000 and 2010, about six major incidents of religious violence were recorded in Nigeria. The list below highlights these incidents( This does not include pockets of violence that led to the killing of one or several persons but which did not receive media coverage or national publicity).
Religious Violence before the era of Boko Haram Insurgency
2000February 21-May 23 - 2000 Kaduna riots, between 1,000 and 5,000 people are killed in sectarian rioting between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna following the introduction of Sharia Law into that state.
2001September 7–17 - 2001 Jos riots, nearly 1,000 people are killed following sectarian rioting between Christians and Muslims in Jos.
2002 November 20–23 - Miss World riots, around 250 are killed during rioting by Muslims Islamists across northern Nigeria as a response to an article deemed blasphemous.
Also in 2002, Mohammed Yusuf founds the organization that would become Boko Haram.
2008 - November 28–29 - 2008 Jos riots, 381 people are killed in sectarian rioting between Christians and Muslims in Jos.
As shown in the list, a religious sect was founded in 2002 by one Mohammed Yusuf. This sect was later to be known as Boko Haram, which means “Western Education is Forbidden”. The activity of the sect remained unnoticed until July 2009 when nearly 1,000 people were killed in clashes between Boko Haram militants and Nigerian soldiers throughout northern Nigeria. The founder and spiritual leader of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf was summarily executed by men of the Nigerian Police after he had been handed over to them by Nigerian soldiers, following the uprising. This marked the birth of insurgency in Nigeria. Abubakar Shekau later took over as the leader of the movement.
From 2009 to 2014, Boko Haram carried out numerous attacks ( many of which could not be reported in the media, on account of the remoteness of most parts of the Borno State hinterland. Their targets ranged from Church buildings to other public places. Notable among these attacks were the August 2011 attack on the UN building in Abuja and the December 25 Madala Church building attack in the outskirts of Niger State which shares borders with Abuja. On 7th August, 2016, the Boko Haram terrorist group swore to kill all the Christians in Nigeria, regardless of geographical location of the said Christians. The climax of their activity came in April 2014 when over 250 school girls were abducted from Chibok Girls Secondary School, in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State. After the Chibok incident, the clamp down on insurgency was then focused on the rescue of the school girls. Several pressure groups were formed to prevail on the Federal Government to act fast to ensure the girls were safely released from their captors. Most notable among these is the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group, co-founded by Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education and Vice President of the World Bank.
So much could be written about the activities of the Boko Haram sect and their senseless attacks, but it is especially imperative to decipher the real motive behind these attacks. The ideology of the sect is to enthrone Islam and Islamic education as the only acceptable form of education in Nigeria, nay the North Eastern parts of the Country. That they also attack fellow Muslims does not negate this fact : they see Muslims who cannot identify with their ideology as infidels who cannot stand firm for the religion. Apart from the Chibok girls incident, many people ( including men, women and children) had been abducted by the Boko Haram sect. Most of these persons were rapidly radicalized and used as suicide bombers to launch attacks. Before these radicalized individuals were sent on a mission, they would typically be forced to swear to an oath that they pledging to execute their assignment as planned. An interesting aspect of this is the fact that sect members give such radicalized recruits/abductees a mark for easy recognition, in case any manage to escape. This has been described by some writers as Nigeria’s Islamic Enemy mark of Recognition for Destruction.
Between the 2015 and 2017, there has been a heightened offensive against Boko Haram insurgency by the Nigerian armed forces leading to a degradation of the sect. Meanwhile, the dreaded Sambisa forest, where the abducted Chibok girls were believed to have been taken to has been combed by the military and some of the girls rescued. The rescue effort is still ongoing and the military is not resting on its oars to see that the last of the surviving girls is freed, but Boko Haram seems to be mutating.
Early this week, the terrorist group executed some men who they said were government spies. They also attacked a village near their former stronghold of Chibok and purportedly promised not to harm civilians. With the recent admission of the Federal Government, for the first time since 2015, that Abubakar Shekau is indeed alive, one wonders what else we don’t know about what is really going on. Nigeria’s security forces claimed on three different occasions to have killed Shekau, however, each time the self-styled leader of the terrorist group emerges, promising more mayhem – to the consternation of many Nigerians. According to Nigeria’s Defence Minister Mansour Dan Ali in a statement released Tuesday this week, Shekau was “on the run” and could possibly be hiding in a remote part of Sambisa Forest. Ali’s statement is an indirect insinuation that past claims by the Nigerian military about “neutralizing” Shekau were indeed false.
Notwithstanding the fight against Boko Haram, religious intolerance and Islamic jihadist violence continues to rear its ugly head. This time, insurgency wears a new garment : the Fulani herdsmen. Although there had been cases of violent attacks of herdsmen against farmers in the past, the recent occurrences have become exacerbated and accelerated with the clamp down on Boko Haram insurgency, leaving no rational thinker in doubt that some of the fleeing insurgents must have taken cover under cattle herding. Notable among herdsmen attacks are those of Agatu in Benue State and Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu state where tens of people, mostly indigenes of the attacked villages were killed. It is bizarre that the security agencies have continued to handle incidents of violence perpetrated by the so called herdsmen with kid gloves. This leaves sufficient grounds for many insinuations that such attacks must have been masterminded by religious extremists.
All the continuing instances of violence, whether the traditional Muslim – Christian clashes, Boko Haram insurgency or Herdsmen attacks, are most likely machinations devised to create unnecessary tension in the polity. Many Islamic extremists still live under the delusion that they can extend Jihadist warfare in modern times. With Shekau proving to be insuperably elusive, are we now on the next wave in the tide of Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist insurgency in Nigeria?