While international eyes may be on the on-going conflicts in the DRC, Gaza Strip, and Syria, some of the worst violence continues to erupt in Nigeria. In the last few days, gunmen have launched a brazen attack on a Nigerian police head-quarters and set off blasts at churches, purportedly carried out by Islamic extremest. Tensions continue to rise among Nigeria’s Christian population and “blasphemy” riots protesting against Islam and the Prophet Mohammad broke out in Northern Nigeria. If tensions are not soothed soon is there a chance Nigeria could be the next country to descend into all out civil war?
Religious tensions have long been high in Nigeria, where 50 percent of the population is Muslim and 48 percent of the population is Christian. Muslims form the majority of the Northern half of Nigeria, while Christians form the majority in the Southern half. Both religions are present in major cities. Currently, the Nigerian government is viewed as being controlled largely by the Christian population. Before 1999 most religious tensions were suppressed by a hard-lined military dictatorship.
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The on-going conflict finds its roots in the attempt in 2000 to install Sharia, or Islamic law, in the northern states of Nigeria. Christians in northern states protested the possible implementation and some were killed. This set off a serious of attacks and counter-attacks that would ratchet up already tense relations between the two communities.
One of the major outgrowths of this conflict was the rise of the Boko Harem Terrorist group. When initially founded in the aftermath of the aforementioned riots, Boko Harem used mostly non-violent tactics to get their message across. By 2009 the group had begun to arm themselves and by the time the military stepped up to disarm them it was too late. The government did manage to arrest the founding figure, Mohammed Yusuf, who would later die in police custody. In the wake of Yusuf’s death the group would begin to resort to terrorist bombings and other tactics to get their message across.
The conflict has raged to this day. With the unemployment rate at over 21% and with most of the country’s vast oil wealth concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite, tensions are already high in Nigeria. This makes for fertile recruiting grounds for Boko Harem.
Now, with the continued bombing of churches and Christian communities, Christian groups are increasingly launching reprisal attacks. If the violence continues, there is a strong risk that it could develop into a large scale conflict. So far, however, the Boko Harem is not believed to be strong enough to challenge the government openly and must instead rely on terrorist attacks.
Continued terrorism could destabilize the already weak and fractured government, however, which could have numerous unforeseen consequences. Nigeria already has a long history of military rule marked by numerous coups. Increased terrorism may give military leaders an excuse to seize control of the government.
Rampant poverty, huge gaps and wealth, and minimal provisions of social services have also left the population impoverished and vulnerable. Under such conditions failures to provide basic security could encourage other groups, both Christian and Muslim, to take up arms and either attack rival communities, or the government itself.
While Nigeria does not gain as much press as many other conflicts in the world, the continued developments need to be monitored closely. Nigeria is a major supplier of oil and numerous international countries have interests there. Further, Nigeria is home to more than 170,000 million people. Any major conflict could result in large casualties and could threaten to destabilize the entire region.