Nigeria: terrorists on the warpath

Does Boko Haram's bombing of the UN in Abuja herald a need to break-up Africa's most populous country?

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 to rid Nigeria of secular education and establish a theocratic Islamic state with Sharia law.  The group stems from the north, where Muslims form a majority, and seeks to stop Western schooling in Nigeria, voting in elections or the wearing of shirts and trousers. 

The attack on the UN

Al Jazeera reported, "a car bomb has ripped through the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital Abuja, killing at least 18 people, officials said.  The bomb went off on Friday after a suicide bomber forced his way through two security gates and rammed his car into the building, blowing out the first two floors.  At least 18 people died in the attack, according to an AP survey of morgues at four major Abuja hospitals.  The building is located in the same neighbourhood as ... diplomatic posts in Abuja.  An Islamist group blamed for a series of attacks in the country claimed responsibility for the bombing.  Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, reporting from the scene of the attack, said: "security has been heighted within the entire city.  Road blocks have been erected, they want to make sure there are no further attacks here in Abuja."

The attack on Police HQ

According to the BBC last month, "The Islamist group, Boko Haram, says it carried out (the July 14) bombing of Nigeria's police headquarters which left at least six people dead.  The attack comes days after Nigeria's police chief visited the north-eastern town of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram is based and vowed to defeat the group.  The police say one of those who died was a suicide bomber - if confirmed it would be Nigeria's first such attack.  In 2009, hundreds of Boko Haram supporters, including the group's leader Mohammed Yusuf, were killed after they attacked police stations in Maiduguri and other northern towns.  The group has since reformed and in the past year has killed dozens of police officers, politicians and anyone who criticises it, including Christian preachers and clerics from other Muslim groups." 

The modern country of Nigeria was created during the colonial and post-colonial eras.  But before the British, French and others arrived in West Africa, the Sokoto Caliphate existed in what is now northwestern Nigeria.  After the Brits took control of this part of Africa they allowed this Fulani emirate to exist, albeit with reduced powers.

Now, certain fundementalist Fulani and even more extremist co-religionist Hausas seek to develop on the ideology of Usman dan Fodio who founded the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809.  The BBC notes, "since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among the area's Muslims to Western education.  Many Muslim families still refuse to send their children to government-run "Western schools", a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority."

The Yoruba 

Yorubaland actually spreads into the neighbouring country of Benin to the west, there being around 50 million Yorubas in all.  But again, colonial segmentation of Africa divided up what could have formed a viable nation today.  Main cities:  Lagos and Ibadan.

The Igbo 

Igbo of eastern Nigeria attempted to forge their own path in creating the breakaway republic of Biafra in 1967.  But a calamitous and ghastly conflict, known as the Nigerian-Biafra War (or Nigerian Civil War), ended the Igbos' secessionist aspirations in 1970.  Between one and three million died in the war.  Estimates vary widely as to the numbers of Igbo in Nigeria, ranging from 15 to 30 million.  Main city: Port Harcourt.

The Hausa 

Hausaland stretches from Kano in Nigeria's north right across Africa in a belt at the same latitude to Ghana and Ivory Coast in the west, and to Sudan and even Eritrea to the east.  The Hausas have strong trading relationships and cultural links to the Arabs of North Africa and the Mandingo of Mali and surrounds.  There are around 35 million Hausas approximately.  Main cities:  Sokoto and Kano.

The Fula, or Fulani 

The Fula of West Africa are a vast ethnic group which lives right across the region.  They do not form a majority in any country, although in Guinea they amount to something like 40%.  The story goes that they originate from the Horn of Africa, and shifted across over centuries from Ethiopia across Chad and into the countries of modern West Africa.  They exist in many villages and towns in most countries.  They say that if you want to learn any local language in that part of Africa you should know Fula, for if you shout out in Fula in any village, someone will likely respond and befriend you.  This originally all-nomadic people are famed for their beautiful eyes.

Other ethnicities

There are other less populous tribes like the Ijaw and Ibibio of the Niger Delta region, each commanding majorities in their own regions.  And the Bokyi, Idoma, Tiv and numerous others in central Nigeria.  

A population breadown looks roughly like this:

Hausa - Fulani * 29%
Yoruba 21%
Igbo 18%
Ijaw 10%
Kanuri 4% (in the extreme north-east, near the borders with Niger and Chad)
Ibibio 3.5%
Tiv 2.5%
Others 12%.

As Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan battles to neuter the terrorists of Boko Haram, calling recently for dialogue, scepticism as to his chances rises.  "Poverty-stricken northern Nigeria has a history of spawning groups similar to Boko Haram.  Analysts believe the threat will disappear only if the Nigerian government manages to reduce the region's chronic poverty and builds an education system which gains the support of local Muslims", reports the BBC.

Fat chance of that if the local Muslim elite in the north are dead against educating their populations, surely?  

Maybe the time has come to break Nigeria up into its constituent parts.  The idea has been mooted many times before, but holding this fractious country together might prove to be an impossible task for even the most well-intentioned of leaders.

Colonialism was to blame for many ills, not least the enslavement and migration of countless millions of fit, productive people.  Unfortunately, it also created giant modern nations like DR Congo, Angola, Tanzania and Nigeria.  The smallest of these, Nigeria, is roughly three and a half times the size of the UK.  Historic rivalries and cultural and linguistic differences make these countries hard to manage, and the forging of a durable national identity an ambitious goal. 

The courses and confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers creates natural boundaries between the three main ethnicities of Nigeria:  the Hausa-Fulani in the north, Igbo in the southeast and Yoruba in the southwest.  

If natural boundaries could have resulted in the formation of China, France or Chile, then why not a series of viable and more homogenous new countries in Africa?   Oil and gas are major obstacles as they are Nigeria's key sources of wealth.  However, in a marriage break-up there's compromise to be found and compensation to be calculated.  

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