- West Africa
- Conflicts - Religion
Nigeria: Islamists’ nationwide Sharia demands raise alarm over deepening religious fissure
An extreme Islamist group demanding the imposition of Sharia law across Nigeria, has attacked a police station in Northern Nigeria, in protest of the arrest of their leaders. It is feared that the group, which has been amassing weapons, could pose more serious threats as their actions risk igniting retaliatory acts in the mainly Christian south, thus widening the Christian-Muslim fissure. The violent acts come weeks after the Niger Delta rebels accepted amnesty.
The Islamist group identified as Boko Haram which means ’Western education prohibited,’ in the local Hausa language have said they want to clean the Nigerian system which they claim is polluted by Western education, so as to uphold Sharia all over the country.
The group emanated from Bauchi state in Northern Nigeria and has recruited young men, to aid their campaign and rebellion against a democratic, and liberal Nigeria.
Observers say the followers of the Boko Haram muslim sect are conservative and strict, and do not mingle with non members. The group is chiefly opposed to Western education, Western culture, and science.
Leaders of the group were arrested when the state Police received report that the group was amassing weapons including locally made hunting guns, crossbows, machetes and army uniforms.
On Sunday, several men armed with guns and explosives attacked the Bauchi Police station but were fend-off by the resilient police officers; an estimated 40 people were killed, civilians, and militia’s alike.
Reports, however, claim that the situation has been brought under control and that more than 150 people have been arrested. Nigerian military are controlling roads leading into the area.
This civil unrest created by the Boko Haram Islamist group comes only weeks after rebels of the Niger Delta gave room for peace in the oil-rich country, by accepting an amnesty issued by the Federal government.
Nigeria is a melting pot of ethno-religious beliefs, with the country split almost equally between Christians and Muslims. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the south is mainly Christian.
A dangerous line
Despite its inherent complexities, communal violence in Nigeria often boils down to competition for resources such as land between those that see themselves as the true indigenes of an area and those that are considered to be more recent settlers. One of the closest predominantly Christian states to share boundaries with the prodominantly Muslim north is Plateau State where Christians are regarded as the indigenes and Hausa-speaking Muslims the settlers.
In 2001, more than 1,000 people died in religious clashes in the Plateau state capital, Jos. In 2004, a state of emergency was declared in the same State after more than 200 Muslims were killed in the town of Yelwa in attacks by Christian militia.
However, Plateau state, seen as the Christian-Muslim fault-line and notorious for propagating religious tensions across the west African nation is not to blame for the current violence. It is feared that the Islamist Boko Haram group’s demands could trigger similar demands from Christian militia groups in the south, thus spreading a conflict usually symptomatic of the central states nationwide.
Sharia law has been in effect in Bauchi state since 2001, and in February of 2009, the Muslim state witnessed clashes between Muslim and Christian communities, which left four people dead. Even though Muslims and Christians in Nigeria have generally co-existed in peace, the rise of religious tensions in recent years is seemingly widening the Muslim-Christian fissure.