Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group in Nigeria has drawn a battle line to commence a major religious war against the Christian communities in the northern part of the country.
The sect on Monday afternoon has said it was ready for war and has issued an ultimatum giving Christians living in northern Nigeria three days to leave or face major military onslaught.
According to a spokesman of the sect, Abul Qaqa in a released statement, the Boko Haram fighters said they are ready to take on the Nigerian Military, especially those soldiers on duty sent to the area under a state of emergency.
Presiden Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday declared a State of Emergency in some parts of four states of the North.
“We will confront them squarely to protect our brothers,” Abul Qaqa said during a telephone call with local media. He also called on Muslims living in southern Nigeria to “come back to the north because we have evidence they will be attacked.”
Recent weeks have seen an escalation in clashes between Boko Haram and security forces in the north-eastern states of Borno and Yobe, as well as attacks on churches and assassinations.
Fourty-two people were killed on Christmas Day at a Catholic church near the federal capital, Abuja — a sign that Boko Haram is prepared to strike beyond its heartland.
Human rights activist Shehu Sani told CNN that the latest Boko Haram threat is credible, but many Christians born and raised in the north have nowhere else to go.
“The killings will continue,” he said, and Boko Haram may respond to the state of emergency by taking its campaign of violence to areas not yet affected.
Sani said the state of emergency and an enhanced presence of the security forces would not improve the situation, alleging that troops had already been involved in human rights abuses and had done little to reduce violence.
Boko Haram (which according to the group means “Western civilization is forbidden”) is demanding the imposition of Islamic sharia law across Nigeria.
Christian leaders have demanded a stronger response to the attacks from the government and the Muslim community. Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, complained last week that the response of Islamic leaders had been “unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities.”
“The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights,” Oritsejafor said.
David Cook of Rice University, who has studied the rise of Boko Haram, said that “if radical Muslim violence on a systematic level were to take hold in Nigeria … it could eventually drive the country into a civil war.”
Corruption, poverty and a lack of government services have helped Boko Haram gain support, especially among young Muslims out of work. So has a perception that the Muslim north has been marginalized by a political establishment drawn largely from the Christian South.
However, a Nigerian analyst described Cook’s claims as grossly misplaced pointing out that the situation is the other way round after the the North had manipulated itself into power ruling and ruining Nigeria for almost 40 years of Nigeria’s 51 year of Independence.
According to Cook, the group has been responsible for at least 45 strikes in recent major attacks, which have included assassinations — frequently using of gunmen on motorbikes — and, more recently, suicide bombings beyond its northern heartland.
Beyond the security forces and Christian targets, it has assassinated Muslim clerics who oppose the group, and even killed a prominent Boko Haram member who had attended talks to explore a truce.
Boko Haram’s presence in the city of Maiduguri has made it almost ungovernable, according to analysts.
Its ability to inflict mass casualties has grown fast. In August, a suicide bomber struck the U.N. building in Abuja, killing 23 people.
In November, some 150 people were killed in a series of bombings and shootings in Damaturu, capital of Yobe state.
The commander of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham, has suggested Boko Haram may have developed links with other Islamic jihadist groups in the region, especially al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Sani agrees, and says Boko Haram’s leaders have established sanctuaries across the desert borders in Niger and Chad, out of reach of the Nigerian security forces.
The former U.S. ambassador in Nigeria, John Campbell, says that Boko Haram is able to finance itself “through bank robberies and is arming itself by thefts from government armories and purchases — there is no shortage of weapons on the market.”
Less than two months ago, President Jonathan described attacks by Boko Haram as a temporary setback, which would soon be a thing of the past.
Now he appears to see the group as a lethal threat that demands the full attention of the security services.
But since Yusuf’s death, Boko Haram has had no obvious leader or structure, and appears to act as loosely connected cells.
And it is feeding on deep-seated grievances that the government seems unable to address.
Cook warns that “as more and more territories become ungovernable, such as Maiduguri, then Muslims more and more will want to join Boko Haram, if only because it represents the one group that can actually project power and hold out the illusion of security to the people.”
In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, residents reported increased patrols on Monday. Soldiers had been entering homes in search of weapons and bombs, they said.
After the searches, soldiers told residents to report any unusual behaviour or abandoned vehicles which may contain planted bombs.
However, the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN), the national umbrella Association of Christians in Nigeria however has threatened a tit-for tat action to handle the security of Christian across the country describing the recent attacks on Christians and Churches as “a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity.”
The group also criticized Nigerian Muslim leading counterparts for failing to condemn the Islamic militants in a louder voice to declare they are not in solidarity with the unwarranted blood letting of Christians.
“With the current situation providing a more tense atmosphere in Nigeria, there seems to be a drawn battle line and possible countdown to Nigeria’s predicted disintegration unless the government comes out in full force to confront Boko Haram”, a LOndon based civil right activist warned.
Additions:CNN, Associated Press
Boko Haram: Timeline of terror…
- 2002: Founded
- 2009: Hundreds killed when Maiduguri police stations stormed
- 2009: Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf captured by army, handed to police, later found dead
- Sep 2010: Freed hundreds of prisoners from Maiduguri jail
- Dec 2010: Bombed Jos, killing 80 people and blamed for New Year’s Eve attack on Abuja barracks
- 2010-2011: Dozens killed in Maiduguri shootings
- May 2011: Bombed several states after president’s inauguration
- Jun 2011: Police HQ bombed in Abuja
- Aug 2011: UN HQ bombed in Abuja
- Nov 2011: Co-ordinated bomb and gun attacks in Yobe and Borno states
- Dec 2011: Multiple bomb attacks on Christmas Day kills dozens
Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram – which has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings – is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.
Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”.
Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.
This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.
Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed after his arrest
The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.
But residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram.
Loosely translated from the local Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”.
Boko originally means fake but came to signify Western education, while haram means forbidden.
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.
Against this background, the charismatic Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri in 2002. He set up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school.
Many poor Muslim families from across Nigeria, as well as neighbouring countries, enrolled their children at the school.
But Boko Haram was not only interested in education. Its political goal was to create an Islamic state, and the school became a recruiting ground for jihadis to fight the state.
In 2009, Boko Haram carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri.
This led to shoot-outs on Maiduguri’s streets. Hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed and thousands of residents fled the city.
Nigeria’s security forces eventually seized the group’s headquarters, capturing its fighters and killing Mr Yusuf.
His body was shown on state television and the security forces declared Boko Haram finished.
But its fighters have regrouped under a new leader and in 2010, they attacked a prison in Maiduguri, freeing hundreds of the group’s supporters.
Boko Haram’s trademark has been the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticises it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and a Christian preacher.
The group has also staged several more audacious attacks in different parts of northern Nigeria, showing that it is establishing a presence across the region and fuelling tension between Muslims and Christians.
These reportedly include the 2011 Christmas Day bombings on the outskirts of Abuja and in the north-eastern city of Damaturu, a 2010 New Year’s Eve attack on a military barracks in Abuja, several explosions around the time of President Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration in May 2011, followed by the bombing of the police headquarters and the UN headquarters in Abuja.
The attacks have raised global concern, with a US Congressional report – released in November 2011 – warning that Boko Haram was an “emerging threat” to the US and its interests.
The report said Boko Haram may be forging ties with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa, but the group denies this.
Analysts say northern Nigeria has a history of spawning groups similar to Boko Haram.
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, the analysts say.