A former British colony with a significant Muslim population ravaged by war in the north against a group of hardliner Islamist terrorists with sanctuaries in neighboring countries, resulting in the huge internal displacement of its people; seems like the story of modern-day Pakistan. It is not. American author Vali Nasr, at a session of Lahore Literary Festival 2014, stated that the country which resembled Pakistan the most in contemporary times, was Nigeria. The only three countries in the world where Polio virus is still present include Pakistan and Nigeria. On the Failed States Index rankings for the year 2013, Pakistan was ranked 13th while Nigeria was ranked 16th. China is keen to be on good terms with both Pakistan and Nigeria. The major differences between the two countries include the significant Christian population in Nigeria and its huge oil reserves.
Nigeria’s biggest internal problem in modern times is a militant organization titled ‘Boko Haram’. The actual name of the organization is “Jamaat e Ahle Sunnah Lid’dawati wal Jihad” and the term ‘Boko Haram’ meaning “Western Education/Civilization is a Sin” is a Hausa word (The Hausa language is one of Africa’s most spoken languages). It was established in 2002 by a cleric named Mohammed Yusuf and seeks to establish a “pure Islamic state governed by Sharia.” A vast majority of Boko Haram’s members were students at Islamic Madrassahs established by Yusuf. Any person slightly familiar with Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) can spot the glaring similarities between the two militant groups in terms of ideology. The list of similarities doesn’t end here. Boko Haram has actively sought to destroy schools imparting ‘western’ education, attacked churches , broke into jails, assassinated moderate clerics, targeted young schoolgirls and have sought refuge in neighboring countries when attacked. The terror-infested reign of Boko Haram has displaced more than 300,000 people from their homes in the Northern provinces. Thus, Nigeria has an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) crisis on its hands. Boko Haram are also provided political support by the ruling party in the North (another similarity with Pakistan, dare I say?). After acts of terrorism, some factions of the group decline to accept responsibility while others take credit for it (this ‘plausible deniability’ tactic is commonplace amongst modern Jihadis).
In 1994, a local cleric in Pakistan’s northern district of Swat started a movement to ‘implement Sharia’. The group that launched this movement was called Tehreek Nifaze Shariate Mohammadi(TSNM). To force the federal government into action, roads were blocked, the local airport was taken over and government offices were evacuated by force. The issue was resolved when Pakistan’s government announced the formation of Sharia-compliant courts in Malakand District (which included Swat). In 2009, TSNM militants took control of Swat and unleashed a wave of terror in the scenic valley. In the year 2000, Ahmed Yerima, governor of Zamfara state in Nigeria’s north-west, extended the jurisdiction of Sharia Law in criminal cases. Eight other northern states also enacted Sharia in full. In 2009, Boko Haram started using violence against the Nigerian government and ordinary citizens.
Like all Islamist movements, Boko Haram’s actual objective is not the implementation of a legal system (shariah). Instead, their ultimate aim is to control territory and eliminate the dissenters. All contemporary Islamist groups have employed violence in the garb of religion.
On top of the religious mess, ethnic tensions add a new dimension to conflict in the northern part of Nigeria. Most of Nigeria’s regions have arable lands that allow the country to support Africa’s largest population of 150 million people. Each region within Nigeria has a dominant ethnic group. The Hausa-Fulani are based in the northern part, the Yoruba in the Southwest and the Igbo in the Southeast. These and more than 250 other ethnicities, all of which vie for control over the Niger Delta region, which is resplendent with natural wealth of oil and gas.
The Niger Delta region itself is home to the Ijaw people who have exerted disproportionate influence over the country’s politics as seen with the election of Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian member of Ijaw tribe and a PhD in Zoology), as President in 2011. Most members of Boko Haram are from the Kamuri tribe, while a bulk of Nigeria’s army also comes from the same tribe.
A military operation launched in 2009 destroyed Boko Haram’s mosque, killed hundreds of its members, and arrested its leader Muhammad Yusuf. Yusuf was later killed alongside his father-in-law. Since then, Boko Haram’s most radical faction, headed by Abubakar Shekau has intensified its operations. In recent weeks, the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok by Boko Haram has captured the international community’s attention.
A permanent solution to the problems posed by Boko Haram is not in sight but it would include a military operation alongside economic development in the impoverished north-eastern part of Nigeria. Boko Haram, the TTP and their ilk are on the wrong side of history and despite their best efforts, they can’t reverse the wheel of evolution and development. They are doomed to fail, but at a considerable cost.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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