Nigeria: Attacks on Police and Christians

In Northern Nigeria, the past few days have seen two attacks on Christian gatherings and an attack on a police convoy. The attacks on Christians took place on Sunday in Kano, where assailants shot and bombed worshipers at the university church, killing some twenty people, and in Maiduguri, where gunmen killed at least four church attendees. Yesterday, a bomb attack on a police convoy in Jalingo, Taraba State (map) killed at least eleven officers. At the time of writing, no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks, but the rebel group Boko Haram is the main suspect in each incident.

Last week, after Boko Haram’s attacks on newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna, I wrote that while the group’s targets were becoming more diverse, the state remained its primary target. Commenter Chavuka took issue with that, writing, “Boko Haram has made it clear that ‘all Christians living in Northern Nigeria’ are THE primary target.” His argument is a strong one, though I would stand by my original statement. Certainly the attacks on churches this Sunday add to a trend in semi-systematic, anti-Christian violence in Northern Nigeria. I would say that perhaps debating Boko Haram’s “primary target” will not get us very far, and indeed that we do not need to view it as an either/or question – as the attacks of Sunday and Monday show, both Christians and the security forces are major targets. Perhaps most accurate would be to say that several overlapping campaigns of violence are taking place simultaneously. Boko Haram – or a constellation of actors both within and outside of the movement – are going after different kinds of targets.

With regard to anti-Christian violence in particular, one fear I have is that local groups will take advantage of (or are already taking advantage of) the ongoing violence to strike out against their enemies. This is possible both in the case of Muslims who target Christians and Christians who commit reprisals against Muslims. The situation, in other words, has the potential to escalate beyond just the violence committed by Boko Haram itself. If local struggles get collapsed into narratives of nationwide religious war, and opportunists seize on community-level fears to mobilize local grievances, the results could be very ugly. In that vein it will be important to see whether Boko Haram ultimately claims responsibility for the incidents on Sunday; unclaimed incidents could be the work of other actors.

The possibility of generalized interreligious conflict is especially acute as Boko Haram’s attacks increase in the Middle Belt, an area with a complex ethnic and religious makeup and, in some parts, histories of intercommunal violence between Muslims and Christians. Although the attack in Jalingo targeted police and not Christians per se, it is worth noting that Jalingo represents one of the points furthest south that Boko Haram has yet struck. Boko Haram’s increasing presence in Adamawa, another Middle Belt state, is another worrying sign. The more attacks that Boko Haram conducts in the Middle Belt, the greater the potential for generalized interreligious tension there.

In other Boko Haram news, documents found at Osama bin Laden’s house in Pakistan reportedly provide evidence of some level of communication between the rebels in Nigeria and the deceased jihadist.

You can read an eyewitness account of the Kano attack here, and a commentary on the changes the crisis has brought to Maiduguri here.

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10 thoughts on “Nigeria: Attacks on Police and Christians

  1. I agree totally with what you wrote, we shouldn’t get caught up in arguments over who or what are Boko Haram’s primary targets are even if Boko Haram has links to Al Qaeda. The real damage could be (a) de-legitimization of Jonathan administration and (b) a wider inter-ethnic/inter-religious crisis.

    Are either of those two events possible? Yes. That is what should keep us EXTREMELY worried. All serious policy analysts and policy makers should explore ways to prevent either of these two events occurring. If Jonathan’s government loses the confidence of a large section of the Nigerian people, a military takeover becomes more not less likely (think Mali). A military takeover will be strongly resisted by Niger Delta militants (Jonathan comes from that part of Nigeria).

    An aggrieved Niger Delta could destroy Nigeria’s economy in a few weeks.

    How much more can Northern Nigeria’s Christian community take? We have Christian leaders OPENLY accusing Emirs and Northern politicians of being behind Boko Haram and one gets the impression that the Christian community in Northern Nigeria sees the US as being overly supportive of the Muslim community to the exclusion of Christian concerns.

    Please read this: http://allafrica.com/stories/201205010487.html

    (P.S: It doesn’t matter whether Boko Haram claims responsibility for those attacks or not, the Christian community has already concluded that they are responsible. Even if the attacks were carried out by other actors, these actors were Hausa-speaking Muslims – and that is all that matters.

    In this part of the World, perceptions are taken more seriously than reality).

  2. Pingback: Boko Haram Releases Video On ThisDay Bombing, Threatens To Attack VOA, Guardian, Daily Trust, others « TransformationWatch

  3. Pingback: “They Tricked us Into Fighting Igbos During Civil War” – Middle Belt Group Says They Are Not Part of Northern Nigeria « TransformationWatch

  4. Pingback: Boko Haram Releases Video On ThisDay Bombing, Threatens To Attack VOA, Guardian, Daily Trust, others - NAIRAreport ~ Nigerian News Today | NAIRAreport ~ Nigerian News Today

  5. Pingback: “They Tricked us Into Fighting Igbos During Civil War” – Middle Belt Group Says They Are Not Part of Northern Nigeria - NAIRAreport ~ Nigerian News Today | NAIRAreport ~ Nigerian News Today

  6. Out of curiosity Chavuka, have you had a chance to look at Coll’s Private Empire yet? I understand that Exxon, the book covered in it, has some dealings in Nigeria.

    • ExxonMobil has a large operation in Nigeria, but the major player by far in Nigeria is Shell.

      However, Nigeria is basically a collaboration between an extremely corrupt political elite and Oil and Gas majors. Nigeria will never be truly free until it weans itself from dependence on oil.

    • Exxon doesn’t just have some dealings in Nigeria. It is by far the second largest oil company Nigeria with operated production of about 800,000 barrels of oil per day out of Nigeria’s total production of 2.5 million bopd. This is more than the entire production of Equatorial Guinea and about half of Angola’s total production. In fact, 5 companies accounts for Nigeria’s total oil production. They are in descending order of operated production: Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total, and Eni.

  7. Pingback: Tough Rhetoric on Boko Haram from the Christian Association of Nigeria | Sahel Blog

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