Reports are documenting how more than 100 people have been killed as a result of gun battles between Muslim Boko Haram guerrillas and Nigerian soldiers in the northern state of Kaduna in recent days, following another series of bomb attacks against Christians.
What’s going on, according to Heritage Foundation Africa analyst Morgan Roach, likely is an attempt at a revolution that would turn Nigeria into a Shariah-practicing Muslim nation.
“The first reason is ideological. [Boko Haram] wants to overthrow the Christian state and replace it with an Islamic government that rules by Shariah law,” Roach said.
But she said the Muslims also have a political motive.
“Attacks against Christians undermine the authority of President Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian) and exploit the government’s lack of will or ability to protect Nigerian citizens,” Roach said.
Yet another reason is simply to create intertribal and inter-religious strife.
“The attacks are a useful tool to create sectarian instability. It must be said that in many parts of Nigeria, Muslims and Christians get along quite well. However, this dynamic is marred by Boko Haram’s ability to instigate violence,” Roach said.
“As the Nigerian government has proven ineffective at defending its Christian population, Christians are losing patience and either taking up arms to defend themselves or retaliating outright through violence,” Roach said.
Other human rights groups also have reported that Christians are weary of the government’s inability to deter the violence and are taking up arms to defend themselves.
Roach said Nigerian security forces are operating in the north and attempting to fight Boko Haram, although with conflicting results.
“Nigerian security forces are already a major part of the picture. They’re often a source of grievances [for] both Muslims and Christians as they are unprofessional and tend to maintain a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ mindset,” Roach said.
Christian human rights group International Christian Concern Africa analyst Jonathan Racho says government security is lacking.
“The Nigerian security forces have failed to protect Christians from the attacks. We are afraid this trend will continue unless the international community, particularly the U.S., put pressure on Nigeria to protect the Christians,” Racho said.
Roach doesn’t see a revolution happening immediately, though.
“It’s unlikely that Boko Haram has the means to overthrow the Nigerian government right now. However, by instigating sectarian violence, Boko Haram currently has the means to severely destabilize the country – specifically the north and middle belt,” Roach said.
She adds that it would be a mistake to underestimate Boko Haram.
“Boko Haram’s capabilities should not be underestimated. Just because they don’t have the resources to topple the government now doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future, particularly if they’re allowed to expand,” Roach said.
Racho says that there is one other factor that would stop Boko Haram’s operations.
“Boko Haram has said that the only way in which they will stop the attacks against Christians is if the Christians convert to Islam. This is an unacceptable condition,” Racho said.
“We are observing a very dangerous trend in Nigeria where members of the radical Islamic group, Boko Haram, has been bombing churches during Sunday worship services,” Racho said.
“We urge Nigerian security forces to come up with strategy to stop this dangerous group from wiping out Christians from northern Nigeria,” Racho said.
Riots have broken out in northern Nigeria in protest against the government’s apparent inability to protect Northern Nigeria’s dwindling Christian population.
Racho says that he has personally witnessed the impact of Boko Haram’s attacks.
”During my recent visit to Nigeria, I met several Christians who left their homes in the north due to attacks by Boko Haram. In some areas, members of Boko Haram go door-to-door hunting Christians,” Racho said.
Racho compares Boko Haram’s operations to genocide.
“In my opinion, what we are seeing in Nigeria amounts to religious cleansing and warrants serious consideration from the part of the international community,” Racho said.