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Nigeria's Boko Haram a holy war? Maybe not entirely

Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan, on a visit to Kenya, said the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency is as rooted in bad governance as much as in its push for Islamic sharia law. 


People stand by the wreckage from a car bomb explosion at a church in Yelwa on the outskirts of the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi, June 3. A suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a church in northern Nigeria on Sunday, killing 12 people in the latest deadly attack on Christian worshippers, witnesses said. Churches have been targeted this year by militant Islamist group Boko Haram.


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From a distance, the violent campaign of a shadowy Nigerian Islamist group called Boko Haram is nothing less than a holy war between Muslims and Christians that has killed more than 2000 people.  

But look beneath the surface, says Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan in a recent visit to Nairobi, and you find that the crisis is “not purely religious.”

In Nigeria’s “winner take all” political culture, the archbishop said, where the country’s political elites from a number of regions, religions, and ethnicities compete for power and the control of oil resources, militant groups serve as a kind of pressuring mechanism for achieving what cannot be achieved in elections, in parliament, or in backroom deals. Far from uplifting the entire populace, oil wealth has remained in the hands of a very powerful few, creating economic and social inequality for those regions – such as the Islamic north and the oil-producing but poor Niger Delta region – who are left out of the power balance.

So when Boko Haram targets Christian churches or Western-model schools, they aren’t doing so out of mere hatred of Christianity or the West. They are doing this for much more basic reasons, to protest the north’s feeling of being excluded from power.


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