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Nigeria: Shapes of Violence, 1

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 27, 2016 (160427)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The realities of violence, whether in Nigeria, other African countries, or indeed in rich countries such as the United States as well, are often far more complicated than the stereotypes that often prevail among those observing them from a distance. Thus, violence in Nigeria is often simplistically characterized as "religious conflict" between Muslims and Christians. A new collection of empirical studies released this year by Nigeria Watch, based in Ibadan, Nigeria, provides a more complex perspective, documenting, for instance, that intra-Muslim conflict is more common that conflicts between Muslims and Christians, and that much of the conflict involving both Muslims and Christians is based on secular rather than religious motives.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, available on the web but not sent out by email, contains excerpts from one of the chapters in this new report, focused specifically on violence involving Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. The full 216-page report is available at

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin, sent out by email today and available at, contains recent press releases from Refugees International on violence by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and by Nigerian security forces in an unrelated incident in Zaria, in north-central Nigeria.

Other recent articles with relevant background on Boko Haram in particular include the following from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

"Here's why so many people join Boko Haram, despite its notorious violence," by Hilary Matfess, Washington Post, April 26, 2016

"Failure to Share Data Hampers War on Boko Haram in Africa," by Eric Schmitt and Dionne Searcey, New York Times, April 23, 2016

"Women Who Fled Boko Haram Tell of Devastation and, Rarely, Hope," by Helene Cooper, New York Times, April 22, 2106

"Abducted Nigerian Girls Have Not Been Abandoned, U.S. Says," by Helene Cooper, April 20, 2016

"Boko Haram still a threat months after 'technical victory,' by Bradley Klapper|AP, Washington Post, April 19, 2016

"What's Worse Than a Girl Being Kidnapped?," by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, New York Times, April 15, 2016

"Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls two years ago. What happened to them?," by Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, April 14, 2016

"Boko Haram Turns Female Captives Into Terrorists," by Dionne Searcey, New York Times, April 7, 2016

"They were freed from Boko Haram's rape camps. But their nightmare isn't over," by Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, April 3, 2016

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Violence in Nigeria: A qualitative and quantitative analysis

Edited by Marc-Antoine Perouse de Montclos

Published by: African Studies Centre, Leiden, Netherlands

French Institute for Research in Africa / Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA-Nigeria), University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

Full 216-page report available for download at

Muslims, Christians and Religious Violence in Nigeria: Patterns and Mapping (2006-2014)

Akinola Ejodame Olojo


This paper is an attempt to sketch out and analyse the evolution and diverse patterns of violent deaths involving Muslims and Christians in Nigeria between 1 June 2006 and 31 May 2014. Although this nationwide mapping offers representations of the broad spectrum and character of Muslim-Christian religious violence over the eight-year period in focus, it also includes the dynamics of violent deaths of a non-religious nature involving Muslims and Christians. Our assessment also considers the violent interaction between Muslim and Christian groups in relation to other protagonists associated with religious and non-religious issues. Without doubt, the religious institutions of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria are major rallying points for various social and political groups with disparate and sometimes obscure agendas. In fact, the almost ubiquitous use of religious pretexts in Nigeria has at several periods been appropriated by 'non-conforming' groups to instigate violence and inadvertently give the impression that religion is the paramount source of violence in the country.

However, this study finds that while the factor of religion cannot be entirely disregarded, particularly in light of the character of recurrent crises in (northern) Nigeria, religious issues do not represent the only cause of violent deaths involving Muslims and Christians in the country. Religion as a causal factor must be put in perspective and nuanced with other pertinent sources of violent deaths, such as issues related to land and territorial claims, ethnicity, and politics and elections, as well as community violence and crimes involving Muslims and Christians. In addition, this study finds that in cases where religion appears to be an underlying cause of violent deaths, such incidents can also be reflected in clashes between just one of the religious faiths and a non-religious protagonist, or in fact occur within the same religious faith.


In this paper, reference to violent deaths does not exclusively denote the act of perpetration of violence on the part of Muslims or Christians. Rather, the context of our interpretation of violent deaths refers to the involvement of Muslims and Christians also as victims. It should also be noted that the period under examination starts on 1 June 2006 and ends on 31 May 2014. Therefore, apart from the full years in between (2007-2013), data analysed in relation to either 2006 or 2014 should be considered in light of the stipulated period when data collation and analysis started and ended.

Religion and violence in Nigeria

Violence in Nigeria has taken various forms over the decades, and the data in this study depicts its wide-ranging character expressed through the interactions between Muslims and Christians. Political issues, especially those associated with the struggle for elective offices and power allocation, remain a potent source of violence. This state of affairs is often catalyzed by a lethal infusion of interests rooted in deep socio-economic and ethnic concerns, some of which may be legitimate and others spuriously held by different actors and groups. In addition, the overall frequency of violent deaths in Nigeria owes much to a combination of other causes such as car accidents and crime. And certainly, not least, religious issues appear to also reinforce the collective tally of fatalities, particularly in terms of recurrence rates in regions such as northern Nigeria.

Scholarly interpretations of this religious angle hold significance because of the added perspective they bring to our assessment of Muslim and Christian involvement in the trends of violent deaths. However, in instances where violent deaths are not underscored by religious issues between Muslims and Christians, or in cases where violent deaths transpire between groups of the same religious faith, it raises questions regarding the limits of certain theoretical paradigms and how effectively their frameworks capture the violent interaction between adherents of religious faiths in Nigeria. One such paradigm pertains to the 'clash of civilizations', which suggests that civilization identity, of which religion is a core component, will be increasingly important in the post-Cold War period. Samuel Huntington, the main proponent of this acclaimed yet widely criticized civilizational thesis went further to assert that the fundamental source of conflict and great divisions will be cultural and that the fault lines between civilizations, being the broadest level of cultural identity, will be the battle lines of the future (Huntington 1996).

To a certain degree, some of the fundamental conflicts evident in the era Huntington prognosticated about have indeed found some expression along religious fault lines, and particularly in relation to Islam in countries such as Nigeria. The academic literature is also instructive in the way it guides our thoughts on the central role of religion. Ellis and Haar (2007) describe religion as an emerging political language whose pattern of interaction cannot be ignored in the study of African politics. For Matthew Kukah (1993), the process of political bargaining in Nigeria appears to increasingly embody the factor of religion. Toyin Falola (1998) pushes this further by underscoring the profundity of religious attachment expressed by both Muslims and Christians and its instrumentality in political life and leadership in Nigeria.

In the overall estimation of various scholars writing on religion and politics in Nigeria, there appears to be an almost seamless connection between several violent incidents from the 1960s through the decades up to the current period. And at different phases in this historical trajectory, the controversy between Muslims and Christians over the definition and interpretation of 'secularity', for instance, has offered opportunities for analysts to gauge what they see as diametrically opposed platforms of Muslims against Christians in Nigeria. A typical instance appeared in 1976 during the drafting of Nigeria's Constitution and then again in 1986 on the occasion of Nigeria's admittance into the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which sparked off intense debates between Muslims and Christians. The common thread of 'fundamentalism' that also runs through these decades has often given way to militant expressions on both sides of the religious divide in Nigeria. On the one hand, for instance, northern Nigerian Christians, arguing self-defence, have in the past justified the use of militancy to protect their lives and defend their faith through the use of physical violence. On the other hand, however, Islam appears to have gained a wider reputation for militancy than Christianity, as clearly more cases of religious violence involving Islamist groups are reported (Falola 1998).

The cumulative reality of these events appears to mirror the classical model of a religious clash involving Muslims and Christians in the country. Thus, when a superficial reading of the prevailing Boko Haram crisis is carried out, the penchant to anchor analysis exclusively on Huntington's discourse and assume the reflection of a clash between a 'Muslim North' and 'Christian South' is reinforced. Besides, Boko Haram itself purportedly calls for a Sharia state, and the several incidences of violence instigated against Christians or representations of Western civilization in Nigeria tend to receive considerable media interest and hype both locally and internationally. The overall impression of a civilizational clash involving Muslims and Christians is also strengthened in some way by the phenomenon of the 'youth bulge' in Africa and particularly in the case of Nigeria where the demographic structure is characterized by nearly three-quarters of the population being under the age of 30 (Leahy et al. 2007). The portrayal of such a population trend in a country where there is an exceedingly large and mismanaged youth population invokes the notion of how easily violent deaths can be a consequence of youth vulnerability in the hands of radicalized (religious) groups. By extension, it also becomes easy to understand how much analysis of the violence involving Muslims and Christians in Nigeria maintains intellectual currency within academic debates, policy circles, and the sensational projection of the global media.

Beyond this, however, the connections between the aforementioned variables are far more complex than what fits perfectly into a single theoretical paradigm about a clash between religions. The religious divide between Muslims and Christians should not be overstated, because the monolithic perception held by many observers of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria should be balanced with the sense of caution expressed by scholars such as Pérouse de Montclos. He draws attention to the need to recognize the divisions within Islam as well as disruptive factors within the Muslim ummah, which crises such as that related to Boko Haram underscore (Pérouse de Montclos 2014). This kind of perspective holds merit as a safeguard against speculative counter-arguments about an inter-religious clash and also as a guide for other aspects of our study, which will permit a fuller understanding of the idea of divisions or schisms within religions such as Islam in Nigeria. Particularly in the third part of this paper, an appreciation of this will emerge through our statistical presentation of violent trends between rival groups aligned to the same religion. However, before reflection on this, we will proceed to present and analyse the distribution of data related to the causes of violent deaths and its relationship to religious and non-religious issues involving Muslims and Christians.

Frequency of violent deaths and their causes

Between 1 June 2006 and 31 May 2014, the absolute number of violent deaths recorded by the Nigeria Watch database was over 61,000 (Figure 5.1). This staggering number is spread out over the period examined in this study. Although an observable feature of this data is the steady rise in the absolute yearly frequency of deaths from 2009 to 2013, a critical look at 2014 reveals a sharp increase in the measure of absolute frequency just within a period of five months. Furthermore, in less than a year's span, the aggregation of violent deaths for the first five months of 2014 exceeds the absolute frequency of violent deaths for each of the preceding years, with the exception of 2013. Subsequent events confirmed this alarming trend.


Beyond frequencies: Dimensions of violent death incidents


For each year, all the data generated is classified under six main rubrics: Islamic group versus Christian group (religious issues); Islamic group versus Christian group (non-religious issues); Islamic group versus Islamic group (religious issues); Islamic group versus Security forces (JTF, police); Islamic group versus Vigilante group, Civilian JTF; and Other Violent Death Incidents involving Muslims and Christians (Community violence). With reference to specific incidents, where necessary we will analyse the data under each rubric one at a time.

Islamic group versus Christian group (religious issues)

Under this rubric, we take into account the recurrence rate of violent incidents with manifestations inspired by religious issues involving Christian and Islamic groups. A total of 57 incidents are identified, and 2012 represents the year with the highest rate of this type of incident between June 2006 and May 2014. In comparison with some other rubrics that possess higher frequencies of incidents reflected in Table 5.1, this total figure of 57 is once again a reminder of how religious issues do not represent the only cause or pattern of violent deaths involving Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. These religious incidents are nonetheless significant and are mainly comprised of three forms of violent encounters: first, attacks instigated by the Islamist group Boko Haram against Christian groups, with churches being a prime target; second, attacks through series of assassinations targeted at Christian clerics; and third - although to a lesser extent than the first and second forms - reprisal attacks by Christians against Muslims.


Islamic group versus Christian group (non-religious issues)

With 42 incidents between June 2006 and May 2014, the details under this rubric attest to violent death dynamics typified by nonreligious causes involving Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Although the non-religious causes may appear insubstantial in terms of recurrence rates, their importance can still not be ignored. Based on the data, they represent violent deaths connected with issues such as election to political office. The years 2008, 2010, and 2011 stand out in relation to these non-religious causes and, to various extents, states such as Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, and Bauchi bear witness to this. In Plateau State, for instance, November 2008 was a critical period for local government elections in Jos North, where a tense political struggle for power pitched the People's Democratic Party (PDP) against the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).


Islamic group versus Islamic group (religious issues)

Our mapping study will not be complete without delving into the dimension of the violent interplay between and among Islamic groups. With a total of 60 incidents of intra-Islamic violent deaths, it is vital to consider the character of these events. They are divided into two broad categories: violent deaths due to clashes between Sufi brotherhoods such as the Tijaniyya and groups such as the Yan Izala; and, in the second case, violent deaths due to clashes involving either of these Islamic brotherhoods (and sects) and Boko Haram.


It was noted earlier that the second category of violent deaths caused by intra-Islamic clashes refers specifically to attacks instigated by Boko Haram against the entire cross-section of Islamic groups in Nigeria. Similar to the desire of several of these Islamic movements in the country, Boko Haram advocates a nationwide application of Sharia. However, the line of disparity between these Islamic groups and Boko Haram is drawn based on the aggressive modus operandi which Boko Haram adopts. As a result, it is indeed the case that the majority of these Islamic groups are in fundamental disagreement with Boko Haram, and it is this point of divergence that contributes to the provocation of violence. Consequently, while 2011 reflected the highest frequency of Boko Haram attacks against several members of these Islamic groups and their mosques, 2012 was replete with a record number of assassinations targeted at Islamic clerics perceived as 'opponents'. ...

Islamic group versus the security forces

The security forces constitute what this study has so far described as non-religious protagonists. Although not the prime concern of this study, their role assumes some measure of significance owing to their violent interaction with one of the major variables (Islamic actors) examined in this paper. Thus, on the one hand we have the Islamist group Boko Haram, and on the other we have the security forces, comprised of members of the JTF, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), and the State Security Service (SSS), among others. In addition, this rubric represents the highest number of violent death incidents (418) with which one of our major variables (Islamic actors) is connected. However, the lead-up to this high frequency of incidents appeared inconsequential until 2009, when figures (fatalities and incidents) began to accumulate.

It should be noted that among the several deaths that occurred in 2009, that of the former leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, marked a turning point in the level of violent encounters involving the Islamist group and the security forces. ...

Islamic group versus Vigilante group and Civilian Joint Task Force

By mid-2013, when the Nigerian government imposed a state of emergency in north-eastern states such as Borno, the formation of what is now called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) became very visible amidst the violence instigated by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Since 2013, the CJTF, comprised mainly of youths whose families and communities have been ravaged by the state of unrest in the North-East, has engaged Boko Haram in a number of violent encounters. By way of counter-reaction, Boko Haram insurgents have extended their scope of attacks beyond battles waged against the state, religious clerics, and the government's JTF to engage members of the CJTF in several clashes. Although the CJTF does not constitute one of the leading variables of this study, their contribution to the overall frequency of violent deaths resulting from clashes with an Islamist group creates an entry point for them into the framework of our mapping study.



Understanding the true character of Muslim-Christian violent deaths between June 2006 and May 2014 requires knowledge of not only the religious dimension of this linkage; intellectual inquiries must appreciate also the cases of violent deaths inspired by issues connected with ethnicity, crime, land, and politics. We have established in this study that the essence of the violent interaction between Muslims and Christians is not devoid of the nonreligious factors highlighted. The statistics presented in this paper have also illustrated that even in cases where religious issues underlie causes of violent deaths, the associated incidents can also reflect the involvement of non-religious actors. Furthermore, our mapping demonstrates that religious causes of violent deaths can in fact manifest between groups belonging to the same religious faith. Within the context of geography, this paper finds that beyond any other region of Nigeria, the northern part embodies a preponderance of the violent interaction between Muslims and Christians. Finally, beyond local dynamics, global media perspectives consistently frame violence in Nigeria as largely religious and between Muslims and Christians, rather than adopting a more nuanced approach that enables a balanced interpretation of events.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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