Boko Haram: The Wrong Narrative


btOn social media platforms and comment sections of news websites, I often get the impression that the insurgency in the Northern part of the country attracts nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders in the unaffected parts.

And many times when outrage is expressed at the activities of the homicidal Boko Haram sect, I suspect that some of it is confected. Running beneath the simulated outrage expressed, I believe, is joy at the non-stop destruction of an area and people strongly reviled in other parts.

Of course, there are many Nigerians outside the North who are genuinely touched by the trauma that Boko Haram's muderous campaign has inflicted on its victims. Those who shrug and those with faux outrage are united in the view that the strafing the North is getting is exactly what it deserves. Boko Haram-themed discussions on social media and news websites are as bruising as prize fights.

Even when expressing outrage on such platforms, Christians are hardly able to resist the opportunity to knife Muslims with comments suggesting that Christians are the primary targets of Boko Haram and how complicit all Muslims, including those from the South, are.

Many are persuaded that Boko Haram's sole objective is the obliteration of Christianity and peddle a narrative reflective of this. The unhelpful narrative is partly encouraged by Christian leaders  who, as evidence, point to the mile-long list of churches destroyed and Christian lives claimed since the insurrection began in 2009. It is also encouraged, by the media, which appear unwilling to give prominence to attacks on Muslims except if they take place at mosques or the palaces of traditional rulers.

The April abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, a predominantly Christian community in the southern part of Borno State, has helped fuel the belief that Christianity is the primary target and that its adherents suffer more. That the girls, according to Abubakar Shekau, the top-tier nutcase and presumed leader of the sect, have been converted to Islam is held up by some Christians as further evidence.

It is difficult to contest the view that Boko Haram is not a fan of Christianity. Its bombs and bullets have accounted for an enormous number of Christian lives and destroyed many worship places.

Very few mosques have been reported attacked, while attacks on churches have occurred with near-metronomic regularity.

But to suggest that Boko Haram was conceived-exclusively-to wipe out Christians and that Christians have suffered more is a view I have difficulty agreeing with.

Boko Haram kills with the naturalness of an animal, the reason for which, I believe, it should be viewed as an equal opportunity threat to all Nigerians. After its inaugural brush with the state in 2009, Boko Haram's gun attacks on football viewing centres, pubs and other places in Maiduguri were not discriminatory. There were no reports that questions on religious inclinations were posed to victims before being shot.


Maiduguri (Yerwa, as it is locally called) is a Kanuri town. The Kanuri are predominantly Muslims. In fact, I am yet to meet a Kanuri Christian. My point? Shoot randomly or detonate a bomb in the town and it is a safe bet that your victims will be more Kanuri/Muslim than anything else. Those responsible for the recent bombing of Maiduguri's Monday Market did not look out for rosary-touting traders or shoppers. They just bombed.

Bama, Benishekh, Konduga, Gujba, Gubio, Magumeri, Kukawa and Gamboru-Ngala, all in Borno State, are Kanuri towns and predominantly Muslim. They have all been visited by Shekau's soldiers. Damboa, has a mixed Kanuri/Marghi population. Many of the Marghi are Christians. However, most are Muslims. The attack on Damboa, according to reports, was in no way discriminatory.  Izghe in Gwoza Local Government Area is a Mandara town. The Mandara are predominantly Muslims. Gwoza, headquarters of the council was a once a playground of Boko Haram's deranged impulses. The two-day attacks on Kano, which left 250 people dead, notably by bombing, featured no questions on religious identity.

The Southern part of Borno, which has a sizeable Christian population that should be more attractive to Boko Haram, is a considerably less affected than the North where Islam is dominant. Most of the madness has been in the Northern part of the state.

Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, is also a Kanuri town. It has seen plenty of Boko-Haram inspired carnage. It was where a two-day assault in 2011 claimed about 150 lives (Christian and Muslim), many churches and  government buildings. No report of the unfortunate incident suggested that people killed outside the churches attacked were asked to disclose their religious identities. Churches were burnt, sure. But wild shooting took place over the two days and bullets. As we know, bullets are not faith-sensitive, especially when fired indiscriminately. Buni Yadi, where a secondary school was bombed, is also a Kanuri town. No interviews on religious identity was conducted during the raid. Potiskum and Fika, both in Yobe State, have Christian populations, but those towns have not exploded with the same regularity as Damaturu.

Adamawa State, which has attracted plenty of Boko Haram attention, has a bigger Christian population than Yobe and Borno. Mubi, once captured and renamed by the insurgents, is a Fulani town. Fulani are predominantly Muslims. Areas with large Christian populations in the state have been attacked, delivering huge Christian casualties. But they have also delivered sizeable Muslim death tolls.

In other places in the North, a region with a long-standing history of religious radicalism/animosity, anti-establishment dissidence and communal tensions, Boko Haram has exploited the situation to fight on the side of local Muslim populations. But that is a slightly different matter because of its ethnic complexion. We have seen this in Plateau State, where age-old feuds between settlers and indigenes have taken in religion to yield a potent mix.

Without doubt, many of the attacks by Boko Haram have targeted Christians. A greater percentage, however, has been directed at everybody and anybody. The realisation that this is a collective problem is what I think has attracted many Northerners to what is called the Civilian Joint Task Force, which I have reasons to believe is not an exclusively Christian entity.

Boko Haram has no respect for whoever does not share its own interpretation of Islam. Some Muslims that have spoken against its deranged ways have paid for it with their lives. Sheikh Jafaar, said to be the spiritual leader of Muhammed Yusuf, founder of the sect, was killed by Boko Haram.

It is important for Christians to be as concerned about the fate of Muslims and vice versa. But this will be made more difficult with the current narrative, which is more about the religionization of politics or the politicization of religion.

The menace of Boko Haram appears far more complex than a Muslim-Christian divide. It appears to have social, economic, political, ethnic, and historical dimensions. Religious leaders will do well to act together, eschewing the politicization of religion and preaching the best of their respective religious precepts. They should reject the division that is accompanied by an the attitude that the friend of my enemy is my enemy. They should speak out with courage and protect one another. That is the way to go.

Latest in this Category