Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nigeria’s North-South Divide

This is the second post on Boko Haram; the first is here.

The seventh largest country in the world is Nigeria, with 183.5 million people. That is not a secret, of course, but not exactly the impression one has from news reports—especially when the issue triggering coverage is a renegade band of terrorist insurgents, like Boko Haram. Appropriate images for that context in the media are desert landscapes or tribal people in traditional dress. (An analogous pictorial representation of the United States would be to show pictures of Navajo festivals in Arizona.) Here we’re likely to see men in robes drumming or landscapes—like the following photo; it shows the north-east of Nigeria where Boko Haram originated…

…rather than cityscapes like the second image, which shows Lagos, a city of 17.5 million people, located kitty-corner, you might say, from Boko Haram, thus in the extreme south east corner of the country.

To give that huge population some dimension, I repeat, from the last post, that Nigeria is only about a third larger than Texas. Its population per square mile is 515, that of Texas 100 (the United States has 91 people per square mile).

The country—measured in area—is roughly split in half between a more or less secularized southern and a predominantly Muslim northern half. The two major parties of the country, however, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP, with its base in the south) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, with its base in the north) both hold secularist ideologies. PDP is the dominant party; it has won every presidential election and therefore rules the country. The two maps above tell the story; the first shows areas where Sharia law is being actively followed; the second shows areas controlled by the PDP (which has ruled the country under democratic arrangements since 1999, and its opposition, the CPC. The Islamic culture, with a decided disinclination to participate in democracy, has no meaningful representation at all. Yet all the news that really reaches us here is focused on a tiny third element, Boko Haram. Tiny? Yes. Its core is a mere 10,000 people. They are attempting to implement the Islamic conception of politics, thus central religious rule from the top by a caliphate. 

The time-line that I show here, extending from Nigeria’s independence to the current time, illustrates how the Muslim insurgency arose just three years after a difficult time of succeeding military dictatorships and civil conflicts—thus as soon as a Western type democracy began to take hold. Great powers participated in the Civil War, with Britain and the Soviet Union backing the Nigerians, France aiding the Biafran regime.

That regime, shown to the left, lasted a mere three years, but while it existed it occupied almost exactly the same territory as Nigeria’s earliest-known kingdom, the Kingdom of Nri, founded in 1000 AD. The area of Biafra corresponds in our time with the oil-rich region of the Niger river’s delta.

Soon after 1999—and Nigeria’s embrace of western-style democracy—a northern Sunni fundamentalist and preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, founded Boko Haram in 2002. His aim was to impose Sharia law over the entire region, including but not limited to Nigeria. He lasted seven years and was then arrested and killed. His deputy, one Abubaka Shekau took over and continues in his place, as best we know, although reports of his death keep surfacing in Nigeria at intervals. Most of Boko Haram’s more major activities have been largely confined to the Borno State at the tip of Nigeria’s north-east corner.
Image credits:

Borno landscape: Wikipedia, "Boko Haram" (link).
Lagos: Wikipedia, "Lagos" (link).
Political Map: Nigerian Muse (link).
Map of Sharia Law: Wikipedia, "Boko Haram" (link).
Biafra: Wikipedia, "Nigeria" (link).


  1. This is a nice little series. I hope you keep going with it.

    Now, apologies if this question is dense--my knowledge of Nigeria is pretty much Wikipedia:

    It's a bit hard for me to see how the northern half of the state is controlled by the progressive, secular CPC if it's also the place of Shari'a. In what sense does CPC really control the northern provinces in that case? I'm confuzzled.


    1. I was careless. The dominant party, in votes, is the PDP; it runs the country; most votes for the opposition, however, the CPC, come from the north -- not because northerners are liberals but because they are voting against the PDP. I've altered the text a little. Thanks.


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