The cost of doing business is quietly going up in this richly commercial country.
As anyone who has done business in Nigeria — or with Nigerians anywhere — will tell you, these vibrant and vital people not only have an innate instinct for “the deal” but a well-honed understanding of the intricacies of social life in general. In short, every Nigerian seems an instinctive “operator.” It is from this fertile political proclivity that Nigeria’s newest radical Islamic movement has been formed.
Nigeria’s 162 million people share a common nationality but severely divided cultures and ethnicity. In general terms the North is Moslem and the rest of the country is Christian or animist, and sometimes both. Hundreds of tribes and clans act to divide the country further while at the same time through geographical, economic and political relationships tend to unify their interests. This phenomenon has been sharpened in contemporary times, but the conflicts between Moslems and Christians go back to the arrival of the first Christian missionaries. This history provides a natural environment for today’s radicalism.
It is a fact that the Moslem north is today far more radicalized than it was at the time of independence from the British colonial rule in 1960. In the early days of post-independence the north still exerted considerable influence in the army, as Moslem Hausa/Fulani ethnicity was a strong presence in the Nigerian contingent of the former Royal West African Frontier Force. While the military is still an attractive career alternative, it contains representatives of all three of the major ethnic groups, Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. The real divisions now are the military as a class versus civilian officialdom — not unlike Pakistan.
The growth of the Islamic revolutionary movement known as “Boko Haram” is both a reflection of the internationalization of Islamic militancy and the long-standing Nigerian Moslem community’s more radical elements. Following an ideological line similar to the Taliban, Boko Haram is committed to the establishment of Shariah as the basic law of the land. In the northern sector of the country, where a milder form of Shariah on a tribal basis already is in existence, it has been reported that there also is a nascent regional independence movement.
The Boko Haram is officially known in Arabic as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal — jihad. According to the estimable Scott Stewart of STRATFOR, this means “group committed to propagating the Prophet’s teachings and jihad.” Clearer than anything else this titling explains the broader aims of the organization in respect to all Nigeria, not just the already predominantly Moslem north.
This ideology underpins the terrorist aspect of the group’s activities that recently have been extended southward to the federal capital at Abuja. In June an explosives-laden vehicle detonated in a parking lot at a police headquarters while the suicide driver tried to break through the security barrier. A wave of attacks followed in the north against military and judicial buildings. Over 100 deaths were reported in these raids, which followed the violent attacks in the last three years that have accounted for more than 2,000 killings.
The Boko Haram announced this autumn it would soon attack the oil-rich delta areas of the south. To do this would require alliances with non-Moslem tribes of that Eastern Region. For another country such an alliance would be unthinkable, but for Nigeria it is definitely not beyond possibility. Where a business deal can be made, even Nigeria’s most disparate groups can find a mutual interest — if only temporarily.
The petroleum companies have long since learned how to deal with all factions, even if it becomes somewhat painful for a while. The concept of combining the solemn religious commitment of the Boko Haram of the north with the wily and quite unscrupulous traditions of bribery and corruption of West African “dash” is hardly beyond the future growth of the jihadi movement in Nigeria. It is conspicuous that business sources in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, have commented in a dismissive manner regarding the radical Islamic activity in the north while at the same time increasing their gift-giving to Moslem charities nationwide.
As businesses of all sizes have maintained a built-in budget for “dash” to be doled out to key political and often criminal elements, it is hardly a stretch to view jihadi growth in the center and south of Nigeria as an expected occurrence. The major companies are now all discussing this possibility. The only question remaining according to most veteran West African observers is not if — but when — it will occur. There certainly are enough sources in the Middle East and South Asia to spur along Nigeria’s jihad with money, training, and serious weaponry.
The larger problem of the growth of Islamic radicalism in Nigeria is its potential impact on the other nations of West Africa that also have sizeable, even if minority, Moslem populations. There has been a tendency in the past for coastal West African countries to take for granted their usually poorer, ethnically different, Moslem populations. This may have been politically acceptable in earlier years, but with an insurgent and terrorist Islamic movement in Nigeria, the politics of the region changes.
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