Interrogating the Christian-Muslim Conundrum in Boko Haram’s Terrorist Campaign

Dr Michael Nwankpa
Founding Director and Director of Research The Centre for African Conflict and Development, London

Nigeria with its neighbouring countries (Chad, Cameroon, and Niger) has endured a near decade (2009-till date) terrorist attacks from Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a Salafi-Jihadi group fighting to uproot Nigeria’s secular government and instate a full sharia state. Its attacks, threats and rhetoric have also been directed at international targets and symbols including its 2011 attack on the United Nations’ building in Abuja, several kidnap of foreign nationals and affiliation with other transnational terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State (IS). Since 2009, Boko Haram’s terrorist campaign has led to the death of over 20 thousand people and the displacement of over 3 million. Yet, despite its stated goal, there is very little understanding of the group’s motivation. One of the many theoretical explanations for the group’s behaviour is its anti-Western and anti-Christian disposition. For many years, especially in the early years of the terrorist campaign, churches and Christians were indiscriminately targeted by Boko Haram. However, while there remains sustained attacks on churches and Christians, the roughly equal amount of (or even more) attacks on mosques and Muslims challenges the anti-Christian narrative. It is therefore crucial to interrogate the lingering Christian-Muslim question in Boko Haram’s terrorist campaign. Is there a chance that Boko Haram’s attacks on churches and Christians are fortuitous? Are the attacks on Christians and churches distraction from Boko Haram’s original objective? Why is Boko Haram attacking mosques and Muslims? Is Boko Haram’s anti-Christian narrative justifiable? This paper attempts to answer all these questions.