Good morning, Hank. It’s Tuesday. I want to
talk today about Boko Haram which was formed in Nigeria in 2002, but I want to begin in
the year 1100-ish. So Hank, we have this idea that Islam spread
primarily through conquest, but in fact, in many places, including Sub-Saharan Africa,
Islam spread primarily by trade. So back in the year 1100-ish, leaders in what is now
Northern Nigeria started to convert to Islam. They were trading with North African Berbers
and by the 18th century, most of the people in what is now Northern Nigeria and also what
is now Southwestern Nigeria were Muslims. But those Sub-Saharan African empires never
spread to the rest of Southern Nigeria so those people were not Muslims. Instead, in
the 19th century, when a bunch of European missionaries showed up, many of those people
in the rest of Southern Nigeria became Christians. What is now Nigeria was colonized by the British
for much of the 20th century, but Northern Nigeria was controlled by what’s known as
indirect rule. Like the local emirs were allowed to run everything as long as they pledged
allegiance to the British and also, paid them a portion of their money. Now, as far as colonization
goes, that seems like a pretty good deal, but also meant there was much less western-style
education in Northern Nigeria than in Southern Nigeria which was much more directly ruled
by the British. So the south ended up with most of the doctors and the lawyers and the
bureaucrats. Also, all of the oil is in the south. I should pause here to say that this is of
course over simplifying. There are hundreds of languages spoken in Nigeria and hundreds
of different ethnic groups. There are many Christians living in predominantly Muslim
communities; many Muslims living in predominantly Christian communities. So it’s definitely
not as simple as a divide between North and South, but there is a big gap there. Ok Hank, so one of the many catastrophes of
colonization is that it created borders that were convenient to Europeans, but not necessarily
to the people who, like, lived in the actual places. So in 1960, Nigeria gains independence
which is awesome except it’s never actually been, like, a unified political entity. Hank, there’s this famous moment in James
Joyce’s novel, “Ulysses” where Leopold Bloom is asked what a nation is, and Bloom answers,
“A nation is the same people living in the same place – or also living in different places.”
But 1960, Nigeria was more like different people living in the same place which led
to a bunch of coups and then, eventually, to a 1967 civil war. Parts of Southern Nigeria
seceded and became the Republic of Biafra. And the rest of Nigeria was like, “Wait, no.
We should be one Nigeria. Also, all the oil is in your new country.” There was a huge
civil war for two and a half years. More than a million people died, but in the end, Nigeria
won, and the Republic of Biafra ceased to exist, and the country was reunited. So Nigeria today is a really interesting country.
It’s split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. It has one of the fastest growing
economies in the world and very little national debt. It’s the largest economy in Africa and
the 20th largest in the world. Their film industry generates 10 billion dollars in sales
a year. But it’s also the last nation in Africa that still has polio, which is found only
in the north, and life expectancy in Nigeria is 52. That’s lower than it is in Somalia
which doesn’t even have a government. In much of Northern Nigeria, fewer than half of kids
even go to elementary school. Female literacy is over 50% and while the country’s overall
economy grows over 8% a year, in the north, absolute poverty is actually increasing. Hank, it’s easy enough to say that religion
is the problem here, right? Except there are a lot of Muslims living in the southwest of
Nigeria where female literacy is over 90% and the economy is growing really well. The
problem is partly resource allegation. Like, Nigeria’s export economy is just a smidge
dependent upon petroleum which is found almost exclusively in the south. But there’s also
all these legacies of colonialism and indirect rule which means less effective federal governance
in everything from education to the armed forces. So this was the Northern Nigeria that saw
Boko Haram emerge in 2002, a region disproportionately impoverished, uneducated, and poorly governed.
The words Boko Haram literally mean “western education is forbidden”. The group was founded
by a guy named Mohammed Yusuf who himself had a western-style education and spoke English.
Although he believed that the earth is flat and that rain is not caused by evaporation,
so maybe it wasn’t such a great education. In 2002, he began recruiting unemployed young
people into his movement, railing against official corruption, which is rampant, and
also advocating for the creation of Islamic state. But Boko Haram didn’t actually become
a military organization until Yusuf was arrested and then shortly thereafter, executed in 2009.
Over a thousand people were killed in the riots that followed Mohammed Yusuf’s execution,
and after that, Boko Haram became increasingly militant and crazy. I mean, this is an organization that claims
they want to restore like righteousness and justice to Nigeria, but they fund themselves
like primarily through drug trafficking and bank robbery. In 2011, Boko Haram was behind
Nigeria’s first ever suicide bombing. On Christmas of that year, they killed 41 people via bombings
and shootings in churches. In 2012, they killed at least 792 people. And in 2013, they murdered
nine women who were distributing polio vaccines. Polio vaccines! They also murdered 54 mostly
Muslim college students while they were sleeping in their dorms. And then, in 2014, Boko Haram
got worldwide attention when they kidnapped 276 girls from inside of classrooms. The attacks
since then have only gotten worse. On January 3rd of this year, they seized the town of
Baga, burned it to the ground, murdered as many as 2000 people. And now, Boko Haram controls
the northeastern corner of Nigeria where they’ve instituted a version of sharia law so extreme
that not only has the likes of it never been seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s, like,
too extreme for al-Qaeda. They regularly massacre people who won’t fight for them, and they’ve
begun attacks in Niger and Chad and Cameroon. Boko Haram still has an army between 7,000-10,000
people, and it’s difficult to understand what those people are thinking, at least what the
leaders are thinking. I mean, they conscript a lot of people; they have a lot of child
soldiers; they force preteen girls to be suicide bombers. And it’s hard to understand that
evil. Then again, I don’t know if I need to understand it, but I do need to know about
it. I mean, not knowing about this stuff is really problematic, Hank, because one of the
great tragedies of Boko Haram is that they have been allowed to grow for the last ten
years because the Nigerian government and the world community haven’t done a good enough
job of noticing how terrible they are. So I think it’s really important to learn about
Boko Haram and not let their atrocities go unnoticed, but I also think it’s important
to understand that literally 99.9% of Nigerians do not support Boko Haram. And Hank, it’s
also important to remember that just a few days ago, two Muslim volunteers in a northern
town sacrificed their lives to keep a Boko Haram suicide bomber from entering a city
market where she would have killed hundreds of people. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.