16 January 2012
How a corrupt nation bred Boko Haram, the Islamic sect terrorizing the country’s Christians.
by Wole Soyinka
Over the past year, Nigeria’s homegrown terror group Boko Haram has escalated its deadly attacks against Christian and government targets, with the aim of establishing a Sharia state in the country’s north.
Nearly 30 years ago, in the largely Christian heartland of a multireligious Nigerian nation, and at that nation’s pioneer institution—the
—a minister of education summoned the vice chancellor and ordered him to remove a cross from a site dedicated to religious worship. Some Muslims had complained, he claimed, that the cross offended their sight when they turned east to pray. University of Ibadan
The don’s response was: “Mr. Minister, it would be much easier to remove me as vice chancellor than to have me remove that cross.” Christians mobilized. A religious war was barely averted on campus. Today the Christian cross occupies that same spot, with the Islamic star and crescent raised only a few meters away. As I observed at a lecture several years later, there has been no earthquake beneath, no convulsions of the firmament above that space, no blight traceable to the cohabitation of that spot by Christian and Muslim symbols.
I evoked that occurrence when the latest torch bearers of fanaticism—a group called Boko Haram—emerged. I did so to draw attention to the fact that religious zealotry is not new in the nation, nor is it limited to the “unwashed masses” who have been programmed into killing, at the slightest provocation or none, in the name of faith. Unfortunately, far too many have succumbed to the belligerent face of fanaticism, believing that any form of excess is divinely sanctioned and nationally privileged.