Country Profile



When people think of religious conflict in Nigeria, they often think of Boko Haram as an Islamist movement in the style of al-Qaeda, conducting a reign of terror across the north of the country. Or they think of the riots that swept the Middle Belt during the Miss World contest in 2002. They may even think of the militancy that is disrupting the flow of oil in the Niger Delta. What is often lacking is an understanding of the context of all of these phenomena: a culture saturated with religiosity, a deeply divided and conflicted national identity, and huge grievances over the inequitable distribution of the country's natural wealth. Such a context creates conditions ripe for revivalists, some of whom wish to reform the state by violent means.

1Nigeria’s population is roughly evenly divided between Islam in the north, and Christianity in the south. Political power has previously been divided between these halves, but this system is breaking down.

2Much unrest is centred on an equitable division of wealth, with dissatisfaction over the corruption of the elites. Many Islamic revivalist movements in the north are focused on justice for the poor.

3Though such militant groups as Boko Haram or Ansaru would identify themselves as Sunni, if pushed to adopt an internationally recognised label, they are largely divided from one another on tribal lines.

Situation Report

Religious conflict in Nigeria is only one element in a polity divided by ethnicity, characterised by weak government with little regard for the rule of law, and a culture saturated with religiosity. Religious conflict is both a symptom and a driver of the current Nigerian national crisis.

Despite the relatively successful 2015 elections, national identity is underdeveloped and probably declining. Nigeria was cobbled together into a single political unit by the British only in 1914 and for matters of administrative convenience. That decision united people and territories with little in common. There was no uniform colonial administration across all territories and ethnic groups, no unifying struggle for independence, and there are no national heroes. Since independence in 1960, political life has been based on geographic regions and ethnic loyalties rather than on the nation as a whole. Family, ethnicity, religious, and regional identities supersede loyalty to the nation.

Whether under military or civilian government, competing and cooperating elites have run the country for their own benefit, with little reference to the Nigerian people. For most of the country's post-independence history, Nigeria has been ruled by the military; ostensibly civilian government was restored in 1999. In style, content, and in the isolation of government from its people, there has been remarkable continuity between military and civilian governance.

  • Global Overview
  • 1. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: September 2016 23
  • 2. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: August 2016 9
  • 3. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: July 2016 11
  • 4. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: June 2016 17
  • 5. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: May 2016 9
  • 6. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: April 2016 10
  • 7. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: March 2016 13
  • 8. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: February 2016 10
  • 9. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: January 2016 22
  • Extremism
  • Fatalities: Civilians: September 2016 40
  • Fatalities: Extremism: September 2016 102
  • Fatalities: Security Forces: September 2016 142
  • Groups: Fatalities caused by Boko Haram: September 2016 214
  • Counter-Extremism
  • Counter-Extremism Incidents: September 2016 20
  • State Counter-Extremism: Arrests: September 2016 28
  • State Counter-Extremism: Statements: September 2016 3
  • State Counter-Extremism: Use of Force: September 2016 18