From an outsider’s perspective, looking into Nigeria’s chaotic, violent mess, one might conclude that it’s because of the religious differences between Muslims and Christians. But as you really dip your head deeper into the murky waters, you’ll find yourself the root cause of this seemingly uncontrollable violence resulting in unnecessary deaths, including innocent children—politics. Nonetheless, religious differences among Nigerians still play a significant role in these tensions, especially in election disputes where there is a clear divide between Muslim and Christian politicians.

And when there is conflict, there’s always going to be someone who rises amongst the affected minority. Someone who can attract exhausted citizens caught in the middle who desperately seek refuge, may it be a place of shelter or through resonating comfort words.

The birth of Boko Haram

In the early 2000s, a young imam named Muhamed Yusuf rose to the occasion. His preaching on returning to “true Islam,” all while refuting the “bid’a” (novelties) of the West, has captivated the hearts and minds of the locals. With his charisma, Yusuf has embedded in the minds of the people, particularly in the northeastern part of Nigeria, that the change in the country, including its culture and the massive corruption in the governing elites, is because of the influence of the West.

His words had an impact, especially in the Northeast, where people have been subjected to “prolonged political and social-economic marginalization.” Thus, in 2002, the Jamatu Ahli AlSunna lil Da’wa Wal Jihad (JAS), also known as Boko Haram, was born.

After a confrontation in 2009 between Yusuf’s followers and Nigerian government forces, what began as a peaceful movement quickly turned violent.

What began as peaceful protests quickly turned berserk after a confrontation happened between Yusuf’s followers and the Nigerian government’s forces in 2009. The tension led to the arrest of its founder, who was killed while in police custody. The death of Yusuf triggered a more armed severe uprising, which also caused a schism within the group.

You see, after his demise, two of Yusuf’s trusted deputies—Mamman Nur and Abu-Bakr Shekau—started competing to reign over the group, which the latter earned victoriously.