Boko Haram and the Fulani Nomads: Two Major Threats to Religious Freedom, Peace, Stability, and Human Rights in Nigeria


 by Onyemaechi F.E. Ogbunwezeh, PhD, March 2019


Nigeria is too important to be allowed to implode into violence, become a failed state, or descend into another civil or religious war. But the fact today remains that Nigeria runs the risk of imploding due to its internal contradictions. It risks going the way of Somalia, if the major conflicts fanned and driven by Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen and their financiers, both within and outside Nigeria, are not stemmed. Nigeria risks a volcanic explosion into conflict, if the ethno-religious issues plaguing the country are not resolved. If Nigeria were to fail, it would create social, political, demographic and human rights reverberations around the world. This is why it behoves us all to see how the country could be helped, with targeted social interventions and political pressure, to make the political elite realize the dangerous path that Nigeria is on before it is too late.


The two major drivers of conflict in Nigeria today, apart from political gangsterism of the political elite and poverty of massive swathes of the population, are the Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram in the northeast, and the murderous rampage of the Fulani herdsmen across the Middle Belt and south.


With a population of close to 200 million people, Nigeria is not only the most populous country in Africa, but also in the black world. By

2050, Nigeria will be the third largest nation on earth, and 67 percent of the population will be below 30 years of age. It is a country rich in human and material resources. It is also one of the biggest economies in Africa and a potential driver of growth, progress and development in the continent. It is also a key regional and continental power, which has influenced politics and economics in Africa since independence in 1960.


At the same time, Nigeria is a country rich in contradictions. In spite of its billions of dollars in oil earnings, between 75 and 80 percent of the population live below the poverty line, while an estimated one percent own over 80 percent of the wealth, living a life of luxury and privilege.


Nigerian history is littered with episodes of violence, much of it ethno-religious and politically motivated. The country fought a bitter civil war from 1966 to 1970, in which over 2 million Nigerians, mostly of the southern Igbo ethnicity, lost their lives. While in the south the majority of the crises have centered on issues of land, ethnic identity and outrage against military rule and its concomitant policies, the preponderance of violent conflicts in the north have been overtly or covertly religious in nature.


No period typified the ecclesiastical/jihadist warfare more than the regime of Ibrahim Babangida from 1985 to1993, where one religion – Islam – was seen to be government-protected and promoted to the detriment of others. During this period, violent and hate-filled sermons against Christians, Jews, Shias, Sufis, Ahmadis and other Islamic sects by the late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi and other extremist preachers created the conditions for the jihadists of today.


Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri, Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. In the early years, the group openly operated as a fundamentalist Islamist community that resolutely rejected everything Western, especially secular society. Today Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terror organizations in the world. Since 2009, the insurgency has killed over 20,000 Nigerians and affected 10.2 million

people. Of this number, 7.7 million need humanitarian assistance, while 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes. [i]

And close to 1.8 million people are in IDP camps. [ii] More than half the schools in the northeast have been closed or destroyed,

and the already weakened public health system has finally collapsed. Nigeria has lost billions of man hours in productivity and billions of dollars in economic activity. And there is no end in sight. Boko Haram controls less territory than it used to, due to the military response of the Nigerian government. But owing to its guerrilla tactics and suicide bombings, it remains a threat to millions of innocent civilians and military personnel in the northeast and the entire West African region.


Another danger undermining the stability of Nigeria is the Fulani herdsmen crisis. The Fulani and Hausa dominate the northern part of Nigeria. The Fulani nomads move from place to place with their cattle, which brings them into constant conflict with farmers. The Fulani herdsmen crisis has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the last decade, almost 4,000 of them in the last two years alone. [iii] And the campaign of slaughter continues unabated, with the Nigerian government appearing unable or unwilling to stop it. To this day, no one has been arrested or prosecuted for the killings. Instead, the government of Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani and a cattle farmer, has been requesting that land be reserved as grazing routes for the Fulani.


These two conflicts have ripped through the heart of Nigeria. The poverty of the masses, coupled with anger and discontent over the government’s handling of the security problematic, has pushed Nigeria into a very dangerous ethno-religious conflict.


Granted that the Boko Haram insurgency and the Fulani nomads’ campaign of slaughter are complex phenomena, I believe that the Nigerian government has a pivotal role to play in resolving the macro and micro causes of the conflicts. The raison d’etre of any government is to secure the lives and property of its citizens. It is time the Nigerian leadership lived up to these responsibilities. It is my considered view that deploying the military to rein in the insurgency must be married to a human development approach, where the government also endeavours

to redress the economic marginalization that created a fertile ground for the germination of Boko Haram. Channels of communication that encourage dialogue among the parties must be created and nourished. Reforming pastoral farming practices and access to land must also feature among the solutions to these two conflicts.


This is not an easy process. But giving up is an acceptance of failure. The Nigerian government has got work to do. And time is not on its side.



Dr Onyemaechi Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh is the Director of the Africa the International Society for Human Rights based in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a citizen of both Nigeria and Germany, and has been a vocal advocate for human rights and religious freedom across the African continent. 


[i] See: UN, others discuss ways of ending Boko Haram crisis

[ii] accessed on 19.03.2019

[iii] Udo Jude Ilo, Ier Jonathan-Ichaver, and 'Yemi Adamolekun, The Deadliest Conflict You’ve Never Heard of: Nigeria’s Cattle Herders and Farmers Wage a Resource War, an article in, accessed on 19.03.2019