Spasm Of Religious Violence Sweeps Nigeria

Nigeria is again gripped by deadly religious violence. Friday night, a coordinated series of bomb and gun attacks ripped through the largest city in the nation's Muslim north. The attacks were claimed by a militant sect that seeks to impose Islamic law in Nigeria. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Nigeria has been hit again by deadly violence. Just last night, a coordinated series of bomb and gun attacks ripped through the largest city in the nation's Muslim north. A militant sect that seeks to impose Islamic law in Nigeria claimed responsibility for the violence, which comes shortly after New Year protests over rising fuel prices and widespread corruption.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Lagos. Ofeibea, thanks for being with us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings from Lagos.

SIMON: What can you tell us about yesterday's attacks in the northern city of Kano?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're being told that more than a hundred people were killed in a series of attacks that targeted mainly security targets; police stations, an immigration office, a passport office, we're told. But that people fled as dark clouds of smoke billowed into the sky. Now, this is just the latest attack that Boko Haram, which in the lingua franca of Northern Nigeria means Western education is forbidden. The latest round started on Christmas Day, with an attack on a church, and since then, these Islamist militants, who say they want to see Islamic Sharia law imposed in Nigeria, have been able to hit at will targets ranging from churches to government buildings, and civilians are being killed in the crossfire.

SIMON: Ofebia, who are the Boko Haram?

QUIST-ARCTON: Boko Haram started as a homegrown pro-Islamic group, but increasingly since it started a couple of years, its attacks, which have included bombings and assaults on all sorts of targets have become much more sophisticated, which has led people to believe that Boko Haram has links with perhaps al-Qaida; al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, as it's called in this region - or even al-Shabaab militants; anti-government militants as far as Somalia. President Goodluck Jonathan, the leader of Nigeria, says he feels that this group has allies within his administration, within the police and the army, the security forces, and the judiciary. So it is a huge problem that Nigeria is having to deal with.

SIMON: And as we noted, this violence comes after growing popular unrest over gas prices. Help us understand those protests.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. Nigeria is Africa's top crude oil exporting nation, but imports refined gas because it refines very little of the crude oil. Now, there has been subsidies, cheap fuel for many years that many governments have tried to get rid of. The government says $9 billion. It's costing too much; it's needed for development. But when they try to cut the subsidies, President Goodluck Jonathan found that the trade unions and tens of thousands of Nigerians said, no, why should the government live fat with good salaries, fat salaries, big cars, luxury lifestyle, whilst the people are poor. The government had to back down and the unions finally suspended the strike, but Nigerians say, uh-uh, we can't afford the huge prices now for fuel, for food, for transportation whilst this is a country that is not doing enough about corruption and fat cats getting away with corruption.

SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Lagos. Thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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