From the Jihad to ‘Boko Haram’: Reflections on Islamic Fundamentalism and Secularity in Nigeria


Edlyne Anugwom, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

As part of the jointly sponsored series Rethinking Islam in West Africa, Boston University African Studies Center and the West African Research Association were pleased to welcome Professor Edlyne Anugwom for the final talk of the academic year, on May 2, 2013.

Professor Anugwom, currently a Visiting Scholar at Bridgewater State University, is Professor of Sociology and African Development in the department of Sociology/Anthropolgy at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka.  His work focuses on ethnicity, development, globalization, resource driven conflict, and industrial and labor sociology. His lecture addressed Islamic fundamentalism and secularity in Nigeria, with particular reference to Boko Haram.

The talk was attended by over thirty people from the greater Boston Africanist community and sparked a lively discussion. Professor Anugwom traced the history of Boko Haram  in Nigeria, noting that while over 50 percent of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, those who might be considered ‘fundamentalists’ comprise only a tiny minority. One of the first persons apprehended as part of Boko Haram was, Professor Anguwom pointed out, a Southerner who was not even a Muslim, showing that even the Boko Haram episode has provided an avenue for both criminality and expression of frustration by Nigerian youths. The vast majority of Muslims co-exist peacefully with their neighbors of other faiths.

The rise of Boko Haram, as with extremist groups elsewhere, may be less an issue of religion and more a response to perceived economic and political marginalization. Issues of ethnic politics and resource distribution continue to fuel conflict. Professor Anugwom pointed also to rising rates of youth unemployment and the diversion of national resources to the ‘pockets of those in government’ as issues that need to be addressed.

Professor Anugwom is the current Secretary-General of the Pan African Anthropologists Association (PAAA) as well as the current Editor of the journal African Anthropologist, published by CODESRIA. He has had fellowships and research posts at the Universities of Leiden, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Wassennaar, and Mainz, among others.