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Northern Nigerians' Views Not in Line With Boko Haram's

Northern Nigerians' Views Not in Line With Boko Haram's

by Magali Rheault and Bob Tortora

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup surveys suggest Nigerians do not embrace the anti-Western rhetoric of Boko Haram, the militant movement behind a series of deadly attacks in the country. About 6 in 10 Nigerians believe greater interaction with the West is more of a benefit than a threat. In Boko Haram's Northeast home base, nearly 7 in 10 say the same. Majorities of residents in other northern regions, which are home to many Muslims, also view such interaction positively.

Muslim-West interactions in Nigeria

In the predominantly Christian South, attitudes about increased interaction with the West range widely from 8 in 10 in favor in the Southwest to 2 in 10 in favor in the Southeast, the region that is least likely to view such interaction as a benefit.

For Northerners, Sharia Should not Be the Only Source of Legislation

While reliable information about Boko Haram is scarce, its tactics have led some observers to allege that the group has links to al Qaeda, with the potential of compromising security issues in neighboring countries. The group also seeks to challenge the legitimacy of the current government and implement Sharia across Nigeria. However, ethno-religious diversity in most regions is relatively widespread, with Muslims living alongside Christians and followers of traditional beliefs. Twelve Nigerian states currently use Sharia in criminal proceedings.

The majority of residents in the Northeast region said in 2010 that Sharia must be one of the sources of legislation -- making them among the most likely in Nigeria to say so. However, no resident in the Northeast region said Sharia must be the only source of law, while 36% said it should not be a source at all. Residents in the southern regions, where relatively few Muslims live, are the most likely to believe Sharia should not be a source of national legislation.

Sharia as legislation in Nigeria

Approval of the Country Leadership Shows Apparent North-South Divide

Since 2009, Boko Haram's attacks have killed hundreds of civilians, Muslims and Christians alike. But by targeting police officers and officials, the group also seeks to destabilize the Nigerian government and its institutions. In August 2011, more than 6 in 10 Nigerians said they approve of their country's leadership. Approval is slightly lower than average in the Northeast region, with about 4 in 10 residents approving of the country's leadership.

However, this relatively low level of approval is statistically on par with levels in the other two northern regions. In the three southern regions, approval of the country leadership hovers around 70%, perhaps not surprisingly because the president and the finance minister are from the South. As such, it appears there is a divide between Northerners and Southerners, but the only statistical difference is between the Northeast and the three southern regions.

Approval of leadership of Nigeria

In the North, Standard of Living Is Stagnant

Many observers see Boko Haram's actions as a response to government corruption and regional economic disparities. Boko Haram has denounced government corruption, but Nigerians are already aware of the governance issue in their country.

On the economic front, the lack of improvement in their standard of living is a concern for Northerners, especially those in the Northeast. While majorities of residents in all other regions say their standard of living is getting better, those in the Northeast are almost equally likely to say it is getting better as to say it remains the same.

Standard of living in Nigeria

Bottom Line

Considering Nigeria's human capital and natural resources, more contact with other parts of Africa, North America, Europe, and the rest of the world would likely help bring more prosperity to the country. Overall, the findings suggest Northerners, like most other Nigerians, would not welcome cutting off contact with Western countries. In fact, Northerners believe greater interaction with them would be a benefit.

It is also hard to see how Boko Haram can expect to garner public support when the group's attacks target the people they seek to rally around their cause. Support for establishing a state relying only on Islamic religious principles is relatively low, which is unsurprising considering Nigeria's complex legal heritage and ethno-religious diversity. At the same time, the Nigerian government must strive to develop comprehensive reforms to remedy people's economic grievances and provide more political transparency.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in April 2010 and in August 2011 in Nigeria. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.9 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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