Nigeria's current population is more than 170 million.. Not only does that make it the most populous nation in Africa, but it has the potential of being the largest domestic market in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the largest oil-producing nation in Africa and the twelfth largest in the world. (1)
The country's strategic location, sheer numbers, and vibrant population make Nigeria a dominant actor on the continent and an important player in the world's economic and political arena.
It has more than 250 ethnic groups. Although English is Nigeria's official language, there are as many as 500 indigenous languages. The religious composition of the population is a little more than fifty percent Muslim, mostly concentrated in the north; slightly more than forty percent Christian mostly located in the south.The rest are members of indigenous beliefs. (2)
Such an ethnic and religious mix poses enormous challenges to achieving national harmony. In particular, some segments of the Muslim population view and support Islamic extremism as a way of ridding the country of the vestiges of European colonialism and today's Western culture, which they consider a negative influence on the Islamic way of life and corruptive to Muslim youth. Some resist Western education.
Numerous factors have been attributed to the Muslim community's discontent and the growth of Islamic extremism in Nigeria. The list includes historic grievances and grudges (14) such as: the more pervasive poverty in the north as compared to the oil-producing south; a sense of alienation from the Christian south; government corruption at the national and local levels; and strong-armed, sometimes brutal security measures imposed by the army and the police. These wedge issues and perceptions make the Muslim community vulnerable to extremists promoting their radical agendas as means of connecting with and recruiting members.
For more than a decade, there has been a tremendous rise in insurgent-related incidents in the country. Islamic extremist groups are growing in numbers and strength and are suspected of receiving external monetary and training support.
According to an article in the 2013 fall issue of The Journal of Counter Terrorism, "Hezbollah is one of a small number of active terrorist groups that has a truly global reach." It has a history of violence throughout the world and is present in an estimated forty countries on five continents. And, it is "the most technically-and militarily-capable terrorist organization in the world." Furthermore, Hezbollah is known to receive backing from Iran in the form of training, weapons, explosives, and political, diplomatic and monetary aid estimated anywhere from $60 to $200 million. In exchange, its members act as proxy for Iran's extraterritorial unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. (3)
The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist state. (9) However, no African country has declared it as such. (11)
In May 2013, Nigerian authorities reported evidence of a Hezbollah connection in northern Nigeria's biggest city, Kano. Between May 16 and 28, security officials detained three suspects, residents of Nigeria of Lebanese origin and subsequently arrested a fourth on suspicion of ties to Hezbollah. The State Security Services (SSS) raided the home of one of the suspects and announced the discovery of a large stash of high-powered weapons hidden in a cement bunker under the master bedroom. One official described the compound as hosting a terrorist cell tied to the powerful Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah. (4) A police spokesperson listed the contents as anti-tank and anti-mine devices, rocket-propelled guns and other arms and ammunition and indicated they were intended for facilities of Israeli and Western interests in Nigeria. (5) There was no mention of specific targets.