ED KASHI

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and one of the world’s most important oil producers. Evenly split between a primarily Muslim north and a Christian south, over 50 percent of the nation’s population lives in poverty. The situation is particularly dire in the north where scarcity impacts more than 70 percent of the people. Though most Nigerians live in harmony, a murky Islamic insurgent group, Boko Haram — which translates as “Western Religion is Sacrilegious” — has become increasingly radical and violent in the past 5 years, targeting Nigerian security forces and churches. Religious strife, economic disparity, ethnic tensions, and a fight for resources are converging into a growing crisis. As tensions flair, a looming potential for civil war threatens to engulf the country and tear Nigeria apart — a disastrous outcome for all of Africa.

A Muslim woman is reflected in a car mirror while Christian women are seen walking down the street in Kano, Nigeria, on March 31, 2013.

A Muslim woman is reflected in a car mirror while Christian women are seen walking down the street in Kano, Nigeria, on March 31, 2013.

Janet Elisha Daniang, 15, is photographed in her home in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 4, 2013. Daniang bears the scars of the St. Rita Catholic church bombing that took place on October 28, 2012 in Kaduna, where 4 people died and 192 were injured.

Janet Elisha Daniang, 15, is photographed in her home in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 4, 2013. Daniang bears the scars of the St. Rita Catholic church bombing that took place on October 28, 2012 in Kaduna, where 4 people died and 192 were injured.

A heavy security presence from the police is a reminder of the attacks by Boko Haram on Christian worshippers in Kano, Nigeria on March 31, 2013.

A heavy security presence from the police is a reminder of the attacks by Boko Haram on Christian worshippers in Kano, Nigeria on March 31, 2013.

Police stand on guard during Easter Sunday services in an effort to deter the attacks by Boko Haram in Kano, Nigeria on March 31, 2013.

Police stand on guard during Easter Sunday services in an effort to deter the attacks by Boko Haram in Kano, Nigeria on March 31, 2013.

T Abba, 30, and Naanman P. 30, pose for a portrait in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 4, 2013. Both men bear the scars of the St. Rita Catholic church bombing that took place on October 28, 2012 in Kaduna, where 4 people died and 192 were injured.

T Abba, 30, and Naanman P. 30, pose for a portrait in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 4, 2013. Both men bear the scars of the St. Rita Catholic church bombing that took place on October 28, 2012 in Kaduna, where 4 people died and 192 were injured.

Farmers burn their fields in a village near Dareta, Nigeria on April 9, 2013.

Farmers burn their fields in a village near Dareta, Nigeria on April 9, 2013.

At the National Orthopedic Hospital, Christian survivors of a Boko Haram bomb attack on a bus depot on March 18, 2013 get free care, in Kano, Nigeria on March 29, 2013. Over 100 people died and scores were injured.

At the National Orthopedic Hospital, Christian survivors of a Boko Haram bomb attack on a bus depot on March 18, 2013 get free care, in Kano, Nigeria on March 29, 2013. Over 100 people died and scores were injured.

This young Muslim boy picks through garbage in what was once the main Christian church in this community. Due to attacks on the church, the Christians have fled this area. The poverty and lack of development that plagues northern Nigeria and fuels the insurgency is evident in the Muslim section of Angwan Rogo, considered a no go area of Jos, Nigeria on March 25, 2013.

A young Muslim boy picks through garbage in what was once the main Christian church in this community. Due to attacks on the church, the Christians have fled this area. The poverty and lack of development that plagues northern Nigeria and fuels the insurgency is evident in the Muslim section of Angwan Rogo, considered a no go area of Jos, Nigeria on March 25, 2013.

Locals go about their routines, stepping over garbage heaps that burn along the railroad tracks in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 3, 2013.

Locals go about their routines, stepping over garbage heaps that burn along the railroad tracks in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 3, 2013.

Sufi Muslims of the Qadiriyya sect, the same as the Emir of Kano, perform "amfasi", which is their traditional chanting and dancing, in Kano, Nigeria on March 29, 2013.

Sufi Muslims of the Qadiriyya sect, the same as the Emir of Kano, perform “amfasi”, which is their traditional chanting and dancing, in Kano, Nigeria on March 29, 2013.

Cadi (senior sharia court judge) Ibrahim Sarki Yola, dispense justice over family, business and property disputes at the City No. 3 Sharia Court in Kano, Nigeria on April 15, 2013. In 2000, several predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria formally adopted Islamic law as part of their legal system, despite concerns from the largely Christian population in the south. For followers of Islam, many edicts of morality and lifestyle are found in the body of Islamic law known as "Sharia" — a set of religious rules that are observed in various ways around the Islamic world.

Cadi (senior sharia court judge) Ibrahim Sarki Yola, dispense justice over family, business and property disputes at the City No. 3 Sharia Court in Kano, Nigeria on April 15, 2013. In 2000, several predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria formally adopted Islamic law as part of their legal system, despite concerns from the largely Christian population in the south. For followers of Islam, many edicts of morality and lifestyle are found in the body of Islamic law known as “Sharia” — a set of religious rules that are observed in various ways around the Islamic world.

At the Kano State Hisbah Commission offices, women and men come to be screened for HIV, pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases, in the hopes of taking part in a mass wedding ceremony later this month, in Kano, Nigeria on March 30, 2013. Most of the women are divorced, widowed or from very poor, rural families, seeking new husbands.

At the Kano State Hisbah Commission offices, women and men come to be screened for HIV, pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases, in the hopes of taking part in a mass wedding ceremony later this month, in Kano, Nigeria on March 30, 2013. Most of the women are divorced, widowed or from very poor, rural families, seeking new husbands.

Scenes at the wedding of a Christian couple, Tony Bala Shammah, 29, and Timeni Samuel, 24, at the ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) in Sabon Gari district of Kano, Nigeria on April 6, 2013.

Scenes at the wedding of a Christian couple, Tony Bala Shammah, 29, and Timeni Samuel, 24, at the ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) in Sabon Gari district of Kano, Nigeria on April 6, 2013.

The marriage of Abubakar Suleman, 31 and Fatima Musa Hassan, 18, brings the two families together in the Old City of Kano to prepare the bride and then to their new home in on the outskirts of Kano, Nigeria on April 7, 2013.

The marriage of Abubakar Suleman, 31 and Fatima Musa Hassan, 18, brings the two families together in the Old City of Kano to prepare the bride and then to their new home in on the outskirts of Kano, Nigeria on April 7, 2013.

Children play together at the horse racing course of Sokoto, Nigeria on April 12, 2013. These children are Almajiris. Almajiris are street kids who have been taken in by local Islamic schools, where they are made to read the Koran but continue to beg for money and food.

Children play together at the horse racing course of Sokoto, Nigeria on April 12, 2013. These children are Almajiris. Almajiris are street kids who have been taken in by local Islamic schools, where they are made to read the Koran but continue to beg for money and food.

Workers take a break from artisanal gold mining in Bagega, Nigeria on April 10, 2013. Lead poisoning linked to informal mining has killed over 400 children under five since March 2010, according to the United Nations. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the medical relief agency, noticed high numbers of convulsions and deaths among children in Dareta, Bagega and other villages in Zamfara State in March 2010, and started investigating.

Workers take a break from artisanal gold mining in Bagega, Nigeria on April 10, 2013. Lead poisoning linked to informal mining has killed over 400 children under five since March 2010, according to the United Nations. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the medical relief agency, noticed high numbers of convulsions and deaths among children in Dareta, Bagega and other villages in Zamfara State in March 2010, and started investigating.

Artisanal gold mining, with toxic lead dust and the use of mercury, have led to major health problems in communities like this one, in Wawa Ichi, which means Fruitless Tree Village. Lead poisoning linked to informal mining has killed over 400 children under five since March 2010, according to the United Nations.

Artisanal gold mining, with toxic lead dust and the use of mercury, have led to major health problems in communities like this one, in Wawa Ichi, which means Fruitless Tree Village. Lead poisoning linked to informal mining has killed over 400 children under five since March 2010, according to the United Nations.

Young boys learn the koran at the Madrassa Tarbiyyatul Aulad koranic school in Sokoto, Nigeria on April 13, 2013. This school teaches both almajiris, or street kids, and locals from this impoverished area.

Young boys learn the Koran at the Madrassa Tarbiyyatul Aulad koranic school in Sokoto, Nigeria on April 13, 2013. This school teaches both almajiris, or street kids, and locals from this impoverished area.

A guard stands watch as the Emir of Kano meets with his subjects at his palace during Friday prayers in Kano, Nigeria on April 5, 2013.

A guard stands watch as the Emir of Kano meets with his subjects at his palace during Friday prayers in Kano, Nigeria on April 5, 2013.

Scenes in the Emir of Kano's palace, where he welcomes visiting dignitaries from Saudi Arabia and other parts of Northern Nigeria, as well as local subjects, in Kano, Nigeria on April 1, 2013. The Emir is celebrating his 50th year on the throne this year and is now 84 years old.

Scenes in the Emir of Kano’s palace, where he welcomes visiting dignitaries from Saudi Arabia and other parts of Northern Nigeria, as well as local subjects, in Kano, Nigeria on April 1, 2013. The Emir is celebrating his 50th year on the throne this year and is now 84 years old.

A man bathes in the Kaduna River in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 3, 2013.

A man bathes in the Kaduna River in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 3, 2013.

This story appears in:

National Geographic, November 2013.
National Geographic, November 2013

National Geographic, November 2013

National Geographic, November 2013

National Geographic, November 2013

On the cover of National Geographic Latvia, November 2013.

National Geographic Latvia, November 2013

National Geographic (Online), November 2013
Global Post, March 10, 2014.