‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel’

The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram

February 2016 9781849045582 264pp


Boko Haram’s appetite for violence and kidnapping women has thrust them to the top of the global news agenda. In a few years, they have all but severed parts of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state and largest economy, from the hands of the government. When they speak the world sees a grimacing ranting demagogue who taunts viewers claiming he will ‘eat the heart of the infidel’ and calling on Nigerians to reject their corrupt democracy and return to a ‘pure’ form of Islam. Thousands have been slaughtered in their campaign of purification which has evolved through a bloody civil war. Civilians are trapped between the militants and the military and feel preyed upon by both.

Boko Haram did not emerge fully formed. In Northern Nigeria — which has witnessed many caliphates in the past — radical ideas flourish and strange sects are common. For decades Nigeria’s politicians and oligarchs fed on the resources of a state buoyed by oil and turned public institutions into spoons for the pot. When the going was good it didn’t matter. Now a new ravenous force threatens Nigeria.

Table of contents

Preface: The Strange Tale of John Henry Dorogu

Part 1

If you Can’t Beat them, Shun Them
Disputed Territory
Modes of Dealing

Part 2

Heart Rot
Big Potato on Top
Stomach Infrastructure
Eating the Cords of Society

Part 3

The Rest of Us Are Just Hawking Peanuts
Kill Zones
Strange Cartography
Off With the Rat’s Head



‘Walker’s book is anecdotal, well researched and engaging. He has a novelist’s eye for story and situation. But the most important thing is that he knows Nigeria well, having lived there for about a decade … there is no denying the author’s mastery of his subject and the usefulness of this overview to anyone interested in Nigerian history and the role of religion in Nigerian politics.’ — The Guardian

‘A fascinating and disturbing read. ‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel’ is vital for anyone interested in understanding the origins of Boko Haram.’ — Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker staff writer, and author of Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World

‘a major addition to existing literature on Boko Haram … The book is a reader’s delight. The journalistic background of the author gives life to the book and enthrals in many ways. It provides a dispassionate analysis of Nigeria’s history, particularly of the north, and the prevailing structural and societal imbalances that gave rise to Boko Haram … dutifully analysed and beautifully written.’ — LSE Review of Books

‘Boko Haram have often appeared as nothing more than a Nigerian offshoot of Al Qaeda. Andrew Walker’s wide-ranging, solidly-researched and grippingly-told story shows a more complex and troubling picture of a group whose historical precedents go back centuries, and whose recent rise owes as much to local social injustice, political instability and local rivalries as to religious fanaticism. The conflict as Walker presents it is over nothing less than Nigeria’s identity.’ — Anthony Sattin, author of The Gates of Africa

‘Global responses to modern day terrorism have been marked by a crisis of imagination and an inability to look back in search of the solutions that would enable us to move forward. Andrew Walker’s book provides us with a rare insight into the historical and cultural factors that drive insurgencies, a veritable road map into this complex world.’ — Dr Fatima Akilu, expert on countering violent extremism and Director, Neem Institute

‘In a sea of shabby work on Boko Haram, from the excessively sensational to the simplistic, Andrew Walker’s stands out by going many extra miles, reaching the heart of several matters either unexplored or inadequately dealt with by most previous commentators. Whatever one makes of the connections he teases out between contemporary events and historical figures in northern Nigeria, one thing is evident: ‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel’ is well-researched, deeply contemplated, and beautifully written.’ — Elnathan John, Nigerian novelist, satirist and writer


Andrew Walker has been writing about Nigeria since 2006. He worked in Abuja for The Daily Trust and reported from there for the BBC.

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