Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan told a church audience today that the country’s current crisis is worse than the Biafran secession crisis that plunged Nigeria into a bitter civil war in the last century.He warned his audience that Boko Haram, the pseudo-Islamic fanatical sect that believes all modern knowledge should be banned, has sympathizers within the Nigerian government itself, including the military and the police. The sect has stunned Nigeria by demanding that all Christians leave the historically Muslim north, killing hundreds of people to back up its threats.President Jonathan has his own reasons to play up the threat. The government’s decision to drop fuel subsidies has Muslims and Christians enraged across the country; for many ordinary people, cheap gas is the only benefit they ever see out of the country’s vast oil wealth. Many believe that generations of Nigerian politicians, not excluding the current rulers, have grown rich on oil money and corruption. President Jonathan would just as soon Nigerians change the subject, and civil war is even more interesting than the price of gas.Also, as a Christian whose succession to the presidency is seen by many Muslim northerners as a violation of the compromise by which Christians and Muslims rotate the presidency (Jonathan’s Muslim predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua died before completing his term and many Muslims think Jonathan, vice president at the time, should not have run for a full term on his own), Jonathan needs to keep the base happy. Boko Haram’s attacks have frightened and enraged Christians across the divided country; Jonathan needs to show that he cares or the reaction could get out of control.Yet it would be wrong to dismiss President Jonathan as an alarmist. There are Muslims in Nigeria who have nothing but contempt for Boko Haram’s ignorance and fanaticism, but who are genuinely worried that power is slipping out of the north’s hands. Since the Biafran War the Christian population of Nigeria has exploded, with many practitioners of traditional African religions embracing Christianity. (At independence there were about twice as many Muslims as Christians in Nigeria. Today the numbers are roughly even.) Meanwhile, the oil rich south has developed faster than the north, and the more entrepreneurial and globally savvy southern Nigerians are moving ahead faster than the more conservative north.For most of its history, Nigeria has been dominated by the north. That era may be ending, and this is what makes Boko Haram such a problem. Many northerners who care nothing about Boko Haram’s eccentric theology feel threatened by the power shift to the increasingly Christian south. Poorly educated young men with a sense of grievance and few economic prospects are the fuel for civil war; both northern and southern Nigeria are rich in this combustible human material. Mix ethnic and religious tensions in with economic competition, and you get a situation where a small match can set off a huge fire.Boko Haram aims to be that match. In Nigeria today, religion is hot.