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Few in Nigeria's second city of Kano would admit to supporting the Islamist insurgents waging a bloody northern rebellion against the central government in Abuja.
But when Boko Haram talks of sweeping away the corrupt old order and creating an Islamic state to rule Nigeria fairly, the idea finds resonance with millions of desperate, struggling Nigerians in the north who feel the state has failed them.
"If the government treated people justly, there would none of these problems," said Khalid Adamu, 45, piling apples into pyramids of red and green at his stall by a traffic-choked Kano street.
Glancing over his shoulder, he hastily added he did not support the Islamists' campaign of violence, which rights groups say has killed more than 3,000 people in the past three years.
Boko Haram militants have carried out multiple bombings and shootings since the secretive sect launched an uprising in 2009, including a coordinated strike on Kano last year that left 186 people dead -- still its deadliest attack to date in a campaign that threatens the stability of Africa's largest oil producer.
"The government is supposed to look after health, education, water, but we see them doing nothing except getting rich, so why are they surprised there is a rebellion?" Adamu said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last week highlighted links between Boko Haram and al Qaeda's north African wing, whom French forces chased out of cities in Mali, as evidence Nigeria is one of many countries facing a global jihadist threat.
He gave it as a reason for Nigeria's large contribution to the West African peacekeeping force that is now gearing up to take over the battle against Saharan Islamists from the French.
Yet many northerners see the roots of the Boko Haram insurgency as local, and doubt whether force can resolve the north's crisis if no efforts are made to address its grievance: the poverty bred by years of kleptocratic governance.
A ceasefire declared by a Boko Haram commander a week ago raised hopes the government could negotiate with the sect, but violence has continued unabated, and no amount of talks will create opportunities needed to keep young people away from it.
"The devil has found work for our boys' idle hands," Ibrahim Shekarau, Kano's last governor and a 2011 presidential candidate, told Reuters. "The unemployed youth ... feel the people in power are not being fair to the man on the street. They want justice."
"HYPOCRITES AND LIARS"
Many doubt whether an Islamic state would deliver better economic opportunities -- as opposed to just an efficient, accountable state -- but the idea often appeals to young Muslims in nations where poor governance hinders economic opportunity.
"The target demographic for these people is 18-21s. They are frustrated and alienated by society, by the way everyone in politics is only in it for themselves," said Mohammed Jinadu, a northern opposition political leader and former legislator.
"Those (Boko Haram members) I've spoken to ... their complaints are the same as everyone's: that most of our politicians are hypocrites and liars who have taken the country for a ride."
Last year Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful" in the local language of northern Nigeria, pledged to revive the 19th century rule of Islamic scholar Usman Dan Fodio, who led a revolution to overthrow Hausa kings he saw as corrupt and idolatrous.
Dan Fodio created the Sokoto caliphate over much of what is now northern Nigeria, enforcing a stricter interpretation of Islam.
Alluding to his rule evoked a yearning for the days of West Africa's great Islamic empires, when northern cities like Kano were prosperous hubs for the fabled trans-Saharan trade routes connecting Africa's interior with its Mediterranean coast.
A low rise city of Arabic-style flat roofed homes on the cusp of the Sahara, which at this time of year kicks up a haze of fine sand, Kano retains a few traces of that past glory.
Outside a grand, green-domed mosque, young children in a Koranic school separated into boys and girls by an acacia tree practice Arabic calligraphy in torn notebooks.
The city's poverty is palpable: on most streets blind beggars in rags, some accompanied by children in skull caps, tap on car windows, while hawkers offer wares along miles of gridlock.
At independence from Britain in 1960 Kano prospered, but as southern oil fields began to dominate the economy and a spate of military dictatorships entrenched corruption, the north went into decline. Textile mills starved of electricity went bust.
Education in northern states is dire, a legacy of British colonialism, which allowed the north to protect its Islamic culture from missionaries at the expense of modern schooling.
Half of the teachers in the remote state of Sokoto are illiterate, the Basic Education Commission said last year.
"I have not met a single young man professing to be a member of Boko Haram who has a decent education," said Jinadu.
"EXTREMISM"
Boko Haram is in many ways a less conventional adversary than the al Qaeda-linked militants who overran Mali last year.
Unlike them it controls almost no territory, and has little in the way of desert bases, fuel depots or military vehicles. But its hit-and-run guerrilla attacks -- striking then melting back into the population -- have repeatedly proved deadly. Its spiritual leader Abubakar Shekau appears in web videos, but his enemies have never managed to find him in person.
The secretive sect modelled on the Afghan Taliban first became active in 2003 in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, but has since spread across the north and even to the capital Abuja, in the center of the country.
Some politicians in the northeast were initially accused of using sect adherents as guns for hire to settle scores.-Reuters
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