According to Borno Sufi Imam Sheik Fatahi, Yusuf was trained by Kano Salafi Izala Sheik Ja'afar Mahmud Adamu, who called him the "leader of young people"; the two split some time in 2002–4. They both preached in Maiduguri's Indimi Mosque, which was attended by the deputy governor of Borno. Many of the group were reportedly inspired by Mohammed Marwa, known as Maitatsine ("He who curses others"), a self-proclaimed prophet (annabi, a Hausa word usually used only to describe the founder of Islam) born in Northern Cameroon who condemned the reading of books other than the Quran. In a 2009 BBC interview, Yusuf, described by analysts as being well-educated, reaffirmed his opposition to Western education. He rejected the theory of evolution, said that rain is not "an evaporation caused by the sun", and that the Earth is not a sphere.
Except for a brief period of civilian rule between 1979 and 1983, Nigeria was governed by a series of military dictatorships from 1966 until the advent of democracy in 1999. Ethnic militancy is thought to have been one of the causes of the 1967–70 civil war; religious violence reached a new height in 1980 in Kano, the largest city in the north of the country, where the Muslim fundamentalist sect Yan Tatsine ("followers of Maitatsine") instigated riots that resulted in four or five thousand deaths. In the ensuing military crackdown, Maitatsine was killed, fuelling a backlash of increased violence that spread across other northern cities over the next twenty years. Social inequality, poverty and the increasingly radical nature of Islam, locally and internationally, contributed both to the Maitatsine and Boko Haram uprisings.:97–98
In the decades since the end of British occupation, politicians and academics from the mainly Islamic North have expressed their fundamental opposition to Western education. Political ethno-religious interest groups, whose membership includes influential political, military and religious leaders, have thrived in Nigeria, though they were largely suppressed under military rule. Their paramilitary wings, formed since the country's return to civilian rule, have been implicated in much of the sectarian violence in the years following. The Arewa People's Congress, the militia wing of the Arewa Consultative Forum, the main political group representing the interests of northern Nigeria, is a well-funded group with military and intelligence expertise, and is considered capable of engaging in military action, including covert bombing.