May 15, 2012 · 0 Comments
The threat posed by Boko Haram is historically, a fairly new phenomenon in Nigerian politics as most reports trace the group back to about 2001. It is an Islamic fundamentalist group striving to abolish the secular system in that country, claiming that Nigeria should be ruled by Sharia law.
While Boko Haram relatively died down after the death of its leader Muhammad Yusuf in 2009, twin-attacks orchestrated by the group in December 2011 have affirmed that Boko Haram has re-emerged as a serious threat to the Nigeria’s long-term stability because of the group’s increasingly sophisticated weaponry and fighting strategies, which among other things have involved attacks on schools, banks, media houses, churches police stations and government property.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country has one of the highest rates of corruption and inequality in the world and one of the main drivers for Boko Haram’s activity has been the groups view that a secular state is the reason of the country’s poor socio- economic situation – this why the attacks have directed at “Western symbols” of modernity.
The response by the Nigerian government has been uncertain and at times shaky; the first was a condemnation of the violence and some efforts to quell it, which initially included the deployment of police personnel and the Joint Task Force (military) in hotspots such as Maiduguri and Kano. The problem with such a response was that it has underestimated the level of sophistication of the Boko Haram fighters.
When this reaction by Nigeria’s security apparatus failed and was met with more violence, the government attempted to grant amnesty to those fighters who submitted their weapons to the police, in the hopes that this would stop the fighting, but it was equally ineffective in quelling Boko Haram’s activity.
The level of sophistication of the Boko Haram can be attributed to their links to the North African wing of the Al-Qaeda, the so-called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). While this link has not been sufficiently proven it is highly possible because of the similarity of the grievances of the two groups namely that Western modernity is evil and the common religion. Boko Haram is a transliteration from the Arabic text Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (“Western education is sacrilege” or “a sin”) in the local Hausa language. Also, in a government commissioned study, the Presidential Committee on Security Challenges, the government suspected that the fighters were trained outside of Nigeria because of their fighting expertise.
The Presidential Committee on Security Challenges in the country’s northeast released a final draft in September of 2011 and some of the findings of the committee noted that the lack of proper governance and an endemic failure to deliver services were the reasons for the formation of the group. Linked to this was the danger that many young people who were unemployed and by in large had similar grievances would also join the group, thus expanding its membership. The committee also raised concerns that weapons trafficked from Libya due to that country’s armed insurrection and subsequent civil-war in 2011 had also infiltrated the Nigeria and in so doing increased Boko Haram’s fighting capabilities.
Groups like Boko Haram that from due to political and economic marginalisation are not unique to Nigeria or Africa, but are known all around the world. At ground level the Nigerian government cannot deal sufficiently with the threat of Boko Haram because it does not have the capacity to conduct such a mission. The approach of the government thus far has been door-to-door raids among homes in search of weapons. In what is the most populous country in Africa, with population of some 142 million people, such a strategy is clearly ineffective.
What cannot be disputed is that Boko Haram has become more sophisticated in its approach with increased suicide bombings, advanced weaponry, explosives and other seemingly imported tactics and resources, but the Nigerian government has also lacked the proper intelligence in order to effectively deal with the threat.
Although Boko Haram is mostly active in northeastern Nigeria, at least at this stage, the problem should not only be the responsibility of the Nigerian government, which has up to now demonstrated a deep seated inability in neutralising the threat posed by the group. The transnational nature of terrorist organisations should be enough to garner international support for the Nigerian government. When the United States experienced terrorist attacks in September 2009, the result was increased international vigilism on the issue, but also many countries around the world as far afield as Eritrea, Vietnam, Peru and Japan ratified conventions and laws to counter terrorism – it is the same kind of support that Nigeria now needs.
Even though international support is important, there is no doubt that some Boko Haram militants have some legitimate concerns, understandably so, which is why their support base may just increase. The Nigerian government should do its best to act, in solving its endemic governance issues, not least corruption and economic access and opportunities for the country northeast. Meaningful and hasty action on the part of the government may help deter young people from resorting to Boko Haram for their livelihoods.
- Libongo Ndabula