Monday,19 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Monday,19 March, 2018
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Weapons against Boko Haram

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has made the fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram and extending education the goals of his new administration, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Nigerian army liberated hundreds of hostages last week who had been kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram, indicating that the policies of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari of using force against terrorism have gradually become more defined even if his economic and social policies remain a mystery.

Buhari, a former army general, said after his historic victory against former president Goodluck Jonathan in early April that defeating Boko Haram “begins and ends” in Nigeria. He made the same argument in an article published in the New York Times and in interviews with the local media.

Khedr Abdel-Baki, a professor of media policy at Kano University in central Nigeria, said that the policies of the president-elect, who will be sworn in at the end of this month, will be firm and strong against terrorism.

“During the election campaign, many of Buhari’s rivals claimed Muslims would not be serious about confronting Boko Haram,” Abdel-Baki, a Buhari supporter, said. “But his election invalidated these claims. The new administration is not like its predecessor, which blamed foreign forces for everything the country has been suffering from.”

There are religious tensions in Nigeria because of conflicts between Muslims, mostly in the north of the country, and Christians, mostly in the south. The results of the elections put an end to claims that Muslims in Nigeria support extremism.

Buhari achieved an unprecedented political victory as the first opposition leader to defeat an incumbent president since the beginning of democracy in Nigeria 16 years ago after the controversial death of the dictator Sani Abacha in 1998.

According to Abdel-Baki, Buhari relied on his military career and leadership of the country for one year after the 1984 coup to launch his election bid. He is also known for his strong stand against corruption, which is rampant in Nigeria.

According to Buhari’s official Website, he defeated an Islamist rebellion in the north of the country in the early 1980s and confronted an invasion by Chadian forces in 1983. He also fought in the Biafra War (1967-1970) in the oil-rich eastern province after it declared independence from Nigeria.

The question now is whether the 72-year-old general will be able to add another victory to his military and political achievements by stamping out terrorism by Boko Haram. This has killed more than 10,000 people, injured many more times this number, and displaced hundreds of thousands over the past six years.

Although in three days last week the Nigerian army was able to liberate about 700 hostages, Boko Haram is still holding 2,000 female hostages whom it kidnapped last year.

The BBC quoted the freed women as saying that Boko Haram had stoned some women as the Nigerian army approached to liberate them. None of the liberated women appear to be from the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok one year ago, triggering a worldwide campaign for their release.

Boko Haram is an extremist group that controls large swathes of territory in the northeast of Nigeria, its influence extending to towns and villages in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

These countries have formed a regional force with Nigeria to fight Boko Haram, but so far with little success.

According to US military analysts, Boko Haram has 4,000-6,000 fighters, and it captured most of its weapons from Nigerian soldiers fleeing from battles against the group or from military bases it has raided.

This means Nigerian army morale will need to be rebuilt before the country asks for weapons from the West or specifically from the US.

Buhari has said he intends to deploy more soldiers than are already present in the provinces and use them to fight Boko Haram instead of “repressing the opposition.”

Nigerian activist Abu Bakr Banjida believes Buhari’s victory in the elections signals an overall outlook in Sub-Saharan Africa that prefers military rule over that of civilians because of the challenges of the War on Terror.

“Many believe African military institutions protect the people from terrorism and separatists. And in Africa there are a lot of them,” Banjida said.

“In the eyes of its supporters, the Nigerian army maintained the unity of the country during the Biafra War, although its opponents accuse it of causing the deaths of one million people during that conflict as well as repeated coups. The generals have ruled the country for over half the time since independence,” he added.

Nonetheless, many do not deny that Buhari has a clear vision for Nigeria, and after his election he immediately announced that poverty and marginalisation feed into extremism and terrorism.

 “If you are a poor young man, you may wonder why your life is so hard,” Buhari said. “At that point, extremism is a possible solution.”

However, up to now Buhari’s economic and social policies remain ill-defined, though he has announced that education is a top priority, especially in regions that have suffered from Boko Haram terrorism.

“The solution is to find an alternative through education, especially for girls,” Buhari declared.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian press has been wondering about the new president’s economic programme in a country that has for long relied on oil revenues that have dropped sharply in recent months. This makes the new president’s job harder despite his good intentions.

For the moment, it seems Buhari has not promised his countrymen an economic programme because he believes eradicating Boko Haram and education are his main goals, especially during his first term in office.

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