Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Boko Haram hits hard

Gamal Nkrumah considers the tough challenges for Nigeria in combating the militant Islamist terrorism of Boko Haram that struck again at the heart of the country’s capital

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many in Nigeria reckon that even discussing Boko Haram is tantamount to sacrilege. That said there are those who believe care must be taken to avoid pushing Boko Haram into a corner. The Nigerian government, the advocates of containing Boko Haram insist, should revise its approach with dealing with the militancy of the movement.

This week’s terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, including striking the nation’s capital city, kidnapping schoolgirls in mysterious circumstances, and other atrocities makes it extremely difficult for the Nigerian government to sign any confidence-building deal with the terrorist organisation. Nigerian government concerns about Boko Haram’s terror tactics have never abated.

This uncompromising approach towards Boko Haram sees statesmen in Abuja shying away from drawing too many allusions about the militant Islamist terrorist group. Other factors in Nigeria’s development provide grounds for optimism. Nigeria, ironically enough, has this year replaced South Africa as the continent’s largest economy. Its exceptional economic clout is emphasised by it being the largest exporter of oil in Africa South of the Sahara and the continent’s most populous nation with an estimated 180 million people. The political consequence of this economic prowess is overshadowed by its chronic suffering of ethnic and religious tensions, and increasingly with the protracted battle against Boko Haram, a militant Islamist paramilitary movement that is causing havoc in northern Nigeria.

All hell broke loose last Monday when a bomb exploded at a bus station in the Nigerian capital Abuja during rush hour, killing at least 75 people and wounding more than 100. Militant Muslims want a bigger say in Nigerian politics. Whether that is feasible is another question altogether.

“This is a prelude,” Abubakar Shekau, or perhaps an impersonator, in camouflage and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle ominously warned in video posted online last Saturday. Shekau also goes by the alias Darul Tawheed, and is supposed to be a master of disguise. The Nigerian authorities claim that they have killed him, but he or his ghost appears to be very much alive.

Addressing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in no uncertain terms, Shekau, or the person posing as him, was unequivocal: “Let me be blunt: I am in your city, near you. Find me.”

If, however improbably, the militant Islamist terrorist group desists from wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria, then that sprawling albeit impoverished part of the country can join in the economic boom. The gap between economically prosperous and overwhelmingly Christian southern Nigeria and the impoverished Muslim north is fast growing. Nigerians relate to the durable social and political consequences that can follow from the interplay between the staggering economic dynamism of southern Nigeria and the dysfunctional stagnation of northern backwaters. 

Simple logic demonstrates that it is nearly impossible for Nigeria’s northern states to cope with serious problems such as desertification and the population explosion, let alone having to face Boko Haram. The Nigerian government has long declared Boko Haram a terrorist organisation.

And Nigeria is not the only country concerned with Shekau’s whereabouts. The United States has put a $7 million bounty on Shekau’s head. He is considered a dangerous terrorist in several African and Western nations. The New York based Human Rights Watch estimates that some 3,000 people have been murdered, often in cold blood, by Boko Haram.

Boko Haram declares that its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law in the predominantly Muslim northern states of Nigeria. To date, 12 northern Nigerian states have officially adopted Sharia law, but Nigeria has 36 states in all. “Yes, we are the ones who carried out the attack in Abuja,” Shekau said in the West African Hausa language, the second most widely spoken tongue in Africa south of the Sahara and that is also closely associated with Islam. Ominous.

No mention was made of the harrowing mass abduction of 130 Government Girls Secondary School students in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok. Boko Haram has targeted Western-inspired institutions of higher learning. Girls are particularly singled out for retribution.

The Abuja terrorist attack hints at the fact that the human devastation Boko Haram produced was not exclusively localised to certain parts of northern Nigeria, though. It will be other parts of Nigeria where the new security environment will be put to the test.

The brutal disconnect between Boko Haram and the Nigerian authorities is harrowing. Yet to a large constituency in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram is popular. That does not mean that the Nigerian government should turn a blind eye to Boko Haram’s misdeeds. 

Boko Haram would be emboldened by the blurring of Abuja’s red lines. If on the other hand, the bloodshed in Nigeria intensifies as was projected last Monday in Abuja, then politics in Nigeria would be coloured with a distinctly anti-Muslim edge.

Boko Haram discredits Nigerian government officials, both Muslim and Christian, as Western stooges. It is important to keep this in mind when analysing the country’s politics. But, there is no escaping the fact that the West does pick sides in Nigeria’s political battles, particularly as the war against Boko Haram terror is concerned. All of these developments point to a more risky Nigerian political scene in 2014. The Boko Haram insurrection threatens the very political stability not only of Nigeria, but of its West African neighbours as well.

Could a new mood of compromise spread? Could Qatar, or any other oil-rich nation for that matter, exert influence through diplomacy? It is doubtful in the Nigerian case.

If there is a sustainable solution to this regrettable state of affairs, it is for both Western and wealthy Arab states to focus on economic development projects in northern Nigeria. China, too, must not focus exclusively on the extractive industries of the resource-rich southern Nigeria.

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