Understanding Boko Haram: the rise of fundamentalism in Nigeria

Invoking global attention and movements such as #BringBackOurGirls, the abduction of over 276 schoolgirls has turned the world’s eye to the rising Islamic extremism in Nigeria. Radical Islamic groups have been emerging across the African continent, including Somalia’s Shabaab occupying The Horn of Africa and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Alongside these, extremist group Boko Haram has increased its attacks in Nigeria since 2010. Fifty percent Muslim, the Nigerian population is no stranger to Islam. However, the Jihadist organization, whose name is a Hausa translation of “western education is sin,” has turned to violent means in order to promote their anti—Western message.  Through pillaging, kidnapping and killing, the radical group has made clear its willingness to rely on deadly tactics to broadcast and achieve its goal of turning Africa’s largest oil exporter into an Islamic state. On September 7, 2010, Boko Haram members attacked Bauchi prison, leading to the escape of over 700 prisoners, most imprisoned as a consequence of participating in sectarian violence. In the years following, the group has committed numerous atrocities—many fatal–including kidnappings, bombings of towns, city centers and churches, and attacks on villages and schools. In 2014 alone, Boko Haram has caused 14 acts of terror. These include a suicide bomb in Maiduguri, Borno State, killing at least 31 people and injuring over 50 people, an attack at Federal Government College, which left 29 male students dead, and the Chibok kidnapping of over 200 school girls in April. Nigerian officials have insisted they have located the girls, but have refused to proceed with any rescue efforts due to the possibility of harming the girls. Western officials are skeptical of this claim.  Following the kidnapping, the extremist group has triggered numerous bomb explosions in various towns causing more than 1000 casualties and injuringthousands more. On June 2, 2014, militants dressed as military murdered at least 200 people in 3 villages in Borno State (though the death toll is suspected to be closer to 400). Some think that the attack was made in retribution for a previous Boko Haram attack that resulted in the death of 71 extremists. It took a few days for the news of the slaughter to reach the provincial capital because of extremely poor telephone connection—if any—and terribly dangerous roads leading to the capital. The attack has since been confirmed by Mohammad Ali Ndume, a Borno senator and a top official who insisted on remaining anonymous. On June 4, the group waged another attack in Maiduguri. According to survivors, militants told villagers to gather round under the pretense of hearing them preach, then proceeded to gun them down. It is suspected that over 200 were killed. On June 10, 20 women were abducted near the location of the Chibok kidnapping. The kidnapping of the Chibok girls has grabbed global attention and Nigeria has received augmenting pressure from numerous nations around the globe to increase their military efforts along with international aid to combat the insurgents. However, as two months have gone by with no sign of retrieving the girls, the incapacity of the Nigerian military to resolve the situation has become progressively clearer. The Nigerian military itself has voiced its concern with the imbalance of abilities between the two forces. Compared to the highly motivated, trained, armed and organized Boko Haram fighters, military soldiers are outgunned. Some even argue that the militants are more ideologically-enthused to fight than the military Moreover, Nigerian forces have not been adequately trained for such a situation—a notion that has led the US, UK, China, France and Israel to provide aid by way of military training and intelligence. The UK recently increased its assistance through augmented military training and provision of schooling for one million children. Long-term diplomatic partner with Nigeria, the US has deployed surveillance drones to assist the search for the kidnapped girls, though extremely rough terrain has hindered what some had hoped would be a quick recovery.  These nations have made clear their refusal to provide the Nigerian army with raw intelligence or weapons. Their reluctance stems from the military’s lack of training as well as indications of military behavior that international human rights groups have deemed unacceptable including killing civilians during raids. The inefficiency of the military is merely heightened by President Jonathan Goodluck’s apparent attempts to diminish the seriousness of the situation during the initial days following the occurrence. Now that the kidnapping of the girls has garnered international attention, he seems to be making an effort to globalize the problem of Boko Haram by using language emphasizing its connection to al-Qaeda. With the 2015 presidential elections approaching, all events have been considered through the lens of politics. In fact, according to Ledum Mitee, a former activist in the Niger Delta, President Jonathon’s closest allies were telling him that Boko Haram attacks were merely ploys by the opposition All Progressive’s Conference (APC), who has political sway in the three states taken over by the terrorist organization. Boko Haram is believed to have caused at least 3,300 deaths this year. The rising extremism in Nigeria has shed light on the deficiencies within military training, preparedness and overall effectiveness. Though Boko Haram’s actions received global attention only after the abduction of the girls, the group’s attacks on civilians have taken place before the abductions and have continued—with a higher frequency—since. Two months after the abductions, Boko Haram’s reign of terror seems to have lost its sensational appeal to the globe. Nevertheless, though the world has turned its eyes away from the problem, the terror and deadly violence caused by the actions of the jihadist group press on. CNN financial news reporter Zain Asher mentioned her belief that a major driving force behind extremism is poverty. Others might argue that the radicalism seen in Nigeria is motivated by an administration composed of a misinformed, mal-equipped president and an even less equipped military. Regardless of any immediate help given by foreign powers, resolving the problem will require long-term engagement. In the end, no matter the specific causes, it is clear that, ultimately, in order to contain and resolve the growing problem, of radicalism, long-term solutions must be planned, considered and enacted to ensure the gradual and stable amelioration of the situation in Nigeria.

Understanding Boko Haram: the rise of fundamentalism in Nigeria - GEOPOLITICA.info