John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Bombing of the UN Headquarters in Nigeria

by John Campbell
August 26, 2011

A victim of a bomb blast ripped through the United Nations offices in the Nigerian capital of Abuja is loaded into an ambulance, August 26, 2011, after a car rammed into the building, and witnesses said they had seen a number of dead bodies being carried from the site. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Today’s horrific suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja is likely to focus attention on Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group that has been carrying out terrorist attacks against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. An alleged Boko Haram spokesman has already claimed responsibility, and it is likely to be blamed by the Nigerian authorities and international observers.

But other groups in the past have carried out bomb attacks in Abuja. It was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that carried out a car bomb attack that disrupted Nigeria’s fiftieth anniversary ceremonies on October 1, 2010. It has the capacity to carry out today’s attack, and it has a history of attacking foreign installations, especially oil production facilities. Boko Haram, at least up to now, has only attacked Nigeria government facilities and personnel, not foreigners.

Boko Haram has been an indigenous, grassroots insurrection against a discredited Abuja government and against the traditional northern Nigerian Islamic establishment. It has not been a part of an international terrorist movement, though doubtlessly there have been contacts with al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and al-Shabab. Boko Haram appears to be decentralized in its leadership without a charismatic leader or a politburo. The Abuja government has not sought to address the deep-seated discontent of the Muslim north that underpins support for Boko Haram, but rather has imposed a heavy and often brutal security presence under the justification of anti-terrorism.

If the Abuja attacks today prove to have been carried out by Boko Haram, it is likely that the West and international organizations have come to be identified with the Abuja government. That would be bad news for the United States, as northern Nigeria has one of Africa’s largest Muslim populations.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Ambassador Donald Easum

    Dear Ambassador Campbell: As a graduate of the same splendid university as yours (Wisconsin, Madison campus),I dare gently to challenge the remarkable adverb appearing as “doubtlesslessly” in the penultimate paragraph of your news item today. I trust you will join me in the judgment that one less “less” is in order. Meanwhile your stream of virtually daily cogent and courageous observations on Nigeria is a great service to all of us, including Nigerians. I doubt there is more than a handful of African countries where the possibilities for the future are any brighter. You and your assistant Arch are casting needy light. Keep it going.

    From Donald B. Easum, Ph.D., Ambassador to Nigeria 1975-1979

  • Posted by kayode

    John, what do you think Boko Haram stands to gain by bombing the UN building in Nigeria? Do you not think it could be counter productive given that it has now created more enemies for itself as opposed to just the Nigerian government? Do you think its avowed aims are realistic and achievable in the Nigerian political context? I would be interested in your views on these issues.

  • Posted by Sulaiman Abubakar

    This attack raises more questions than logical answers.
    Why has Boko Haram since Muhammad Yusuf been faceless?
    Why hasn’t anything reasonable been done since their alleged attack of the Nigerian apex security establishment?
    Why would Boko Haram attack the UN? it has never (to my knowledge) mentioned anything against it.
    My sadness on these issues are immeasurable and I feel this way because I do not see the Nigerian government being able to solve these problems.
    Dear God! Save Nigeria.

  • Posted by Idris Ibrahim

    I feel good to be here sir, I just want to ask whether the following statement or its like is credited to you sir:

    While I condemn any act of terrorism and violence, I couldn’t fathom some logic and sense in the claims, responsibility and responses to the unfortunate incident of yesterdays bombing.

    1. The level of laxity in the Nigerian security is quite appalling and not willing to improve despite incidences of repeated bombings in the capital city of Abuja in the last six months 3. My question is; Everyone is pointing fingers to an alleged “suicide bomber” but no one is showing a footage of the incident. Who are the witnesses? An office and international organisation such as the UN building doesn’t have a CCTV camera? It’s illogical. 4. I’m not exonerating anybody, but I’m beginning to lose credibility for the news of claims by Boko Haram terrorist group most of the time. In how many months of escalated bombings there seem to be no “faces” that can be linked to the group. Like Alqaeda, at least we know the faces behind the terrorist group and their modus operandi. In this case, with every claims to BH bombings we are left with no faces no Just statements which can be done by anybody, or are there “ghost workers” in the Boko Haram terrorist organisation? 5.Since Oct 1 of last year, Nigeria has been reported to have 5 incidents of bomblast. The security agencies are yet to show a face that will be linked as a top member of the Boko Haram Group. There will always be questions to these bombings in Nigeria but no logical answers. Its time for the Nigerian security agencies to change tactics and wake up from their lethargic approach in this renewed global fight against terrorism.

  • Posted by Mohammed Bello

    Thank you for this incisive analysis. I hope those who have ears will hear.

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