John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Boko Haram Attacks Escalate in Northern Nigeria

by John Campbell
November 7, 2011

Nigerian police patrol as people attend prayers marking the muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in the capital Abuja, November 6, 2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

An alleged spokesman for northern Islamic terrorist movement Boko Haram, speaking to Agence France-Presse, took responsibility for bloody attacks on Friday in Damaturu in Yobe state and Maiduguri in Borno state as well as in two smaller towns. The attacks appear coordinated and involved car bombs, at least one a suicide attack, and young men using machine guns and improvised explosives.

Reported numbers killed currently range from sixty-five to one hundred and fifty, mostly in Damaturu. (Casualties in Nigeria are often understated.) The attacks targeted police stations and other government facilities, as is the usual pattern involving Boko Haram. This time, however, there were also attacks on the Christian quarter in Damaturu. Subsequently, over the weekend, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja issued a public warning of possible Boko Haram attacks on the city’s three largest hotels, where U.S. citizens normally stay. A Boko Haram attack on facilities identified with Americans would be new and could indicate that it has concluded that the United States is allied with the Abuja government.

AFP quotes the alleged Boko Haram spokesman as saying “We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop persecuting our members and vulnerable civilians.”

Since the inauguration of the southern Christian Goodluck Jonathan as president in May, Boko Haram attacks in the northeast have occurred almost daily. The group has also claimed responsibility for bombings of the national police headquarters and the UN headquarters building in Abuja. Security fears led Jonathan, in effect, to cancel the public celebration of Nigeria’s fifty-first anniversary of its independence in October.

The Jonathan administration is dealing with Boko Haram as solely a security issue, rather than as a reflection of the North’s impoverishment and alienation from the rest of the country. The Abuja government has responded by heavy deployment of military and police in the North. However, these security forces have been heavy handed and stand accused of serious human rights abuses against civilians. Some northern political leaders have urged that the number and deployment of security personnel be reduced. The police are notoriously corrupt and known for the shake-down of those transiting checkpoints, which are now legion. For many Nigerians, the police is the face of the Abuja government.

Friday’s attacks are likely to have a particular resonance in Nigeria because they occurred two days before Eid, a major Islamic holiday.

Last week, the head of a major Yoruba organization in southwest Nigeria–it includes Lagos and Ibadan and is far from where most of the mayhem is taking place–said that the country may break up because the government can no longer guarantee security. The Friday attacks–their extent and their apparent coordination–is likely to underscore for many Nigerians the growing insecurity in the country. Already one of the opposition political parties is calling on the Jonathan government to sack wholesale the leadership of the security services.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    A few thoughts on the latest Boko Haram incident.

    1. It was a long time coming. A nation where three ex governors were accused of stealing $600 million, where the Government spends about $10 per capita on health care and where civil servants are estimated to demand $3 billion annually on bribery will have Boko Haram type organisations.

    2. Analysts speculate that Boko Haram makes Jonathan look weaker, but they weaken the Northern political class even more and further polarise Christian / Muslim relations. Boko Haram may have the unintended consequence of destroying the power of the traditional Northern elite.

    3. The Jonathan administration is treating Boko Haram with the tools at its disposal. The US, with infinitely more resources and better trained security agents, couldn’t keep the lid on Iran and Afghanistan, so we cannot expect the Nigerian Government to perform any better. The most successful campaign against an insurgency was mounted by the Sri Lankan Government against the Tamil Tigers – but it involved scorched earth tactics that even the Nigerian Government will find distasteful.

    4. Contrary to what Ambassador Campbell usually suggests, its not all about “Northern alienation and poverty”. Most Nigerians are not “Northerners” and frankly speaking, are sick and tired of being held to ransom by either Boko Haram or “the Northern Elite”.

    They have hated “the North” for most of their lives and they even hate it more now. They will very happily do away with the “core North” and live in a Nigeria consisting of only the Middle Belt and the South (please check Jonathan’s electoral map).

    5. Nigeria fought a very bloody Civil War during the sixties. When the smoke cleared, the ethnic group most responsible for the Civil War (the Igbo) lost its relative standing in the Nigerian state. When the Nigerian state finally defeats the Boko Haram insurgency, the core Muslim North will lose its traditional influence.

    Nigeria is neither Pakistan nor Iraq, it is the most artificial of artificial states. A contraption hastily drawn by the British, engineered to fail. It is also the largest nation in which an equal number of devout Muslims and Christians coexist. There are bound to be tensions.

    Nigeria’s Christian population is not going to sit back idly and allow a jihadist group gain ground. Traditionally, Nigerian Christians have given as good as they got. We might be seeing another “Thirty Years War” soon.

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    Boko Haram sole goal is to establish an Islamic theocracy on the entire Nigeria state. As far as I’m concerned this goal is a chimera even in Northern Nigeria (where there is a significant Christian population).

    There are thousands of Nigerian troops (soldiers, Naval and Air Force personnel) in the Niger Delta committing all sort of atrocities and human rights abuse. These military personnel has been committing these abuses for DECADES. You never see the militants in that region go and start killing Muslims in mosques even though most of the degradation of the region happened during Nigeria rulers of Northern Muslim extraction.

    It should be noted that Nigeria has a very significant Christian population, and the killings of their fellow Christians (though largely of Northern extraction) by Boko Haram is not loss on them. As we say in Nigeria, no regions or ethnic group has the monopoly of violence, hence, the Federal Government of Nigeria is right in treating the Boko Haram menace as a security issue.

  • Posted by Maduka

    You wrote: “A Boko Haram attack on facilities identified with Americans would be new and could indicate that it has concluded that the United States is allied with the Abuja government.”

    Your Government noisily announced the creation of AFRICOM. The Boko Haram people are not stupid – what conclusion are they supposed to make from the creation of AFRICOM?

    Even those of us who have zero sympathy for Boko Haram have concluded that the United States is allied with the most reactionary elements in the Nigerian Government / Nigerian elite. After all, Robin Sanders and Johnnie Carson chose to visit Babangida, not progressive Nigerian youth.

    No US congressman has bothered to visit the Niger Delta (the Oil producing region in a nation that is America’s fifth largest exporter of crude) to see for him/herself the conditions that lead to the Niger Delta militancy. Instead, we have visits from senior military officials every other month and pledges of assistance on “security cooperation”.

    We have the spectacle of AFRICOM organising everything from pandemic response workshops, to borehole drilling to veterinary outreach in order to curry favour. The assumption is that we are so stupid that we don’t know what’s going on.

  • Posted by Abdullahi Ibrahim kano

    @ Maduka you wrote “Contrary to what Ambassador Campbell usually suggests, it’s not all about “Northern alienation and poverty”. Most Nigerians are not “Northerners” and frankly speaking, are sick and tired of being held to ransom by either Boko Haram or “the Northern Elite”.

    They have hated “the North” for most of their lives and they even hate it more now. They will very happily do away with the “core North” and live in a Nigeria consisting of only the Middle Belt and the South (please check Jonathan’s electoral map).

    Most Nigerians are indeed northerners according to various censuses and other independent indicators. You need to be focused in your analysis and not allow a hatred of the North to cloud your judgement.

    Your beloved Middle Belters are as alienated and poverty stricken as your hated ‘core northerners’

    Last time I checked there are two ways to ‘do away’ with parts of a country one dislikes; a peaceful negotiated split or a violent civil war. Last time I also checked, your ‘hated northerners’ are still very much part of the Nigeria nation and doing a way with them would take either of the above options.

    Let me say that in your hated Muslim North (which is what you are really referring to) there are a majority of progress and peace loving people who are hardworking and forward looking and would not be afraid of taking their destinies in their hands in the event the nation splits.

    Ask yourself objectively if the Muslim North has benefitted form the Oil largesse? The poverty and underdevelopment in the Muslim North is as bad as that of the middle belt. A splitting of Nigeria would indeed bring short term difficulties, but do not for one minute think that Muslim Northerners cannot work hard and fend for themselves and build a viable country.

    I’ll be interested in knowing how you would want carve out Muslims from the middle belt and merge it with a future Southern entity? Are you advocating a genocidal purge ala Bosnia or Rwanda? Surely an enlightened person like you would not support such undercurrents that are already floating in Nigeria against the Muslim North.

    No one supports Boko Haram in North except for a very tiny minority. Terrorists are the same world over and we should recognise them as such.

    The buck stops with the ruling elite to provide security and prosperity for all.

    Northern Muslims are sick and tired of rather ignorant analysis of the real situation in the North and are not afraid of any outcome.

  • Posted by Maduka

    @Abdullahi Ibrahim Kano

    I am describing Nigeria as it is, not as we wish it be. Ask yourself, how many times have Northerners been murdered in the South simply because they are Muslim? Now ask yourself, how many times Southerners have been murdered in the North simply because they are Christian?

    The answer to the second question is several times, and it goes a long way back to the 1953 Kano riots.

    The result of a long period of sustained violence against Southerners / Christians is a mutual loathing of Northerners. It doesn’t sound pretty, but it is a fact.

    Secondly, we need to stop pretending that we see Nigeria the same way, or that Nigeria even has a common destiny. The Northern states unilaterally declared Sharia law without taking into consideration the views of the rest of the nation. That action has led to even more violence, with splinter groups like Boko Haram insisting that the form of Sharia introduced by the Ayatollah in Zamfara State is not pure enough.

    Christianity and Sharia law cannot and do not coexist peacefully anywhere in the World. (Unless Christians assume dhimmi status – and Nigerian Christians will not stand for such a thing).

    Will Nigeria split? I think so and possibly in our lifetimes (when our crude oil reserves dwindle). It is inevitable, we had time to make it work but selfish religious and sectional interests stood in the way of progress.

    We stand at the cusp of the 21st Century with no national identity. We papered over the cracks triggered by the Civil War, Nigeria was smuggled into the OIC in bad faith, the annulment of the June 12 election did permanent damage to the relationship between the South West and Core North, the murder of Saro-Wiwa triggered an insurrection in the Niger Delta and Zangon-Kataf and Jos destroyed the harmony that existed between the Christian and Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria.

    Sharia was the final blow.

    All artificial states have an expiry date (e.g. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia). I agree with you that our task should be to ensure that the dissolution of Nigeria is as peaceful as possible.

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