John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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The BBC and Nigerian Islamist Terror

by John Campbell
March 21, 2013

DATE IMPORTED:August 4, 2009A girl hawks drinking water packed in sachets along a street after days of religious clashes in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, August 4, 2009. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


Northern Nigeria is a dangerous place. Even President Goodluck Jonathan waited to make his first visit to Yobe and Borno states until earlier this month, almost two years into his presidential term. Western journalists rarely visit there, and diplomatic travel by Western embassies appears to be limited. Information about the Islamist insurrection—labeled “Boko Haram”—largely comes from Nigerian commentators. There may also be the temptation among Americans who follow Africa to become fatigued over the violence.

Hence, BBC News has performed a service by broadcasting a report on March 13 on what life has become in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno. It profiles the frightful human cost of the insurrection and the government’s often brutal response: widows, orphans, an economy largely destroyed, and schools closed. And the traditional social safety nets are under siege or destroyed.

But, in some ways, the most frightening aspect of the BBC’s reportage is how embedded in the population Boko Haram has become: “As it is, you can’t even tell if your neighbor is a member and you dare not talk about them in public,” one Maiduguri resident told the BBC. The Nigerian government continues to insist that Boko Haram is a manifestation of international Islamist terrorism, and it utterly rejects the nearly ubiquitous reports of brutality by government forces. And, indeed, with the emergence of apparent splinter groups such as Ansaru, the movement is acquiring an international dimension that it has hitherto lacked. But the BBC report gives credibility to the essentially domestic origins of the insurrection.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by NigerianGreed

    Indeed, the cause of all violence, boko haram inclusive, in Nigeria is the failure of the PDP-led government to cater economically, socially and spiritually for Nigerians. Please don’t buy that story of international terrorism. It doesn’t hold water in Nigeria. PDP is the cause of all the problems which will only come to an end when their corrupt governance ends. Even the ANPP that was in Borno is not different from the PDP. They share the same agenda of coming to power to make money. God help Nigeria my country.

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    Nobody doubts that this group has domestic origins, but it has metamorphosed into something else.

    Its trajectory was totally predictable – some of us pointed that out, but some senior US officials continued to deny the obvious.

    Mid last year, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson said some thing to the effect that “Boko Haram was essentially a local group with local grievances”. Emmanuel Ogebe told him to “read what they are saying about themselves, they have people like you in mind”.

    Today, a French family of seven have been kidnapped by Boko Haram (among them four small children below ten).

    Having said that, Nigeria is at a loss at what do about Boko Haram. The Emir of Kano was attacked (so was the Shehu of Bornu and the Emir of Fika) so they may not regard the traditional elite as legitimate interlocutors.

    Their demands are not rational – no sovereign state would agree to them and the Nigerian government needs to pacify the victims of Boko Haram in order not to provoke retaliation.

    The Nigerian Army is the only thing standing between Nigeria imploding under the combined weight of a simmering Niger Delta insurgency and Boko Haram. Their methods leave much to be desired, but they are the only tool the Nigerian state has to deal with this problem. Any improvement in their operations may take time, but they are operating in an emergency situation.

    Economic rejuvenation of Northern Nigeria is beyond the capacity of the Nigerian state as presently constituted and most importantly, local leadership is unwilling or incapable of driving it. So this is likely to be a long or medium term effort.

    So the BBC documentary is good, but the hard work of dealing with this problem is still left to Nigerians – and Nigerians are either unwilling or incapable of doing it.

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