In the wake of Nigeria’s presidential elections, horror over the massacre at Garissa in Kenya, and a general western focus on a possible Iran nuclear deal, it is easy to leave Boko Haram to one side. Some may see the election of Muhammadu Buhari as somehow “solving” Boko Haram. This misplaced inattention is reinforced by the clearance of Boko Haram militants from towns in northeast Nigeria by the Chadian, Nigerien, and Nigerian militaries fighting alongside South African and other mercenaries.
In fact, Boko Haram is far from defeated. As in the past, they seem to have melted back into the countryside and urban slums. Rather than holding territory, they have renewed their attacks on soft targets. For example, on April 2, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed twenty; on April 6, Boko Haram operatives, disguised as preachers killed twenty-four.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will be inaugurated on May 29. Until then, the Abuja government’s acquiescence to foreign military’s and use of mercenaries is unlikely to change.
After May 29, it could be a different story. Buhari is a fierce Nigerian nationalist. At 72 years of age, he resembles the post-independence military and civilian elite rather than the present elite whose sense of national identity has steadily eroded over the past generation due to a resurgence of ethnic and religious identities. Buhari has already said that Chadian military activity on Nigerian sovereign territory is a disgrace–surely he has the same view of South African mercenaries. He is also unlikely to be enthusiastic about a multinational African Union force operating within sovereign Nigerian territory, should it even have the capacity to do so. An issue he will have to face is the capacity, or lack thereof, of the current Nigerian military to establish basic security in the northeast all on its own.