Boko Haram: the Islamic extremism in Nigeria

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 15:16
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by Nicolamaria Coppola
EPOS Insights


Fighting between Nigeria's military and Boko Haram Islamic militants killed at least 185 people in the Sunday attack in Baga, a town in the northeastern Nigerian State of Borno, close to Lake Chad. This last assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram extremists are fighting against the «group of corrupt, false Muslim» to create a “pure” Islamic State ruled by Sharia law.

Boko Haram was founded by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 and since the beginning it has always strongly opposed man-made laws and westernization in Nigeria. This militant organisation, whose full name is Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad, Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihadknown, is an extremist Islamic movement sects in the north of the African country, whose aim is to establish Sharia law in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The group's origins, motivations, and future plans remain a matter of debate. «Boko Haram is essentially the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment (…)», Abdulkarim Mohammed, a researcher on Boko Haram, states. «The young generation see how [the nation’s resources] are squandered by a small bunch of self-serving elite which breeds animosity and frustration, and such anger is ultimately translated into violent outbursts», he adds in an interview published by Unip, United States Institue of Peace.

We can say for sure that the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria grew out of a 2009 riot led by Boko Haram members in Maiduguri, the town where the group was formed, that ended in a military and police crackdown that killed some 700 people. Yusuf, the movement's leader, died in police custody in an apparent execution; after his killing, a new leader emerged, but his identity was not known at the time. According to Reuters, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy to Yusuf, took control of the group after its leader's death. In January 2012 Shekau appeared in a video posted on YouTube, and the nigerian authorities have started to consider him as the new leader of the Islamic extremist movement since then. Boko Haram carried out its first terroristic attack in Borno in January 2011, and the violence has daily escalated in terms of frequency and intensity. Since August 2011 Boko Haram has planted bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in Nigeria's northeast. The group has also broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, some twelve public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night, and as many as 10.000 pupils were forced out of education.

According to Andrew Walker, a freelance journalist who has covered Nigeria since 2006 living in the African country for four years, working first at the Nigerian Daily Trust newspaper and then for the British Broadcasting Corporation's news website, “Boko Haram is not in the same global jihadist bracket as Algeria's al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or Somalia's al Shabab”. “Despite its successful attack on the UN compound in Abuja in August 2011 – he writes in his report 'What is Boko Haram?' - Boko Haram is not bent on attacking Western interests. There have been no further attacks on international interests since that time”. Neverthless, as we can read in a report by IRIN, a spokesperson for Boko Haram told reporters in June 2011 that members had received training in Somalia: Okechukwu Nwanguma, programme coordinator with non-profit Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), said this could indicate Boko Haram has «a link with the global terror movement».

“It is difficult to see how there can be meaningful dialogue between the government and the group”, Andrew Walker writes in his analysis. “The group's cell-like structure is open for factions and splits, and there would be no guarantee that someone speaking for the group is speaking for all of the members”. Boko Haram's command-and-control structure remains unclear; the group is not easy to monitor, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss. «Since 2009 the leadership has gone underground. It’s now unclear what the exact command structure is».

Anyway, analysts and diplomats say that Abubakar Shekau is the undisputed leader of this jihadist movement and that he is the “commander in chief” of the last terroristic attacks. And while the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has started a committee to look at the idea of offering an amnesty deal to extremist fighters, Abubakar Shekau himself, as leader of the movement, has dismissed the idea out of hand in message.

In spite of the deployment of more soldiers and police in northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. Prince Edun Akenzua, the younger brother of the Benin monarch Oba Erediauwa, and one of the few journalists that covered the civil war in Nigeria, in an interview by Simon Ebegbulem states that «The Nigerian government has not been honest enough in the quest to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end. All they have been doing is playing politics with it. The political approach to it alone will not work if the authorities are not soliciting the support of the traditional institution». According to Akenzua, Nigerians have fully lost confidence in the ability of the government to protect their lives and property: «The authorities have failed to deal with some issues squarely in order to find solution to them».

«What we are witnessing in Nigeria – Okechukwu Nwanguma says in an interview - are the consequences of a national intelligence and security system that fails to recognize that contemporary crimes demand more reliable and timely intelligence than guns and armoured personnel carriers». To solve the critical situation in Nigeria, negotiation should be improved between the central government and the Islamic extremists. The current situation remains out of control, and only using a clear diplomatic policy Nigeria will be able to rebuild its national unity.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 15:47
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