Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Nigeria: Boko Haram Exacerbates Its Terror Against Civilians

Posted in African Politics, Nigeria by ruben eberlein on February 22, 2014

BokoHaramThe Islamist sect Boko Haram intensifies its attacks in the North of Nigeria. Not much is known about the structure of the organisation. Read an English version of my text for Jungle World here.

The assailants arrived late afternoon in the small town Konduga near Maiduguri in the Northeast of Nigeria. Mallam Baba Abubakar, an inhabitant of Konduga told the Nigerian daily Vanguard of two armoured personnel carriers, five pick-ups painted in the camouflage colors of the army and five motorcyles.

They carried a well-armed crew, home-made explosives inclusive. The Islamists had no problem to rout the security forces before they turned on the residents. At least 39 people were reported to have died during the attack on Tuesday last week which was attributed to the Islamist sect Boko Haram. A mosque, the market and hundreds of houses were destroyed.

Only two days later, alleged Islamists killed nine soldiers in an ambush while they were moving to an operation. At present, the Islamists are clearly pushing for their goals in their stronghold in the Northeast. Already in January, 85 people perished during an attack on the village of Kawuri. Last Saturday, rebels thought to belong to Boko Haram, slayed more than 100 inhabitants of the village Izghe not far from the border to Cameroon.

The state and its security forces, to date, are not in a position to counter the inrush of the Islamists. Often, their enemies are better equipped and motivated than the Joint Task Force (JTF), a special unit of the army. Meanwhile, they concentrate their terror on the rural areas in order to escape the pressure of the military. Mid-January, President Goodluck Jonathan fired the top brass of the army.

The President urgently needs a success in the fight against Boko Haram. Economically and in terms of the fight against rampant corruption, he has little to show. His enemies – both within and outside his PDP party – already sharpen their knifes for the elections in 2015.

In addition, the counter-insurgency measures are hampered by the temptation for high militaries and civil advisors to purloin finances from the security budget and to enrich themselves instead of fighting the terror of Boko Haram (Jungle World 42/2013). During the war against the rebels of the oil-rich Niger Delta, settled in 2009 through an amnesty and demobilisation of fighters, this was a common practice that prolonged the war.

The reckless methods of the JTF often harm or kill regularly those who they are supposed to protect. Many inhabitants of the North are just as fearful of the military as they are of the Islamist insurgents. Moreover, in order to escape retaliation they do not cooperate with the army.

According to a count by the German Society for Endangered Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, GfbV), more than 1500 people perished since the declaration of a state of emergency in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in mid-May 2013. „Through their attacks, the Islamist fighters want to spread chaos and terror in order to destabilise the state“, says Ulrich Delius, consultant for Africa at GfbV. „The fighters of Boko Haram, indeed, are far apart of their aim, the establishment of a theocracy, at the moment“, comments Delius. „But the Nigerian security forces failed to contain the terror of the sect in spite of the employment of brute violence.“

At the same moment, Muslims living and working in the South of the country that is dominated by Christians, are the victims of suspicion and persecution. In the state of Rivers, for example, about 300 people were arrested recently because they were thought to support Boko Haram. After their release, they were made to leave Rivers and head for the North.

Analysts of the situation in the Northern part of Nigeria are at issue about the character and structure of Boko Haram that calls itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad). While most domestic and international media conceive the organisation as being relatively tight and homogeneous, others insist on the franchise-character of Boko Haram. Because of missing information, one has to assume the fact that a number of purely criminally motivated group act under the label of Boko Haram in order to organise bank hold-ups or raids.

The Northeast of Nigeria is an ideal ground for such groups. The state is – especially outside the big cities – mostly absent, politics is coined by corruption and a proper share of violence, and the neighbouring countries of Tchad, Niger and Cameroon are well-suited to act as hideaways. The emphasis of Boko Haram’s propaganda is the fight against corruption that began, so it is said, with the arrival of the Western powers and is accepted in order to manipulate the social order of the country.

The organisation was founded in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri. Mohammed Yusuf was the first religious leader of the about 200 high school leavers and unemployed youth. In mid-2003, the sect retracted to a remote region in the state of Yobe and established a camp there. As a reaction to the army’s attempt to dissolve the camp, the Islamists (called back then the Taliban) attacked police stations and other facilities of the state. But in the end, they had to surrender and initially dispersed.

Mohammed Yusuf war declared wanted and searched, it is said, refuge in Saudi Arabia. At the intercession of the governor of Borno state, he was able to return to Nigeria and resumed his teachings of Islam. Several times, Yusuf was arrested, but still he insisted, in his own words, on the peaceful formation of an Islamic state in the North of Nigeria.

The year 2009 marked a turning point in the history of the organisation. Participants of a funeral procession were attacked by the police. Members of Boko Haram and the security forces engaged in heavy fightings for several days in Maiduguri. Yusuf and dozens of his followers were executed at police stations (Jungle World 32/2009). Subsequently, the raids of the Islamists soared as well as the actions of the police and the military. Boko Haram went underground, and in June 2010, Abubakar Shekau (former deputy of Yusuf) declared himself the new leader of the group. Since then, revenge for Yusuf functions as another motivation for the rest of the outfit to expand their activities.

As little as is known about the organisation and structure of Boko Haram, as obscure are its international connections. Several members were said to have been fighting in the North of Mali where Tuareg and Islamists in 2012 took over power and brought weapons into the country stemming from Libya. Occasionally, media report about contacts to the al-Qaida offshot operating in the Sahel and to the Somalian al-Shabaab.

But the brutal insurrection by the Islamists in the North of Nigeria is foremost a Nigerian problem. In the end, it is not impossible that influencial politicians use parts of the group or the label Boko Haram for their own interests, for example in order to eliminate rivals and to maintain a general insecurity which discredits the central government. In 2012, the author Wole Soyinka commented: „Those who unleashed Boko Haram on the nation are politicians. These are the ones behind Boko Haram. This minority is much focused, very powerful, very rich.“ As of today, no proof is available for this allegation. But it would not be a surprise in the light of the political climate in Nigera if it corresponds with reality.

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