Economist article on the latest government and army proposals to fight Boko Haram. The government seems to be trying everything: military force, negotiations with Boko Haram, an amnesty, and finally – a long overdue campaign to provide counselling to Boko Haram members and get Imams to give them non-violent interpretations of the Koran.
After President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, army troop reinforcements have begun arriving in northern cities such as Maiduguri and Yola.
It is a long overdue move and I am surprised it took the President this long to declare a state of emergency. The state of emergency means that the army can take greater responsibility for security in those three states. Troops can occupy city centers, take over buildings, and arrest and detain suspects without trial. Two incidents seemed to have tipped the balance in favour of the state of emergency:
1) Boko Haram nonchalantly dismissed the President’s offer of an amnesty. By doing so, Boko Haram seemed to declare its intention to settle its scores with the government on the battlefield, rather than via dialogue. It seems that President dialogue is now ready to meet them on a battlefield rather than in a conference room.
2) The recent Baga attacks which left hundreds of people dead marked a new deadly escalation in the conflict with Boko Haram.
Although Boko Haram has launched attacks across the north and as far south as the capital in Abuja, the three north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in the Kanuri heartland, represent Boko Haram’s support base. It has taken over at least one-third of the local government areas in Borno state. Losing control of its own territory to a terrorist organisation seems to have been the last straw for the government. President Jonathan accused Boko Haram of declaring war against Nigeria.
Excerpts from the President’s national broadcast announcing the state of emergency:
Innocent civilians are likely to be caught in the inevitable shoot-outs between the army and Boko Haram. There are reports that Boko Haram has been forcefully conscripting new members, and threatening them with death if they do not kill in the group’s name within weeks of joining.
Nonetheless the state of emergency will be popular among the general Nigerian population. Many have accused the President of being weak and of treating Boko Haram with kid gloves. This state of emergency will boost his security credentials and demonstrate a willingness to forcefully confront Boko Haram.
Even if the troop surge proves successful, it would offer only temporary respite. Boko Haram can easily slip across the border into neighbouring countries, regroup, and return. Only a long term political and economic solution can permanently end Boko Haram’s violent insurgency.
News report my a hidden camera and reporting team from the Nigerian north-eastern city of Maiduguri in Borno State. Maiduguri is the stronghold of Islamist insurgents Boko Haram. It demonstrates just how hard it is to fight Boko Haram. People are reluctant to give information to the security forces as they do not know whether their friends or neighbours are Boko Haram members or supporters.
The federal government sent in an army unit called the Joint Task Force (JTF). The JTF has had training in counter-terrorism and urban warfare. It is fighting a very unconventional war, and Boko Haram’s habit of blending into the civilian population makes it hard for the JTF to distinguish Boko Haram members from ordinary civilians.
The JTF’s allegedly heavy handed tactics and heavy shootouts with Boko Haram are angering some and leading to sympathy for Boko Haram. The JTF has declared a dusk to dawn curfew, and banks, shops and businesses close early in fear of the violence.
A few facts about the group that killed seven foreign hostages in Nigeria a day ago:
*The group is called “Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan” (“the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa) – AKA Ansaru.
*Ansaru is a splinter group from Boko Haram.
*While Boko Haram attacks local targets, Ansaru seems to have an international agenda. It crossed over Nigeria’s border, entered Cameroon, and kidnapped Western hostages there. It also attacked Nigerian soldiers who were en route to Mali for a UN peacekeeping mission.
Nigeria has serious security challenges on its hands. Like the Delta militancy, the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria is splintering into a hydra. The federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan has a major issue on their hands. They face Boko Haram on the domestic front, and now a new terror group with international capability. Things are looking grim for Goodluck Jonathan.
Great video by Sahara TV interviewing Al-Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege who visited Maiduguri in Borno State. Due to Boko Haram activities in the the state’s , and the Joint Task Force’s (JTF) heavy presence, the state has been heavily militarised.
While residents welcome the JTF’s presence, daily life has been badly affected with normal routine civilian life being heavily disrupted by fighting between Boko Haram and the JTF, JTF curfews between 9pm and 6am. However residents are so frightened that they do not leave their homes before 11am since gun battles between the JTF and Boko haram tend to rage in the early morning.
Some residents also accuse the JTF of indiscriminately arresting civilians whom they suspect of being Boko Haram members, and of summarily executing suspects. In their defence, the JTF say it is next to impossible for them to distinguish civilians from Boko Haram members since Boko Haram members might live with family members who are not members.
Are the tactics of the Nigerian army making the Boko Haram insurgency even worse? A report by Amnesty International entitled Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence accused the army of carrying out summary executions, torture and detention without trial. It accused the army of breaching human rights with “impunity in the name of fighting terror”. Abuses include illegal executions and forced disappearances. The report warns that the army’s repressive tactics may increase support for Boko Haram.
The army’s spokesman for the Joint Military Taskforce in north-eastern Nigeria (Lt-Colonel Sagir Musa), denied the accusations.
Lt-Colonel Sagir Musa denied the allegations.
An article in today’s Guardian newspaper has a damning assessment of the Nigerian army, It claims there is “a lack of training and discipline among Nigerian troops”. Nigerian troops are being relied upon as part of a regional ECOWAS force to oust Islamist fighters from northern Mali.
The report also alleges that “Nigerian forces lack training and kit, so they simply don’t have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres…They have poor discipline and support.” Read the full report below.
A video presentation by the Economist on the evolution, aims, tactics and attacks of Boko Haram. Not nice viewing on Nigeria’s 52nd Independence Day anniversary.
Great report by the United States Institute for Peace. It has a very good historical assessment of Boko Haram and comparison to the 1980s religious sect led by Maitatsine. Excellent reading for those wanting a detailed insight into Boko Haram. Key points:
*Boko Haram’s origins lie in a group of radical Islamist youth who worshipped at the Alhaji Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque in Maiduguri. In 2002, an offshoot of this youth group (not yet known as Boko Haram) declared the city and the Islamic establishment to be intolerably corrupt and irredeemable. The splinter faction withdrew and set up base in a village called Kanama in Yobe State, near Nigeria’s border with Niger.
*In 2003 they got into a local dispute which led to a gunfight between its members and the police. This incident led locals to nickname them the “Nigerian Taliban”. During this clash with the police Boko Haram’s then leader Mohammed Ali was killed.
*The survivors of the 2003 clash with the police returned to Maiduguri under the leadership of Mohammed Yusuf and built a new mosque in Maiduguri called the Ibn Taimiyyah Masjid. The new mosque was built on land owned by Mohammed Yusuf’s father-in-law, Baba Fugu Mohammed.
*The turning point for the group came when en route to a funeral, the group’s members got into an argument with police officers. Gunfire was exchanged. After this incident Boko Haram claimed that its members were unfairly imprisoned or arrested by the police. Boko Haram then carried out retaliatory attacks on the police, which brought them to national attention and led the army and the police to crack down on Boko Haram and imprison or summarily execute its members, including its leader Mohammed Yusuf.
*The name “Boko Haram” is not actually the name the group gave itself. The name was appellated to the group by observers and neighbours as a pejorative reference to the group’s preoccupation with criticising Western norms and education.
Al-Jazeera feature on Boko Haram. How should the Nigerian government combat Boko Haram?
Boko Haram’s dead former leader Mohammed Yusuf was actually once part of “the system” and used to be a commissioner in Borno State.