Editorial

The threat of Boko Haram

In an abrupt surge of violence, Boko Haram insurgents killed around 200 people in Nigeria over the past week. The group, which swore allegiance to the Islamic State in March, targeted mosques, a church and a restaurant, in much the same fashion Islamists linked to IS have attacked people elsewhere in Africa and West Asia recently. The attacks have sent a deadly message to both the Nigerian government and the rest of the world: that notwithstanding recent military setbacks Boko Haram remains capable of carrying out large-scale strikes. From its beginnings in 2002 as a peaceful Islamist movement, it has transformed itself into one of Africa’s deadliest terror machines. It has killed more than 23,000 people, mostly civilians. Under Abubakar Shekau, it has targeted schools in the northeast, branding western education and science as haram (forbidden) for Muslims. In April 2014, from a school in Chibok in Borno state, a Boko Haram stronghold, 276 female students were abducted, triggering a global outrage. Mr. Shekau threatened to sell them as slaves as “God had instructed” him to do so. None of the young women have been rescued as yet.

The Nigerian government for long ignored the problem that Boko Haram posed, as also the conditions that aided its rise. Extreme poverty in the northeast, particularly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States, made the region a fertile ground for insurgency. Nigeria’s porous borders with Chad and Cameroon helped Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram’s founder, gather weapons in the early years of his rebellion. But it was his successor, Mr. Shakeu, who transformed the group into Africa’s IS. A failure to check Boko Haram played a part in the defeat of Goodluck Jonathan, who in March 2015 became the first Nigerian president to lose a re-election bid. His successor Muhammadu Buhari has promised to crush the insurgency. Indeed, he has made some initial gains, with the Nigerian army recapturing most of the territories from the militants this year. But the recent attacks show that Nigeria is nowhere near defeating the jihadists. The challenges before Mr. Buhari are huge. His supporters say that as a dictator-turned-democrat he has the strength to exercise command over the generals, compared to a “weak” Mr. Jonathan. But the problem relates not only to military action; it is also about endemic corruption, poverty and religious extremism in the north and northeast. Nigeria is the world’s 10th largest oil producer and has the largest GDP for any country in Africa. But over the years the country’s poor have not enjoyed this wealth. Any comprehensive strategy to counter Boko Haram should be supplemented by a plan to address Nigeria’s structural problems.


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Printable version | May 13, 2022 12:28:07 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/The-threat-of-Boko-Haram/article59784298.ece