By Paul Ndiho
March 19, 2012
Insecurity in Nigeria’s Oil-producing Niger Delta region has long dominated American concerns about the stability of the West African nation. Now, the emergence of the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic militant group Boko Haram, in the predominantly Muslim North, is sparking even more concern in Washington.
Since 2009, the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has escalated its attacks across Nigeria, targeting the country’s security forces, politicians and civilians – both Muslims and Christians.
Initially, Boko Haram was not taken seriously by some in the international community even though U.S intelligence and the United Nations confirmed their links to Al-Qaeda. When Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja last august, Washington began to pay more attention to this emerging threat to U.S. national security. In November 2011, the sub-committee on counterterrorism and intelligence of the house homeland security committee, chaired by Congressman Patrick Meehan, released a report on Boko Haram’s threat to America.
“Boko Haram’s repeated displays of brutality, their intent to committee terror attacks against lists of targets and their expanding relationships with Al-Qaeda affiliates in the country are of strategic significance to the United States and are an enormous counter terrorism and intelligence challenge.”
Meehan says Boko Haram has evolved from a locally focused group with machetes– to a transitional and trans-national organization capable of conducting coordinated truck bombings against western targets.
“Their ambition, body counts, and targets continue to expand and I’m deeply concerned that Boko Haram maybe targeting American interests in Nigeria at some time in the near future.”
Over the last three years, areas in northern Nigeria have endured sustained attacks by Boko Haram– prompting the government to deploy its military– and institute curfews. Both critics and sympathizers have accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to halt the violence and initiate a development strategy for the region. Ricardo Rene larémont, professor of political science and sociology, at the state university of new York-Binghamton, believes that the government needs to do more for the people in the north.
“The problem is that the north does not have any development whatsoever. Either educationally, or because of the luck of an electrical greed you know… when i was spending time in Kano, there was no power. You have the national power company called northern electric power administration (NEPA) – or locally known as (no electric power anytime). In the north everyone is off the electrical power greed. But there are parts of Nigeria that have particularly made considerable progress over the last ten years but the north has not been part of that.”
Some analysts say the bombing campaign has raised fears that Boko haram is trying to ignite a sectarian conflict in Nigeria– which is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Elders from Nigeria’s north met in Abuja earlier this month, to discuss the regional insecurity that has claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed property worth millions of dollars.