Nigeria’s Fight Against Boko Haram


Paul Ndiho

August 16, 2012

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last week during her multimillion tour of Africa.  Her talks with President Jonathan in Abuja focused on oil and security.   The security discussion focused on Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram.

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.  Hundreds of people have been killed.  The AL-Qaeda linked militant group wants to establish a strict Islamic state in the country’s northern territory.

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 Boko Haram, in the predominantly Muslim north, is sparking even more concern in Washington.  The U.S has pledged to help Nigeria with forensics, tracking suspects and “fusing” dissimilar strands of police and military intelligence.

“We intend to remain very supportive on your reform efforts. Thank you for mentioning the work we did together on the elections. We are also very supportive of the anti-corruption reform efforts, more transparency in the work you and your team is also championing because we really believe that the future for Nigeria is limitless.” Secretary Clinton said.

In the early stages of its rise, 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.  But, when Boko haram bombed the u-n headquarters in Abuja last august, Washington began to pay more attention to the group as an emerging threat to U.S. national security. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic council’s Michael s. Ansari Africa center, has written extensively on the rise of Boko haram and he says that the Islamic militant group is a security threat– and that some elements within the opposition are trying to use the group to undermine President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.

“We’ve seen the group evolve from a rather idiosyncratic localized group of trouble makers in the far northeast to a national level group with clear ties to transnational terrorist organizations both for ideology and for tactics and were seeing right now an ongoing evolution that may take it version 3.0 which will make it even more dangerous.  So there’s clearly a security threat behind the security threat there’s also a political threat.”

In November 2011, the sub-committee on counter-terrorism and intelligence of the house homeland security committee, chaired by Congressman Patrick Meehan, released a report on Boko Haram’s threat to America.  The report noted that Boko haram had evolved from a locally focused group to a transitional and trans-national organization capable of conducting coordinated truck bombings against western targets.

Both critics and sympathizers have accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to halt the violence. Jennifer Cooke, director, of the Africa program at the center for strategic & international studies says the government’s approach has been slow in past and that it’s incumbent on the leaders of all the political parties to be part of the solution.

“There are various factions some much more criminal in nature some may have political supporters who are giving resources to them and that raises very tricky delicate questions.  I’m not sure that the government has a handle on this i think it’s losing the confidence of many in Nigeria.  It’s weakening the government politically, at the end of the day though this isn’t just about a government responses there are communities there are state governments there are political leaders from all the parties who have some responsibility  in coming up with a solution.”

Security experts believe Boko Haram’s bombing campaign has raised fears that the group is trying to ignite a religious conflict inside Nigeria which is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.

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