The religious violence in Nigeria’s fractured Northern region has worsened, yet Goodluck Jonathan’s government still doesn’t have a rescue plan
In 2002, an Islamic cleric called Mohammed Yusuf formed a religious sect in Nigeria that has become known as Boko Haram. The name translates as ‘Western education is sinful’, and the sect advocated the establishment of sharia law in the Nigerian constitution, and the total abolition of western culture from the country. Until 2009, the group had remained relatively peaceful, but an investigation found that they had been arming themselves, and soon the issue escalated.
The turning point came when Mohammed Yusuf was arrested and died in police custody, allegedly whilst trying to escape. Since then, under a new leader, the group carried out a large number of bombings and estimates suggest they have been responsible for between 3,000 and 10,000 deaths in the country. Many survivors of attacks proudly carry scars as a ‘souvenir’.
Attacks on churches, military bases and even the UN building in Abuja forced the government to take action, and it lead to the formation of a Nigerian anti-terror task force. So far, however, ‘Operation Restore Order’ has failed so far to curb the effect of Boko Haram. An influx of foreigners from Mali, Niger and Chad with possible links to al-Qaeda has likely been the reason behind the worsening situation, with further attacks on government agencies.
Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram are strongest, has been declared a no-go area for foreign investors whilst the game of cat and mouse continues. Foreign companies already based in the North are relocating to avoid ‘cross fire’ or potential kidnappings by the group to obtain ransom money.
The group’s activities are thought to also be funded by bank robberies and al Qaeda, though a spokesman for Boko Haram who was captured in 2011 claimed that even some politicians from the country’s ruling party had been funding the group.
The activity of the Jihadist organisation has crippled the economic vibrancy of the north. Major telecommunication companies have threatened to close down their network in the region if attacks continue on their mast and offices. The whole of the North is militarised with constant patrol of military task force on the streets.
Meanwhile, six people were killed in an attack at Christ in Nations Church at Potiskum in Yobe State, Northern Nigeria on Christmas Day. Another church in Borno State, in the far northeast of the country was also attacked on the 25th December. Gunmen killed six early morning worshippers and injured dozens more, before setting the building ablaze.
These Christmas killings prompted an emergency meeting of the Northern States Governors Forum that condemned the killings. The governor’s chairman, Dr Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, labelled the attack as an act of terrorism and called for an immediate security convention to address this issue.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria called the attack a barbaric act and appealed to the Boko Haram insurgence to begin talks with the government.
The Sultan called for justice and good governance, which he said were key to protecting the country from Boko Haram. Other prominent Nigerian figures have also come forward in support of fresh ideas to combat increasing terrorism and crime in the country.
In relation to a similar attack in August 2012, the leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Oritsejafor said: “The Boko Haram people are a bunch of cowards, who go to churches to shoot people that are not armed. If they think they are strong, they should go to places where the people they are going to attack are also armed.”
Many Nigerians are wondering whether the politicians will just let the situation deteriorate, or whether both sides can finally negotiate a peace. Many are also sceptical of the role politics has in resolving the issue, some even accusing Government ministers of taking advantage of and even fuelling the violence for their own gain. One thing is clear, however: to maintain the public’s confidence, Goodluck Jonathan’s government must take decisive action and they have to act fast.
Top of their agenda should be the safety of lives and properties in the country, and then find longer term solutions to ensure it doesn’t happen again. With a diplomatic handling and sincere approach on the part of the government, Boko Haram may change their hitherto uncompromising stand, and finally peace and economic prosperity may return to Nigeria’s fractured Northern region.