Nigeria: Military Campaigns, Amnesty Talk, Security Sector Reform, and Boko Haram

As I started to articulate in this post, the Nigerian government’s response to the militant sect Boko Haram has often seemed ad hoc – and, I will add here, cyclical. The cycle involves (a) military crackdowns, (b) talk about security sector reform, and (c) talk of “amnesty” for Boko Haram fighters. Or maybe the word “cyclical” is inappropriate at the present moment, when all three elements are in play.

Following the imposition of a state of emergency on several states on May 14, Nigeria launched a new military offensive on May 15. The campaign has included raids, arrests, air raids, and the destruction of camps. The offensive has been particularly intense in Maiduguri, a northeastern city that has been an epicenter of Boko Haram’s activities. The Nigerian military has stated that this operation has been carefully planned and may last for quite some time. VOA has an interesting piece on how the Nigerian military’s training and experiences do and don’t prepare it for the experience of fighting a guerrilla war.

How does this offensive’s intensity relate to the amnesty that Nigerian elites debated in April? Perhaps the offensive is meant to serve as the “stick” pushing Boko Haram fighters toward the “carrot” of amnesty. The government has not abandoned the idea of amnesty. In an interesting move, the administration ordered the release of Boko Haram-affiliated women and children prisoners earlier this month – their release had been one of Boko Haram’s preconditions for talks. More here. How will the government follow up on this move?

Meanwhile, the military offensive and amnesty talk (insofar as amnesty talk calls attention to addressing root causes of Boko Haram’s violence) raise a third issue: security sector reform. While the military campaign and the amnesty proposal are Nigerian-generated ideas, talk of security sector reform often comes from the outside – in one recent and notable example, for US Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition to the human rights issues posed by soldiers’ abuses of civilians, these abuses seem to exacerbate the conflict between the government and Boko Haram, suggesting that security sector reform will need to be part of any sustainable solution. But serious demonstrations of accountability for soldiers have not yet taken place.

Military operations, amnesty, and security sector reform may all, indeed, be ingredients in a sustainable solution. The problem I see is that these components do not seem to work together. Moreover, talk of amnesty and talk of security sector reform have not yet been effectively translated into action. Until the government can pursue these different aims in a coordinated and efficacious manner, the de facto policy appears likely to remain crackdowns (with rising and falling intensity) accompanied by inconclusive efforts to promote political solutions.

Nigeria’s Opposition: Amid Unification at the Top, Potential for Fragmentation in the Middle

In the first half of 2013, major Nigerian opposition parties have initiated a merger in hopes of defeating the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 national elections. The PDP has won every presidential election and swept most legislative and gubernatorial contests since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The new opposition alliance is called the All Progressives Congress (APC). This month, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), two parties with strength in the north, formally joined the APC, which also includes the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), whose political strength lies in the southwest. The APC could be the most serious challenger the PDP has yet seen.

But this report from Niger State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” caught my eye:

A major crisis may be rocking the Niger State chapter of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) as two factions of the party have emerged with each claiming to be in a merger talk with the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).

One of the factions led by a former member of the State House of Assembly, Afiniki Dauda, who claimed to be the interim chairman of the party in the state, had last week at a press conference in Minna appealed to all the party members to forget their grievances so as to ensure that the merger talk with the other political parties went ahead without any hitches.

But Tuesday in Minna, another faction led by the former Chairman of the party, Hajiya Jumai A. Mohammed accompanied by two other State Zonal Chairmen, Samaila Yusuf, and Tanimu Yusuf, at a press conference, described the Afiniki-led interim committee as illegal and lacking in both legal and moral basis.

The story makes me wonder whether opposition parties’ efforts at unification create incentives for middle-tier leaders to break ranks, launch disputes, or otherwise position themselves within a shifting political order. Pre-existing leadership struggles, moreover, could be exacerbated by speculation that the opposition might have a chance at taking national power. Worth recalling here is that the CPC is itself in many respects a breakaway faction of the ANPP, making the CPC-ANPP rapprochement under the APC banner seem a bit tenuous.

As the APC sets its sights on taking out the PDP, in other words, the new alliance will face potentially destructive fights within its own tent. It will be important to see if Niger State’s experience is replicated elsewhere.

Akhdari: A Jurisprudential Text Used in Northern Nigeria

In Northern Nigeria, many Muslims seek religious instruction to learn about the tenets and practices of their faith. In the “traditional” curriculum (the word “tradition” can be problematic, for example if it implies that systems are static, but I use it as a placeholder sometimes), Muslim children and young adults begin by memorizing part or all of the Qur’an. They typically move next into a series of jurisprudential texts from the Maliki School, one of the four main legal schools in Sunni Islam. The Maliki School is widespread in North and West Africa and takes its name from Imam Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), who lived in Medina and was one of the Successors of the Successors (i.e., the third generation of Muslims).

The Maliki texts that many Northern Nigerian Muslims read are summaries or manuals. They focus on issues like the details of how to perform ablutions before prayer. These texts, in the sequence they are typically read, progress in complexity and length. The first Maliki text in the “traditional” sequence is called Mukhtasar al Akhdari fi al ‘Ibadat ‘ala Madhhab al Imam Malik (Arabic: Akhdari’s Summary of Worship Practices According to the Legal School of Imam Malik). It was authored by Shaykh ‘Abd al Rahman al Akhdari (d. 1585). The text is known as Akhdari for short. The version here (Arabic, .pdf) is 19 pages, which may seem short – fitting for an introductory text, though I hope you will keep in mind that students would typically read this text together with a teacher, and that the text might spur conversations, meaning that the total time to study and master the text might be longer than its page length would lead one to expect.

Akhdari opens with an introductory section on faith and ethical behavior, before moving through the following sections: (a) purity; (b) ablutions with sand; (c) menstruation; (d) childbirth; (e) times of prayer; (f) conditions of prayer; and (g) negligence (i.e., during prayer). Akhdari focuses on prayer, in other words, as a core ritual duty of the individual.

I hope this short treatment of Akhdari has provided some background on what many Northern Nigerian Muslims read. In the media and even in academia, we hear a lot of ideological chatter about what such texts mean – “these texts represent rote memorization and the evils of the ‘madrasa’ system” or “these texts represent a living tradition that evil modernists have scorned.” My aim here is not to engage that ideological chatter, but simply to give you a snapshot into what these kinds of texts are about.

Nigeria: Shettima Ali Monguno, Boko Haram, Oil, and Amnesty

Shettima Ali Monguno (b. 1926), of Borno State, is a former oil minister. On Friday May 3, gunmen kidnapped Monguno at Mafoni mosque in Maiduguri after congregational prayers. An account of the kidnapping, which includes a biography of Monguno, is here.

Maiduguri is the epicenter of violence associated with the Muslim sect Boko Haram. Most observers suspect Boko Haram of organizing the kidnapping. Boko Haram showed relatively little inclination toward kidnapping for much of the period since its latest guerrilla campaign began in 2010, but the sect appears to have turned more systematically to kidnappings in recent months, partly in order to obtain ransom payments.

Monguno was released yesterday, possibly after a payment anonymously reported as some $318,000. Notably, this amount is much less than the $3 million ransom that Boko Haram reportedly received for the release of a French family that had been kidnapped in Cameroon.

I want to make two points in this post. First, I do not think the kidnapping of Monguno signals a growing threat from Boko Haram to Nigeria’s oil industry. Monguno served as oil minister from 1972-1975 and is currently retired; my conjecture is that the kidnappers targeted him because he is a prominent northeasterner, because they hoped to obtain a ransom, and possibly because he is chairman of the Borno Elders Forum. I do not believe the kidnappers seized him a message to the oil industry. It is always possible that Boko Haram’s activities will spread into the far south, and several suspected members of the sect were arrested in Lagos in March, but I would still at this point be surprised to see Boko Haram attacks in the Niger Delta.

Second, I do think the kidnapping further complicates the politics surrounding efforts to create an amnesty program for Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan’s Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, inaugurated April 24, has already caused controversy. Monguno’s kidnapping may weaken some Nigerians’ hopes that amnesty is possible. One member of the Northern Elders Forum told the press that Monguno’s kidnapping represented an effort to sabotage plans for amnesty. While the committee will undoubtedly be heartened by Monguno’s release, the prospect of further kidnappings and ransom payments casts a shadow over the committee’s ongoing deliberations, and may even scare individual members. In my view some form of dialogue will be necessary to end the Boko Haram crisis, but movement toward dialogue faces daunting political and security barriers.

Baga, Nigeria

Baga (map) is a fishing village on the coast of Lake Chad in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. The international media (see ABC), drawing on local accounts, has reported that fighting between the Nigerian military and the militant Muslim sect Boko Haram caused around 187 casualties during a battle on April 16-17. Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday, released satellite images and an analysis suggesting over 2,000 homes were destroyed in a military raid. The Human Rights Watch analysis is worth reading in full, as is an AFP report from post-raid Baga.

For many observers, alleged abuses by Nigerian soldiers will immediately raise the question of security sector reform. How, observers may ask, can Nigeria deal with Boko Haram, politically or military, if harsh military crackdowns fuel ordinary people’s mistrust of the government? In the worst case scenario, military abuses might even increase Boko Haram’s capacity to recruit among young men. Concerns about abuses are not new: back in fall 2012, Human Rights Watch (in October) and Amnesty International (in November) published reports detailing abuses by Nigerian security personnel. Amnesty called the security forces “out of control.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised after the Baga attacks that  his government will punish any soldier found to have committed abuses. Reuters called these words “a rare statement admitting the possibility of abuses by his forces.” We will now see whether more information comes to light about the events in Baga, and whether that information prompts any change in accountability measures within the Nigerian security forces.

Boko Haram, Prison Breaks, and Cameroon

The northern Nigerian sect Boko Haram employs a constellation of tactics in its fight against the Nigerian state and other targets. Boko Haram is constantly experimenting with new tactics, from drive-by shootings to suicide bombings to the destruction of cell phone towers to arson to, more recently, kidnappings. While prison breaks are far from the most spectacular tactic in Boko Haram’s arsenal, they have remained a core tactic since the start of the group’s current guerrilla campaign in fall 2010 – indeed, one of the very first incidents in that campaign was a prison break in Bauchi, where Boko Haram set some 700 inmates free. Prison breaks aim at releasing the group’s imprisoned comrades, and possibly also aim at gaining new recruits among other freed inmates. Without in any way minimizing the importance of other tactics the group uses, I would argue that these prison breaks deserve more attention as analysts continue attempting to understand the group and its recruitment patterns.

At least two prison breaks occurred recently.

March 14:

There was jailbreak on Thursday night in Borno town of Gwoza as men suspected to be members of the dreaded BokoHaram sect attacked a prison in the town with missiles.

It was also gathered that the suspected militant sect attackedFadagwai Village where they shot dead two other persons.

The sect members were alleged to have attacked the same town on March 4, 2013 where a police station and bank were partially destroyed.

The Thursday attack on Gwoza which is about 135 kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital town of the troubled Borno state, started at about 6.30pm and a civilian was said to have been killed in the melee as several prisoners were set free.

March 22:

At least 25 people died when gunmen attacked a prison, a police station, a bank and a bar in an eastern Nigerian town, police said.

The simultaneous attacks took place in Ganye, a remote town near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.

The attacks happened on Friday but the death toll was only reported on Saturday.

No group has said it carried out the attack but police said they suspected Islamist militants Boko Haram.

That the latter attack occurred near Cameroon, where a French family now held by Boko Haram was recently kidnapped, may further alarm Cameroonian authorities. Indeed, Boko Haram recently threatened attacks in Cameroon, specifically mentioning that some of its members are imprisoned there. I wonder if we will eventually see Boko Haram staging prison breaks – in addition to other kinds of violence – in Cameroon itself.