In the midst of Libya’s protests, I don’t want to neglect stories taking place elsewhere in Africa. For today, I’d like to give an update on the activities of Boko Haram, the Muslim rebel group in Nigeria’s north east. When I last wrote on the subject earlier this month, I said that Boko Haram’s foray into political assassinations as well as its continued attacks on security personnel threatened to disrupt the elections in the north east. I added that with turmoil elsewhere in the country, such as the Christian-Muslim conflict in Plateau State, Boko Haram’s guerrilla tactics were straining the capabilities of Nigerian security forces to respond to the country’s different crises. In the last few weeks, Boko Haram has killed several more policemen. Meanwhile, Boko Haram’s career of violence is threatening to exacerbate Christian-Muslim tensions in Nigeria. For their part, Nigerian authorities have kept on trying to dismantle the movement.
Boko Haram was also apparently involved in a recent attack on a church in Maiduguri. This assault follows incidents last Christmas Eve where three churches were hit in Maiduguri. Bloomberg’s Dulue Mbachu argues that Boko Haram’s attacks on Christians could inflame national rivalries between Christians and Muslims.
Increasing population growth and the southward drive of the Sahara desert have pushed Muslim farming and herding communities up against non-Muslims, sparking heightened competition for land and resources. That has fueled conflict along religious lines, said Peter Egom, an analyst at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, the commercial capital.
“These people are now using violence on a religious platform to address their social and economic exclusion,” he said.
In the north, Boko Haram is capitalizing on an upsurge in religious tension since Jonathan, a native of the Niger River delta who took office in May after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, won the nomination of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. That violated a party rule to rotate the presidency between the north and the south.
Explicit Christian-Muslim conflict involving Boko Haram could push Boko Haram into an even more politicized role this election season.
The State Responds
The Nigerian state continues to investigate and attack Boko Haram. Police raids and clashes with Boko Haram have yielded weapons caches belonging to the group and have caused several deaths among suspected members. The military leadership says its strategy is evolving, and that it is committed to finding a solution to the problem in the north east:
“We recently changed our strategy and we will continue to do so, until we succeed in all the places we are having challenges, including Borno, Bauchi and Plateau States. Part of the success is that, the military and other security agencies impounded several arms and ammunitions in Maiduguri recently,” [Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin] said.
He added that the military would continue to ensure the integrity of the nation by recruiting and re-training credible manpower, that would handle the task of ensuring national security.
“We are going to change the way we operate. It will be aggressive, but people should bear with us. I want to call on the people of the state, not to panic because the military and other security agents deployed to the state are working together to ensure that peace returns very soon,” he added.
Petinrin’s frankness and determination show how seriously the Nigerian government is taking the challenge of Boko Haram. But Boko Haram’s guerrilla tactics have thus far made it difficult for authorities, even though they possess superior firepower, to make much headway in defeating Boko Haram.