Yesterday morning, suicide bombers suspected of being from Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect struck two police targets in the northwestern city of Sokoto (map), claiming at least four lives (more here). Police reportedly repelled a third attack Monday evening.
Assuming Boko Haram is behind these incidents, the attacks in Sokoto mark one of the largest strikes the movement has carried out west of Kano.* Their attacks in Kano since January have themselves represented a significant geographical expansion for the group; a presence in Sokoto is yet another stage in this expansion, particularly if attacks become semi-regular there as they have in Kano.
Yesterday also brought an apparent assassination attempt against Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo, as “gunmen on motorbikes” shot at one of Sambo’s houses in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The Sokoto bombings and the Zaria attack follow a wave of micro-attacks elsewhere in the North: raids on police stations in Borno and Bauchi States last Wednesday and Thursday, clashes in Damaturu on Friday, reported battles in Maiduguri and Damaturu on Sunday, and gun attacks in Kano on Sunday. Despite the fact that these attacks have caused relatively few casualties, their wide geographical range and their somewhat unpredictable character sends a message to ordinary people in Northern Nigeria: violence could come at any time, in any major city, and the authorities have difficulty preventing it. Most people are simply trying to carry on with their lives, of course, but the cumulative effects of these micro-attacks likely include an increase in the tension people feel and a decrease in their faith in the government and the security forces.
Calls for dialogue have continued; many elites believe there is no purely military solution to this crisis, and that resolution must come at the negotiating table. On Sunday, former Nigerian heads of state Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida released a statement on the violence in the country:
Without mentioning Boko Haram by name, they called for “community involvement” in addition to security measures to resolve the crisis, urging efforts from local governments, religious leaders and grassroots organisations.
“Religious leaders, in particular, have an even greater challenge to use the immense virtues of this holy period (Ramadan) to inculcate among the millions of citizens the spirit of mutual respect, humility and forgiveness,” the statement said.
“Ample opportunities are therefore at hand to bring all armed belligerents to table for meaningful dialogue with the authorities for our future and that of our children and grandchildren.”
It is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects of successful dialogue. Obasanjo has already made personal efforts at peacemaking, without great success and even with some backlash, but if nothing else such statements show the deepening concern among Nigerian elites regarding Boko Haram and other violent actors in the country.
*Prior to these attacks, the only major incident I am aware of in Sokoto was this March, when an attempt to rescue to kidnapped Europeans resulted in gun battles (and the deaths of the hostages). The question of what role Boko Haram played in those kidnappings remains somewhat murky in my view. For more, see Andrew Walker’s discussion of the subject here (.pdf, pp. 10-11).