Emerging Security Threat in Africa: Boko Haram

Since 2009, violence between the government forces and Boko Haram has peaked. An intensive conflict erupted between Boko Haram and the Government in July 2009 when the members of the Boko Haram terrorist group rejected the implementation of a national law related to the use of motorcycle helmets while driving. According to the helmet law, both drivers and passengers have to use helmets for their own safety but the members of Boko Haram rejected it because of the fact that the members of Boko Haram using motorbikes were very poor and illiterate young, therefore they did not want to buy helmets. Many unemployed youngs criticised that helmets were very expensive.[1] The second reason was that the Boko Haram terrorist group in the north of the country have particularly refused using it because Boko Haram does not accept the Federal Government of Nigeria as a legitimate power in the country and believes that the Government of Nigeria does not protect the interests of the Muslims living in the country. Rejecting the law imposed by the Federal Government is an evidence that the group questions the legitimacy of the Nigerian Government.

After this incident, the Nigerian security forces killed seventeen members of Boko Haram and the leader of Boko Haram Mohammed Yusuf was arrested and killed in a brutal way by the Nigerian security forces. With the killing of the leader of Boko Haram, the group changed its strategy and launched massive and aggressive attacks against schools, prisons, police stations, government buildings, churches and mosques in the country. The 2009 conflict between the two forces left 1000 people dead and 700 people wounded in the country.  The group changed its headquarters and moved to Kanamma in Yobe State, near the border of Niger.[2]

There are a number of significant reasons for the escalation of violence between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Government. The first reason was that Boko Haram demanded to build its own mosque in Monguno in December 2008 but its initiative was not allowed by the state authority. A conflict erupted between the two groups over the contest for building a mosque after the rejection of the building and some of the members, including Abubakar Shekau were arrested. The second reason is that security forces have mismanaged the crises and attempted to use a brutal method to stop and eliminate the activities of the terrorist group.[3]  Oppressive policies of the security forces against the terrorist group instigated tension between Boko Haram and the government.

In the conflict in July 2009, the injured people belonged to Boko Haram were not accepted by the hospitals to receive a treatment. Boko Haram announced that the state waged a war against itself with its injustice policies. In this conflict, the leader of Boko Haram Mohammed Yusuf and prominent members were killed. Particularly, killing of the leader of Boko Haram increased animosity between Boko Haram and the government. The security forces without the identification of the members of Boko Haram carefully killed many innocent and unarmed people during the conflict of July 2009. For instance, 185 unarmed people were killed and almost 2.000 houses were burnt by the military forces on 19 April 2013..Killing of innocent people,  looting, illegal and arbitrary detentions, arson and raping  have raised anger on the society against the security forces and the Nigerian government. On 9 July 2011, security forces killed more than fourth people but only eight of the fourth people belonged to the Boko Haram terrorist group.[4]

Nigeria is labeled as one of the poorest countries in the world[5] despite having mass natural resources. Its infrastructure is extremely poor. It is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.[6] On the other hand, oil has been the most significant source of the government revenues since 1970. It is the eight largest exporter of oil in the world and largest in Africa. However, more than 62 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty in Nigeria. Economic disparities between the Muslim north and the Christian south are extremely terrible. While more than 70 percent live poverty in the north, only 27 percent live in poverty in the south and 35 percent in the Niger Delta.[7] Brutal and unjust policies of the State of Plateau against the Muslims living in the north have also led to the emergence of irritation against the State in particular and the Federal government in general.[8] According to Boko Haram, political institutions in northern Nigeria have been controlled by corrupt politicians and therefore corrupt institutions of the government have igored political, economic and social developments in the north. Brutal policies of the security services on the civilians have marginalized the poor people and unemployed youth throughout the country. Book Haram believes that the ruling elite created by the Britain during the colonial period are spiritually and morally corrupt and they only focus on their own self-interests rather than the interests of the Muslim community. Socioeconomic and political challenges in the country have increased the operational capacity of Boko Haram and restrict the capacity of the Nigerian Government to fight against Boko Haram. The underlying factors behind the attacks of Boko Haram are poverty, corruption, unemployment, and economic problems. 

Religion and politics have been frequently used together by the politicians or the ruling elite in the north throughout the history. While the politicians in the south mostly employ Christianity to strengthen their own political interests, the politicians in the north also abuse Islam for preserving their own self-interests. Politicians have particularly strengthened their power and gained their legitimacy through the religion. The most prominent group that used the religion as a political tool was the Maitatsine group. The group carried out many attacks in the north by employing the religion of Islam. The group led to the emergence of religious uprisings in 1980 in Kano, in 1982 and in 1983 in Yola and Maiduguri respectively.[9] Boko Haram attempts to exploit the religious differences and spread fear among the public by using violence. Violence has been one of the most important instruments of the Boko Haram terrorist group, believing that it will reach its goals through violence and bloodshed.

Boko Haram not only kills the Muslims in the country but also kills the Christians. The Government needs to create a perception that Boko Haram is a common threat which aggravates political, economic and social development. Importantly, the Government should particularly address social and economic challenges and political divisions. It is a fact that terrorism in the country feeds itself from the structural problems of the country. International community remains passive in solving security issues in Nigeria. In 2013, the US and the Western countries declared Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. Britain has a significant economic oil interest in Nigeria and has produced oil in the southern part of the country since 1958. British foreign and security policy in Nigeria is to protect its economic and political interests in the country rather than focusing on the root causes of terrorism. The US and the West are strongly concerned that Boko Haram is a global threat and has strategic ties with Al-Qeada and Al-Shabaab. The West is also alarmed that Boko Haram has a religious identity and, therefore it threatens the secular government which is strategically important for political and economic interests of the West in Nigeria and in West Africa.

The Nigerian Government has employed the method of hard power to eliminate the root causes of terrorism in the country. The leadership of Goodluck Jonathan has been accused that its policy does not handle the socio-economic problems of the country. Particularly, the Nigerian Government has developed a state-centric security policy towards terrorism rather than a human security approach but this has aggravated socio-economic development and sparked violence. In 2013, the Nigerian Government declared Boko Haram as a terrorist organization and imposed a state of emergency over the three countries in the north. Since then, the Government has hardened its security policies against the members of the Boko Haram terrorist group and put many members of the group into the jail. On 14 April 2014, Boko Haram captured more than 250 girls in the northeast of Nigeria. The critics point out that it abducted the school girls for the retaliation that the Government has very strict policy against the members of Boko Haram. It is strongly criticised that the Nigerian armed forces are actively involved in human rights abuses when dealing with terrorism in the north. While strict security policies, human rights violations and the lack of social and economic policies strengthen and legalise the existence and the terrorist activities of Boko Haram in the north, they damage legitimacy of the Nigerian Government in the eyes of the public. The Government needs to deal with social, economic and political challenges.The future of the country depends on the solving of the internal problems, including unemployment, poverty, economic and social challenges.

References:

[1] See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7813418.stm (11 December 2014).
[2] "Curbing Violence in Nigeria: Boko Haram Insurgency",  Nigerian Tribune, 25 April 2014.
[3]Kyari Mohammed, “The Message and Methods of Boko Haram,” in Boko Haram: Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria, ed. by March-Antoine Perouse de montclos (Leiden: African Studies Centre, 2014), pp. 24-6.  
[4] ibid.
[8] Andrew Walker, “What is Book Haram”, Special Report, United States Institute of Peace, 2012, pp. 13-14.
[9] A.I. Ajayi, “Boko Haram and Terrorism in Nigeria: Exploratory and Explanatory Notes”, Global Advanced Research Journal of History, Vol. 1, No., 5 (2012), p. 104. 


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