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2015-01_dc

32 D+C Vol.42.2015:1 Tribüne When the terrorist group Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in April, the international outcry was great. Nigerians, however, had been subjected to attacks by this group for a long time, par­ ticularly in the poor north of the country. “Boko haram” means “western educa­ tion is sin”. This sect was founded in 2001 under the leadership of Mohammed Yu­ suf, a young Islamic preacher. The group became known in 2009 because of attacks in north-eastern Nigeria, when it burned down churches in Maiduguri and killed more than 1,000 people. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ordered military action, and the ­police killed Yusuf without any court trial. Boko Haram regrouped and has become one of the deadliest terror groups in Africa. Nigeria has effective institutions and a strong military. However, the war against the group proved difficult for some reasons. First of all, Boko Haram initially gave the impression it was pro-Islam, in a bid to win the support of the people in the north. In the region where it mostly operates, over 70 % of the population are Muslims. The sect found recruits among the poor youth, most of whom lacked a sustainable livelihood. Nigeria’s north lags behind other re­ gions in terms of education and literacy. It was easy for the sect leaders to manipulate religious sensitivities and make people fol­ low their twisted version of Islam. Nigeria has witnessed several spells of military rule, and the top leaders of those authoritarian regimes were mostly from the north. None­ theless, the lack of education has perpetu­ ated the cycle of poverty especially in that region, and the gap between a few rich and masses of poor keeps growing. Stating it wanted to avenge the murder of its leaders, Boko Haram relaunched in September 2010. It has attacked a wide and diverse range of targets: the UN House in the capital Abuja, law-enforcement build­ ings, markets, churches, mosques, poli­ ticians and Muslim as well as Christian faith leaders. According to conservative estimates, the group has killed about 5,000 people since 2009. Terrorist violence has displaced almost a million people. According to unsubstantiated allega­ tions, Boko Haram is funded by local poli­ ticians who have an axe to grind with the current national government. There have also been allegations that the group is get­ ting money from foreign sources. Up to now, such claims are unproven. The number of Boko Haram members remains unknown. Soldiers who have fought the sect in battle have repeatedly claimed that some of the insurgents are not Nigerians. Lack of strong action It took the Nigerian government a long time to launch full-scale military action. President Yar’Adua, a Muslim from north­ ern Nigeria, died in 2010. He was succeed­ ed by Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, who had been his vice-presi­ dent. Many northern politicians opposed Jonathan’s decision to run in the following elections in 2011, because he disregarded the so-called zoning formula, a controver­ sial agreement in the ruling People’s Demo­cratic Party, according to which northerners and southerners alternate in the office of the president. Northern politicians asked Jonathan to let someone from the north run, given that Yar’Adua had not even completed one term of office. In their eyes, the north was entitled to another term. Jonathan ignored the argu­ ment, and won the presidential election. One result, however, was when it came to deciding on action against Boko Haram, the president did not have the support he need­ ed. Jonathan recently announced he will run again in next year’s election, exacerbat­ ing tensions within his party. In regard to how to respond to Boko Haram, in 2010 the nation was divided. Some called for a full-scale military opera­ tion. Others, with empathy for the north, called on the government to start a dialogue with the terrorist group. Such an approach had been successful in regard to militant in­ surgents in the Niger Delta region in 2009. These groups had resorted to kidnappings and burned oil-producing facilities, arguing that foreign corporations were exploiting their resources with the connivance of the federal government. Boko Haram, however, has quite a different ideology – it wants Ni­ geria to be run according to sharia law. The government opted for a carrot- and-stick approach. It offered dialogue and promised an amnesty if the militants laid down their arms, but at the same time, it also declared a state of emergency in the three northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Boko Haram continued its attacks, kidnappings, and jail-breaks. Schools and media institutions became targets too. In April 2012, the group car­ ried out simultaneous attacks on the of­ fices of THISDAY newspaper in Abuja and Kaduna. Eight staff members and pass­ Terrorism For more than a decade, the insurgent group Boko Haram has been terrorising Nigeria. Feuds between politicians from the north and the south of the country have prevented effective action against the terrorists. Sub-standard military action is making matters worse. Strong military, poor performance By Damilola Oyedele Tribune

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