Nigeria needs help to defeat Boko Haram

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead, Persecution

Nigeria armed forcesNigeria, May 23, 2013: Nigerian forces have launched their biggest offensive against Boko Haram since the Islamist group’s deadly insurgency began in 2009. President Goodluck Jonathan last week declared a state of emergency in the Northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where the militants pose the greatest threat.

He said – These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of the country.

The move followed an admission by Borno state governor Kassim Shettima on 7 May that Boko Haram was on the verge of seizing control of the state.

The Nigerian military has deployed thousands of troops in this effort to drive the militants out of territory they control around Lake Chad, along the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It is intended to be a decisive campaign that will defeat the group once and for all.

On Sunday (19 May), Nigeria’s defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade proclaimed, “Dislodged terrorists [are] in disarray.”

The campaign has seen some initial success; the military has recaptured five areas from Boko Haram and scores of militants have been arrested. But can Boko Haram be defeated by military might? And if so, at what cost?

Previous crackdowns have failed. A state of emergency was imposed in key battleground areas in 2011 with little success.

The Islamists have grown in strength since then, boosted by weapons that are still pouring into West Africa in the aftermath of the conflict in Libya that ousted Colonel Gaddafi.

CHRISTIAN LEADER MURDERED

The declaration of the state of emergency last week did not cause the group to cower. Within an hour of the announcement on 14 May, suspected Boko Haram militants killed the Rev. Faye Pama Musa, secretary of the Borno state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN).

The 47-year-old father of three was reportedly followed from his church, where he had led an evening Bible study, to his home in Maiduguri. The attackers dragged him outside and shot him dead in front of his daughter.

Christians have been one of Boko Haram’s primary targets, with those in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states particularly vulnerable.

Last year, nearly 1,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria, making it the most lethal country for Christians.

In March this year, a suicide bomb attack at a bus station devastated a Christian area of Kano, Northern Nigeria. Although official counts stated the death toll to be at least 41, local church leaders told Barnabas Fund that they estimate the total number of casualties to be around 400.

Around 4,000 deaths have been attributed to Boko Haram since the launch of its violent campaign in 2009. It is of the utmost urgency that this lethal outfit be stopped.

“TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE”?

There has been broad public support for the military initiative. President Jonathan has previously been criticised for failing to take action to deal with Boko Haram.

CAN said that it was long overdue, and the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) applauded “the bold step taken by the Federal Government in declaring a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States and prays that it will bring lasting peace”.

But others have been calling for dialogue, fearing that force may make a political solution impossible.

Adeniyi Ojutiku, founder of Christian charity Lift Up Now in Nigeria and an expert on Islamism, told the Baptist Press that military intervention does nothing to address the root cause of Islamic terrorism. He said:

We know what the Islamists want. They want to Islamise Nigeria by all means, including violence, through legislative processes involving the establishment of a sharia federal system. That is their goal and they will not compromise.

He said that the improvement of the security situation was “too little, too late” and that Boko Haram would retreat for a while and then regroup and restrategise.

Mr Ojutiku’s comments have been confirmed by the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, who said in a recent video recording, “We will never stop our struggle”.

CIVILIAN COST

The United States has expressed concern about a worsening “cycle of violence”, a view echoed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. There is already evidence of this.

On 13 May, Shekau said that Boko Haram has started kidnapping women and children as part of its campaign. He said that this was in retaliation for Nigerian security forces routinely imprisoning wives and children of group members, a tactic used to draw out suspects.

There is inevitably going to be a high civilian cost to the campaign against Boko Haram, especially in urban areas such as Maiduguri, where the militants intermingle with the population. It is alleged that the Nigerian military has a history of targeting civilians and carrying out human rights abuses.

Around 2,000 people have already fled to neighbouring Niger, while others have escaped to Cameroon.

CONCLUSION

The threat posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria had reached such a level that a strong and decisive response was essential, but it is difficult to see how the determined and well-armed Islamists can be defeated by the Nigerian military alone.

Comparisons have been drawn with Mali, two-thirds of which was taken over by Islamists last year before French troops drove them out. Malian forces needed support from a much more powerful ally to defeat the enemy within, and the same is likely to be true in Nigeria.

Terrorism cannot be defeated by military action alone, as we have seen in Iraq, A Afghanistan And Syria. A more coordinated response is needed, with a full counter-insurgency programme to address the underlying causes alongside overtly military action.

The outcome in Nigeria has implications beyond its own borders as more Islamist groups are emerging in Africa, wreaking havoc in previously uncharted territory such as Tanzania and the Central African Republic.

And in an age of mass migration, the tentacles of terrorism are far-reaching. Reports coming in about the brutal murder yesterday (22 May) of a British soldier in Woolwich say that one of the killers is a British citizen of Nigerian descent, who is a convert from Christianity to Islam.

Nigeria’s neighbours and international friends must come to its aid.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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