Authors: Nandini Agrawal, Asill Singh Bard
Region Head: Yong Hwee Shi
Editor: Chok Geow
Boko Haram is Nigeria’s largest militant group, and is infamous for their horrific acts of terrorism in the region. Boko Haram’s attacks are merciless and ruthless as they do not differentiate between religious, political, local and military forces, as they attack anyone that stands in their way. They have also been known for attacking innocent civilians in markets and villages and are notorious for kidnapping their citizens as well.
There was one particular event that shocked the world in April 2014. It was the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria and this news garnered widespread criticism as human rights activists and individuals from all over the world insisted the government intervened to contain this terrorist threat that was getting out of hand (Brigety II et al., 2021). As of now, the situation has escalated beyond control and has resulted in a strong humanitarian crisis as over 2 million people have been displaced from their homes and are left to survive under extreme poverty conditions (Brigety II et al., 2021).
Crimes committed by Boko Haram
Since 2009, Boko Haram’s attacks have left thousands dead, and over a few million people displaced, especially across the Lake Chad Region, in Nigeria. (Brechenmacher, 2019). Boko Haram fighters target young women, and commit heinous crimes including rape and murder. Particularly, a cluster of villages in Borno was a frequent victim to Boko Haram attacks, and in February and March 2021, Amnesty International conducted an interview to find out more (“Nigeria: Boko Haram brutality...” 2021). During these violent raids, Boko Haram fighters looted villages, and mercilessly killed anyone that stood in their way. These communities would flee to areas within the Nigerian military perimeters to seek assistance. However, slowly these communities began to grow even larger, and they would not receive any assistance including food, or health care. Eventually, there was a problem of widespread hunger and diseases spreading amongst these communities, creating a humanitarian crisis.
Weak Government Response
Many critics have slammed the local government’s weak response to the Boko Haram attacks, and we examine why this was so. In addition, we see that the government’s seemingly indiscriminate killing of alleged Boko Haram members and many others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time appears to be a driver of popular support for or acquiescence to Boko Haram as well. (“Nigerian Authorities”, 2014). While the government may have had small successful gains in pushing militants out of cities, attacks on rural cities continue. One of the fundamental reasons behind the weak government response is arguably attributed to the weak political coordination, transparency and commitment by the government. While at some level, there have been new conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms that have proven to be effective at the local level (Brigety II et al., 2021), however these programmes are difficult to roll out and sustain due to the weak political institutions in place. Current efforts to connect these mechanisms to higher level government branches and change the decision making process have been unsuccessful. As such, the root causes behind the conflict still remain unaddressed and structural problems continue to persist that go beyond the capacity of the local government, such as problems pertaining to corruption, weak accountability and lack of oversight in the security sector.
Ineffective International Response - and international concerns
The US and world governments have condemned Boko Haram as a terrorist organization and in 2013, the United Nations designated Boko Haram as an Al-Qaeda affiliate in 2014. International partners have stressed the need for a regional response to the crisis, especially in the aftermath of the 2014 kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. However, the local government lacks proper political infrastructure and cooperation with external parties are ineffective. In addition, the government has done little to capitalise on the offers of help from the international community. Furthermore, the international community was reluctant to push for harsh reforms with the Nigerian authorities claiming they had the situation under control. Agencies like the United Nations (UN) also had little political interest in interfering with the conflict, which would have required additional commitments of resources. Additionally, as the largest African oil producer, the stability of Nigeria is very important to regional and US economic interests. Nigeria is also seen as a strong economic focal point and a growing industrial hub to the rest of the world, and it would be very crucial to ensure the political and economic stability of the region for the world economy.
Nigeria’s Move to Peace
Strengthening local and state-level conflict prevention and community security mechanisms, to help communities avoid and resolve emerging conflicts and tensions, can be a milestone towards peace. Additionally, civilian infrastructure rehabilitation and commencement of basic services to strengthen government legitimacy and responsiveness to citizen needs can also trigger change. Lastly, supporting the reunification of former fighters, civilian militia, and those associated with insurgent groups, as well as local-level social cohesion more broadly, with a vision of social healing and trust will also be a major step in Nigeria’s journey towards peace.
Breaking the vicious cycle of terrorism?
“Only Nigerians can determine when insurgency, banditry will end” – Buratai
Critics mark this statement, credited recently to the army chief, as irresponsible. The chief evidently passes the baton to the civilians implying that the crisis can be put to an end only by the Nigerians. While on the contrary, it is only the armed forces that are equipped well enough to fight Boko Haram and other such groups. It is the responsibility of the government to provide a strong front in the war.
A few indispensable problems that need to be fought and conquered constitute corruption and the false accusations on the soldiers. This is backed up by an incident when the Borno Governor accused soldiers of extorting money from motorists. Similarly, with a strong presence of Boko Haram, occurrence of compromised military intelligence needs to be put to an end by the military high command.
After intensive research and reading, there are a few policy recommendations that seem compelling in reversing this tide of Boko-Haram. To initiate the peace process, there should be a focus shift towards the basic needs of millions who have directly or indirectly been affected by this ongoing battle between the state and Boko Haram. Even Nigeria’s neighbours, hosting thousands of refugees, should have access to such assistance (Ross, 2014).
Friends of Nigeria should adhere to the policy of ‘not harm’. Their friends should resist the temptation of ‘just do something’, especially in the aftermath of a horrific Boko Haram atrocity (Adamu, 2020). Any step taken by the outsiders should be done keeping in mind the religious dimension of the current Nigerian crisis. Any outside intervention will be seen by the Muslim majority as an attack on Islam.
The government should put a strong front against any form of human rights violation. Silence only underestimates the efforts of the Nigerian human rights activists. Sovereign states, especially those aspiring to be democratic, should be held to a higher standard above that of terrorist groups (Adamu, 2020). As goes the assumption in West Africa, the West is “at war” with Islam. Greater sensitivity and understanding of the religious aspect of the crisis in West Africa is expected in the Western comeback to Boko Haram and the overlying Nigerian crisis (Adamu, 2020).
In conclusion, what is needed is the government’s will to fight terrorism, end nepotism, and remove religious sentiments in the conflict. The country’s unity in their common struggle against terrorism is the solution that will ensure the fight becomes a permanent retreat (Folarin, 2020).
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