Boko Haram poses threat to Nigeria’s stability

Boko Haram poses threat to Nigeria’s stability

Boko Haram, fuelled initially by economic grievances, has vowed to destroy southern Nigeria’s Westernized economy, insisting that northern Nigeria hardly benefits from the roughly $50 billion a year the south receives from its oil exports.

Nigeria’s population is divided almost equally between the Christian south and the mostly underdeveloped Muslim north. The most populous country within OPEC, Nigeria is the world’s fifth largest exporter of crude oil. However, nearly two-thirds of its citizens live in absolute poverty.

In a system where godfathers and rich sponsors shape politics, Nigeria has been rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world. A newspaper last year estimated that $31 billion have disappeared since the short four years of President Jonathan entering office.

Primarily funded through bank robberies, extortion, and ransom demands, Boko Haram is rumored to receive help from Al Qaeda affiliates. The vastly inaccessible Northeast is filled with bad roads and poor phone reception, enabling Boko Haram to operate freely. Hefty areas along Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger with a similar topography are also susceptible to Boko Haram.

Boko Haram violence now comparable to IS

Boko Haram gained worldwide notoriety earlier this year when its members kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northeast Nigeria. With bombings, shootings and kidnappings now weekly events, escalating violence in Africa’s most populous country is now equivalent to the civilian death toll in Iraq.

The Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) estimates that 10,340 violent deaths between November 2013 and November 2014 can be directly attributed to Boko Haram-related violence. In that period around the same number of civilians, 10,733, were slaughtered in Iraq, according to the United Nations.

The Boko Haram terrorists have developed revolutionary abilities as they gradually increase their mode of operations. This radical group has begun mirroring the tactics of Islamic State (IS) in a disturbing number of ways as they too now strive to make territorial gains. After fawning over the work of IS, earlier this year, Boko Haram has also professed a religious kingdom of its own, calling it a “caliphate.”

Over the past two years, Boko Haram’s tactics have become more sophisticated. Once shooting policemen from the back of motorbikes, they now send members prepared to commit suicide in car-bombs packed with industrial explosive to important buildings like the national police headquarters in Abuja.

Like IS, Boko Haram has also become more indiscriminate in its killings, slaughtering anyone who is not a member of their sect. They kill by the thousands, beheading men who reject Islam and forcing their widows into marriage with Boko Haram soldiers.

Like IS facing Iraqi Security Forces, Boko Haram continues to seize military gear from the Nigerian army, as government soldiers, all too familiar with the group’s ruthlessness, frequently surrender their arms and run the opposite direction.

Limited response from government and international community

Since the insurgency began in 2009, the military’s response has been both relaxed and inadequate. Soldiers insist they lack equipment and get paid late, if at all. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged to defeat Boko Haram but his threats seem empty or at least largely insufficient as violence has not seemed to subside.

The Nigerian government’s failure to effectively deal with Boko Haram has enormous political implications throughout northern Africa. If Boko Haram’s reach and strength continue to grow, it is possible that Nigeria’s ethnically and religiously diverse population could face massive internal dissention.

Nigeria’s population is roughly 174 million, nearly two-thirds the size of the United States, and approximately one-fifth of the whole of Africa. The Nigerian government will eventually lose control over northern Nigeria if turmoil there persists, and could ultimately become a haven for terrorist groups operating worldwide.

Northern Africa is much closer to the West than the Afghanistan and Pakistan Al Qaeda and Taliban bases. Unlike the U.S. response to IS, an expanding air campaign that is expected to soon target that group’s leadership and heavy weapons, Washington’s response to the Boko Haram monster has been restrained.

The harsh reality is that violent Islamist extremism and the conflicts it ignites are not disappearing. Like IS, Boko Haram too vows to institute Sharia, or Islamic law, and will stop at nothing to achieve this.

About Author

Itziar Aguirre

Itziar currently works as a Research Consultant at JLL, a commercial real estate capital intermediary. She holds an MBA in Accounting and Finance from the University of St. Thomas and an MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics.