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November 16, 2011

Nigeria Moving to Confront Boko Haram Terrorism

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan says the military is moving to fight and defeat what he calls the evil of the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram.  The sect is being blamed for more than 100 deaths across the northern states of the country this month. A presidential committee named to open talks with the group says there should be less confrontation and more dialogue.

President Jonathan says Boko Haram attacks are a “temporary setback” testing the nation's character and should deter neither Nigerians nor foreign investors.

"Anybody who does not want to come and invest in Nigeria now because of this instance of Boko Haram will really regret it," he said.

The president told foreign investors in Abuja that he is initiating a "rapid and robust" military response to combat the Boko Haram threat.

"Let me reassure Nigerians and indeed the world in general that even with the limited technology we have, the Nigerian security services are doing fairly well," he said.

Nigeria's military says Boko Haram carried out coordinated attacks on police stations, churches, and an army base in small towns across the north earlier this month.  The group claims responsibility for bombing United Nations headquarters in Abuja in August.

The militants say they are fighting for the creation of a Sharia-led nation in the north, and do not recognize the authority of Nigeria's constitution or President Jonathan.

A special security fund for joint military task forces to put down the violence moves the government away from the recommendations of a committee the president established to consider opening talks with Boko Haram.

Borno State Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume was on that committee. He says the problem can not be solved militarily.

"As far as the use of force is now going, it is just like guesswork.  You don't even know who is your enemy.  So you don't know who you are even attacking.  So the military is just, they thought that the presence of the military can bring law and order.  But it has not succeeded," he said.

Ndume says the violence will continue as long as Boko Haram feels it is not being heard.

"Dialogue in this case is very necessary, especially when you are dealing with a group that you can not easily identify.  So first we say there should be the initiation of dialogue.  First to identify the leadership of that group.  Two, to know what they want and then see if there is possibility of negotiation because we know historically that insurgencies can not be solved by force.  It can only be solved by dialogue," he said.

Ndume says part of addressing the Boko Haram threat is addressing the underlying social weaknesses of poverty and unemployment that have fueled its growth.  Photographer John Oku says there are longstanding grievances.

"The government should look into the remote cause of the problem rather than the proximate cause because the group actually did not start today.  The agitation has been there all along, just like the Niger Delta.  They have been there protesting, agitating.  The government will not do anything about it until they took to violence," he said.

President Jonathan says there are no "sacred cows" in the drive to expose those behind Boko Haram, no matter how highly-placed those sponsors might be.  Economist Prince Ohini believes the group's backers include northern politicians opposed to Nigeria's southern president.

"This group we are talking about is masterminded by political powers, those who are in power. They sponsored these children, gave them guns to fight for their political interests," said Ohini.

Unlike the fighting over resources in the oil-rich Niger Delta, businessman Andrew Adebisi says most Nigerians do not understand what Boko Haram wants.

"Boko themselves, I think, they are not sincere," he said. "They should come out and tell us what their fight is.  When the people in the Niger Delta fought, we knew what they were fighting for, and we understood their plight.  But for Boko Haram, we don't understand their plight."

Senator Ndume says that makes it all the more important to open talks with the group because he believes Nigerians will not support a sustained military operation unless they believe the government has exhausted all other efforts to resolve the conflict.