News / Africa

    Nigeria's 'War on Terror' Wins Tentative Support

    Women walk in a street in a residential area in Maiduguri, Borno State May 19, 2013, an area where President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency.
    Women walk in a street in a residential area in Maiduguri, Borno State May 19, 2013, an area where President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency.
    Reuters
    Nuradin Mohammed used to resent and fear the troops who swept past his fish stall in this northeast Nigerian city on the trail of Islamist insurgents Boko Haram. Now, for the first time, he thinks they may be on his side.
     
    “We are pleased the president has finally recognized our peril and we pray his plan works,” Mohammed said, frying fish by the roadside as a crowd of young children looked on hungrily and trucks packed with troops rumbled past.
     
    President Goodluck Jonathan took a gamble when he launched a big offensive this month on Boko Haram's four-year-old attempt to establish an Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.
     
    The crackdown risks stoking, rather than quashing the rebellion, but has so far met with a surprising degree of support in a region that has long accused the oil-rich Christian south of neglect.
     
    “We felt let down and ignored. We are afraid soldiers will come bullying the public, which makes people want to join the Boko Haram, but we hope this time is different,” Mohammed said.
     
    Only a few months ago, Jonathan was telling foreign leaders that Boko Haram was a small problem that would be over soon.
     
    Nigerian soldiers are seen patrolling a town in Borno state, April 30, 2013.Nigerian soldiers are seen patrolling a town in Borno state, April 30, 2013.
    x
    Nigerian soldiers are seen patrolling a town in Borno state, April 30, 2013.
    Nigerian soldiers are seen patrolling a town in Borno state, April 30, 2013.
    In declaring an emergency on May 14 in Borno, Yobe and Adawmawa states and ordering thousands of troops and air strikes on suspected Islamist camps, he said they were “terrorists” whose “declaration of war” could not go unanswered.
     
    Civilians like Mohammed appear to have had enough of being caught in the crossfire of a rebellion that has killed thousands in Africa's No. 1 oil producer and provoked fears of a descent into chaos in one of the continent's most dynamic economies.
     
    Even usually critical northern governors and elders have been cautiously supportive of Christian southerner Jonathan's new firm tactics, which include the offer of an amnesty to any militants who willingly surrender.
     
    “I now fully understand the strategy: show strength and be magnanimous at the same time,” previously critical northern opposition politician Alhaji Bashir Tofa told Reuters.
     
    But it will take more than just firmness to win against a movement that has proved remarkably resilient under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, a fiery militant who likes to make finger-waving Internet videos holding a Kalashnikov.
     
    Ousted from Nigeria's city centers in an earlier crackdown last year, the Islamists, whose name in the Hausa language means “Western education is sinful” withdrew to the remote semi-desert region of the northeast bordering with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
     
    In this isolated zone, they scared off local officials and took de facto control of at least 10 out of 27 council areas.
     
    This recalled what happened in 2012 in Mali, where al-Qaida-allied Islamist rebels seized control of the Sahel country's Saharan north before taking several cities and towns. A French military offensive drove them back earlier this year.
     
    In the past two months Boko Haram mounted some of their boldest attacks to date, including one that killed 55 people.
     
    Hearts and minds
     
    Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and his Tanzanian counterpart attend a sessions marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2013.Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and his Tanzanian counterpart attend a sessions marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2013.
    x
    Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and his Tanzanian counterpart attend a sessions marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2013.
    Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and his Tanzanian counterpart attend a sessions marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2013.
    Jonathan's administration knows that just sending in more troops will never totally defeat a foe that can hide among the civilian population, even if that population has been put off by Boko Haram attacks on churches, universities and markets.
     
    “In some ways youths had more in common with Boko Haram than soldiers and wealthy politicians,” said Borno public servant Ali Shuwa. Behind him, scrawny goats chew on a rubbish pile.
     
    “But I think people are tired of the fighting,” he added.
     
    As with the “surge” of extra U.S. soldiers that former President George Bush ordered into Iraq in 2007 to prevent the country disintegrating into ethnic and sectarian bloodshed, experts say Nigeria's military needs a change of tactics that will motivate the population to actively cooperate with it.
     
    “The major focus should be on securing the local population. It is popular legitimacy that will provide the intelligence necessary to fight insurgents and terrorists,” said Kole Shettima, a Nigerian pro-democracy activist.
     
    Recognizing this, Jonathan agreed to free some detained Boko Haram suspects this week, including all women and children, one of Boko Haram's top demands. This is a sign he is willing to take steps towards reconciliation with moderate elements.
     
    It reinforced the message that a panel he set up to try to establish a dialog with Boko Haram is sincere.
     
    “This is the most concerted effort yet... They've hit it with a big stick and then dangled a carrot in front of them,” said Peter Sharwood-Smith, Nigeria head of security firm Drum Cussac. “They now realize the huge task in front of them.”
     
    A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, May 13, 2013.A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, May 13, 2013.
    x
    A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, May 13, 2013.
    A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, May 13, 2013.
    Maiduguri, the once thriving hub of an ancient Islamic trading route, has been decimated by the conflict. Soldiers hunch behind sandbag bunkers on streets strewn with rubble from bomb blasts.
     
    Traders hang carpets and piles of sandals hopefully outside corrugated-iron roofed shacks, while young boys peddle oranges and watermelons from wooden carts. But there are few buyers.
     
    Boko Haram has infiltrated so deeply here that some parents don't know their children are members. Civilians don't want to turn against insurgents because informants are often killed.
     
    “It could be him or her watching us,” said Ali, a teenage boy selling jerry cans of fuel, pointing out onto the street. “People have been killed just on a rumor of informing.”
     
    It was in Maiduguri in 2002 that a cleric called Mohammed Yusuf founded a radical Islamist movement initially tagged 'Nigeria's Taliban', but later nicknamed 'Boko Haram' because of its virulent opposition to Western influences.
     
    A military crackdown against an uprising by the group in 2009 killed 800 people. This included Yusuf, who died in police custody, a catalyst for years of reprisals on security forces.
     
    Tough military task
     
    Jonathan says he will clamp down on military excesses after reports of human rights abuses by soldiers in the northeast, although rights groups and foreign diplomats think these may continue going unpunished given the secrecy of the operation.
     
    Nigerian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state, May 13, 2013.Nigerian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state, May 13, 2013.
    x
    Nigerian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state, May 13, 2013.
    Nigerian soldiers are seen on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state, May 13, 2013.
    Rights activists say soldiers carry out extra-judicial killings and torture suspects never face trial.
     
    “We welcome that Jonathan has finally recognized publicly the abuses but these words must be turned into actions for his operation to have legitimacy,” a western diplomat in Abuja said.
     
    Security sources say Jonathan's army faces a tough task in defeating resilient Islamist fighters, who have shown their ability to re-arm and counter-attack and who know the remote southern fringe of the Sahara better than most soldiers.
     
    A military source in Maiduguri told Reuters they had found the first days of the latest offensive harder than expected against “an enemy willing to hide anywhere and do anything”.
     
    Boko Haram is not one cohesive group and new independent splinter-operations are emerging, making negotiations difficult.
     
    The longer this goes one, the costlier it will be, and not only in human terms. Nigeria spent 700 billion naira ($4.4 bln) on security in the four months to April, the central bank said.
     
    Porous borders with Chad and Niger have been used to transport weapons from Libyan and Malian conflict zones and Western governments are concerned about Boko Haram's increasing ties with al Qaeda linked groups in the Sahel - a fact which could draw Nigeria's neighbors further into the conflict.
     
    “Even the U.S. government couldn't contain guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq, so do you think we can?” Sakuria Mohammed, a Borno legislator told Reuters in Maiduguri, where his mother was kidnapped by Boko Haram this month.
     
    “The fighting is a symptom and therefore the military will not solve this. We must create jobs, rebuild this once great region and give youths a better option than Boko Haram.”

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.