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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid