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

Conflicts Engulf Christians in the Middle East

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Surveillance of Phones, Internet

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghettoi
X
Kane Farabaugh
August 30, 2014 1:20 AM
When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid