News / Africa

Nigeria Violence Escalates

Heather Murdock
After pitched fighting between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces left many people dead last weekend, there are new questions about who was responsible - and the possibility of quieting the militant group with diplomacy.

At first people thought it was a Boko Haram attack that killed nearly 200 people in the northern fishing town of Baga. As details emerge, however, analysts say the carnage could be part of a different pattern - one that is equally or possibly even more destructive than the Boko Haram insurgency.

University of Abuja Institute for Anti-Corruption Studies Director Kabir Mato said Boko Haram insurgents may have attacked the security forces, and indeed one soldier was reported killed. In retaliation, he said, the security forces likely burned down homes and killed civilians. He said this chain of events has become so common in Nigeria; it is almost “normal.”

“The militants that are responsible for this lawlessness of killing soldiers will disappear into thin air. The victims of the military carnage are usually the innocent, unarmed, law-abiding civilians,” said Mato.

Boko Haram Facts

  • Based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri
  • Began in 2002 as a non-violent Islamist splinter group
  • Launched uprising in 2009; leader was subsequently killed in police custody
  • Has killed hundreds in bombings and shootings since 2010
  • Boko Haram translates to "Western education is sinful"
  • Wants Nigeria to adopt strict Islamic law
  • Says it will kidnap women and children as part of its campaign
  • Has taken over parts of northeastern Nigeria
Human rights

After the fight, security forces said dozens were killed and Boko Haram, a militant group that advocates for a Taliban-like version of Islamic law was hiding out in the town, using civilians as human shields.

In a report this week that echoes reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, though, the United States government said indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are a “serious human-rights problem” in Nigeria.

U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence P. McCulley spoke by phone. "Security forces, in attempting to contain this deadly insurgency, are going beyond and committing acts of violence against innocent civilians and damaging property. We have reports of extra-judicial killings. We have reports of deaths and detentions,” he said.

McCulley said the Nigerian military is in a tight spot fighting Boko Haram, a shadowy group that, without uniforms, cannot be readily be distinguished from the general population and appears to be growing stronger.

“Certainly we are seeing an escalation and increasing sophistication. Increasingly as well in the last few months, the targeting of Westerners,” he said.

Mounting death toll

Human Rights Watch says 3,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram related violence, including killings by security forces.

This week, President Goodluck Jonathan introduced a committee to investigate diplomatic ways of ending the insurgency, such as peace talks or offering amnesty to militants in exchange for turning in their weapons.

McCulley said when the government offered amnesty - meaning small salaries and job training in exchange for weapons - in the Niger Delta in 2009, it did make the region more peaceful. But he cautioned that the two conflicts are very different.

A political science lecturer at the University of Abuja, Abubakar Umar Kari, said amnesty or peace talks may not be successful because Boko Haram is not one entity.

“My worry is that the Boko Haram thing has become a franchise, a franchise for all sorts of groups now. It is possible to have an understanding, an agreement with the mainstream of Boko Haram. But there are several criminal elements that are hiding behind this Boko Haram phenomenon to do all sorts of criminalities,” said Kari.

Kari said amnesty is “a long shot” and that part of the reason Boko Haram violence is escalating is because security forces are alienating local populations.

Nigerian security forces repeatedly have denied accusations of human rights abuses, and Jonathan said the accusations are politically motivated and incorrect.

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Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
April 25, 2013 12:58 PM
The Nigerians are the boko haram themselves, even though a greater chunk of it comes from neighboring Niger and Chad where the Nigerian authorities have no control. The more reason it cannot find out why Ahmadinejad was there last week, but everybody knows what the Iranian is capable of doing in these matters. The point to note is that since the people within which the boko haram operate hide and protect them, the security forces have no option but to deal with them until they learn to be security conscious and contribute to the defense of the country by exposing the miscreants.

The crux of the matter is: boko haram is enjoying a lot of goodwill there; the people know them and even encourage them. In these days of mobile phones, how can they operate with much freedom and funfair without a single report going to the police? It's not acceptable. If they allow their children to be menace, it is only good that they have a share of the trauma that victims of their trade feel. That has been the stock in trade of the Nigerian military. It has my full support when they do not just go in to destroy but listen to the few who can speak out to show them who the boko haram are and where they have gone to.
In Response

April 26, 2013 1:00 PM
Boko Haram is an instrument devised by the northern elites to continue to keep their kit and kin in perpetual backwardness. If western education is bad, where do they obtain the guns they are using to terrorize, kill and maim the themselves and other innocent people. While, the Haram issue is raging, those who sponsor them are in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other moslem countries with their local colloraborators drinking kunu, pito, smoking expensive exotic cigarettes and drinking chilled french wine.

The illiterates and half baked, frustrated northern youths are venting their frustration by attacking security forces, burning churches, killing innocent school children and destabilizing the region. The southern traders who help to grow the economy have all relocated to other places and settled. The north is using boko haram to destroy itself, the security forces are only help them to fulfill that mission
In Response

by: Audu from: Katsina, Nigeria
April 26, 2013 12:07 AM
Well said Godwin. Boko Haram are people walking around freely and even being tipped about presence of security forces by the civilians. It is difficult to fight someone without uniforms shooting at you and hiding behind willing civilians who would not point out the terrorist. The Nigerian security forces are fighting this insurgency under the worst intelligence condition because the people feeding and helping these terrorists will not report them.

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