ABUJA, NIGERIA — The day after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan declared emergency rule in some of the country’s most volatile regions, some locals have high hopes the move will end the nearly four-year-old Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed lives. Others are wary, however, saying brute force could potentially escalate the violence.
The Nigerian capital, Abuja, is located in the center of the country, and the people who live there are from every corner of Nigeria. They are from the mostly-Christian south, and from the mostly-Muslim north - the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency.
At one fruit stand, the seller chops pineapples while other men stand around chatting. When asked what they think about President Jonathan’s announcement that emergency rule is to be imposed on three northern states, men that support the idea are eager to speak out.
Lionel Osuagwu, a real estate broker, said he is proud of his president for taking a stand against Boko Haram.
“I think it’s a welcome development because we cannot sit down and watch people being wasted like animals. It’s not fair,” said Osuagwu.
Timothy Pam, a businessman who deals with farming equipment, is from Plateau State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” where sectarian violence has killed an estimated 14,000 people since 1999. He said in 2008 the government declared emergency rule in his home city of Jos, ending a wave of violence that left more than 700 people dead.
“The movement was very restricted. Like from 6 [a.m] to 6 [p.m], that’s when you were allowed to move. After that time if you are caught outside they will deal with seriously. So emergency is a welcoming development to everything that is a problem of that nature. Emergency should be implemented immediately so that lives will not be wasted as such,” he said.
Others around the fruit stand are less forthcoming, saying they are skeptical that emergency rule will improve the situation, but they don’t want to speak publicly for security reasons.
One man suggested that military rule could help, if soldiers stick to arresting suspects rather than shooting them.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both have accused Nigerian government security forces of escalating violence through extra-judicial killings and unlawful detentions. The Nigerian government denies these charges.
Under a nearby awning, where religious books are sold, another man said he is disappointed that the government is beefing up security measures before even finishing their investigation into the possibility of peace talks.
In his speech Tuesday, Jonathan said efforts to negotiate with Boko Haram will continue, but followed the statement by promising to “hunt them down.”
On the other side of town, in a quiet compound outside the business district, Kabir Mato, the director of the University of Abuja Institute for Anti-Corruption Studies, said that neither beefed up military nor negotiations will create a lasting peace in northern Nigeria, the heart of the insurgency.
Addressing overty, joblessness
He said the real cause of unrest is not Islamist extremism, as often is said, with Boko Haram being compared to the Taliban. He said the problem there is extreme poverty, unemployment and many young people with no opportunities and very little to do.
“You cannot wipe out these insurgencies, especially in the extreme northern part of Nigeria in the next two, three or four years," said Mato. "They can only be wiped out through long-term investment on social service. You must educate young people. In Borno State and Yobe State as I speak to you today, more than 70 percent of young people that are supposed to go to school are out of school, primary school and secondary school. Seventy percent!”
Jonathan’s announcement comes after Boko Haram-related violence has claimed more than 250 lives in the past month. Analysts say the group's attacks and equipment have grown increasingly sophisticated.
Mato said without economic and social development in the north, however, that if one group of discontented youth is crushed, another will just take its place. He added that when security forces use heavy-handed tactics - like burning the homes of suspected criminals - groups like Boko Haram have more unhappy young people to recruit.