The Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria is casting a long shadow on the country, as President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, in the northeastern part of the country. Northern Nigeria has been the seat of a protracted insurgency led by Boko Haram, a local jihadist militant organization which finds its roots and its support in the same parts of Nigeria that it targets through attacks, kidnappings, bombings and targeted killings. Following another wave of attacks, which President Jonathan has said amount to a “declaration of war“, the sweeping powers given to the federal government are meant to give the Nigerian military greater authority and reach to target and root out Boko Haram militants.
Northeastern Nigeria has witnessed ongoing violence, perpetrated both by Boko Haram and the Nigerian military. Because of the grassroots, local nature of the Boko Haram movement, the Nigerian military has struggled to effectively deal with the threat posed by this group. Indeed, in its efforts to root out militants, the Nigerian military has been targeting civilian areas, and has been accused of indiscriminate, extrajudicial killings of individuals whose ties to Boko Haram were often ascertained “on flimsy or no evidence.” Adam Nossiter has been reporting on the ongoing conflict for the New York Times, noting that the “military’s harsh tactics, which it flatly denies, have reduced militant attacks in this insurgent stronghold, but at huge cost and with likely repercussions, officials and rights advocates contend.” Recently, the Nigerian government had pledged to negotiate with Boko Haram, but the recent brazen attacks by the group, compounded by the military’s ruthlessness in the northeastern region, have made it all but impossible to continue with the planned negotiations.
Boko Haram – which, according to some sources, literally means “Western education is sin” in Hausa – has been pursuing a violent, extremist agenda which the Nigerian government has a duty to quell. Over the course of the past few months, the group has been targeting public schools, burning or destroying 50 of Borno state’s 175 schools, according to IRIN. A few weeks ago, a raging battle between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram in Borno state left 2,000 homes burned and 180 dead. “The Nigerian military has a duty to protect itself and the population from Boko Haram attacks, but the evidence indicates that it engaged more in destruction than in protection,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, noted in a recent report.
President Jonathan is faced with the complex task of rooting out a militant group that is deeply embedded within the local population, in a part of the country that is far removed from the central government and its authority. His predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, had also declared a state of emergency for similar reasons in 2004 and 2006, replaced the democratically-elected governors of those states with appointed, former military leaders, yet failed to quell the unrest caused by Boko Haram. The increased tensions between the Nigerian authorities and Boko Haram will likely have the greatest impact on local populations, who find themselves caught in the middle of a protracted power struggle which shows no signs of abating.