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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>> Nigeria's Islamists have the government dancing to their tune
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 13:45

Nigeria's Islamists have the government dancing to their tune

Written by Remi Adekoya
Boko Haram's Christmas Day bombings of churches in Nigeria Boko Haram's Christmas Day bombings of churches in Nigeria EPA


A state of emergency will do nothing unless Goodluck Jonathan faces up to the political backers of Boko Haram's terrorists

Faced with mounting pressure following the Christmas Day bombings of churches by the Islamist group Boko Haram, which killed at least 40 people, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in certain parts of the country on 31 December.

The measure is in force in some local councils of Yobe and Borno states in the north-east of Nigeria, Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the north-west – areas where the government says the Islamists have their strongholds.

Some Nigerians welcomed the decision, saying the only language terrorist groups like Boko Haram understand is force and that Jonathan is right to say they need to be "crushed". Others voiced concern that the Nigerian military, not known for its sterling human rights record, will abuse the blank cheque it has been given in the affected states and innocent citizens are bound to suffer.

There were also questions raised as to the wisdom of sending the military only to certain areas of the four states, as all the Islamists had to do was relocate to other local councils and continue their activities from there, rendering the state of emergency ineffective. But a decision has been made, now the question is can it work? Is the Nigerian military capable of crushing the Islamist group, or at least crippling its operational capacity significantly?

Boko Haram, which says it wants to impose nationwide sharia law on a country where roughly half of the 160 million citizens are Christians, is believed to have been responsible for over 500 deaths in Nigeria in 2011 alone, with churches, police stations and the UN headquarters in the country among the targets of its bombings.

Hundreds of its members have been arrested and killed by Nigerian security forces in the past few years and the group's original leader died in police custody in 2009; but that hasn't stopped them from carrying out ever-more daring attacks. A military officer involved in the current operation against Boko Haram told me under the condition of anonymity that the state of emergency would not solve the problem. The group is backed by powerful northern politicians who use the organisation as political muscle, he said.

"We know who they are but the government is not ready to go after them and until those people stop supporting the group with funds, weapons and protection, we cannot defeat Boko Haram," he admitted.

When a spokesman for the Islamists, Ali Sanda Umar Konduga, was arrested in November 2011, he fingered a deceased ambassador and a serving senator as sponsors of the group. Both of these individuals belonged to Jonathan's ruling People's Democratic party (PDP). But my source says the two are "small boys" compared with the real powerbrokers behind Boko Haram. He also admitted that innocent civilians get killed in the hunt for the Islamists.

"When we receive intelligence that Boko Haram members are in a particular location, we usually arrive on the scene spraying bullets. Innocent people die but that happens all the time in Nigeria and we are under a lot of pressure from our superiors to deliver results," he said.

Boko Haram seems intent on starting a Muslim-Christian conflict in Africa's most populous country and so far, things are going according to script for them. When innocent Muslims are killed in the hunt for terrorists, even moderates can be easily persuaded that all Muslims are under attack from the government.

Christian leaders are also starting to lose their nerve.

After the Christmas Day bombings, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a major group, released a statement warning that if the attacks continued in 2012 and "Christians remain unprotected by the security agencies, then we will have no choice but to … take our own steps to ensure our safety and security".

What do they plan to do, arm Christians with AK-47s?

Meanwhile, on 2 January, a spokesman for Boko Haram issued an ultimatum to southern Christians residing in the country's north giving them three days to leave. He also said Muslims living in the south should come back to the north as there was "evidence they would be attacked by Christians".

Boko Haram and their backers are bent on causing chaos and spreading sectarian fear in the country. That is the real aim, not the establishment of nation-wide sharia law, which they must know Nigeria's 80 million Christians will never accept.

Northern secession in order to form a religiously pure Muslim nation is also not an option for the north's elites as the country's wealth lies in other regions and they show scant inclination of being willing to give up their access to all that oil cash.

For the political backers of Boko Haram, religion is merely a convenient cloak with which to disguise their true intentions: a tool to bamboozle the naive, often poor and homeless illiterates who are Boko Haram's soldiers into doing their dirty work for them.

Their motives go no further than increasing their wealth and power by cowering a southern Christian president they regard as weak into believing they can make Nigeria ungovernable unless he plays by their rules. As long as Jonathan remains unable or unwilling to face down the real powers behind the Islamists, there is no hope of defeating Boko Haram. No state of emergency will change that.

Picture of Remi AdekoyaRemi Adekoya was born and raised in Nigeria. He is the politics editor of Warsaw Business Journal, an English-language weekly in Poland. He has also worked for the Polish weekly Wprost and has had his articles published in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza and Foreign Policy. Adekoya articles are publishes in The Guardian UK



Last modified on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 13:52

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