On July 19, 2014, the Guardian Newspaper estimated that from 2009 to 2014, more than 5,000 Nigerians had been murdered by Boko Haram. This figure has undoubtedly increased exponentially; for, in January 2015, CNN reported that Boko Haram “opened fire on northern Nigerian villages, leaving bodies scattered everywhere and as many as 2,000 people [are] feared dead.” This recent number, in addition to other murders perpetuated by Boko Haram between July 19, 2014 and January 2015, provides a staggering death toll of more than 7,000 Nigerians murdered.
Boko Haram Escalates Violence Against the People
The leaders of Boko Haram have an agenda.
In August 2012, CNN reported that Boko Haram’s purpose is to convince Nigeria to implement Sharia law as its legal code. According to the spokesman of Boko Haram Abubaker Shekau, “[W]e are telling the government to understand that if it is not ready to embrace Sharia and the Quran as the guiding book from which the laws of the land derive, there shall be no peace.”
It is apparent that Boko Haram will do anything to achieve its goals. As a consequence, the most important question remains: why has Nigeria’s leadership failed to provide its citizens with the most fundamental need of security?
Over the last five years, Boko Haram has imposed itself on the Nigerian way of life.
The group has attacked civilian structures in schools, shopping malls, market places, and places of worships in villages, towns, and cities. These actions reveal a group that specifically directs its murderous attack on a class of citizens who, naturally, are incapable of protecting themselves.
I find this to be extreme cowardice.
As has been generally reported, Boko Haram’s attacks on civilians in Nigeria began in 2010. In December of that year, Boko Haram detonated a bomb near a barracks in the capitol city, Abuja.
It was revealed by the Nigerian [Defence] Minister that four civilians, including a pregnant woman, were killed and 26 others were injured. On May 29, 2011 — just a few hours after Goodluck Jonathan took the oath of office to serve as president — several cities across the northern part of Nigeria were bombed by the group.
It was reported that 15 civilians were killed and a further 55 civilians were left with injuries.
In the months of June and July 2011, the group carried out more bombings in the cities of Abuja, Maiduguri (Borno State), and Suleja (Niger State). In these attacks, it is reported that more than 31 civilians were killed and a further 12 civilians injured.
In the following month of August, the group increased its attacks on civilians: On August 25, 2011, the group attacked the city of Gombi (Adamawa State), where 12 people were killed. A day later, on August 26, 2011, the group attacked the United Nations building in Abuja.
There, more than 23 civilians were killed and more than 75 civilians were injured. In response, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, described the attack as an “assault on those who devote themselves to helping others.”
Unfortunately, that is the modus operandi of Boko Haram and it would not be the last time the group directed an assault on helpless civilians.
From November 2011 through 2012, the group attacked several Nigerian cities, including Damaturu (Yobe State), Maiduguri, Kaduna (Kaduna State), Jos (Plateau State), Yola, Mubi, and Gombi (Adamawa State), as well as Bauchi (Bauchi State).
In these attacks, it is reported that more than 600 people were killed and a further estimated 500 people suffered injuries.
In the turn of the New Year, the attacks continued.
The group began with an attack on the city of Kano (Kano State) on March 18, 2013. In that attack, it is reported that between 21 and 65 people were murdered and more than 60 people were injured.
Then, beginning on April 19, 2013, until the end of the year, several attacks were carried out on multiple cities, including Baga, Konduga, Benisheik, and Bama in Borno State, as well as Mamudo and Gujba in Yobe State.
The numbers of reported dead and injured were worse than the previous year with an estimated death toll of more than 590 people and more than 1,000 civilians injured.
Just as in 2013, the following year was no different.
The group began the year with a bomb attack on January 14, 2014. In that attack, 31 people were murdered and more than 50 people were injured in the city of Maiduguri. Just less than 2 weeks after that attack.
On January 26, 2014, CNN reported that “at least 45 [people] are killed in a market in Kawuri in Borno [State] after Boko Haram militants opened fire.”
Throughout 2014, the attacks continued in several cities in Borno state as well as in Buni yadi (Yobe), Abuja, Jos, Mubi, Kano (Kano State), and Bajoga (Gombe State).
Again, the death toll was staggering and multiple news reports estimate that the death toll was 2,200 people. In addition, more than 300 people were estimated to have been injured.
And most recently, in January 2015, Boko Haram attacked villages in Northern Nigeria, killing as many as 2,000 people.
The continuous murderous acts by Boko Haram have left Nigerians devastated: many families have lost loved ones, many persons have lost limbs and, in addition, Nigerians have lost trust and confidence in their government.
Nigerian Government’s Insufficient Response
According to late-South African President Nelson Mandela, “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”
Since the emergence of Boko Haram, it is true that the Nigerian Government has made several attempts to eliminate the group. For instance, on May 15, 2013, the Nigerian [Defence] Ministry announced that the country will commence a military offensive in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states to “rid the nation’s border territories of terrorist bases and activities.”
In furtherance of said promise, it was reported that a military fighter jet bombed several Boko Haram members. In addition, John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations reported that a “Civilian Joint Task Force and the military both claimed credit for killing 70 Boko Haram members in a raid in Borno state.” Also, in August 2013, the Nigerian Ministry of [Defence] announced the death of Boko Haram’s second-in-command, Momodu Baba.
But unfortunately, these aforementioned attempts to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram have been unsuccessful.
Instead, the group has continued to multiply in membership and its attacks on Nigerians have gotten bloodier, while the Nigerian government has taken several steps that have shown weakness.
For instance, in April 2013, President Jonathan stated that he had appointed a team to explore the possibility of providing amnesty for Boko Haram. This decision was not only disappointing, it was also ridiculed by Boko Haram whose leader, Shekau, responded:
“Surprisingly the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon.”
Furthermore, on October 16, 2014, the Nigerian government announced that it had reached a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram. Under this agreement, the group was to release the more than 200 school girls it abducted in the town of Chibok.
As of February 2015 — four months after the ceasefire agreement — many of the abducted school girls have not been released and it has been reported that several of the girls have been murdered.
The decision to enter in to negotiations and agreement with Boko Haram shows a clear error in judgment.
On June 24, 2013, the institute for Security Studies (ISS) reported that “a recent United States report ranked [Boko Haram] as the second most-deadly [terrorist organization] in the world after the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
That is not the sort of organization with whom you negotiate, enter in to an agreement, nor to whom you grant amnesty.
It is clear that the repeated failure of the Nigerian government to eliminate Boko Haram and its aforementioned weak strategies have caused Nigerians to lose respect and confidence in their leadership.
According to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
Over the last year, it is absolutely clear that Nigerians no longer believe that their leadership is capable of defeating Boko Haram, and many Nigerians have come to believe that their leadership does not care.
In addition, Nigeria’s decision to continually beg the Western world for military assistance is a sign that Nigeria’s leadership is weak and has sadly accepted that it is incapable of defeating Boko Haram and protecting its citizens.
On May 17, 2014, a security summit of West African nations was hosted in Paris by French President François Hollande to discuss Boko Haram. The countries participating in the summit declared that Boko Haram is a part of al-Qaeda and must be eliminated.
While President Hollande told France 24 that France “will not intervene militarily in Nigeria because Nigeria has military forces that are available and efficient,” the Telegraph newspaper’s foreign affair’s correspondent Damien McElroy revealed that as a consequence of the summit, “Nigeria has accepted surveillance, intelligence, and military assistance from Britain, France, and the U.S. in the hunt for the Christian and Muslim girls, who were seized on 14 April from a school hostel in the north-east Nigerian town of Chibok.”
This acceptance of military assistance was confirmed by CNN who revealed that the White House announced that the United States had sent 80 troops to assist Nigeria in search for the school girls.
In addition, in February 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Jonathan appealed to the United States to send combat troops to Nigeria in order to help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram.
President Jonathan explained that he has been asking the U.S. for assistance since early 2014. “Are they not fighting ISIS?” President Jonathan is reported to have questioned. “Why can’t they come to Nigeria? . . . Look, they are our friends. If Nigeria has a problem, then I expect the U.S. to come and assist us.”
In response to President Jonathan, a senior official of the U.S. State Department, Rear Adm. John Kirby, told the Wall Street Journal that the State Department “hadn’t received any request for troops from Mr. Jonathan’s government … [and that] there were no plans to unilaterally send U.S. troops to Nigeria.”
He also stated that “the U.S. is discussing its participation in a multinational task force with African nations to assist Nigeria.”
Nigeria’s decision to embark on a globe-trotting begging affair portrays a country with a seriously weakened leadership that lacks shame and self-respect. It also reveals a government that has accepted defeat to one of the country’s worst enemies in its history.
With all this, it is important to think of change.
Nigerians cannot continue to live in this precarious situation. Thus, what then can be done to change the present situation and improve the security and lives of Nigerians?
It seems to me that both the government and the people need to take drastic measures.
First, the government needs to improve basic infrastructures. This may seem like an issue that has absolutely no relation to fighting against and eliminating Boko Haram. However, that is not the case.
In fact, in this specific case, it seems that the first step to combat and eliminate Boko Haram is to provide the citizens with rudimentary needs, including employment, health care, good roads, electricity and a better communication system.
For instance, in June 2014, it was reported by NBC News that Boko Haram slaughtered more than 200 civilians in the town of Gwoza (Borno State). A community leader who witnessed the killings explained that during the attack, local residents had pleaded for help from the Nigerian military, but the help did not arrive in time.
In fact, “It took a few days for word from survivors to reach the provincial capital of Maiduguri, because the roads are extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor or nonexistent.”
The slaughter of 200 civilians is normally heartbreaking, but it is even worse when one realizes that the murders could have been prevented had the community been provided with basic amenities, including good roads, proper communication lines, and adequate police protection. These are simple needs often take for granted. However, in this case, these are basic needs that could easily have saved the lives of the hundreds murdered.
The government’s inability to provide for its citizens has also motivated the people to create a safe haven for Boko Haram: For instance, in an article published by the New York Times on February 25, 2012, it is reported that in spite of the devastating effect of Boko Haram, one would be stunned to find that in some places “the government is more readily denounced than the militants.
“Anger at the pervasive squalor, not at the recent violence, dominates. Crowds quickly gather around to voice their heated discontent, not with Boko Haram, but with what they describe as a shared enemy: the Nigerian state, seen by the poor here as a purveyor of inequality.”
The New York Times article revealed that Boko Haram members view themselves as an action-led mouthpiece of the Nigerian people. One of the members interviewed explained that “it is not the people of Nigeria [who are against us], it is only the army and the police who are against us.” He then added, “Millions of people in Kano State [Nigeria] are supporting us.”
In support of the aforementioned comment, Mohammed Ghali, who, as of 2012, was an imam at a mosque where some Boko Haram members worshiped, explained, “People are supporting them because the government is cheating [the people].”
Perhaps, over the last three years, through the attacks, the dead bodies, the lost limbs and the funerals, the people’s views may have changed?
Whether or not views have changed, it is apparent that the government’s failure to provide basic needs to the people had at one time motivated the people to turn their collective backs on their government.
The people lent their support and provided a safe haven to Boko Haram because their government ignored them, while Boko Haram made them promises, albeit empty promises.
The government needs to regain the trust and confidence of its people and the first step is to provide the people with their necessary needs.
While it is important that the government take immediate action to provide fundamental amenities to the people, if leaders are incapable of providing for its citizens, the citizens should take necessary steps to create change.
In March 2015, Nigerians go to the polls to elect a president for the next 4 years. There are two main candidates: The incumbent, President Jonathan, and a former military leader and retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari (pictured).
While President Jonathan believes he can defeat Boko Haram and continues to ask other countries to assist in this effort, Maj. Gen. Buhari ridicules President Jonathan’s efforts.
Buhari explained to Reuters on February 7, 2015, that “it’s a big disgrace for Nigeria. It is now Cameroon and Chad fighting the insurgency more than Nigeria.” If elected, “We will build the capacity and Nigeria should be able to secure its territorial integrity,” Buhari concluded.
While the issue of Boko Haram must be an important part of any Nigerians’ decision when they walk to the polls, Nigerians must think carefully about their decision: Whoever is elected in March 2015 will lead the country for the next 4 years. Consequently, the candidate provided with the responsibility to lead Nigeria must be someone who is prepared for, and enthusiastic about, this responsibility.
Boko Haram could either be eliminated or grow. It all depends on the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.