Following continued attacks against civilians and killings of up to 2,000 people in 16 villages and towns last week by fundamentalist group Boko Haram, the Nigerian army has extended the call for support to outside nations. This weekend saw an extended series of attacks as well, as socio-political analyst Adetunji Omotola attests:
It's been a bloody weekend. Firstly Maiduguri on Saturday, where they had bombs strapped to the body, and she ended up killing herself and 19 other people in a market. And then we also had late yesterday (Sunday) two young girls aged 15 and 23 and they were two suicide bombers who also went to a market in Potiskum in north-eastern Yobe state in Nigeria and you had about 6 people dead. It's very, very sad.
So who are Boko Haram and what is their agenda? Omotola unpacks this:
If you remember in 2008/2009, there was a massive insurrection under the previous President in Maiduguri and the military cracked down. They (military) killed about 700 of their fighters, then they killed their leader Mohammed Yusuf. When they killed him, we thought that Boko Haram had died, until they resurfaced in 2010, under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau and they've become more deadly and intensified, with even more political bias. There's always Islamic extremists in Nigeria, even in the 80's. What we have in the North in the Islamic influence and Nigeria joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 1986, which was a very controversial move because Nigeria is a secular state. We have Christians, about 50%, Muslims are about 40% and those with indigenous beliefs are about 10% of the country. So it's not about President Jonathan, this has all the hallmarks of the Northern-Muslim, Southern-Christian battle for the resources of Nigeria, which reside in the federal government.
What has managed to sustain this collective since 2002 and seen it re-emerge after the reported massacre of 2009? Omotola notes wide-ranging Arab world connections:
You would have seen even recently a few days ago young Muslims in Paris pledging allegiance to Isis - a gentleman called Amedi Coulibaly - the Kauchi brothers; people who have allegiance to various groups, Al-Qaeda. There's a lot of relationships between a lot of these organisations, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram as well. I believe they've been to Yemen, they've been to the Sudan to go and get training and funding because Boko Haram believe in Wahhabism - an eye for an eye, if you steal a chicken, we'll cut your hands off - so there's a lot of support coming from the Arab world. There's a very delicate situation in Nigeria where you have a Christian president, trying to prosecute Muslims, where there's a significant population that is Muslim. And the military itself doesn't have the capacity to deal with insurgencies. The Nigerian army has been very successful in West Africa in killing conflict, but they've not had any success in history in dealing with asymmetrical warfare.
Meanwhile, a caller to the John Robbie Show, Oleleko from Midrand, feels Omotola should have given details on the Nigerian military's budgeting:
The Nigerian government as it is needs to deal with the corruption within its ranks. One of the things that this guy (socio-political commentator Adetunji Omotola) didn't say is, how much does the government of the country budget for security every year? Billions of dollars - where is that money going? They are not using the money to buy anything. Now, the military that is under-equipped is asked to go and fight terrorists with sophisticated equipment - they sentence them to death!
Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Martin Ewi meanwhile warns against underestimating the force of the Boko Haram threat:
I think what this clearly indicates is that Boko Haram is more than the Nigerian government - it's more than the region itself. I would also say it's more than Africa. We need to do way more to be able to combat the Islamic group. I think the stage at which Boko Haram could have been defeated in Nigeria is long past. We allowed the group to grow to the extent that it is today. Combating Boko Haram will require far more means than currently what Nigeria, Cameroon and the region can provide because the group grows every single day. It has developed strategies for recruitment, bombing, fighting and so on. It's operating from the underbelly of Africa's weakest regions - our rural areas have never been protected nor been part of our security apparatus.