Africa

Letter from Africa: Finger-pointing over Boko Haram

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau with fighters. 31 October 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has declared an Islamic state in the north-east

In our series of letters from African journalists, Mannir Dan Ali looks at the excuses made for the escalating insurgency in northern Nigeria.

As the relentless violence ascribed to militant Islamist group Boko Haram continues to claim lives and destroy livelihoods, the blame game as to who is responsible for the failure to stop the bloodbath has gone into higher gear.

Over the past week more than 200 people have died in bombings and gun attacks in the northern cities of Kano, Maiduguri, Damaturu and Mubi while Damasak town, near Niger's border, is reported to have been captured by the insurgents.

Initially, the authorities blamed communities for harbouring the insurgents and not supporting the security services enough.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The bombings have caused havoc across the north - targeting Christians and Muslims
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The government has failed to stop attacks despite promises of improved security

When many young men and some women volunteered to put themselves in harm's way in order to help the security forces apprehend Boko Haram operatives, Nigerians began hearing strange claims by low-level soldiers that they did not have adequate arms and ammunition to face the insurgents.

'Unpatriotic'

The military high command dismissed such accusations and blamed their lack of success against the insurgents on their unconventional method of warfare, involving bombings, assassinations, and raids on towns and villages.

However, for nearly a year before the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in April, the militants were camped out in the Sambisa forest, which straddles some states in the north-east, and no attempt was made to tackle them - the military could not use the excuse then that the militants were using the girls as human shields.


Who are Boko Haram militants?

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Media captionA 60 second guide to the militant group
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Boko Haram militants

Profile: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau


Not to be left out of the finger-pointing, the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and its spokesman Olisa Metuh accused the main opposition party of being sympathetic to Boko Haram and once alleged that politicians were funding the group because of what he called their "Janjaweed agenda" - a reference to militia groups which have wreaked havoc in Sudan's Darfur region.

"After a careful examination of the trend and character of the spate of insurgency and sectarian violence in the country, the PDP has submitted that these acts of terrorism were being sponsored by unpatriotic elements whose aim is to discredit the person, office and administration of President [Goodluck] Jonathan...We pointedly finger the opposition,'' Mr Metuh said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is running for re-election next year

Of course, the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) denies this - and in turn has blamed the escalation of the insurgency on the incapacity of President Jonathan's government.

For its part, the Nigerian government has rounded on the US, with its Washington ambassador, Ade Adefuye, saying the Americans' refusal to sell military hardware to Nigeria was hampering efforts to quell the insurgency.

Mediation spurned

There has been some resentment in the south, where militants were granted amnesty several years ago to end attacks on the oil industry, about the north's failure to find a solution to the insurgency - ignoring the fact that many top northern leaders, including the Emir of Gwoza - a traditional ruler near Chibok - have been assassinated by Boko Haram.

Nigeria's top Islamic leader the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, has condemned the violence, saying those behind the attacks "are not Muslims". He has urged Islamic sects to unite to fight Boko Haram, but reminded the nation that it is the "duty and responsibility of government to provide security for the citizenry".

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a PDP member from the south, agreed.

He gave his own reading on the situation last week, several years after the authorities spurned his offer of mediating with the insurgents.

"It took even the president more than three years to appreciate and understand that it [Boko Haram] is a terrible mix of poor education or lack of education, misinterpretation of what Islam and the Koran teach and stand for," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A mother shows the picture of her daughter who was abducted by Boko Haram
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vigilante groups have been formed to defend villages
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many people in the north-east have left behind their lives in small settlements because they feel unprotected

"Boko Haram is not simply a menace based on religion or one directed to frustrate anybody's political ambition. It is essentially a socio-economic problem that is tainted with religion,'' Mr Obasanjo added.

So as the blame game continues, the Boko Haram problem which began as a local issue in Maiduguri, the capital of north-eastern Borno state, in 2009 has now become a monster that is eating deep into Nigerian territory.

At the last count the insurgents are said to be in control of more than 20,000 sq km (7,722 sq miles) of territory, that is more than the size of Northern Ireland or the state of Connecticut in the United States.

And the unrest has claimed more than 3,000 lives and has displaced more than a million people, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

For the hapless Nigerians bearing the brunt of the bloody assault, the one question on their mind is not who can we blame but when will this end?

Image copyright Map

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