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Boko Haram: The Beginning of a Nigerian Spring

Boko Haram: The Beginning of a Nigerian Spring

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By Gabrielle Corrigan Flourishing with natural resources, particularly in oil, Nigeria has the basis for a thriving country. However, Nigerian democratic governance has been punctuated by autocratic military coups and stained by government corruption, leaving Nigerian civilians in a state of instability, extreme poverty, and fear. Such a history has set the stage for the increasing entrenchment of extremist militant groups. Particularly, the anti-Western militant group Boko Haram has gained strength within the country, promoting the ideology of Islamic shari’a law to govern private and public life throughout the nation.

In addition to condemning the ways of the Western world, Boko Haram was a grassroots movement that stemmed out of anger in northern Nigeria towards the unequal distribution of wealth. Some NGOs and politicians say that Boko Haram’s rise in 2009 and recent growth has been born out of efforts to eliminate corruption.[1] Despite the public’s expectations of a bright future, the secular Nigerian government working with international companies exploited the country’s riches and failed to improve the uncivil conditions of the Nigerian population. In light of this, Boko Haram presented an “alternative vision” for the impoverished framed around the goal of “trying to clean up society.”[2] However, this alternative vision involved an extremist position that pointed out the how mainstream Islam is lax which Boko Haram says “does not represent the interests of Nigeria's 80 million Muslims and that it perverts Islam.” [3]

But what started as a movement for the good of the people has endangered civilians across northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has not fixed any corruption problems but instead has brought tragedy to many innocent Nigerians. The victims are not the corrupt politicians and businessmen that are directly responsible for the country’s defective governance. Boko Haram has targeted the innocent and guilty alike. From kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in April to recently kidnapping 172 women and children in December, the group’s actions have led to an estimated 10,340 killed or displaced in 2014.[4]

The extreme pandemonium that Boko Haram inflicts on the Nigerian people has created an outright fear of the organization. A recent Gallup poll shows that 95% of 1000 Nigerian respondents believed that Boko Haram and other Islamic militant groups posed a major threat to Nigeria’s future as opposed to tribal militant groups in southern Nigeria, also known as the oil-rich Niger Delta where the poll was conducted. People fear Boko Haram, but the militant group’s popularity is still growing predominantly in the northern, more Islamic regions of Nigeria.[5] Like the candy vendor from Kano, Nigeria, Abdullahi Garba, said in a New York Times interview, “at any time I am ready to join them, to fight injustice in this country.”[6] Whether it is out of fear of not conforming or the desperation for a better lifestyle, it is not clear why Nigerians are joining Boko Haram’s cause, but many seem to be ready to side with the extremists rather than the government.

The Islamic group says their fight is not against the civilians and that it does not involve them unless they show support or give assistance to authorities who are trying to stop Boko Haram. “It is not the people of Nigeria, it is only the army and the police who are against us,” said a Boko Haram member in a New York Times interview at a koranic school in Kano, Nigeria. “Millions of people in Kano State are supporting us,” the member added.[7]

So why is a deadly group like Boko Haram thriving while a historically strong and equally violent military is fumbling, leaving innocent Nigerian civilians to bear the burden? Financial mismanagement and corruption are primarily cited by a BBC News overview for the military’s inability to deter Islamic extremists.[8] Low morale among the rank-and-file of the Nigerian military stems from a shortage of financial and material support from their government; Nigerian soldiers are not able to provide for their families due to low pensions, and a lack of armaments and material strength creates doubt in their success against extremists.[9] However, resistance from soldiers to fight Boko Haram has resulted in backlash from the government because soldiers’ forbearance is labeled as mutiny, which is punishable by death. Recently, 54 soldiers were court martialed and sentenced to death for their refusal to fight Boko Haram. Reuters reported that, “low morale, partly linked to a dearth of adequate equipment and weapons in the face of a determined Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, has led to a series of desertions in the northeast and at least one mutiny.”[10] Thus, the Nigerian government finds itself between a growing extremist militant group and an uncooperative military.

Corruption has infected Nigeria since the late 1960s during the Biafran War, which saw military rule allow the profits from the country’s resources flow into regimental coffers and generals’ private pockets. When democracy was restored, the generals maintained their taste for corruption and bribery, and it became the habit of the political class. Now, “people feel they can’t get a fair deal,” says a Nigerian lawyer. “They have to bribe and [they] can’t get justice” under the current national state.[11] What started as a pecking at the system has turned into unabashed gorging. Corruption has gotten out of hand and the majority of Nigerians have no better place to turn for shelter than the ideals of Boko Haram.

With outright terrorist acts, mass kidnappings, and a lack of religious freedom, Boko Haram is still a better option for many Nigerians. The inability of the general population to provide for their families and the everyday corruption is a bigger problem than the extreme chaos that Boko Haram is creating. In a way, the success of the extremists is perpetuated by Nigeria’s desperation. Their growth is spurred by Nigeria’s need for a stable government. Like the desperation that led to the Arab Spring generating civilian uprisings throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, the stimulation of the Nigerian people—invigorated by Boko Haram—could create similar civil conditions and start a Nigerian Spring.

[1] Chayes, Sarah. "Nigeria's Boko Haram Isn't Just about Western Education." Washington Post. May 16, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/nigerias-boko-haram-isnt-just-about-western-education/2014/05/16/d9bb5824-d9de-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Almasy, Steve, Aminu Abubakr, and Jessica King. "Girl, 13: Boko Haram Tried to Force Me to Become a Suicide Bomber." CNN. December 26, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/26/world/africa/nigeria-teenage-girl-suicide-bombing/.

[4] Ola, Lanre, Tim Cocks, and Abdoulaye Massalaki. "Boko Haram Kills 15 in Northeast Nigerian Town: Witnesses." Reuters. December 30, 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/30/us-nigeria-violence-idUSKBN0K814K20141230.

[5] Loschky, Jay. "Nearly All Nigerians See Boko Haram as a Major Threat." Nearly All Nigerians See Boko Haram as a Major Threat. July 9, 2014. http://www.gallup.com/poll/172241/nearly-nigerians-boko-haram-major-threat.aspx.

[6] Nossiter, Adam. "In Nigeria, a Deadly Group’s Rage Has Local Roots." The New York Times. February 25, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/world/africa/in-northern-nigeria-boko-haram-stirs-fear-and-sympathy.html?_r=1&.

[7] Nossiter, Adam. "In Nigeria, a Deadly Group’s Rage Has Local Roots." The New York Times. February 25, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/world/africa/in-northern-nigeria-boko-haram-stirs-fear-and-sympathy.html?_r=1&.

[8] "Nigeria Profile." BBC News. January 12, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13949550.

[9] Ogunlesi, Tolu. "Why Outrage Alone Will Not Defeat Boko Haram and #BringBackOurGirls." CNN. December 19, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/19/opinion/nigeria-boko-haram-outrage/index.html.

[10] Eboh, Camillus, and Tim Cocks. "Nigeria Sentences 54 Troops to Death for Mutiny." Reuters: UK Edition. December 18, 2014. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/12/18/uk-nigeria-mutiny-idUKKBN0JW12A20141218.

[11] Chayes, Sarah. "Nigeria's Boko Haram Isn't Just about Western Education." Washington Post. May 16, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/nigerias-boko-haram-isnt-just-about-western-education/2014/05/16/d9bb5824-d9de-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html.

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