Why Nigeria’s Boko Haram Is So Bold —Sola Odunfa


Nigerians are saddled with government leaders who – after the recent spate of bombings, assassinations and attacks – can only express horror at the bedside of survivors, vow on television to catch the perpetrators and then rush to fortify their motor convoys, offices and residences.

My worry is that the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which is responsible for the violence, is becoming bolder by the day.

Since the 1990s, the group has graduated from carrying out homicidal attacks on unarmed people in the north-east and the central plateau to carrying out suicide bombings this year on the headquarters of the police and the UN in the capital, Abuja.

It has also carried out drive-by assassinations, targeting politicians, security officials and religious leaders it disagrees with.

The government’s capacity to offer security to Nigerians appears, at best, suspect.

When the bloodletting began in the 1990s, the police and other security agencies moved in forcefully and made hundreds of arrests but they could not prosecute because of the political and religious sentiments of leaders in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.

The suspected killers were released, apparently to avoid getting on the wrong side northern traditional and political leaders and their followers.

A 2008 US diplomatic cable, published by the whistleblower site Wikileaks, reveals that Nigeria’s Department of State Security (DSS) made a deal with the Sultan of Sokoto, the pre-eminent Islamic leader in Nigeria, and other emirs in the north to release all suspects into the custody of traditional institutions for reformation.

But, according to the leaked cable, some of the imams brought into the programme denounced it as “not only ill-conceived but also ineffective, counter-productive and unimpressive”.

The result of the deal is there for everyone to see: Boko Haram is stronger and it operates with impunity.

It is a northern-based organisation which condemns Western education and seeks to foist Islamic rule on Nigeria.

Boko Haram first attracted international attention in 2009 when it launched unprovoked attacks on residents in the ancient north-eastern city of Maiduguri in Borno State.

The attacks were defeated by a joint force of police and military officers.

The intervention climaxed in the arrest of Boko Haram’s leader and financier, Mohammed Yusuf, a prominent local politician.

His death in police custody spurred his followers into a vengeful mission.

The suicide bombing of the UN building in Abuja in which at least 23 people, including foreign officials, were killed and about 70 wounded has led to a new appraisal of the true nature of Boko Haram.

Since then, Nigeria’s security agencies have labelled it an affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Scores of its operatives are alleged to have received training in Somalia from the al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Shabab.

The glib saying here that “no Nigerian can ever volunteer for a suicide mission, whatever their belief may be”, is no longer heard.

While the nation’s security agencies are working on how to arrest the perpetrators of the atrocities, one more headache has been piled on them – the violent overthrow of the self-proclaimed “dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims”.

I am referring to Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

Firstly, hundreds of his loyalist fighters have fled to Niger with large quantities of arms and ammunition. That country sits on the entire length of Nigeria’s northern border.

Secondly, huge caches of sophisticated weapons have been found abandoned by Col Gaddafi’s fleeing soldiers in unprotected warehouses near Tripoli.

Many of the warehouses are reported to have been looted. The weapons may soon surface on the international illegal arms market.

Nigerians can only pray that Col Gaddafi’s mercenaries and the stolen weapons do not end up in Boko Haram’s camps. If they do, someone must please find me a place of refuge.


•Odunfa wrote this article for the BBC