Why has the Nigerian army been unable to contain or eradicate Islamist rebel group Boko Haram, which consistently burns villages and churches, killing and kidnapping Muslims and non-Muslims alike? One indicator of the worsening security crisis is that community vigilantes known as “Joint Task Forces” have taken matters into their own hands to protect themselves. Boko Haram is using child soldiers. The fact that Boko Haram has been able to occupy villages and rundown military barracks (Monguno, for example), as well as seize all kinds of weapons is more evidence of a problematic response within the army. A combination of Boko Haram, child soldiering, and weak and corrupt armed forces have serious short and long term social, economic, and political consequences. The cost to rehabilitate child soldiers after a war alone is enormous.
Some Nigerians have characterized the army’s failure to stop Boko Haram as shameful and a disgrace, the strongest expression of Nigerians’ shaken nationalism. There is hope, others say, to restore peace and security because the Nigerian army has previously proven to be a capable force. It has a record of restoring peace in cases of armed conflict across Africa. As one of the largest economies in West Africa, Nigeria’s failure to eradicate Boko Haram has devastating consequences both regionally and nationally. This could also cause the most populous nation on the continent to lose its good standing in the West African community of nations.
Proposed Solutions
Africa Faith & Justice Network’s Executive Director Rev. Aniedi Okure argues that Boko Haram’s proliferation and expansion in Nigeria is rooted partially if not mainly in years of injustice, and weak, corrupt and bad leadership. Looking at what Boko Haram has become, Rev. Aniedi argues, it should have been dealt with immediately when it became obvious that it was no longer about disagreements about Islamic doctrine, but had become politicized.
In 2012 Africa Faith & Justice Network was among those who sent a letter to former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, urging her not to label Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Group (FTO) because FTO status would not only help Boko Haram gain more popularity and legitimacy beyond Nigeria, but also undermine humanitarian, diplomatic and development efforts to stop the violence. Once a group has been labeled an FTO, any attempts by US NGOs to work with affiliated communities, or to assist in reconciliation, become a bureaucratic and possibly criminal nightmare. As an alternative, the coalition suggested “A lasting solution to Boko Haram will require addressing regional ideological differences rooted in colonial legacies, and especially inequalities due to mismanagement by the political elites. It requires seeking ways of holding the political elite accountable and demanding transparency and the rule of law.”
Boko Haram was designated an FTO on November 13, 2013 under Secretary of State John Kerry; the impact of this has yet to be seen.
Chad has already deployed troops to help fight Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon and talks about a response to Boko Haram between Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger are ongoing. The African Union is mobilizing more troops as Boko Haram threatens to further spill into neighboring countries.
Do Not Pay Ransom to Terrorists
On January 27, during a hearing on Nigeria called by Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the US House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, panelist Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe said that France must stop financing Boko Haram by paying millions in ransom to free abducted French citizens. In a direct way France is fueling the jihadist agenda and endangering the lives of West Africans.
US Policy on Boko Haram
During the same hearing on Boko Haram, Rep. Smith who previously advocated for the FTO designation recalled what former Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told him: “the phenomenon of Boko Haram is one of discrediting the central government in power for its failure to deliver services to people.”
On December 1, 2014 Rep. Frederica Wilson introduced a bill in the House called the ‘‘Boko Haram Disarmament and Northeast Nigeria Recovery Act of 2014’’ (H.R. 5778) which addresses recovery, development, governance and reconciliation in Boko Haram affected areas. The outcry to help victims caught international attention when 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram from their boarding school in Borno state on April 14, 2014. The clear cry “Bring Back Our Girls” has boosted solidarity with Nigeria across the globe.
At the Africa Policy Breakfast focusing on Ebola held on January 13th on Capitol Hill and hosted by Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee called for an international response equal to that of ISIS (the Islamic State, a terrorist group wreaking death and destruction in Syria and Iraq) when responding to Boko Haram.
Already the US has different teams of experts vetting Nigerian soldiers for human rights violations before training them in counter terrorism. The Nigerian government had called off this military training, but negotiations to resume the training are ongoing. At the January 27 hearing on Nigeria, Rep. Chris Smith asked the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of African Affairs at U.S. Department of State, Mr. Robert P. Jackson, whether Nigeria’s position on homosexual marriage has been a reason they haven’t received much-needed US assistance to combat Boko Haram. Mr. Jackson answered no and offered to discuss the details of US efforts regarding the Nigerian government’s ban on homosexual marriage in private with Rep. Smith.
Secretary Kerry visited Nigeria on January 25 ahead of a very competitive presidential election to encourage all parties to commit to a peaceful election, particularly in the light of the threat of Boko Haram and the risk of contested results. Initially scheduled for February 14, the presidential elections have been rescheduled to March 28.
Africa Faith & Justice Network joins those calling for the reintroduction of H.R. 5778 also known as Boko Haram Disarmament and Northeast Nigeria Recovery Act of 2014, a bill which was introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson in the 113th Congress.
Jacques Bahati