Sunday, January 29, 2012

A different perspective on the problem of Boko Haram

"All of this seems well beyond the capabilities of a small cult known mainly for its views on secular education. Boko Haram in Hausa, the main language of the north, means “Western learning is forbidden”. The frequency and sophistication of the violence has led many, especially in America, to suggest that the group is getting support from international terrorist networks. Algeria’s branch of al-Qaeda and, more improbably, Somalia’s Shabab have been mentioned. Nigeria’s government, keen to win lucrative grants as a front-line ally in the West’s “global war on terror”, has encouraged such explanations.  Religious and political leaders in the mainly Muslim north, however, see things differently. To them, the internationally connected, ferociously active Islamist fringe group described by officials is largely an imaginary bogeyman. They say there are some genuine religious fanatics in the north but suggest Boko Haram has been co-opted into a murky mix of criminal opportunists and disgruntled political operators. “It’s something like a Bermuda triangle.” says Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno State, where the group originates. “Boko Haram has become a franchise that anyone can buy into.”  Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, seems in two minds. He has claimed that Boko Haram and its sympathisers have infiltrated all branches of the government, including the army and police. “Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you, and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house,” he told a church congregation in Abuja.
The president, a Christian who is unpopular in the Muslim north, is following the advice of his top security men baying for blood. He has put much of the north under a state of emergency. He appears ready to give the armed forces and police a free hand to run large-scale operations. And he is set to spend an astonishing 20% of the federal budget on security this year.  Some fear that such measures may make matters worse. Already deployed in parts of the north, troops are seen by locals as occupiers. Their high-handed, sometimes violent behaviour stokes rebellious feelings. A backlash is already happening."