On Friday, a suicide bomber launched an attack against the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja. The Islamist sect Boko Haram (translated: “education is sinful”) has taken responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 18 people and wounded dozens. While Boko Haram’s attacks have escalated in recent months, Friday’s bombing was its boldest operation to date. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said that Boko Haram is a “local problem.” However, by attacking an international organization, the once-obscure sect has caught the attention of the foreign public.
With links to both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram is fighting for the establishment of Sharia law in Nigeria. Militants frequently engage in targeted killings of government officials as well as indiscriminate attacks, primarily in Nigeria’s Muslim north. Shortly after the U.N. bombing, Abu Darda, an alleged spokesman for Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the attacks, stating that the bombing was intended “to prove a point to all those who doubt our capability.” Darda further warned that “more attacks are on the way.”
Responding the bloodshed, President Jonathan condemned the attacks and vowed to “bring it [Boko Haram] under control.” However, it is uncertain whether the government’s previous plans to negotiate with Boko Haram will continue. At the beginning of the month, President Jonathan appointed seven government officials to a negotiation committee to engage in open talks with Boko Haram and report findings by August 16. This deadline was later extended. Any attempt by the government to negotiate with Boko Haram will provide the group with undue credibility. Furthermore, as the recent attacks have blatantly shown, Boko Haram has no interest in negotiating with the government.
Bombing the headquarters of an international organization is a wake-up call to the Nigerian government and the international community. President Jonathan must develop a robust counterterrorism strategy to adequately address the growing threat to Nigeria’s security. This should include partnering with local governments and groups most affected by Boko Haram’s attacks and addressing the dire economic crisis in the north. International organizations must also reassess their security measures and make appropriate adjustments to ensure the safety of personnel.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, rich with oil and the largest provider of peacekeepers on the continent. The government’s inability to curb the terrorist threat could cause mass destabilization and put Nigeria’s African leadership and international partnerships in jeopardy. Swift and decisive action must be taken by the government to block Nigeria’s downward spiral to instability.