This summer, Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Islamist insurgency, has gained rapid notoriety following a string of brutal killings. While its attacks are domestic in nature, primarily targeting the Nigerian government, evidence reveals that Boko Haram has received support from international terrorist groups, namely al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Boko Haram’s emerging ties with AQIM imply an ambitious agenda with potential for transnational expansion.
Earlier this week, General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), confirmed Boko Haram’s links to al-Qaeda. This, according to General Ham, would be “the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well.” Nigeria is the United States’ leading supplier of oil in Africa and maintains the largest peacekeeping force on the continent. These resources, combined with Nigeria’s weak government, provide opportunities for terrorism to disrupt U.S. interests.
The Nigerian government has failed to address this threat adequately. When Boko Haram waged its most deadly attack in 2009, the Nigerian government launched a vicious counterattack, resulting in the death of Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf. These actions renewed Boko Haram’s commitment to toppling the Nigerian government.
Nigerian security forces are infamous for their unprofessional conduct in searching out Boko Haram militants. Too often they are overly aggressive and in some cases have even killed innocent civilians, believing them to have links to the militant group. Such actions have increased tensions between the southern-led (read: Christian-led) federal government and northern Nigeria’s Muslim communities.
Responding to the terrorist threat, last month, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed seven government officials to a negotiation committee to engage in open talks with Boko Haram. The committee was given until August 16 to collect research on the violence in the north and provide recommendations to the federal government. It failed to deliver results on time, and the government’s secretary granted two additional weeks for completion.
Jonathan’s decision to negotiate with Boko Haram not only places the Nigerian government in a position of weakness but also gives credibility to an organization that murders innocent people. The study committee is an exercise in futility and deviates from addressing the core issue of how to appropriately address Boko Haram’s threat. AFRICOM leaders should impress upon the Nigerian government that terrorism left unchecked will have a devastating impact not only on the Nigerian people but on the region. Both Africa and the United States look to Nigeria for its regional leadership and resources. An al-Qaeda-backed Boko Haram would jeopardize Nigeria’s standing on the continent and disrupt relations with the United States.