Last weekend, Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist organization launched a deadly strike in the northern city of Kano. Targeting government security forces, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for waging a series of bomb attacks and gun assaults that killed over 160 people.
Boko Haram has gained increasing notoriety in the past year as it has carried out regular attacks against government security forces and innocent civilians, both Muslim and Christian. According to the Associated Press, Boko Haram claimed 510 victims in 2011 while killing as many as 76 this year before the attacks last Friday and Saturday. A bomb attack last August against Nigeria’s United Nations headquarters in Abuja was the organization’s first attack on an international entity and brought more attention to Nigeria’s growing terrorist threat. The brutal attacks on Christmas Eve escalated the sectarian tensions between the country’s already-divided Christian and Muslim communities.
These attacks are a sign that Boko Haram is building momentum. In a video of posted online, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau challenged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan: “Jonathan, [you] know full well that this thing is beyond your powers.” As Jonathan has failed to implement an effective counterterrorism strategy, it is no surprise that Boko Haram’s confidence is growing. The Nigerian government is trapped in a game of catch-up.
Instead of taking proactive measures to counter Boko Haram, Jonathan has responded to attacks by increasing the already-bloated security budget, setting up checkpoints (which might as well be used for target practice) and adopting lofty rhetoric. Additionally, the Nigerian administration’s implementation of a state of emergency has done little to deter Boko Haram’s attacks as they occur almost daily.
Instead of delivering hollow speeches, Jonathan should develop a comprehensive strategy that addresses counterterrorism while implementing reforms that address the country’s marginalized population in the north. Too often, Boko Haram finds willing recruits from the north as they are outraged by the lack of employment opportunities and unbalanced government services. The fact that they believe that Jonathan stole last April’s presidential election doesn’t help, either.
In a December 2011 report, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee acknowledged the threat that Boko Haram could pose to the U.S. one day. However, immediate U.S. concerns include Nigeria’s oil industry and regional security. Nigeria ships nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day to the U.S. Furthermore, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s largest contributor of peacekeepers. Therefore, the U.S. should start paying attention to Boko Haram’s threat to security now rather than be blindsided by it later.
The timely meeting between the State Department and Nigerian officials this week to discuss regional security cooperation will likely end with continued U.S. pledges of partnership and cooperation. However, such talks should emphasize Nigeria’s need to address not only the direct terror threat from Boko Haram but also the underlying causes of Nigerian support for the organization.