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Reinvigorating the Fight Against Boko Haram – Professor Hussein Solomon

May 14, 2014

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Reinvigorating the Fight Against Boko Haram

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 2 (2014), Number 6 (May 2014)

On the 14th April 2014, Boko Haram attacked a secondary school in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, whilst students were preparing for an examination. 276 female pupils were captured by the armed Islamist militants and while some managed to escape their captors, more than two hundred remain hostages of Boko Haram[1].

For a movement labelling itself “Western Education is Forbidden” (this is what Boko Haram means in Hausa-Fulani), Western-style schools have long been a favoured target of the militants. Moreover, given their rabidly sexist form of Islamism, it was natural for them to target a school for girls. After all, their leader Abubaker Shekau, have on numerous occasions stated that girls should not be receiving an education but should be married at a young age. Indeed, following the capture of these 200 hapless victims, he threatened that he was going to get them “married” – ostensibly to his fighters.

What was different this time round, however, was the power of social media. The hashtag “Bring our Girls Back” was trending across twitter. Facebook was abuzz. People went out on the streets of Nigeria as well as other capitals like Washington. Politicians everywhere came under pressure to return the girls to their parents. It was almost as if the world discovered Boko Haram for the first time – despite their previous terrorist atrocities over the past decade!

As the social pressure escalated, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was compelled to say something about the abduction of the schoolgirls – after three weeks of silence[2]. The United States sent surveillance aircraft to assist the Nigerian authorities to locate the missing girls. London dispatched security advisors to Abuja and Israel also offered to assist Nigeria’s security forces.

Despite the tragic circumstances in which the girls were kidnapped, Jonathan and his administration needs to make use of the international goodwill generated to prosecute the war against Boko Haram with vigour. Foreign security assistance should not only be viewed as a short-term measure to secure the safe return of the school girls, but rather be seen as an opportunity to beef up Nigeria’s own moribund security forces and intelligence apparatus. Moreover, popular opinion in the north, for the first time moved decisively against Boko Haram which enjoyed some pockets of support given its Hausa-Fulani ethnic identity. The abduction of the girls resulted in widespread condemnation of Boko Haram within its own ethnic constituency.

Abuja needs to capitalize on this and reinvigorate the fight against the Islamists once and for all. Instead, as I sit watching my television screen, I am filled with dismay as the Nigerian government offers to negotiate with Boko Haram. This constitutes a dereliction of duty – a betrayal of national trust – on the part of the Jonathan government.

 

[1] `Boko Haram demands exchange of fighters for Nigerian girls,’ The Japan News, 14 May 2014, p. 4.

[2] Azubuike Ishiekwene, `Nigeria’s absent commander-in-chief,’ The Japan News, 14 May 2014, p. 10.

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