It bears repeating: if all these battles join up into a world war of sorts, it will be a royal mess with all big powers (including China) on one side of the fence. The islamic communities in the border regions will likely be devastated (people will not care much about what goes on in the hinter lands).
Matazu, 29, survived the double bomb blast earlier this month in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria, that killed about 45 people and destroyed seven buildings. It was the latest blow by the terrorist group Boko Haram to shake the foundations of Africa’s most populous state.
Haram is believed to be responsible for killing at least 1,300 people
in the past two months and more than 130 people in the past week. The radical sect claims ties to al-Qaida and has ambitions to impose sharia law
on Nigeria’s 170 million people. In Boko Haram’s heartland, even the
national military is outgunned in what is fast becoming a lesson to the
world in how not to tackle an Islamist insurgency.
“What is clear
is that they are as ruthless as any Islamist group or terrorists
anywhere in the world,” said Antony Goldman, a west Africa risk analyst
at London-based PM Consulting. “They’re quite happy to hit soft targets,
including schools. Some in the Nigerian administration expect this to be a problem for another 10 years.”
some ways, the paradox of Nigeria in 2014 captures that of Africa
itself. The continent has enjoyed a decade of economic growth and the
phrase “Africa rising” has become widespread among investors and
journalists. Yet at the same time the past six months have seen
conflicts erupt in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, while
economic growth has gone hand in hand with deepening inequality.
it is with Nigeria which, with oil wealth and a decade of annual growth
around 7%, is set to overtake South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy,
with a value close to $400bn. It has been anointed one of the “Mint” emerging economies – along with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey – by economist Jim O’Neill. Nigerians drink more champagne than Russians do.
For centuries, the region enjoyed the fruits
of Islamic civilisation. Then in the early 19th century its sultanates
succumbed to a jihad by Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio, who created a unified
caliphate that was the biggest pre-colonial state in Africa, ruling
swaths of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon. It
had a strict interpretation of Islam and a culture of scholarship and
Nigeria did not escape the expansion of the British empire into Africa
and was conquered in 1903. Since then, there has been resistance to
western education, with many Muslim families refusing to send their
children to government-run “western schools”. Shehu Sani, a human rights activist and author of Boko Haram: History, Ideas And Revolt,
said: “The north fought the British colonisers because they thought
they were bringing in western ideas and this would erode Islamic values
and erode their culture.
remained a centre of Islamic learning for children from all over Nigeria
and west Africa, Sani said. Its madrasas did not necessarily encourage
extremism but did shape the founders of Boko Haram, who embraced the
Qur’anic phrase: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed
is among the transgressors.”
Some believe the trigger for the
group’s inception was a gubernatorial election campaign in Borno state,
when an opposition candidate organised a militia known as Ecomog, after
the east African intervention force deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia
in the 1990s. Following the election, the candidate disbanded Ecomog
but did nothing to look after its members.
One of the militia’s
leaders, Mohammed Yusuf, was able to exploit the frustration and
disappointment and blend it with an Islamist agenda that rejected the
failings of secular government to form Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati
wal-Jihad, People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s
Teachings and Jihad. In the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where
the sect had its headquarters, it was dubbed Boko Haram. Loosely
translated from the Hausa language, this means “western education is
so many self-appointed rebels and revolutionaries, Yusuf was not poor.
He was said to be well-educated and to drive a Mercedes. In an interview with the BBC,
he set out the group’s anti-science philosophy: “Prominent Islamic
preachers have seen and understood that the present western-style
education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in
Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an
evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like
saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of
Allah, we reject it. We reject the theory of Darwinism.”
up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school
that attracted many poor Muslim families. In 2009 Boko Haram attacked
several police stations and other official buildings in Maiduguri. The
Nigerian security forces hit back and more than 1,000 people died, not
all of them Boko Haram supporters. Yusuf was captured and killed, his
body shown on television. Boko Haram was finished.
fighters regrouped under a new leader. In 2010 it attacked a prison in
Bauchi state, freeing hundreds of its supporters, and carried out deadly
bombings in Jos and military barracks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Its main modus operandi was to deploy gunmen on motorbikes to kill
police, politicians and other opponents. Since then, the waves of
shootings and bombings have continued and, according to the Council on
Foreign Relations, Boko Haram is responsible for nearly 3,800 deaths
since May 2011. The group has sworn allegiance to al-Qaida and, Sani
says, some of its members have fought in Somalia and Sudan, but a formal
link “cannot be independently confirmed”.
If anything, Boko
Haram has intensified its operations of late, including an attack that
saw 43 students shot and hacked to death and many girls kidnapped. In
response, the government closed five schools considered to be in “high
security risk areas”.
Some Nigerians who feel let down by
the government are taking the fight on themselves. Zakari Matazu,
survivor of the double bombing in Maiduguri, belongs to a youth
vigilante group in Borno state popularly known as the Civilian Joint
Task Force (CJTF). “Now Boko Haram are attacking everywhere because they
are strong – even stronger than the soldiers,” he said. “I am a CJTF
but I now know that Boko Haram can decide to attack and capture the town
of Maiduguri any time. Everybody knows that. The federal government has
abandoned us to be killed by Boko Haram. All the people in the villages
have fled to Maiduguri, so if Boko Haram does not see people killed in
the villages, they will come to the city.”
Last month Boko Haram
threatened to strike farther afield, with potentially catastrophic
consequences for the economy. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened
attacks on oil refineries in the mainly Christian south, saying in a
video: “Niger delta, you are in trouble.” but few analysts believe the group poses an existential threat to Nigeria.
on the frontline are living in a parallel universe to the champagne
parties in Nigeria’s big cities. “We are in a state of war,” Kashim
Shettima, the governor of Borno state, said recently in a plea to the president. “Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our own troops. It is impossible for us to defeat the Boko Haram.”