NIGHTWATCH: Nigeria Losing Three Northeastern States to Fundamentalist Islamic Fighters

05 Civil War, 08 Wild Cards
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Nigeria: President Goodluck Jonathan announced a “state of emergency” in three northeastern states in an attempt to curb the increasingly violent attacks by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. (Note: Boko Haram is Hausa for “Western education is sinful.”)

In a televised address Jonathan said, “We are facing a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to our national unity….They have attacked government buildings and facilities. They have murdered innocent citizens and state officials. They have set houses ablaze, and taken women and children as hostages. These actions amount to a declaration of war…. I hereby declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.”

Comment: The three states lie in the far northeast, bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The catalyst for the declaration was a coordinated attack last week in the town of Bama in Borno state. Some 200 Boko Haram fighters in buses and machine gun-mounted trucks attacked an army barracks, the policy station and the prison. They freed more than 100 prison inmates and killed 55 people, mostly police and other security forces.

Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamist fighting group that is dedicated to creating an Islamic state based on Sharia in northern Nigeria, which is predominantly Islamic. Its rebellion since 2009 has resulted in about 3,600 people killed, including security forces. One Nigerian analyst reported it has several hundred armed fighters, but it has significant local sympathy.

Security officials state Bokop Haram controls at least 10 of 27 local government areas in Borno state, which is the center of the insurgency. One official says the real figure could be closer to 20 of 27 because local councilors fearing assassination have fled, leaving a power vacuum filled by bearded radicals with automatic rifles.

The government judged that a suppression campaign between December 2011 and July 2012, which included a limited imposition of martial law, had nearly eliminated the threat. The latest reports indicate the movement has recovered.

Recent activity suggests Boko Haram intends to set up an Islamist administration in the territory it now controls, as well as fight government security forces. This is the pattern followed by al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali. Boko Haram has contacts with AQIM and the style of the Bama attack plus the weapons used – machined guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers – suggest new training, new financing, more weapons and more cohesive operations characteristic of AQIM.

Recovering lost districts will be difficult for the Nigerian Army. Its past campaigns were so brutal that they alienated the local villagers and ensured tolerance if not support for Boko Haram.