MAIDUGIRI, Nigeria — Boko Haram continued its violent campaign against villagers in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno last week with the kidnappings of at least 91 people near the state capital of Maidugiri. This follows soon after a recent attack on Nigerian villages near the nearby city of Chibok, in which dozens were killed and many more were displaced.
Boko Haram’s recent strikes have been brutal. Survivors of the Chibok attacks, many of whom moved 15 miles through the bush to escape, claim that gunmen shot villagers and burned houses indiscriminately. Chibok is one of Boko Haram’s major targets and received international attention last April, when militants kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls there, none of whom have been returned. To establish an independent state opposed to Western culture, Boko Haram has escalated its attacks and has bombed villages, bus stations and even public World Cup viewing venues, killing many innocent people.
Though Nigeria’s military has attempted to address the problem, the attacks have become worse. Since Nigeria declared a state of emergency in 2013 in the country’s northeast to fight Boko Haram, the terrorist group has killed at least 2,265 people, according to researchers at the University of Sussex. This is a greater than 300 percent increase from the 741 recorded villager deaths in 2012.
Why are Nigeria’s government and military struggling so much to protect citizens? One problem is that the military is not very well-equipped to deal with Boko Haram, and other countries are not giving it help. ForeignAssistance.gov reports that Nigeria received $305 million in United States foreign aid in 2013, but about 80 percent of that money went to health programs. While medical assistance to cure preventable diseases is important, less than one percent of all aid went to bolster the country’s security.
Developed countries are apprehensive about giving too much in military aid because of the Nigerian military’s record of excessive use of force. According to Amnesty International, the army killed 600 people in response to a March attack on Maidugiri. Without outside help, the military will not be able to get the necessary training and equipment to effectively stop Boko Haram.
An under-equipped army is not Nigeria’s only problem however. The three states in the heavily-attacked northeastern region have leaders that oppose the party of president Goodluck Jonathan. Many officials in the central government do not trust the state governments and ignore their cries for help. Ledum Mitee, a retired Nigerian activist, stated that the president’s advisers “all tell him this Boko Haram is manufactured by the northerners to play politics,” making the problem less important to the rest of the country.
The military itself also has a tendency to understate the impact and scope of the attacks on Nigerian villages. If they admit that the situation is out of control, “they risk being branded incompetent” and losing their jobs, said Mitee. The military only started to allow advisers from developed countries to help it fight Boko Haram after the highly publicized Chibok schoolgirl kidnappings, and their role may be limited strictly to finding kidnapped people.
Meanwhile, villagers are suffering greatly from Boko Haram attacks. Reliefweb found that the violence has internally displaced over 250,000 Nigerians, while more than 50,000 have left the country and live as refugees in nearby Cameroon, Niger and Chad. The government refuses to trade prisoners for thousands of kidnapped victims, many of whom may be sold into slavery.
Boko Haram’s attacks on villages will continue until the Nigerian military gains the resources and foreign assistance to start a large campaign against terrorism. For this to happen, the Nigerian government will have to reform its violent military policy and political factionalism. This must happen soon. Until change occurs, more people will die and thousands of villagers will have to flee their homes.
Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, LA Times, Foreign Assistance.Gov