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Terrorism & Security

Nigerians call for new strategy after Boko Haram strikes yet again

A state of emergency and a full-scale military offensive have not stopped horrific Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria.

By Staff writer / January 28, 2014

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan speaks during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2014. Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states last May and initiated a military offensive against Boko Haram, yet attacks by the deadly Islamist militant group have not abated.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

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Deadly blasts and gunfire in Nigeria killed scores this week, leading to calls for a new strategy for fighting the deadly Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

More than 70 people were killed in the two separate attacks in a village and a market in northeast Nigeria Sunday and Monday, with government officials pointing fingers at Boko Haram. The group has brought terror to the region and killed thousands since it launched an insurgency in 2009, reports Agence France-Presse.

Nigeria's military claims it has been successful in forcing the Islamists out of towns and cities and into more remote rural areas near the border.

But attacks have continued, forcing thousands to flee to neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad and prompting claims that a purely military strategy to end the conflict is not working.

"The terrorists were armed with AK-47 rifles, Improvised Explosive Devices and petrol bombs,” Musa Bulama, a villager who escaped Adamawa where the second attack took place, told Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust.

"[N]o house was left standing ...The gunmen were more than 50," Ari Kolomi, who fled 43 miles to the Borno state capital, told The Associated Press. An estimated 300 homes were razed during the attack.

“They entered the community and wreaked havoc before they fled into the Sambisa forest ... It was much, much later that security forces came and it was night already, and the attackers had earlier subdued the soldiers that were already on ground," Mr. Bulama said.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states last May and initiated a military offensive against Boko Haram, which translates to, “western education is forbidden.” Yet attacks by Boko Haram have not abated, and even appeared to dramatically rise during some periods in the summer. 

“[Boko Haram’s] operational networks have become constricted by the military campaign through the tactical successes in dismantling some cells, arresting and indeed killing some militant leaders,” Roddy Barclay, a senior West Africa analyst at Control Risks in London, told The Christian Science Monitor.

"They are by no means defeated but it is a different type of militant campaign being waged at the moment compared to what it was a over a year ago.”

The AFP reports that this week’s attacks are, “likely [to] renew calls for a more effective strategy [against Boko Haram], possibly considering non-military means such as dialogue or wider development schemes to prevent radicalisation in the impoverished north.”

Earlier this month Mr. Jonathan conducted a sweeping overhaul of his top military brass and also entered a new US military partnership that will help the Nigerian Army create new "special ops" units, some of which are expected to deploy into Boko Haram territory in the north. 

In October, the Monitor noted that in Nigeria, “Radicals have killed schoolchildren, fellow Muslims, college students, and drivers on the road in the past four months," and asked, "What is Nigeria's strategy now?”

Even President Goodluck Jonathan has started to hint that a new strategy for dealing with the rebels is in order, as they hit ordinary people in schools and towns in the sandy hinterlands of the north….

After the Sept. 29 student massacre, President Jonathan described the incident as “the creation of the devil.” He hinted there might be a change in tactics.

“When I declared a state of emergency things calmed down. Now they are looking for soft targets…if the drum beat is changing, we must change steps,” Jonathan said in a televised media discussion on the day of the killings.

Security analysts suspect, however, there may not be much appetite for increasing a military solution, though the government may revise how the state is managing security in rural areas and how to engage in dialogue. 

However, dialogue seems a long-way off when the demands Boko Haram is making are so dogmatic, and when Nigerian officials have rarely been able to identify Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.

The group's core ideology is not well understood, even by many Muslims. But it appears to gravitate around demands to implement a sweeping version of radical sharia law in majority Muslim areas; those beliefs seemed joined to a similarly deep disregard for state and secular ways and means….

The systematic targeting of the civilian population seems to have the duel aim of undermining the state’s claim of authority and it generates fear among the local population in order to deter citizens from supporting government initiatives.

Jonathan's shake up of the military this month took place just days after a car bomb killed close to 20 people in a crowded market in the northeast.

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