For all the military force thrown at terrorist groups like Islamic State or the Taliban, the best shock and awe still remains a credible election. A fair and peaceful vote can serve as a bulwark of liberty against jihadist claims to rule by brutal decree. And of all the Islamist insurgencies in the world, the one most likely to be rolled back soon by a potent round of democracy is Boko Haram.
The group has stepped up its attacks in Nigeria just before elections that were scheduled there this month, casting a shadow over the voting process in Africa’s biggest economy. Over the past year, Boko Haram’s advances in the mainly Muslim north have displaced about 1 million people and killed more than 10,000. Only about 40 percent of Nigerians have received voting cards while the military claims it is not ready to protect enough polling places.
For these reasons, the presidential and National Assembly elections have been delayed to March 28 by the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission. Local elections will be held April 11.
In addition, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is in a tight race against a former dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, claims the military will now make a major effort to roll back Boko Haram in coming weeks, despite past failures to do so. Perhaps he is serious because the African Union just authorized a force of 7,500 soldiers from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin to join the fight, while the French military will provide aerial surveillance. “All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out” by the time of the vote, said National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki to Agence France-Presse news service.
Boko Haram has broadened its attacks to neighboring countries in an effort to set up an Islamic empire, or caliphate. The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a recent video that its fight is not only with Africa but with the world, specifically anyone who “doesn’t obey Allah and the prophet.”
Nigeria has enjoyed a relatively stable democracy for only the past 15 years, despite deep divides between its Christian and Muslim populations. The coming presidential election will be the first between two major parties and one that is also relatively close. Delaying the election was not an easy decision, and it may indeed favor the president and his party. Yet ensuring a credible and safe election remains the best response to the fanatical radicalism of groups like Boko Haram. Peaceful ballots are more powerful than terrorist bullets.