As violence rampages across northern Nigeria and the capital city of Abuja faces renewed terror threats, questions are being raised about the true motivation of Boko Haram, the Muslim group responsible for the hostilities.
Since Friday, Boko Haram has killed more than 100 people, the group’s most audacious display of violence to date. Boko Haram is now threatening attacks in Abuja, and the US government has warned that hotels frequented by foreigners are being targeted. According to the Associated Press, the group has now killed 361 people this year.
Boko Haram, a name that translates to “Western education is a sin,” has claimed their end goal is to replace Nigeria’s corrupt democracy with Islamic law. Nigerian security services have accused the group of ties to al-Qaeda.
Despite Boko Haram’s own proclamations, few in Nigeria believe the group’s sole motivation is religion. Instead, they charge that Boko Haram intends to draw media and political attention to economic problems in the north, where the group is based. Many contend the group is seeking a government payout similar to the kind given two years ago to rebels in Nigeria’s oil rich south.
In 2009, after a sustained campaign of violence against the government and foreign oil companies, Nigeria offered rebels in the Niger Delta amnesty and a payout of 60,000 naira, or about $380, per militant. A number of high-profile militants accepted amnesty, leading to a temporary decline in violence in the Niger Delta.
The prospect of such a payout was raised in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s August attack on the United Nations building in Abuja that resulted in 24 deaths. A federal panel subsequently recommended President Goodluck Jonathan consider an amnesty offer to the group, but the idea was rejected. The government ultimately abandoned negotiations, sending the military to crack down on the insurgency. This strategy has failed, and according to reports the government is considering renewing negotiations.
Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, acted as a facilitator in early talks between the government and Boko Haram. He said the government’s refusal to address Boko Haram’s actual grievances has led to recent violence.
“In these confrontation between Boko Haram and the government lives have continually been lost, and the use of force has not been able to address to underlying political and economic problems,” Sani said.
Boko Haram has also gained support from an unlikely ally: the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta, or MEND, the group responsible for years of violence against oil companies and the government. In recent interviews with the Monitor, a MEND leader threatened to fight Boko Haram if the group entered southern Nigeria. But he also said that MEND sympathized with Boko Haram’s use of violence to draw attention to Nigeria’s problems.
“We don’t really have a problem with Boko Haram,” he said. “They struggle for their own reasons."
--- David Francis reported from Nigeria on an International Reporting Project fellowship.
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