Killing the messenger: Islamist insurgency widens in Nigeria

A suicide bombing at a venerable newspaper suggests that journalists could now become routinely targeted by Boko Haram, says guest blogger G. Pascal Zachary.

Afolabi Sotunde/REUTERS
Burnt newspaper copies are seen in the rubble of a destroyed This Day newspaper building in Abuja April 28. Suicide car bombers targeted the offices of Nigerian newspaper 'This Day' in the capital Abuja and northern city of Kaduna on Thursday, killing at least four people in apparently coordinated strikes.

•  A version of this post appeared on the blog "Africa Works." The views expressed are the author's own.

Now the terror bombings in Nigeria are targeting the messenger: the offices of the venerable This Day newspaper.

“The suicide bomber came in a jeep and rammed a vehicle into the gate,” said Olusogen Adeniyi, chairman of the This Day editorial board. “Two of our security men died, and obviously the suicide bomber died too.”

This Day is broadly supportive of the Nigerian government and its president, Goodluck Jonathan. The bombing signals an escalation of the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria. The newspaper's offices in the northern city of Kaduna also were bombed, This Day reported.

The targeting of journalists can only be an attempt at silencing critics of Islamic fundamentalism – and punishing those who promote intelligent debate over Nigeria's future.

[Update: Unknown militants attacked a worship service at Bayero University early on Sunday, killing at least 18 people, and also at Gombe State University in northern Nigeria a few days before. Overnight, militants killed four people at a Christian church in the northern town of Maiduguri, where the Islamist group Boko Haram was founded.]

This Day is only one of many independent media outlets in Africa's most populous country. Does this bombing suggest that journalists will now become routinely targeted by Boko Haram terrorist group? Surely the moment has arrived for the Nigerian government [to] raise the level of seriousness of its domestic terror crisis.

Indeed, when President Jonathan visited the bomb site on Saturday, he suggested that the language describing Nigeria's predicament had changed. In speaking about whether his administration seeks to negotiate a settlement with the Boko Haram insurgents, he said, "Just like a war situation, you may dialogue, you may not dialogue, depending on the circumstances. But we will exploit every means possible to bring this to an end."

Jonathan's comments belie a potential flaw in the Nigerian approach to its urgency: the government tends to view them as criminal conspiracies rather than political movements. In the case of the oil insurgency in the Niger Delta, treating dissent as criminality seems to be working. A series of deals and amnesties for Delta insurgents undercut resistance. But what deals can be made to pacify Boko Haram, whose leaders appear to believe they represent a movement of political autonomy for conservative Muslims. The wave of bombings in Kano – the latest murderous assault came Sunday against a gathering of Christians – suggests, at least to my wife Chizo, that fundamentalists seek to drive all Christians out of the major cities of north.

– G. Pascal Zachary is a professor of practice at Arizona State University, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism who blogs at Africa Works.

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