Nigeria has pretensions to be the leading state in Africa and if the continent gets a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, Nigeria will be competing with South Africa for that honor.
However, three months after an election that presumably gave a mandate to President Goodluck Jonathan, the country is facing security problems from a fundamentalist Islamic group popularly known as Boko Haram. The group traces its descent to Muslim opposition to British colonial rule at the turn of the 20th century and a yearning to restore authentic Muslim rule.
The group is best known for its opposition to secular education and any affinity with Western social behavior even extending sometimes to the wearing of shirts and trousers and of course the ultimate sin – a secular education. Its main goal is to restore rule in the country to the true believers, ruling out Christians and even the moderate Moslems who have intermittently ruled Nigeria.
In July, the group staged bombings of churches and government facilities. In Maduguri, the security situation has deteriorated to the point that the university was closed. This is a university with 25,000 students and which contains, inter alia, a college of medicine. The city has over 1,200,000 inhabitants and is a trading hub of Northeast Nigeria. It can in no way be regarded as a hick town.
It has known communal violence before, but the current outbreak is the most menacing. Residents have packed up their belongings to flee the violence. The security forces banned all motorbikes so as to prevent Boko Haram gunmen from assassinating security officers and politicians via drive-by shootings. Many innocent people rely on motorbikes for their transportation so that this is a real hardship.
This is classic guerrilla strategy: get the security forces to overreact and thus win over public opinion.
The Army has already been charged with firing indiscriminately and killing civilians. Boko Haram attempted to portray itself as a fighting organization that knows how to make distinctions and challenged the Army to remove wives and children and retire to its barracks. If they did so, the guerrilla organization said it would fight the Army exclusively and very soon:
"We want to tell the Chief of Army Staff General Ihejerika that cowards don’t engage a military in a duel as we did in your barracks and on the streets of Maiduguri. But cowards are those who attack women, children in their sleep and who burn the innocent’s property".
Nigerians as well as foreign observers have been exasperated by the seeming nonchalance of the Nigerian central government, still in the process of forming a bloated cabinet of 40 ministers.
Good luck Jonathan is making frequent trips abroad rather than tackling the security crisis. While Jonathan was sending Nigerian peacekeepers to Somalia at the behest of President Barack Obama, perhaps they were needed closer to home.
The most bizarre reaction came from the governor of the state of Nassarawa who actually blamed the Americans and called for an investigation of links between Boko Haram and the United States. The United States, he said, was seeking Nigeria’s disintegration and was using the guerrilla movement to advance these purposes.