Nigerian Government Needs to Address Root Problems Helping Boko Haram

By Maddy Tennis

Boko Haram, a jihadist insurgency group based in Nigeria, attacked the home of Ali Amadou, Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister, in the northern Cameroonian town of Kolofata last Sunday. The group kidnapped Amadou’s wife and killed five people, and then kidnapped the town’s mayor at his home nearby. The boldness of this and other recent headline-catching attacks should be a wakeup call that Nigeria and the United States need to work to find real solutions to address both the group’s actions and the root causes that fostered its creation.

This has been Boko Haram’s fourth attack in Cameroon since last week. Recently, the group has increased its attacks in the country as it has started gaining power in towns along the border of Nigeria, recruiting marginalized young men as fighters and kidnapping young women as sex slaves. However, the surge of violence that has occurred in the last week in Cameroon is unprecedented and Sunday’s abductions raise fears that the group can strike at the top of West African leadership.

The group was created in 2002 with the aim of creating an Islamic state in Nigeria, and gained international attention when it kidnapped 200 school girls in May. Formed amid an atmosphere of economic insecurity and government neglect, Boko Haram serves as a reminder that economic abuse, class discrimination, and social injustice can fuel terrorism and violence. Despite its vast resources, Nigeria is one of the most unequal countries in the world. The uneven allocation of oil wealth has resulted in stark economic disparities between the north (the area Boko Haram calls home) and the rest of the country. Poverty, conflict, and violence have consumed the country for decades, and the government has demonstrated little desire for change.

Last week’s abduction shows us that the group, which was once limited to a national agenda, now has a regional one. Political officials are concerned with Boko Haram’s links to al Qaeda affiliates, and the U.S. State Department has added the group to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations for fear that it wants to wage global jihad. Although this addition has heightened international concern for the insurgency’s human rights violations and acts of violence, it merely focuses on Boko Haram’s direct threat to national security, with a lack of attention directed towards the root problems on which the insurgency was founded and the  group’s threat to Nigerian stability.

In order to properly eliminate Boko Haram, the United States needs to look at the conditions in which the group emerged and demand reform in the Nigerian government. The U.S. government has sent counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria and has assisted them in the search for the missing girls, but this aid does not address the underlying problems that the majority of Nigerian civilians suffer from.

Moreover, the Nigerian military itself has been accused of rape, torture, and murder. Yesterday, Amnesty International came out with gruesome evidence, including video footage, of war crimes that are being carried out by the Nigerian military. The footage shows horrific images of members of the Nigerian military using a blade to slit the throats of detainees before dumping them into mass grave sites.

“This shocking new evidence is further proof of the appalling crimes being committed with abandon by all sides in the conflict. Nigerians deserve better – what does it say when members of the military carry out such unspeakable acts and capture the images on film?” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

The United States needs to work with Nigeria to adopt a comprehensive approach to counter Boko Haram, not only through political and military means, but also through addressing local grievances by providing better education, healthcare services and a more inclusive government.

Boko Haram is not a transnational threat, but its atrocious acts are rooted in decades of suffering, neglect, and human rights violations, and the U.S. has an obligation to eliminate the conditions in which such a group can emerge.

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Published on August 6, 2014

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