Boko Haram And Nigeria's Pervasive Violence

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau
John Campbell, Ralph Bunche and Asch Harwood

International security experts are watching Nigeria "s radical Islamist movement Boko Haram with concern. The militant group has destabilized northern Nigeria and attracted the attention of other jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates gaining strength in neighboring northern Mali.

Boko Haram is highly diffuse. It has an important Islamic revival dimension, but also has political and criminal elements. Little is known about its leader, Abubakar Shekau, including his age, where he was born, or if he can speak English. The movement has issued no formal manifesto. Nevertheless, its various factions do share a common agenda of imposing and rigorously enforcing Islamic law in northern Nigeria; some even want to impose it throughout the country in areas where Christians are the majority. The group is bitterly hostile to the Christian-led secular government in the capital of Abuja, which it accuses of exploiting the poor. Its methods are violent and deadly, ranging from targeted killings to mass deaths resulting from car bombs.

But Boko Haram is only one aspect of the pervasive violence engulfing Nigeria. Government soldiers have been indiscriminate in their fight against Boko Haram, often killing innocent civilians. Police across the country are notorious for extrajudicial murder. Violent clashes between ethnic or occupational groups at times appear indicative of a deeper conflict between Christians and Muslims. Such communal violence, often dismissed as a permanent feature of rural Nigeria, results in a high number of deaths that rivals or exceeds those attributed to Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, a new generation of militants in the Niger Delta threatens war against the Nigerian state over the division of the oil wealth their region produces. And then there is kidnapping--sometimes political, but always criminal. This month, the mother of Nigeria "s internationally renowned finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was kidnapped in Delta state in an alleged attack on the government's financial policies. After five days in captivity, the security services secured her release and arrested sixty-three alleged accomplices in her kidnapping. Once largely confined to the Delta, kidnapping is now ubiquitous throughout the country.

In an effort to better understand this violence, the Council on Foreign Relations has established the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a research project to catalogue Nigerian political violence based on a methodical survey of Nigerian and international media. The NST is particularly focused on violence related to Boko Haram and other militant activity, communal or ethno-religious conflict, extrajudicial killings by state security, and kidnappings or other violent incidents that have a clear political dimension.

According to the NST, October 2012 was by far Nigeria's deadliest month in the sixteen-month period since June 2011. During that month, three days of ongoing attacks by Boko Haram in the northern state of Yobe left at least thirty dead, including a former government official. In Borno, the state bordering Chad and Cameroon, the military went on a rampage after a bombing injured two soldiers, killing at least thirty civilians. Meanwhile, in Benue, in the middle of the country, communal conflict resulted in the deaths of at least thirty people and the destruction of homes and farmland. A suicide bombing at a church in Kaduna in the north killed eight people and set off reprisal attacks that killed at least two more. In total, at least six hundred people were killed in October 2012.

Boko Haram has also expanded its area of operations. In 2011, Boko Haram violence was largely confined to Nigeria's northeast; by the end of 2012, the NST had documented incidents across all of northern Nigeria. This year, Boko Haram-related attacks have occurred in fourteen out of the country "s thirty-six states, including all twelve of the states that have already adopted Islamic law, and in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. Boko Haram has also claimed responsibility for attacks in central Plateau state, which has been torn apart by ongoing communal violence.

Up until now, Boko Haram has been focused on Nigerian rather than Western targets of the international jihad. But that might be changing. In a recently released video, Abubakar Shekau made hostile references to the United States and Britain. The United States is increasingly worried that Boko Haram is collaborating with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist regime in northern Mali.

The Nigerian press has attributed to Boko Haram the murder of four Chinese nationals, three Indians, and a Ghanaian in Borno, as well as the kidnapping of two Europeans in Kebbi state who were killed in a botched rescue. While victims continue to be almost exclusively Nigerian, Boko Haram has expanded its focus within the country. In 2011, a large percentage of the victims were Muslims, who were closely associated with the government in Abuja. However, since Christmas 2011, Christians have been a growing percentage of victims. Countrywide, according to the NST, at least thirty-seven attacks have occurred at churches and twenty-one at mosques.

Boko Haram "s methods have also evolved. The NST has documented at least twenty-eight alleged suicide bombings, ten of which targeted churches and mosques. Use of suicide bombers had been unknown in West Africa, where suicide is culturally anathema, until two high-profile attacks in Abuja--the June 2011 police headquarters bombing and the August 2011 United Nations headquarters bombing. Since then, suicide bombings have taken place with regularity, leaving well over one hundred people dead.

At the same time, human rights NGOs have accused the Nigerian security services of responding to Boko Haram with extrajudicial killings, which, in turn, have allegedly fueled support for Islamic radicalism. Indeed, a close reading of the Nigerian press shows that Nigerian security forces across the country have regularly responded to robberies, kidnapping, or terrorism with a heavy hand, often shooting indiscriminately.

Since President Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration in 2011, at least 1,100 people have died in incidents involving state security forces, including government troops killed in shootouts with militants. There is nothing new about police violence, which long predates the Jonathan administration. For example, a recent report by the Network on Police Reform (PDF) found that 7,198 people were extrajudicially killed by security forces in the last four years. The number of victims of violence perpetrated by the government security apparatus approaches that of Boko Haram, according to an October 2012 Human Rights Watch report, Spiraling Violence (PDF).

Across the country, impunity reigns for virtually all perpetrators of political or ethnic violence. The judiciary is weak and underfunded. Justice is regularly delayed. The police are corrupt. There have been few prosecutions, convictions, and punishments of members of Boko Haram, the security forces, or corrupt officials. Nigeria remains near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption perception index.

Despite the fact that Boko Haram has garnered local support by propagating a radical Islamist ideology, alienation, poverty, and bad governance are the fundamental causes of northern Nigeria's instability. Indeed, most of the Boko Haram-related violence is occurring in some of Nigeria's poorest states. So far, the federal government has failed to suppress Boko Haram, even as it has killed some of the group's leaders and many of its foot soldiers. The federal government has also failed to address the roots of the popular dissatisfaction that feeds support for radical Islam.

Nigeria will need to make monumental changes to its political economy to address its myriad internal conflicts. In the longer term, the decentralization of government authority, outlined in the country's constitution but never really implemented, would be a step in the right direction. So, too, would be credible elections.

In the shorter term, the government should reform the security services, especially the police, including better pay, better training, and ending their impunity from legal prosecution. Indeed, improved policing could take some pressure off Nigerian civilians, who every day face brutality at security checkpoints. Such steps would be a long walk for any government. The unanswered question is whether the Nigerian political system has the will to even start the journey.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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