The Infamous Nigerian Terror Group — Part I
On the evening of April 14, a convoy of Islamic militants arrived to Government Girls Secondary School, situated in the Nigerian town of Chibok in cars and motorcycles with guns. After shooting the guards and overwhelming Nigerian soldiers, the group kidnapped 276 school girls (aged 16-18). In a video, the leader of the group Abubakar Shekau proclaimed that “God instructed me to sell them.” The girls haven’t been heard from since. On 15th April, the international media gave importance to the coverage of disastrous South Korean ferry and the missing Malaysia Airlines plane than this kidnapping.
The media might have thought, ‘Nigeria? – that‘s in Africa – people wouldn’t pay attention to the atrocities happening in Africa.’ But, weeks later ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign took over the social media (tweeted more than a million times), calling on the Nigerian government and all enabled international parties to rescue the kidnapped girls. And, suddenly Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, celebrities and various international leaders joined the campaign. Over a fortnight, the world started to imagine the agonies of Nigerian girls. You couldn’t help notice the grim irony when US politicians issue statements like ‘this is an unconscionable crime.’
On Tuesday, May 20th, the same Islamic militants killed more than 100 Nigerians in a pair of bombings at a bus terminal. Two days before this attack, a suicide attacker set off a car bomb on a street lined with bars, killing four people. ‘Boko Haram’ – the name of radical Islamist group is now pronounced across all kinds of media has for the last few years set off numerous bombs and carried out kidnappings, causing the thousands of Nigerians to flee from their homes. Let’s hope that the world’s sudden interest on this extremist group may not dwindle like any other ‘trending’ topics. And, so let’s see who these Boko Haram’s are? What do they want? Who are their opponents and how they were created? Before going into the details, let’s see a very clear fact: If in the near future, you hear American government fiercely supporting the Nigerian government (through weapons or money), please remember that it’s not out of basic human feeling (empathy); it’s because of the significant amount of oil exported out of Nigeria. After all, Shell and Chevron can’t lose its subsidiary in Nigeria.
Nigeria, like many other countries within the African continent, has a long, unfortunate history of communal conflicts and ethno religious violence. Since the return of democracy in Nigeria, in 1999, various outbreaks of bloody violence have erupted between different communities. Last year, nearly 150 Christians were killed in the Nigerian northeastern district named ‘Gwoza.’ It is also said that more than 80 churches were burned and 56 villages has now emptied its Christian population. This little painful information may make us think that the conflicts boil down to religious tensions. The cause is the tensions between blocs of Christian and Muslim inhabitants. However, if we reflect this matter or any other religious conflict deeply, we could find that the primary reason is politics.
Election disputes over the years have led to breakdowns along Muslim and Christian lines. In an ethically region such as Nigeria, the government’s assertion of control to one group over another caused the violence. On many occasions of violent actions, the government gave its full support to one group. The young generation saw how their nation’s resources were squandered by a small bunch of self-serving elite groups. It resulted in animosity, to frustration and anger. When an angry generation is further threatened, then it would ultimately turn into violent outbursts. Boko Haram was born under these circumstances. But, not all violent groups serving with a cause turn out to perpetrate atrocious crime like school girls kidnappings.
In fact, the Boko Haram didn’t want to violent overthrow of government, when it was started in 2001 by a young Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf. It only called for the government to be replaced by Sharia law. The origins of this radical group could be traced to Borno state – the traditionally underfunded region in Nigeria. In the capital of Borno – the city named ‘Maiduguri’, Yusuf preached against the corruption, lack of employment, poverty and various other government ills. In its early years, the group’s leaders maintained a good relationship with the state government. However, in 2002, a branch of youths from the group moved from Maiduguri to a village called Kanama, and declared that the city and Islamic establishments are corrupt and irredeemable. As of 2002, the group was yet to be called as ‘Boko Haram.’
In 2003, a conflict, local press’ attention and catchy name given by locals attracted the attention of US embassy towards the radical group. The catchy name was ‘Nigerian Taliban’ and the conflict happened due to a dispute regarding fishing rights in a local pond. When the group overpowered the police officers to take their weapons, the conflict turned bloody. The Army surrounded the group’s mosque, leading to a confrontation and shootout, killing the group’s seventy members. A 2004 US state department cable, as revealed by WikiLeaks, stated that the group did not present any international threat and had to links to jihadist organizations. But, now according to an overlooked report, the infamous ‘Boko Haram’ was said to have been helped by Bin Laden around 2002 or 03.
After 9/11, Bin Laden gave money to various Islamic radical groups, who all supported Al-Qaeda’s goal of Islamic rule. In 2002, Bin Laden is said to have dispatched nearly $3 million (local currency) to Nigerian Islamic extremists. He also released audio recordings calling on Nigerian Muslims to rise up against the state. It can’t be said that all $3 million went to ‘Boko Haram’, but Al-Qaeda was also one of its money source.