Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nigeria’s hydra-headed monster threatens unity

Financial Times
23 January 2012

By William Wallis in London

Nigeria is up against a hydra-headed monster in the Boko Haram sect that claimed responsibility for last Friday’s devastating attacks on the city of Kano.

The group began its existence in relative obscurity, in Nigeria’s remote and least developed region in the north east, staging occasional drive-by shootings. But since a 2009 government attempt to crush it it has rapidly extended its reach to become a threat to Nigerian unity and on the radar as a potential global menace as far away as the US.

For counter-terrorism specialists it might be tempting to see the capacity and techniques the insurgency has acquired so swiftly, as signs mostly of external involvement. There are indeed grounds to fear that the al-Qaeda franchise further north in the Maghreb is involved, that Boko Haram members have trained as far away as Somalia and that back home they are receiving weapons and other support from fellow extremists further afield. But this only explains part of the story.

The group last year carried out the bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja, the capital – a shift to an international target that highlighted the possible involvement of global terror networks.

At Christmas its members attacked a church, killing 37 worshippers in a clear bid to fuel religious division in Nigeria’s multi-faith society. Now in Kano they have shown their capacity to carry out military style raids on police stations and other state symbols across the country’s second largest city.

In doing so, Boko Haram has delivered another blow to President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, which is already reeling from the impact of this month’s nationwide protests against the removal of a longstanding fuel subsidy.

By some estimates, more than 250 people were killed in the Kano attacks leaving Nigerians to ponder how it is that the state is failing so spectacularly to contain the insurgency.

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