The growing prosperity in Nigeria’s workforce and resource abundance presents the state with the necessary foundation for developing into a successful democracy. The chance at this success, however, could quickly become eradicated by the presence of its growing resource curse, gender inequality, and most prominently the terroristic attacks of and detriments caused by Boko Haram. For over a decade, the group has launched military operations to create an Islamic state throughout Nigeria — costing the lives of thousands since its clash with the nation’s security forces. With a plethora of assassination campaigns, suicide bombings, and mass attacks on civilians and protection forces, it becomes apparent that the Nigerian government must first eliminate Boko Haram in order to make way to solve the other dire issues within the state. The insurgency gains in recent years and the growing recognition within Nigerian political circles that the war will not be over any time soon open a window of opportunity for authorities to recalibrate popular expectations and undertake needed reforms.
In most recent news concerning Boko Haram, 20 suicide bombers equipped with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are being scattered during the last ten days of the Muslim fast, Ramadan. According to counter-insurgency expert, Zagazola Makama, this projected killing spree would “afford the terrorists a choice place in paradise.” The killer jihadists, jointly operating under the protection of Boko Haram and its splinter group the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), began these killings on April 22, 2022 — and they are expected to continue for the final days of Ramadan. The joint operations of terrorists have mapped Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and Bama Local Government Area of the state as their primary targets. The insurgents believe that shedding the blood of “infidels” (who are people accused of disbelief in the central tenets of their own religion, such as members of another religion or those who do not follow a religion) during Ramadan increases their rewards during this time— serving as one of the primary reasons some do not fast when they attack.
When faced with ever-growing threats to millions of lives, it becomes evident that the central government is running out of time to protect its democracy. In order to begin the multitude of needed reforms, policymakers should cease making claims of victory, technical or otherwise. For years, Nigeria’s political leaders declared success against the insurgent, with one of the most recent to do so being Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed, who in October reiterated the government’s long standing stance that Boko Haram was “technically defeated.” That statement is true to an extent, given that Boko Haram controls less territory and has claimed far fewer lives than it did in 2014 and 2015. The downside to these claims, however, makes it easy for the group to undermine the narrative with every attack. Thus, with the recent news of prospective suicide bombings, this course of action is faulty. Instead, authorities within the government should be realistic. Particularly around Lake Chad, Boko Haram remains deeply politically and economically integrated into the communities that it controls, unlikely to be dislodged from them any time soon. Attacks and casualties have recently risen. Insurgents have caused 750 security force casualties in 2019, close to double that of any prior year. Despite what senior leaders say, many officials appear to be finally waking up to the fact that the threat posed by Boko Haram is real and persistent.
The Nigerian government must also begin to extend powers outside of the central power and relieve some of its heavy reliance on it, meaning civil society and state governments need far more authority and support to manage the conflict. The Federal government lacks the necessary resources to handle the insurgency on its own. Thus, more resources — and decision-making jurisdiction — need to go to local governors, traditional leaders, women and civil society in regions most affected by the conflict. Devolving power to state and local authorities may ultimately require constitutional reform. In addition to the governmental powers, the central government should adopt a more coordinated, all government approach to confronting Boko Haram. As the nation becomes more and more dependent on military forces to handle the issue, the office of the president and parliament needs to step in and provide more strategic oversight. This would involve more civilians at the table, perhaps by consolidating existing efforts into a revamped Presidential Commission on the Northeast Initiative (PCNI).
Defeating Boko Haram will require a fundamental shift in how the Nigerian government has handled the insurgency. A growing acceptance within Nigeria’s armed forces and governing institutions that the insurgency is once again a rising threat provides an opportunity for policymakers to change course. Despite the inevitably long challenge, a more just, inclusive political social order deems the only way Nigeria can defeat the northeastern militancy.