Fuelling terror

Nigeria’s remote northeast has been in the grip of terror following a weekend of violence. A radical Islamist group, the Boko Haram has killed scores of people in a string of bombings, shootings and suicide attacks.

There are signs that it will strike the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in the coming days. The group, which has been waging an armed insurgency for several years now, promotes a narrow version of Islam that forbids Muslims from participating in education or political and social activity that is associated with western society.

Thus it has violently opposed people sending their children to secular schools or participating in elections. Boko Haram’s increasing capacity to attack tightly secured installations such as the police headquarters and army camps, has set alarm bells ringing across the country. There is growing concern that the group has patrons abroad, perhaps the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Boko Haram’s rhetoric and goals are no doubt framed in religious terms. But the anger that fuels it is rooted in socio-economic injustice and grievances over poor governance. Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist economy has been controlled by a small clique of people since independence with close ties with the west. Its enormous oil reserves – among the world’s largest – have benefitted just a handful of people.

The rest live in conditions of abysmal poverty.  Rampant corruption has added to the woes of ordinary people. Many in the north express their political and social dissatisfaction through greater adherence to Islam and increasingly look to the religious texts for solutions to their many problems. Severely marginalised they feel they have no option but to take up arms.

The question is whether Nigeria’s ruling elite is willing to take steps to introduce the radical political and economic reform to tackle inequality, injustice and corruption that is eating into state and society. Such reform will of course entail taking steps that will cut into their private empires.

In the circumstances, it does seem that the government will prefer to go the way of other oil-rich countries that are confronted by armed insurgencies. It will tag the Boko Haram as an al-Qaeda affiliate and send out its soldiers to crush them. This will no doubt win the government international support, sympathy and silence especially from the west.  But within Nigeria, it will only enhance the bloodletting.

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