Fed Govt should create Ministry to tackle Boko Haram – US
United States’ Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, in a remark at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, canvassed a ministry or commission for Northern Affairs to deal with economic challenges in the North which are believed to be the root of the Boko Haram menace. Excerpts:
At about 160 million people, Nigeria is home to over twenty percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population. It is the largest oil producing state in Africa, it is the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, and the tenth largest global producer. It is home to the sixth largest Muslim population in the world, and it’s by far the largest country in the world with approximately equal numbers of Christians and Muslims. In the United Nations, Nigeria is the fifth largest peacekeeping contributing country in the world.
And as the most influential and militarily powerful member of the Economic Community of West African States, Nigeria has played a key role in helping to resolve every major political and security dispute in West Africa from the Liberian and Sierra Leone crises in the 1990s to the political problems in Guinea, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, and I might add, Mali. Nigeria is a dominant economic and financial force across West Africa, and if Lagos State were an independent country it would be the eighteenth largest country in Africa and its economy would be well within the top twenty in Africa.
Nigeria is important and a lot depends on Nigeria’s success. That’s why Secretary Clinton inaugurated the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission in 2010, providing the two countries with a high-level vehicle to work together on the most crucial issues we face. We have supported Nigeria’s political and economic reforms, and we have tried to be a useful partner as it addresses its social, economic, and security challenges. We provided technical assistance to support reform in the power sector.
We have taken a high-powered energy trade mission to the country and we have encouraged the swift passage of a strong Petroleum Industry Bill that brings more transparency to that critical sector. We have recognised the importance of Nigeria’s agricultural sector and supported Nigeria’s comprehensive agriculture development plans.
And in the health sector, we have committed over $500 million a year to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, showing how critical we consider Nigeria in the worldwide fight against HIV and AIDS. President Obama and Secretary Clinton both recognise the importance of this relationship and both have met with and engaged with President Jonathan on a number of occasions over the past three years.
Later this week, Nigeria’s vice president will be in Washington and he is expected to meet Vice President Biden in the White House and with senior officials at the State Department.Nigeria’s success is important to us, but we recognized that success cannot be achieved unless Nigeria overcomes the challenges that have frustrated its progress. Decades of poor governance have seriously degraded the country’s health, education, and transportation infrastructure. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue, Nigeria has virtually no functioning rail system and only half of its population has access to electricity. The 80 million who have electricity share intermittent access to power equivalent to what we use here in the Washington, DC metro area.
Living standards are the same today as they were in 1970, and nearly 100 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day.Nigerians are hungry for progress and improvement in their lives, but northern Nigerians feel this need most acutely. Life in Nigeria for many is tough, but across the North, life is grim.
A UN study shows that poverty in the 12 most northern states is nearly twice that of the rest of the country. The health indicators reflect this. Children in the far north are almost four times as likely to be malnourished. Child mortality is over 200 deaths per 1000 live births, leading to lower life expectancy. Educational standards are just as bad. Literacy in the far north is 35 percent as opposed to 77 percent in the rest of the country. Seventy-seven percent of women in the far north have no formal education, compared to only 17 percent in the rest of the country.
In northern Nigeria, primary school attendance is only 41 percent, while youth unemployment is extraordinarily high. All of this contributes to joblessness and a deepening cycle of poverty.The statistics are disturbing, but they are not the whole story. Poverty in northern Nigeria is increasing. Despite a decade in which the Nigerian economy expanded at a spectacular seven percent per year, the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics estimates that extreme poverty is 10 percent higher than in 2004. It’s even worse in the North. Income inequality is growing. These trends are worrying for economic, political, and security reasons.
While ninety-one percent of Nigerians across the country considered the April 2011 elections to be fair and transparent, most people in the far north backed opposition candidates that did not win. The post-election violence that occurred in several northern cities reflected strong dissatisfaction with elites who protestors thought controlled the election process.
Public opinion polls and news reports suggest that there is a strong sentiment throughout the country, but especially in the North, that government is not on the side of the people; and that their poverty is a result of government neglect, corruption, and abuse. This is the type of popular narrative that is ripe for an insurgent group to hijack for its own purposes, which brings me to Boko Haram.
As you all know, over the last year Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, increased tensions between various ethnic communities, interrupted development activities, frightened off investors, and generated concerns among Nigeria’s northern neighbors. They have been responsible for near-daily attacks in Borno and Yobe states. And they were behind the January 20 attack in Kano that killed nearly 200 people as well as three major attacks in Abuja, including the bombing of the UN headquarters last August.
To underscore this point, there were two more attacks this weekend. Boko Haram’s attacks on churches and mosques are particularly disturbing because they are intended to inflame religious tensions and upset the nation’s social cohesion.Although Boko Haram is reviled throughout Nigeria, and offers no practical solutions to northern problems, a growing minority of certain northern ethnic groups regard them favorably.
Boko Haram capitalises on popular frustrations with the nation’s leaders, poor government service delivery, and the dismal living conditions of many northerners. Boko Haram seeks to humiliate and undermine the government and exploit religious differences in order to create chaos and make Nigeria ungovernable.Boko Haram has grown stronger and increasingly more sophisticated over the past three years, and eliminating the Boko Haram problem will require a comprehensive and broad based strategy that establishes a comprehensive development plan rather than the imposition of martial law.
While more sophisticated and targeted security efforts are necessary to contain Boko Harm’s acts of violence and to capture and prosecute its leaders, the government must also win over the population by addressing the social and economic problems that have created the environment in which Boko Haram can effectively thrive.
The government must improve its tactics, avoid excessive violence and human rights abuses, make better use of its police and intelligence services, de-emphasize the role of the military and use its courts to prosecute those who are found to be responsible for Boko Haram’s kidnappings, killings, and terrorist events.
Nigerian officials should focus on the political environment that makes Boko Haram so dangerous. By demonstrating the benefits a pluralistic society has to offer, the government can deny Boko Haram and other extremists the ability to exploit ethnic and religious differences. The government should redouble its efforts to resolve ongoing disputes in Jos and other high-violence flashpoints. By becoming more responsive to the people, the government can put distance between itself and the accusations that it is blind to the needs of northern Nigerians. Numerous northern civil society organizations have come out against Boko Haram – at great personal risk – and they could multiply serious government efforts to address longstanding northern grievances.
I want to stress that religion is not driving extremist violence either in Jos or northern Nigeria. While some seek to inflame Muslim-Christian tensions, Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity, like in our own country, is a source of strength, not weakness, and there are many examples of communities working across religious lines to protect one another. Containing and eliminating Boko Haram today will be much more difficult than it was four years ago, when it was under the leadership of its now deceased leader, Muhammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody. Today, Boko Haram is not a monolithic, homogenous organisation controlled by a single charismatic figure.
Boko Haram is several organisations, a larger organisation focused primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government, and a smaller more dangerous group, increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal.
This group has developed links with AQIM and has a broader, anti-Western jihadist agenda. This group is probably responsible for the kidnapping of westerners and for the attacks on the UN building in Abuja. Complicating the picture further is the tendency of some officials to blame Boko Haram for all bank robberies and local vendettas occurring in the North when these should be ascribed to common criminals and political thugs.
Source: The Nation