Earlier today a car bomb killed eight or nine people near the northeastern Nigerian town of Gubio, in that country’s Borno state. On the plus side, it appears that the carnage was confined to the bombers themselves, who were apparently attempting to strike a military checkpoint when their bomb went off. On the minus side, this is something like the fifth such attack in Borno over the past three weeks. On Saturday, for example, at least nine more people were killed in suicide bombings near Maiduguri, Borno’s capital and largest city, and at least eight were killed in another bombing in Maiduguri on October 12. It’s a virtual certainty that these are all Boko Haram attacks–Borno, and especially Maiduguri, is the group’s home base, if it can be said to have a home base. These bombings, along with a series of other recent attacks, make it clear that despite the efforts of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the other countries the area (Niger, Chad, and Cameroon), Boko Haram is still quite active.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that Boko Harams are still quite active. Back in August, you may recall, ISIS decreed that Boko Haram, its affiliate, had a new commander, Abu Musab al-Barnawi. This undoubtedly came as unwelcome news to Boko Haram’s incumbent leader, Abubakar Shekau (who was rumored to be dead but, as it turns out, is still alive and kicking), and, sure enough, the two factions of the formerly unified organization are now openly fighting one another. In the long run, this kind of splintering can go either way–maybe both factions are irreversibly weakened, or maybe both manage to stabilize themselves, or maybe one faction crushes the other and things go on basically as before. But in the short run, these events are often very bad news for the people effected by the violence. Between factional infighting and the new competition between the factions for support and recruits, violence often goes up after a split. That seems to be what’s happened in Nigeria.
One bit of welcome news came a couple of weeks ago, when a group of 21 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls were released by their Boko Haram captors after negotiations with Buhari’s government. Talks on the release of more of the girls are reportedly ongoing. Because of their high profile in national and international media, the Chibok girls will thankfully be spared the horrific treatment to which Nigerian authorities have allegedly subjected women and girls who have been displaced by Boko Haram’s violence:
Government officials and other authorities in Nigeria have raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram. The government is not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls and ensure that they have access to basic rights and services or to sanction the abusers, who include camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers.
In late July, 2016, Human Rights Watch documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa, and Walassa. In some cases, the victims had arrived in the under-served Maiduguri camps, where their movement is severely restricted after spending months in military screening camps.
This is an abomination, and it’s the kind of thing that leads you to wonder whether Buhari’s government is just fundamentally rotten. It can’t stop Boko Haram, it can’t take care of Boko Haram’s victims, it can’t take care of the families of Boko Haram’s victims, it can’t solve the crisis in the Niger Delta, it can’t turn around Nigeria’s struggling economy, and it’s gridlocked on ways to bring in desperately needed funds. And while it’s beset by all these problems, Buhari has inexplicably decided to create a new one by persecuting Nigeria’s Shia population. Actually, scratch that–maybe it’s not so inexplicable.
The only good thing here is that at least Washington hasn’t been propping up a government whose own people are raping internal refugees by providing it with lots of military ai–oh, ah, I see. Never mind.
In the face of its myriad struggles, Buhari’s government is naturally doing everything it can to stifle speech, using its cyber crimes law to go after journalists who deviate from the official narrative. It’s all about having priorities, you know? It’s not clear whether the gag on dissenting views applies to Buhari’s wife, Aisha, who actually said a few weeks ago that she wasn’t sure she would vote for her husband when he stands for reelection in 2019. Buhari took this in stride, telling reporters that his wife needed to shut up and get back in the kitchen. No, really. They both seem nice.
Although Boko Haram has lost the large chunk of territory it once controlled in northeastern Nigeria, the group and its effects aren’t going away. The frequent attacks are one reminder of the group’s continued existence, but the other is potentially far worse. In September the International Rescue Committee said that the years of warfare against Boko Haram have now left as many as five million people at risk of famine. The situation is most acute in Borno, but the rest of northeastern Nigeria is in deep trouble as well. Obviously international assistance is desperately needed, but what is even more desperately needed is a government that shows some glimmer of an ability to fix…well, anything. Buhari is in office for at least another two and a half years, give or take, and unless something changes, those could be two and a half very rough years for Nigeria.