As the international community watches conflict and violence continue in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, it is still worth monitoring Nigeria’s continuing terrorist problem. For the United States, Nigeria represents a strategic partner on the African continent as it deploys valuable peacekeeping forces in Africa, supplies oil to the U.S., and can help combat radical Islam in North Africa. Nigeria has its own domestic terrorist group that has posed a threat to the Nigerian government and population for years. The terrorist group, known as Boko Haram, has killed thousands of Nigerians using a variety of deadly methods including drive-by attacks, small arms assaults, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). Boko Haram targets security personnel, Christians, Muslims, and even international organizations when it attacked the UN building in Abuja (2011). Boko Haram has ties to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Shabaab in Somalia – prompting the concern of the U.S. government. Several northern states are still in a state of emergency enacted last year by the Nigerian government.
Most recently, the U.S. and Nigerian governments implemented several changes, resulting in revitalized efforts to eradicate the terrorist movement. The U.S. Department of State designated Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in November 2013 – allowing the U.S. to investigate and prosecute Boko Haram members, in addition to prohibiting any and all support to members of the group by individuals or organizations. In doing so, the FTO designation and other assistance represents the full U.S. support for the Nigerian government’s war on terror.
Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan dismissed and replaced the head generals of the Nigerian military. According to official statements, the generals had been illegally appointed and thus were removed; it did not indicate that it was based on their unsatisfactory performance in the campaign against Boko Haram. However, a presidency source stated, “regional balancing, apart from competence, informed the choice of the new service chiefs,” according to the Saturday Tribune. The media outlet also reports that President Jonathan desires new leadership with better methods for combatting Boko Haram.
This week, Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, announced a primary goal to completely stamp out the Boko Haram “insurgency” by April 2014 – so as to prevent an extension of the state of emergency status that will be up for renewal at that point. A particular asset that may help achieve this goal is the recently established Nigerian Army Special Operation Command (NASOC), created with the aid of AFRICOM. NASOC is designed as a low-level, strategic force tasked with combatting terrorism and insurgency through direct action. Several U.S. groups are providing training equipment, assistance, and counter-insurgency lessons for NASOC, including AFRICOM, the Office of Security Operations from the United States Embassy, and Special Operations Command Africa. By combining their new Special Operations Command group with U.S. training assistance and counter-insurgency lessons, the Nigerian government has high expectations for the continuing campaign against terror.
However, despite the recent developments in Nigeria’s military and U.S. assistance, Boko Haram has continued to launch deadly attacks, killing 15 people in Gashigar village and 18 in Gafate village just last week. If the new military leadership’s methodologies do not produce satisfactory results, Nigeria will continue to be plagued by terrorist attacks on its civilians. The next three months are critical for both Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. If Boko Haram resists and survives the government’s new counter-terrorism goal – forcing the military Chiefs of Staff to appeal for another state of emergency – the people will increasingly lose confidence in President Jonathan and the military while Boko Haram increases its resolve and attacks.
Due to the continued rate of terrorist attacks despite the current state of emergency and U.S. FTO designation, it is probable that the goal of completely stopping Boko Haram by April 2014 will fail. By utilizing improved tactics, NASOC, and continued U.S. assistance, the Nigerian military may possibly make progress in the coming months, but will not fully eliminate the threat of Boko Haram by April 2014. While it is an admirable goal, it is questionable and likely unattainable. Hopefully Nigeria’s new military leadership proves this writer wrong.