In late September, suspected Islamic extremists gunned down more than 40 students in their dorms at an agricultural college in northeastern Nigeria. The attack was blamed on the Islamic insurgents – Boko Haram – who were accused of spraying bullets indiscriminately and torching classrooms. Witnesses to the crime said the culprits must have had “sophisticated rifles and improvised explosives”. Since the attack, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said there needs to be different approaches to handling insurgency.
According to Yahoo news, the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described the incident as “horrific”. This is, however, not the Boko Haram’s first “horrific” attack on schools since this year. In July, the Islamists fired gunshots and threw explosives in dorms in the middle of the night killing 41 students. Nigeria anticipates more attacks from Boko Haram and the further turmoil it may bring.
Who/ what is the Boko Haram and what is their motive?
Firstly, Boko Haram is another name for the Arabic Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. According to the nctc.gov website, Boko Haram translates to “western education is sin/forbidden” (the word boko is a holdover from the colonial word for book). From the translation of both the Arabic name and the nickname, it is understood that these extremists are avid supporters of Islam who detest the western culture. It is believed that Boko Haram carried out these attacks because they want Islamic culture and education to prevail over the western education. It may be suggested that the attacks on schools could be symbolic of their motive of wanting to get rid of western education. Many Nigerian parents have since withdrawn their children from schools which provided western teachings in order to avoid attacks. This shows how the Boko Haram attacks are successfully creating a fearful atmosphere. Additionally, more and more of Nigeria’s federal government budget has been geared towards security. It is believed that there are rogue agents trying to reap benefits from security contracts by creating some acts of violence themselves.
There have been other attacks by Boko Haram on churches, mosques, media houses and markets, however, there seems to be a focus on state institutions such as police stations and military facilities. With their main attacks being state institutions, it is said that Boko Haram’s motive extends beyond Nigerian conflicts. In July 2010, the Boko Haram’s former second-in-command, Abubakar Shekau released a statement expressing unity with Al- Qa’ida and threatening the United States. On August 26 2011, the Islamic insurgents carried out their first attack against a western interest by blowing up a vehicle on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, which killed 23 people and injured more than 80.
The Boko Haram spokesperson promised more attacks on the United States and the Nigerian Government. Since late 2011, there have been multiple attacks, each week, against politicians, Nigerian security, schools etc. Even after the College shooting, there were attacks on Mosques where seven civilians were gunned down. Overall, it has been estimated that since 2009 Boko Haram militants have decimated over 3,600 people.
Nigeria has experienced ethnic violence, civil wars and religious conflicts and other crises since 1960 when they gained independence from the British. Critics believe that the Boko Haram crisis may lead to further civil unrest but, according to Aljazeera.com, there is little evidence to support these criticisms. It is believed that the feeling of marginalisation by the federal government may be the source of the insurgents’ discontent. On the other hand, the Nigerian Emergency National Management authorities seem to not have a clear-cut plan or resources to put an end to the crisis.
The Nigerians continue to battle with the Boko Harem attacks, which extend way beyond College shootings. There are more controversies involving this shooting which have caught the attention of the entire world, especially the United States.