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Nigerians Fear Boko Haram Violence Only to Escalate

Residents watch as two men walk amidst rubble after Boko Haram militants raided the town of Benisheik, west of Borno State capital Maiduguri, Sept. 19, 2013.

Residents watch as two men walk amidst rubble after Boko Haram militants raided the town of Benisheik, west of Borno State capital Maiduguri, Sept. 19, 2013.

Despite reports of Nigeria’s success against insurgent group Boko Haram, recent violence attributed to the group has some Nigerians worried that the militants are growing stronger. Many worry the violence will only increase as the 2015 elections draw closer, on the prospect that politicians will hire the militants to attack their opponents.

Since May, when President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northeastern Nigeria and sent thousands of troops to fight Boko Haram, the government has consistently reported victories on both the battlefield and in conducting negotiations.

Kabiru Turaki heads the government committee charged with holding peace talks.

“We’ve had dialogue with those that are in detention, most of whom are critical members of the leadership of this group. And then we’ve also had dialogue with those that are outside,” said Turaki.

Meanwhile, army spokesperson Brigadier-General Ibrahim Attahiru says troops continue to attack the militant group.

“Troops of the formation have conducted operations to preempt, dislocate and distract the insurgent activities in the northeast,” said Attahiru.

But last Thursday, the day after Attahiru made this announcement, more than 100 people were reported killed in Borno State, the birthplace of the insurgency. The following day, authorities reported a gunfight with Boko Haram members in the capital, Abuja, and said nine militants were killed.

Lack of clarity

Neighbors later told reporters it wasn’t Boko Haram members who were killed in the Abuja fight, but unarmed squatters.

Yusuf Yakubu Arrigasiyyu heads the Muslim League for Accountability. He says this lack of clarity is feeding the insurgency.

“This is serious for Nigeria. That is how Boko Haram started in Maiduguri. People were accused without any legal battle. People were accused without any action from the government,” said Arrigasiyyu.

The result, he says, is accused persons - whether they are involved or not -- grow more sympathetic with Boko Haram, a group that has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the past four years in attacks on churches, schools, media houses, markets and government and international interests.

And more frightening than grassroots support for Boko Haram is who provides financial support for the group, says Umar Aliyu Fate, former director of National Orientation Agency, a government development project in Kaduna State.

“It is so active at the moment because of the people who must be behind the scenes sponsoring people in the name of Boko Haram. Boko Haram is there because I believe there are people who are sustaining them. Therefore if we get the right people and the right people come out, I think the issue of Boko Haram may not be there,” said Fate.

Fate doesn’t say who exactly are the right people, and politicians from every side have accused their rivals of supporting Boko Haram.

Dirty tactics

However, as 2015 elections approach, many Nigerians fear politicians from every side will support Boko Haram, or at least gangs of thugs that call themselves Boko Haram, to intimidate their opponents.

Engineering student Salias Daniel Bahagu sees dirty tactics ahead.

“I believe some of the politicians are the source of this Boko Haram so really they use these Boko Haram to attack some of their members,” said he.

Bahagu studies in Kaduna, where more than 800 people were killed in violence after the 2011 elections. He says politicians in Nigeria regularly pay unemployed young men to battle for their side during election seasons, often with deadly consequences.
If they are now paying Boko Haram members, he said, who presumably are also mostly unemployed young men, the results could be more dangerous because Boko Haram members are much better armed.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.