Note this recent news out of sub-Saharan Africa
<pCommentary by Ambassador John Price:
In Nigeria: It’s about jobs and economic survival
I spent April 15 to 24, 2007 in Nigeria, serving as a member of the International Republican Institute (IRI) election observation team. It was to be a momentous occasion, with President Olusegun Obasango stepping down after two four year terms, as provided for in the Constitution. In this second civilian election for president, scheduled for April 21, the leading candidates were Umaru Yar’Adua, the governor of Katsina State, located in the northern part of the country; Vice President Atiku Abubakar; and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader.
The events leading up to the election were acrimonious, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) a month earlier disqualifying Atiku Abubakar, as an eligible candidate. The INEC stated it was due to his indictment for corruption. Abubakar went to court on March 16 to overturn his disqualification. The Supreme Court ruled on April 16 in his favor, allowing Abubakar to be placed on the ballot. With ballots already printed, there was concern about the new ones being ready in time for the April 21 election. There was much uneasiness between the Muslim and Christian factions resulting from this political wrangling. On April 17 there were a series of explosions in the Muslim dominated state of Kano in the north. In the violence that spread over 200 people were killed. The Nigerian military on April 18 reportedly killed more than twenty Islamic militants who had attacked a police station in Kano. On the day of the election there was an attempt on the life of Goodluck Jonathan, who was running for vice-president, and a truck bombing of the INEC headquarters in Abuja.
The IRI election observer teams were to cover approximately one hundred polling stations around the country. I was in a group of three that went to Enugu, a destitute and poverty stricken state in the south. The Nigerian voters were anxious to participate in the election process, and began lining up early that morning. In checking several polling stations, no ballots had arrived. Going over to the local INEC headquarters, we found mass confusion. In the courtyard were many unopened boxes of printed ballots which needed to be destroyed, as new ballots were on their way.
Concern was that some of the existing ballots might mistakenly be used. With security by police and military units watching over the boxes, some were carried off to unmarked vans, which concerned us. However no explanation was given. We then checked two other distribution centers and found old ballots in boxes lying around in piles. At 10:00 am we were told the new ballots had been sent out to the polling stations. Our visit to several indicated otherwise.
Finally some ballots arrived before noon, but for many polling stations they were not delivered until sometime later. Frustrated voters waited in long, sun-drenched lines. At the make shift voting sign-in tables, there were reams of books with listed voters, and many people crowding around. The semi-enclosed voting booths had political party members standing nearby, making voters uncomfortable. No one appeared happy with the election process. At 5:00 pm barricades were put up, blocking waiting voters from having their chance to vote, many waiting for hours.
In the counting process, it appeared difficult to reconcile the number of voters with the actual ballots counted. At a nearby soccer stadium we witnessed a huge crowd around the INEC counting tables. During what appeared to be a disagreement, several young men took the plastic ballot boxes, and sped off in a waiting van, supposedly taking them to a recounting station.
Umaru Yar’Adua, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate won the election. However election poll observers noted many voting irregularities, so the process was not considered a free and fair election. There was much anticipation that this election would create an environment that would heal the ongoing conflict between the two disparate religions.
Life in Nigeria for most people is very difficult, but more so in the northern region. A UN study indicated, “That poverty in the 12 most northern states is nearly twice that of the rest of the country” and that “literacy in the far north is 35 percent as opposed to 77 percent in the rest of the country. Primary school attendance is only 41 percent, while youth unemployment is extremely high. All of this contributes to joblessness and a deepening cycle of poverty”.
Today the population of Nigeria is approaching 160 million, which represents almost twenty percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa; with forty percent being under the age of forty. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, with billions of dollars in revenue; which should be adequate to benefit all Nigerians. Yet in 2012 people there are no better off than they were in 1970, with Nigerians living on less than $1 a day.
Boko Haram (meaning “western education is sinful) was founded in 2002 by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, in northern Nigeria. He built a religious school and mosque, where poor families from around the country could enroll their children. He also offered students studies abroad, but most ended up in training camps. He recruited young men into the sect who were poorly educated and unemployed, mainly from the northern region.
Yusuf was opposed to Western culture and secular education, and did not believe in democratic governance. He believed that the northern Muslim states should be governed under Sharia, the strict Islamic law. Although peaceful at the beginning, there were intermittent attacks, and by June 2009, Yusuf wanted to create a separate Islamic State in the north. A battle ensued with government military forces, leaving many Boko Haram followers dead. Yusuf was captured and imprisoned, and soon after was killed while in police custody.
Under the leadership of Abu Muhammad Abubakar Shekau attacks occur almost daily. Boko Haram has been responsible for killing thousands of people since 2009. Training with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, the Boko Haram militants have learned skills in kidnapping of foreigners, making of improvised explosive devices, bombing of buildings, attacks in open markets, and suicide missions.
Muslim anger intensified after Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took control of the government during President Yar’Adua’s medical related absence. After he returned in February 2010, Jonathan continued as leader of the country. Upon the death of Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, Jonathan took over as acting president of Nigeria. He defied the agreement to alternate the presidential power between north and south, by allowing a Muslim to succeed Yar’Adua through the second term. This further alienated the north, and increased the chaotic attacks. To add to the anger, in the 2011 elections Muhammadu Buhari the Muslim candidate lost to Goodluck Jonathan, alleging the voting process was unfair — however observers claimed otherwise.
Based on the article “Nigerian terrorists pose threat to U.S.”, by Washington Times writer Shaun Waterman on November 30, 2011, “Boko Haram poses an ‘emerging threat’ to the United States and is set to join other al Qaeda affiliates in plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland…” He went on to say that the U.S. should not underestimate “Boko Haram’s ability… to strike directly at the United States, a mistake they made with al Qaeda affiliates in both Pakistan and Yemen in recent years”. One need only remember the “underwear bomber”, a young Nigerian, trying to blow up a U.S. bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009, linked to al-Qaeda in Yemen.
With the violent Islamist movement spreading across West Africa, Boko Haram has established close ties with al-Qaeda, and is developing connections with other militant groups in the Sahel and Islamic Maghreb. In the Horn of Africa they have connected with al-Shabaab in Somalia.
According to the Associated Press article, “US general: 3 Africa terror groups may collaborate”, by writer Lolita C. Baldor, “Terrorist groups in Somalia, North Africa and Nigeria are eyeing ways to coordinate their training, funding and terror activities, triggering increased U.S. national security worries”, the top American commander for Africa told Congress. “The three groups represent the greatest threats to security in the region, and all three have strong ties to al-Qaeda.”
Boko Haram with their al-Qaeda tactics could be devastating for oil-rich Nigeria. Attacks in the southern oil production region would cause oil prices to rise, since Nigeria is the world’s tenth largest oil producer, and the fifth largest supplier of oil to the U.S., as was noted by Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC on April 9, 2012.
On my website Commentary of April 4, 2012, “The 2012 Election Polls in Mali may be in trouble“, I noted, “Some Malian officials have blamed NATO for the crisis in the north after it helped Libyan insurgents topple Col Gaddafi”. Heavy weaponry and arsenals left over from the Libyan war were not protected and fell into the hands of splinter rebel groups in Libya, al-Qaeda, and the Tuareg fighters going back home. What is not known is whether the Tuareg rebels will unite with al-Qaeda in an attempt to take control of large sections of northern Mali, or with Ansar ud-Din, the Islamist group. Libyan arms have also found their way into Niger, Mauritania, and Chad, all lying along the Sahel region. Hence arms could also find their way to northern Nigeria, and Boko Haram. Libyan arms have also reached Somalia, in the Horn of Africa.
In the article, “U.S. to Nigeria: Develop north to beat Boko Haram” by Camillus Eboh, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said, “Regarding the security concern, we agree with President Jonathan that this must be [a] holistic approach. That it is about security, it is about development, it is about jobs” and “addressing the underlying grievances of unemployment”. Jonathan stated, “That quelling the insurgency would have to involve addressing the North’s economic concerns”.
Most Muslims in Nigeria feel disenfranchised, living in some of the most destitute regions, in abject poverty. President Jonathan needs to focus on the northern region with more education, economic development, and job creation. He needs to reach out to remote areas as the Borno state, one of the poorest areas in Africa, where Boko Haram is based. Recent reports indicate that over forty percent of Nigerians are unemployed, or approximately 60 million, of which 20 million are youths. These staggering figures could spark more instability in Nigeria. Without employment, living in these destitute conditions, there could be more youths attracted to the radical Islamist movement.
In my book, When the White House Calls, I noted, “It will be difficult for respect for human rights, rule of law, transparency, and democracy based on the American model to gain traction in the destitute conditions in many of these countries. Poverty’s companions are hopelessness and a susceptibility to reach out to anyone who is willing to help. Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda are well funded and will fill a void of hope for them.”
With the extreme poverty that exists in Nigeria, and the disproportionate sharing of the oil-wealth which favors the south, the northern region will not improve economically. The younger generation may view their survival coming from aligning with fundamentalist groups. Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and other radical factions in the Sahel, and Islamic Maghreb could be these choices. As such the West Africa region can expect more violent jihadist-style activity. Such instability will further the cause of the jihadist movement, in its quest to create a worldwide caliphate.
Boko Haram says it will “devour” Nigeria president
Reuters: Thu, Apr 12 2012
By Bala Adamu
Kano – Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram intends to bring down the government and “devour” President Goodluck Jonathan within three months, its purported leader said in his second al-Qaeda-style video posted on the internet on Thursday.
The 14-minute video of Abubakar Shekau seen on YouTube belittled Jonathan for saying two weeks ago that by the middle of this year the security situation would be under control.
“You, Jonathan, cannot stop us, instead we will devour you in the three months like you are boasting,” Shekau said in the video entitled “message to Goodluck Jonathan”, flanked by four masked men holding rifles.
For the full story:
Nigeria, One Year After Elections
Remarks: Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
As Prepared: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC
April 9, 2012
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.
Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue… [l]living standards for most Nigerians are the same today as they were in 1970, and nearly 100 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day.
Boko Haram is not a monolithic, homogenous organization controlled by a single charismatic figure. This group has developed links with AQIM and has a broader, anti-Western jihadist agenda.
For the full story:
U.S. to Nigeria: Develop north to beat Boko Haram
By Camillus Eboh
Reuters – “The United States urged Nigeria to tackle an Islamist insurgency in the north by bringing jobs and development to the deprived region, and it pledged to support Abuja in the task.”
“Analysts say the remote northeastern state of Borno, where the sect is based, is as poor as some of Africa’s most impoverished countries.”
Some have accused President Goodluck Jonathan of an over-reliance on security measures to defeat Boko Haram rather than addressing northerners’ underlying grievances, such as unemployment…”
Northern Nigeria lives in fear of militant group
By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
April 6, 2012, 8:35 p.m.
KANO, Nigeria — In its bid to topple the Nigerian government and impose sharia law across Africa’s most populous country, Boko Haram has killed a shocking 1,000 people since the beginning of 2011. The group, which modeled itself on the Taliban, has been implicated in kidnappings of foreigners, bombings of churches and markets, and burning of schools because of its hard-line opposition to secular education.
A sense of alienation permeates the north, which is the poorest part of Nigeria. The anger is deepened by a federal-state deal that provides southern oil-producing states a generous share of oil revenue to compensate for past neglect, a formula that could be a recipe for greater northern poverty, alienation and extremism.
In recent months, at least eight schools have been burned. In one charred Maiduguri school, smoke blackened the walls.
A parent, Salisu, said that without a good secular education, his children would end up unemployed or in dead-end work.
For the full story:
US general: 3 Africa terror groups may collaborate
By Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 4:31 p.m. MST
WASHINGTON — Terrorist groups in Somalia, North Africa and Nigeria are eyeing ways to coordinate their training, funding and terror activities, triggering increased U.S. national security worries, the top American commander for Africa told Congress on Wednesday.
Army Gen. Carter Ham said terror leaders from al-Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria want to more closely synchronize their efforts. If they are able to better share their training and funding, “that presents a real challenge for us,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.
The three groups represent the greatest threats to security in the region, and all three have strong ties to al-Qaida. And Ham laid out ongoing efforts by the U.S. to provide training, equipment and support to a number of nations across northern and east Africa where militants have launched a range of dramatic attacks over the past year or more.
Nigerian terrorists pose threat to U.S.
“House subcommittee calls attention to rise of Boko Haram”
By Shaun Waterman-The Washington Times Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram poses an “emerging threat” to the United States and is set to join other al Qaeda affiliates in plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland, a congressional panel said Wednesday.
U.S. intelligence agencies must not underestimate Boko Haram’s ability and desire to strike directly at the United States, a mistake they made with al Qaeda affiliates in both Pakistan and Yemen in recent years.
There have also been increasingly close connections between some Boko Haram leaders and al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa, like al Shabab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.